Religion in China

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Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism are one, a litang style painting portraying three men laughing by a river stream, 12th century, Song Dynasty.

Religion in China has been characterized by pluralism since the beginning of Chinese history. The Chinese religions are family-oriented and, unlike Western religions, do not demand the exclusive adherence of members. Some scholars question the use of the term "religion" in reference to Buddhism and Daoism, and suggest "cultural practices" or "thought systems" as more appropriate names.[1] The questions of who should be called religious in China, and what religion or religions they should be called are up to debate. Generally, the percentage of people who call themselves religious in China have been the lowest in the world. Buddhism remains the largest organized religion in China since its introduction in the 1st century.

Ancestor worship is the original basic Chinese religion. According to ancient law, the highest King of China, also called the Son of Heaven (Tianzi), sacrificed to Heaven (Tian or Shangdi), Earth (Di) and other gods especially the gods of famous mountains and rivers. Seigneurs or officials were accredited to sacrifice to respective gods.

Daoism was formed in Han Dynasty. About the time Buddhism was introduced to China, and it rose to predominance during the Tang Dynasty, which initially tolerated its coexistence. Tensions between Buddhism and the Chinese Tang state led to the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution in 845 CE when the emperor felt that force of the religion was threatening the government. The Chinese religious tradition of Three Religions Combining into One which means combining Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism into one religion was greately developed during Sui and Tang Dynasty.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, with the introduction of Western freethinking ideology into China, and as the country developed industrially, traditional religions began to fade. Western religions took a foothold, notably causing the Taiping Rebellion. The communist and atheist CPC came to power in 1949. It viewed traditional religions as backwards, and Western religions such as Christianity as the tool of Western colonialism. This led to China being among the least religious countries in the world since 1950s. After the "opening up" of the 1980s, more religious freedom were granted, and traditional beliefs like Taoism and Buddhism were supported as an integral part of the Chinese culture.


[edit] Modern history

Modern-style Buddhist temple in Qibao, Shanghai.

The People's Republic of China was established in 1949. Its government is officially atheist, which viewed religion as emblematic of feudalism and foreign colonialism.

Religious belief or practice was banned because it was regarded as backward and superstitious by some of the communist leaders, from Vladimir Lenin to Mao Zedong, who had been critical of religious institutions.[2]

Houses of worship, including pagodas, temples, mosques, and churches, were converted into non-religious buildings for secular use during its early years. The Cultural Revolution led to a policy of elimination of religions; a massive number of places of worship were destroyed.

This policy relaxed considerably in the late 1970s at the end of the Cultural Revolution and more tolerance of religious expression has been permitted since the 1980s. The 1978 Constitution of the People's Republic of China guarantees "freedom of religion" with a number of restrictions. Since the mid-1990s there has been a massive program to rebuild Buddhist and Taoist temples. However other religions such as the Roman Catholic Church, and Judaism are still viewed with such scrutiny.

The Chinese Communist Party has said that religious belief and membership are incompatible. Party membership is a necessity for many high level careers and posts. That along with other official hostility makes statistical reporting on religious membership difficult.

There are five recognized religions by the state, namely Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism.[3]

In recent times, the government has expressed support for Buddhism and Taoism, organizing the World Buddhist Forum in 2006 and the International Forum on the Daodejing in 2007. The government sees these religions as an integral part of Chinese culture[4].

In October 2007, the new statute of China cites religion as an important element of citizens' life.[5] However, the Chinese government has also banned religious movements such as the Falun Gong and Xiantianism.

[edit] Statistics

Under Communist governments which have traditionally suppressed religious freedom and officially (often forcibly) endorsed atheism and due to this at one point the relation between Government with religions was not smooth in the past[6]. But in fact, the people are still holding private worship of popular traditional religions (Buddhism/Taoism) at home freely[7][8][9][10][11]. In recent years, the Chinese government has opened up to religion, especially traditional religions such as Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism because the Government also continued to emphasize the role of religion in building a "Harmonious Society," which was a positive development with regard to the Government's respect for religious freedom [12].

According to the old Chinese government estimate, there were "over 100 million followers of various faiths" in China[13]. Other estimates put about 100 million or about 8% Chinese who follow Buddhism, with the second largest religion as Taoism (no data), Islam (19 million or 1.5%) and Christianity (14 million or 1%; 4 million Roman Catholics and 10 million Protestants)[14]. According to the 1993 edition of The Atlas of Religion, the number of atheists in China is between 10 and 14 percent[15].

The accuracy of the religious data in China from census sources is questioned. While official data estimated 100 million religious believers in China, a survey taken by Shanghai University found that 31.4% of people above the age of 16, or about 300 million people, considered themselves religious. The survey also found that the major religions are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity, accounting for 67.4 percent of believers. About 200 million people are Buddhists, Taoists or worshippers of legendary figures such as the Dragon King and God of Fortune, accounting for 66.1 per cent of all believers, while Christianity accounted for 12% of believers, or 40 million people.[16][17] The official China Daily called the Shanghai professors' research "the country's first major survey on religious beliefs"[18]. The Chinese government have accepted these new numbers. The wide disparity among these estimates underscores the difficulty of accurately surveying the religious view of a nation of over a billion people and the lack of reliable data.

China is also known to have small numbers of people who follow Hinduism, Dongbaism, Bon and a number of new religions and sects (particularly Xiantianism and Falun Gong).

However, some surveys suggest that the cultural adherents or even outright religious adherents of Buddhism could number as high as 50% to 80% of the population, or about 660 million to over 1 billion[19][20]. Some estimates for Taoism as high as 400 million or about 30% of the total population[21], but argues that these are actually numbers for Chinese folk religion or Chinese traditional religion, not Confucianism and Taoism themselves.[22]

The number of adherents to these religions can be overlaid in percentage due to the fact that mostly Chinese consider themselves both Buddhist and Taoist[23][24][25][26]. However, it was difficult to estimate accurately the number of Buddhists because they did not have congregational memberships and often did not participate in public ceremonies [27].

The minority religions are Christianity (between 40 million, 3%,[28] and 54 million, 4%[29]), Islam (20 million, 1.5%), Hinduism, Dongbaism, Bon and a number of new religions and sects (particularly Xiantianism and Falun Gong).

According to the surveys of Phil Zuckerman on in 1993; there was 59% (over 700 million)[30] of the Chinese population was irreligious and 8% - 14% was atheist (from over 100 to 180 million) as of 2005[6]. There are intrinsic logistical difficulties in trying to count the number of religious people anywhere, as well as difficulties peculiar to China. According to Phil Zuckerman, "low response rates," "non-random samples," and "adverse political/cultural climates" are all persistent problems in establishing accurate numbers of religious believers in a given locality[31]. Similar difficulties arise in attempting to subdivide religious people into sects. These issues are especially pertinent in China for two reasons. First, it is a matter of current debate whether several important belief systems in China constitute "religions." As Daniel L. Overmeyer writes, in recent years there has been a "new appreciation...of the religious dimensions of Confucianism, both in its ritual activities and in the inward search for an ultimate source of moral order"[32]. Many Chinese belief systems have concepts of a sacred and sometimes spiritual natural world yet do not always invoke a concept of personal god (with the exception of Heaven worship)[33].

[edit] Cultural background

[edit] Confucianism

Statue of Confucius at the Confucius Temple of Beijing.

The cultural background of Chinese people is deeply influenced by Confucianism (儒家; Rujia). It is a philosophy stressing ethical, moral and social values. Confucian system is sometimes considered the proper culture of the Chinese; consequently, it targets religious tendencies and customs.

Confucianism arose during the 5th century BCE from the teachings of Confucius, collected under the name of the Analects. The Han Dynasty eventually made Confucianism the official state culture, along with Taoism which was the official religion.

Confucian social and political system remained established until 1912, when it was rejected by the new Republic of China and subsequently by the People's Republic of China. Since 2004[34] Confucianism is experiencing a great revival in China, as it is supported by the central government.

People's Republic of China is establishing institutes for Confucian education all over the world.[34] The headquarter of all Confucius Institutes around the world locates in Beijing.[35] China has planned to establish 500 of such institutes by 2010.[36]

[edit] Chinese folk religion

Chinese folk religion is a collective label given to various folkloric beliefs that draws heavily from Chinese mythology. This labeling is similar to how non-monotheistic religions are collectively called paganism in the West. This belief system is practiced by Chinese people as a cultural matter, independently of their adherence to Buddhism or Taoism.

Chinese folk religion is based on the worship of deities, xians, cultural heroes, demigods and supernatural beings (particularly the Chinese dragon) that vary depending on geographical and local conditions. Chinese folk religion is not organized in institutions, has no clergy or formal rituals, but it has its own temples called joss houses or mius. These buildings are popular in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, while in Mainland China the vast majority of them was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and the following decades, and the few remaining were converted into Buddhist and Taoist temples[37]. In the mainland, Chinese folk religion is practiced privately, and shrines survive as home altars.

[edit] Ancestor worship

Chinese veneration of ancestors (拜祖, baizu; or 敬祖, jingzu) dates back to the prehistory. Chinese culture, Taoism, Confucianism, and Chinese Buddhism all value filial piety as a top virtue and De, and the act is a continued display of piety and respect towards departed ancestors.

The veneration of ancestors can even extend to legendary figures or historical, such as the patriarch or founder of one's Chinese surname, virtuous individuals such as Confucius or Guan Yu, or the mythological figures like the Yellow Emperor, supposed as the ancestor of all Chinese people.

The two major festivals involving ancestor veneration are the Qingming Festival and the Double Ninth Festival, but veneration of ancestors is conducted in many other ceremonies, including weddings, funerals, and triad initiations.

Worshipers generally offer prayers in a Jingxiang rite, with food, light incense and candles, and burn offerings of joss paper. These activities are typically conducted at the site of ancestral graves or tombs, at an ancestral temple, or at a household shrine.

[edit] Organized religions

[edit] Taoism

Taoism (道教; Daojiao in Chinese) refers to a variety of related philosophical and religious traditions and concepts, born in China itself in the 6th century BCE and is traditionally traced to the composition of the Tao Te Ching attributed to the sage Laozi, a person who subsequently came to be venerated by Taoist as Daode Tianjun in the Three Pure Ones. Taoist thought focuses on health, longevity, immortality, wu wei (non-action) and spontaneity. These traditions have influenced East Asia for over two thousand years and some have spread internationally.[38]

Reverence for nature and ancestor spirits is common in popular Taoism. Organized Taoism distinguishes its ritual activity from that of the folk religion, which some professional Taoists (Daoshi) view as debased. Chinese alchemy, astrology, cuisine, several Chinese martial arts, Chinese traditional medicine, fengshui, and many styles of qigong breath training disciplines are intertwined with Taoism throughout history.

Taoism was formally established in the late Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220). Northern and Southern Dynasties (386-589) saw it become the legitimacy religion like Buddhism in China, because it was supported by some emperors for political reasons. Taoism welcomed its silver age from Tang Dynasty (618-907) to Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). Many sects were formed during this period. Taoist temples were scattered all over the country and Taoist masters came forth in great number. After Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Taoism has divided into two major sects: Quanzhen and Zhengyi Dao.[39]

With the support of royal rulers, Taoism gradually developed. In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), due to the national conflicts, the court had little energy and financial support to encourage the development of Taoism. The interior unity of Taoism was shaken and conflicts arose. In Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the Manchu royal family honored Tibetan Buddhism and showed no interest in Taoism. So Taoism eventually lost the support from the upper rulers. Generally, it became a secret religious organization. During the Opium War, Taoism further declined through the oppression of imperialism and western culture. Many Taoists lost their focus on religious study. At the founding of People’s Republic of China, the land reform movement prompted Taoist organizations to develop the crusade of religious democracy[40][41]. In 1956 a national organization, the Chinese Taoist Association (with chapters in every province and city) was set up to administer Taoist activities.

Taoism is practised by mostly Han and some other ethnic groups as Mulao, Maonan and Yao. The perfect harmony of Taoism and Buddhism could see in some famous Chinese creations such as: Chinese mythology, Chinese astrology, Chinese New Year, Journey to the West. As well as, Some Buddhist bodhisattvas were also influenced by Taoist tradition such as Guan Yin, Guan Yu, Wei Tuo and Budai (Laughing Buddha) who are very popular among Chinese culture. At present, many people in Hongkong, Macao and Taiwan believe in Taoism. Overseas Chinese communities have built many Taoist temples all over the world.

Banned during the Cultural Revolution (along with all other religions), Taoism is undergoing a major revival today [42], and it is the spirituality followed by about 30% (400 million) of the total Chinese population [43] while there was no official estimate of Chinese Government for Taoist population.

In April 2007, China took place the International Forum on the Daodejing, during which celebrities and government officials expressed will to support Taoism as one of the foundations of Chinese culture.[44] Chinese Taoist clergy is organizing missionary systems to spread the spirituality around the world.[42]

[edit] Buddhism

Buddhism in China

History of Buddhism in China

Southern and Northern Dynasties
Sui Dynasty
Tang Dynasty
Song Dynasty
Ming Dynasty
Qing Dynasty
Modern history


Chinese pagoda
Buddhist temples in China

Major figures

Emperor Ming of Han
Yang XuanzhiAn Shih Kao
LokaksemaLiu Ying
BodhidharmaHsu Yun

People Groups


Chinese Buddhist sects

Fo Guang Shan


Buddhist Association of China
CuisineSutraMartial arts

Buddhism (called 佛教, Fojiao) was introduced from South Asia and Central Asia during the Han Dynasty, traditionally in the 1st century. It became very popular among Chinese of all walks of life, admired by commoners, and sponsored by emperors in certain dynasties. It is estimated that in the 9th century Buddhist institutions were the most powerful of China, surpassing the Taoist ones.

This led to the so called Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution, which saw Buddhism repressed. Although the persecution was heavy, Buddhism survived and reflourished in the following centuries. It was quite popular during the ancient Chinese dynasties such as Southern and Northern Dynasties, Sui Dynasty, Tang Dynasty, Song Dynasty, etc. Buddhism is deeply embedded in the culture of China, Chinese philosophy, and in Chinese beliefs.

The entry of Buddhism into China was marked by interaction and syncretism with Taoism in particular.[45] Originally seen as a kind of "foreign Taoism", Buddhism's scriptures were translated into Chinese using the Taoist vocabulary.[46] Chan Buddhism was particularly modified by Taoism, integrating distrust of scripture, text and even language, as well as the Taoist views of embracing "this life", dedicated practice and the "every-moment".[47] In the Tang period Taoism incorporated such Buddhist elements as monasteries, vegetarianism, prohibition of alcohol, the doctrine of emptiness, and collecting scripture into tripartite organisation. During the same time, Chan Buddhism grew to become the largest sect in Chinese Buddhism.[48]

Buddhism was not universally welcomed, particularly among the gentry. The Buddha's Dharma seemed alien and amoral to conservative and Confucian sensibilities.[49] Confucianism promoted social stability, order, strong families, and practical living, and Chinese officials questioned how a monk's monasticism and personal attainment of nirvana benefited the empire.[46] However, Buddhism and Confucianism eventually reconciled after centuries of conflict and assimilation.[50]

With the rise of People's Republic of China in 1949 Buddhism was banned and many temples and monasteries destroyed. Restrictions lasted until the 1980s. The Buddhist Association of China was founded in 1953. In recent times, Buddhism has recovered popularity and it is returned to be the largest organized faith in the country. While estimates of the number of Buddhists in China range widely, Chinese government statistics estimates the number of Buddhists at 100 million.[51]

More recent surveys put the total number of Chinese Buddhists between 660 million (50%) and over 1 billion (80%),[19][52] thus making China the country with the most Buddhist adherents in the world, followed by Japan. However, it was difficult to estimate accurately the number of Buddhists because they did not have congregational memberships and often did not participate in public ceremonies. [27]. Buddhism is growing fast among successful urban professional people.[53] The vast majority of Chinese Buddhists are Mahayana; while Tibetans, Mongols traditionally follow their denomination of Buddhism, small communities of Theravada also exist among the minority ethnic groups live in southern provinces as Yunnan and Guangxi which border Burma, Thailand and Laos . It should be noted that many Chinese Mahayanists identify themselves as Taoist and Buddhist at the same time.

Buddhism is tacitly supported by the government. The 108-metre-high statue is the world's tallest of Guanyin Statue of Hainan was enshrined on April 24, 2005 with the participation of 108 eminent monks from various Buddhist groups in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao and Mainland China, and tens of thousands of pilgrims. The delegation also included monks from the Theravada and Vajrayana traditions[54] [55]. China is one of the countries where owns many world's highest Buddhist statues.

In April 2006 China organized the World Buddhist Forum and in March 2007 the government banned mining on Buddhist sacred mountains[56]. In May of the same year, in Changzhou, world's tallest pagoda was built and opened.[57][58][59] In March 2008 the Taiwan-based Tzu Chi Foundation was approved to open a branch in mainland China.[60]

However, some restrictions of Tibetan Buddhism are due to controversies about its hierarchy, and the issue of the succession of Tenzin Gyatso the current 14th Dalai Lama (who wasn't invited to the World Buddhist Forum). Gyatso - who was not only the spiritual leader, but also the sovereign of Tibet - is in exile, and China currently intends to elect its own 15th Dalai Lama. In August 2007 China has prohibited the reincarnation of Tibetan living buddhas without permission of the government, thus limiting the influence of Tenzin Gyatso and new Tibetan Buddhist monks.[61]

[edit] Christianity

Christianity in China


Earliest period
Medieval period
19th Century
Early 20th Century
Middle 20th Century
Modern history


Church of the EastEastern Orthodox
Roman CatholicismProtestantism

Major figures

Matteo RicciLiang Fa
Xi ShengmoJohn Sung
Wang Ming-Dao


Biblehouse churches
Chinese terms for God


Science and technology
CollegesMedical missions
Anti-Christian Movement
Chinese Roman Type

The Lord's Prayer in Classical Chinese, 1889.

Christianity (Chinese: 基督教; pinyin: Jidujiao; literally "Religion of Christ") in China comprises Protestants (Chinese: 新教; pinyin: Xinjiao; literally "New Religion"), Catholics (Chinese: 天主教; pinyin: tianzhujiao; literally "Religion of the Lord in Heaven"), and a small number of Orthodox Christians. Christianity has been a growing minority religion for over 200 years.[62] Growth has been more significant since the loosening of restrictions on religion after the 1970s within the People's Republic. Religious practices are still often tightly controlled by government authorities. Chinese over age 18 in the PRC are permitted to be involved with officially sanctioned Christian meetings through the "Three-Self Patriotic Movement" or the "Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association".[63] Many Chinese Christians also meet in "unregistered" house church meetings. Reports of sporadic persecution against such Christians in Mainland China have caused concern among outside observers[64].

Christianity has developed in China since at least the 7th century AD. The introduction of Assyrian Church of the East, around 635 is considered by some to be the first entry of the Christian religion into China. During the Tang dynasty, Nestorianism flourished for a while in China but did the Tang dynasty adopted anti-religious measures in 845. Meanwhile, Christianity reached the periphery of China as far as Mongolia. Christianity again came to China during the Yuan dynasty, when Franciscan missionaries were commissioned by the Pope in 1294. Organized Christianity failed to survive the end of the Yuan dynasty in China.

At the end of the Ming dynasty, Jesuits arrived in Beijing via Guangzhou. The most famous was Matteo Ricci, an Italian mathematician who came to China in 1588 and lived in Beijing in 1600. Ricci was welcomed at the imperial court and introduced Western learning into China. The Jesuits followed a policy of accommodation to the traditional Chinese practice of ancestor worship, but this doctrine was eventually condemned by the Pope. Roman Catholic missions struggled in obscurity for decades afterwards.

Christianity began to take root in a significant way in the Chinese Empire during the Qing Dynasty, and although it has remained a minority religion in China, it has had significant recent historical impact. Further waves of missionaries came to China in the Qing Dynasty as a result of contact with foreign powers. Russian Orthodoxy was introduced in 1715 and Protestants began entering China in 1807. The pace of missionary activity increased considerably after the First Opium War in 1842. Christian missionaries and their schools, under the protection of the Western powers, went on to play a major role in the Westernization of China in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Taiping Rebellion was influenced to some degree by Christian teachings, and the Boxer Rebellion was in part a reaction against Christianity in China. Christians in China established the first modern clinics and hospitals[65], and provided the first modern training for nurses. Both Roman Catholics and Protestants founded numerous educational institutions in China from the primary to the university level. Some of the most prominent Chinese universities began as religious-founded institutions. Missionaries worked to abolish practices such as foot binding [66], and the unjust treatment of maidservants, as well as launching charitable work and distributing food to the poor. They also opposed the opium trade[62] and brought treatment to many who were addicted. Some of the early leaders of the Chinese Republic, such as Sun Yat-sen were converts to Christianity and were influenced by its teachings.

The subject of China's Christian population is controversial. The government of the People's Republic of China census enumerated 4 million Roman Catholics and 10 million Protestants[14][67]. However, independent estimates have ranged from 40 million to 54 million Christians in China as the most common and reliable numbers[68][69][70]. Between 1949-2007, indigenous Chinese Christianity has been growing[71][72]. Most of the growth has taken place in the unofficial Chinese house church movement.

[edit] Islam

Islam in China

History of Islam in China

Tang Dynasty
Song Dynasty
Yuan Dynasty
Ming Dynasty
Qing Dynasty

Major figures

Lan YuYeheidie'erding
Hui LiangyuMa Bufang
Zheng HeLiu Zhi
Haji NoorYusuf Ma Dexin


CuisineSiniMartial arts
Islamic Association of China


Chinese mosquesNiujie Mosque

Islamic Cities/Regions


Ethnic Groups



Dungan revoltPanthay Rebellion

Taizi Mosque in Yinchuan.

Islam (called 伊斯兰教, Yisilanjiao or 回教 Huijiao) dates to a mission in 651, only eighteen years after Muhammad's death, by an envoy led by Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas, the maternal uncle of Muhammad.[73] Muslims went to China to trade, ref name=bbc/>[74] Larger immigration began when hundreds of thousands of Muslims were relocated to help to administer China during the Yuan Dynasty.[75] A Muslim, Yeheidie'erding led the construction of the Yuan capital of Khanbaliq, in present-day Beijing. [76] During the Ming Dynasty, Muslims continued their influence on government. Six of the founder of Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang's most trusted generals were Muslim, including Lan Yu who led a decisive victory over the Mongols, effectively ending the Mongol dream to re-conquer China. The Yongle Emperor hired Zheng He, China's foremost explorer, to lead seven expeditions to the Indian Ocean. Muslims who were descended from earlier immigration began to assimilate by speaking Chinese dialects and by adopting Chinese names and culture. This era, sometimes considered the Golden Age of Islam in China,[74] [77]

However, relations worsened during the Qing Dynasty, which prohibited the construction of new mosques and the pilgrimage.[78] Repressive policies resulted in five bloody Hui rebellions, most notably the Panthay Rebellion and the Dungan revolt. The Manchu government then committed genocide to suppress the revolts.[79][80][81] A million people were killed in the Panthay rebellion,[76][82] and several million in the Dungan revolt.[76] A "washing off the Muslims"(洗回 (xi Hui)) policy had been long advocated by government officials.[83] After the fall of the Qing Dynasty, Sun Yat Sen, proclaimed that the country belonged equally to the Han, Manchu, Mongol, Tibetan and Hui peoples (All Muslim ethnic groups). In 1911 the provinces of Qinhai, Gansu and Ningxia fell to Muslim warlords known as the Ma clique. During the Cultural Revolution, mosques were often defaced, destroyed or closed and copies of the Quran were destroyed along with temples, churches, monasteries, and cemeteries by the Red Guards.[84][85]

Today Islam is experiencing a modest revival. There is an upsurge in Islamic expression and many nation-wide Islamic associations have organized to co-ordinate inter-ethnic activities among Muslims. Muslims are found in every province in China. Of China's 55 officially recognized minorities, ten groups are predominately Muslim. Statistics are hard to find, and the number of Muslims in China today is somewhere between 20 to 100 million by one source[73] . But most estimates figures that there are 20 to 30 million Muslims (1.5% to 2% of the population).[86][87][88][89][90] while according to government figures, there are 20 million Muslims (1.4%)[73] with 35,000 Islamic places of worship, and more than 45,000 imams. In 2006 a record number of Chinese traveled to Mecca for the hajj, up 40 percent from the previous year.[91]

[edit] Judaism

Judaism (called 犹太教, Youtaijiao in Chinese) was introduced during the Tang Dynasty (between the 7th and the 10th century) or earlier, by small groups of Jews settled in China. The most prominent early community was at Kaifeng, in Henan province (Kaifeng Jews). In the 20th century many Jews arrived in Hong Kong and Shanghai during those cities' periods of economic expansion in the first decades of the century, as well as for the purpose of seeking refuge from the Holocaust in Western Europe and from the communist revolution in Russia.

Shanghai was particularly notable for its volume of Jewish refugees, most of whom left after the war, the rest relocating prior to or immediately after the establishment of the People's Republic. Today, the Kaifeng Jewish community is functionally extinct. Many descendants of the Kaifeng community still live among the Chinese population, mostly unaware of their Jewish ancestry. Meanwhile, remnants of the later arrivals maintain communities in Shanghai and Hong Kong. In recent years a community has also developed in Beijing.

More recently, since the late 20th century, along with the study of religion in general, the study of Judaism and Jews in China as an academic subject has begun to blossom.[citation needed]

[edit] Hinduism

There are small communities of followers of Hinduism (called 印度教, Yindujiao) in China. In October 2007 the Chinese government invited the BAPS, a Hindu missionary organization, to build the first Hindu temple in China, in the Foshan city.[92] The temple will be built following the style of the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar.[93] The temple will provide a series of centers for study of Indian culture, Indian languages and Indian music.[93] The International Society for Krishna Consciousness states it has followers in China.[94]

[edit] Indigenous religions

Bon (called 苯教, Benjiao by the Chinese) is the oldest spiritual tradition of Tibet, dominant before the introduction of Buddhism. Bonpo religion is traditionally considered founded by the mythical figure of Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche. With the spread of Buddhism, Bon incorporated styles, iconography and clergy system of the new religion, whereas remaining a distinguished tradition. Simultaneously, Bonpo elements combined with original Buddhism gave origin to Tibetan Buddhism. Bon is essentially a psychologistic religion.

Dongbaism (東巴教, Dongbajiao in Chinese) is the primary religion of the Nakhi people. About two-thirds of today Nakhis (200.000 on 300.000) are Dongbas. Although it has remained exclusive to the Nakhis, Dongba religion is not considered native by scholars. Deep similarities between Dongba practices and the Bonpo ones seem to proof that Dongbaism arose roughly during the 11th or 12th century. Bonpos are considered to have settled among the Nakhis spreading their religion; Dongbaism eventually originated by the combination of Bon with Nakhi native beliefs. Elements drawn from Taoism are also identifiable. Dongbas worship nature, personified by human-snake-chimera creatures called Shv or Shu.

[edit] New movements

Between the 19th and the 20th century some new religious movements gained prominence, especially Xiantianism and Falun Gong. These religions are characterized by syncretic, messianic and millenarian attitudes. All these movements are currently banned in Mainland China due to their eventual involvement in political issues.

Xiantianism (先天道, Xiantiandao) is referred to have roots in the 13th century doctrine of the White Lotus. It was formally founded in the 17th century as a unified religion, but in 1828 it split into many sub-groups. Today, "Xiantianism" or "Way of Former Heaven" is an umbrella term that encompass many religions, namely Ikuantao, Tientism, Miledaism, Society of Goodness, Society of Celestial Virtue, Society of Compassion, Daoyuan and Haizetao. Xiantian religions claimed 5 million adherents before the crackdown in 1949. In 1987 Ikuantao was legalized in Taiwan, and further new sects arose in the following years. Today, Xiantians have gained notable prominence in the country. Ikuantaoists form the third largest religious community in Taiwan, while Tientists form the fifth.

Falun Gong (法轮功) is a mind-body cultivation system related to Buddhism and qigong, with ethic and millenarian aspects. It is sometimes described as a religion, a spirituality or a metaphysical system. It was spread by Li Hongzhi since 1992. A 1998 figure from the Chinese government suggests there were 70 million practitioners in China at that time.[95] On July 20, 1999, the Chinese authorities banned[96] and initiated a crackdown[97] on Falun Gong.

[edit] Other religions

The Round Mound Altar, the altar proper at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, where the Emperor communed with Heaven.

[edit] Heaven worship

The Heaven worship was the bureaucratic belief system subscribed to by most dynasties of China until the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty. It was a panentheistic system, centering on the worship of Tian (the "Heaven") as an omnipotent force. This religious system predated Taoism, Confucian thought and the introduction of Buddhism and Christianity; its dogmas supported the basements of the imperial hierarchy.

It had monotheistic features in that Heaven was seen as an omniscient entity, endowed with personality but no corporeal form. Heaven as a monotheistic god was variously referred to as Shangdi (literally "Lord Above"). Worship of Heaven included the erection of temples, the last and greatest being the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, and the offering of prayers. Heaven was believed to manifest itself through the powers of the weather and natural disasters. No iconographies were permitted in Heaven worship. Heaven was seen as a judge of humans. Especially evil people were believed to be killed by Heaven through lightning, with their crimes inscribed on their (burnt) spines.

After the advent of Taoism and Buddhism, Heaven monotheism faded in popular belief. However, some of its concepts remained in use throughout the premodern period. These concepts, often influenced heavily by Confucian theory, include the Mandate of Heaven, the Emperor's role as Son of Heaven, and the legitimate overthrow of a dynasty when its "mandate" ended. These structures actually consolidated the authority of the Emperor.

Emperors who favoured Taoism or Buddhism neglecting the worship of Heaven were often seen as anomalous. Elements were also incorporated in Chinese folk religion. Execution by lightning, for example, became one of the roles of the thunder gods. The concept of the almighty Heaven remained in popular expressions. Where an Anglophone would say "Oh my God" or "Thank God", a Chinese person might say "Oh Heaven" ("老天!" or "天哪!") or "Thank the heavens and the earth" ("謝天謝地").

[edit] Manichaeism

Manichaeism (called 摩尼教, Monijiao), an Iranic religion, entered China between the 6th century and the 8th century due to contacts between the Tang Dynasty and states of Central Asia, particularly Tokharistan.[98] In 731, a Manichaean priest was asked by the Chinese Emperor to realize a summary of the religion's teachings. He wrote the Compendium of the Teachings of Mani the Buddha of Light. The Tang government approved Manichaeism to be practiced by foreigners but prohibited preaching among Chinese people.[98]

A turning point occurred in 762 with the conversion of Bogu Khan of the Uyghurs.[98] Since 755, the Chinese Empire had been weakened by the An Shi Rebellion, and the Uyghurs had become the only fighting force serving the Tang Dynasty. Bogu Khan encouraged Manichaeism to spread in China. Manichaean temples were established in the two capitals, Chang'an and Luoyang, as well as in several other cities in the Northern and Central China.[98]

The decay of Uyghur power in 840 brought the closure of many Manichaean institutions.[98] Emperor Wuzong of Tang started the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution, which was not exclusively against Buddhism but extended to all foreign religions. The religion was severely suppressed, but didn't die out. During the period of the Five Dynasties, it re-emerged as a popular underground phenomenon, particularly in Southern China.[98]

In 1120, a rebellion led by Fang Xi was believed to be caused by adherents of underground religious communities, whose meeting places were said to host political protests. This event brought crackdowns of unauthorized religious congregations and destruction of scriptures. In 1280, the Mongol rule gave a century of freedom to Manichaeism,[98] but, in 1368, the Ming Dynasty started new persecutions.[98] The religion gradually collapsed, eventually dying out during the following centuries.

[edit] Zoroastrianism

Zoroastrianism (called 琐罗亚斯德教, Suoluoyasidejiao, or 祆教, Xianjiao) expanded in Northern China during the 6th century via the Silk Road. It gained a status of officiality in some Chinese regions. Zoroastrian fire temples have been found in Kaifeng and Zhenjiang. According to some scholars, they remained active until the 12th century, when the religion started to fade from Chinese landscape.

[edit] See also

Main religions
Faded religions
Other religions
Other areas

[edit] Further reading

[edit] External links

[edit] References

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  4. ^ Harvard - Tacit Knowledge in Taoism and Its Influence on Chinese Culture
  5. ^ WorldWide Religious News-China statute uses 'religion' for first time
  6. ^ a b Top 50 Countries With Highest Proportion of Atheists / Agnostics (Zuckerman, 2005) Source: Zuckerman, Phil. "Atheism: Contemporary Rates and Patterns", chapter in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, ed. by Michael Martin, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK (2005).
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  16. ^ Survey finds 300 million China believers
  17. ^ Religious Believers thrice the estimate
  18. ^ "Religious Believers Thrice The Official Estimate Poll". China Daily, February 7, 2007.
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  20. ^ SEANET Work - "Counting the Buddhist World Fairly," by Dr. Alex Smith (archived from the original on 2005-02-05).
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  24. ^ SACU Religion in China
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  29. ^ China Survey Reveals Fewer Christians than Some Evangelicals Want to Believe
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  31. ^ Zuckerman, Phil. "Atheism: Contemporary Numbers and Patterns". In Martin, Michael "The Cambridge Companion to Atheism". (New York: Cambridge University Press) 2006. pg. 47
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  69. ^ China Survey Reveals Fewer Christians than Some Evangelicals Want to Believe
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  86. ^ CIA - The World Factbook - China
  87. ^ China (includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet)
  88. ^ China Muslim Silaturrahim
  89. ^ China Daily - NW China region eyes global Muslim market
  90. ^ Muslim Media Network
  91. ^ 4 Chinese Muslims die during Haj
  92. ^ China government invited Swaminarayan Trust to build Temple - General,
  93. ^ a b China hankers after Akshardham
  94. ^ WorldWide Religious News-State-imposed religious monopolies deny China's religious reality
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  96. ^ people's daily
  97. ^ Amnesty International - Library - China: The crackdown on Falun Gong and other so-called "heretical organizations"
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