Religion in China

Religion in China
Buddhism is the single most popular religion in China, with many temples and religious sites dotting the country.

Since the beginning of Chinese history, religion in China has been family-oriented. However, an odd thing about China is that there is a low percentage of people in China who call themselves religious as some people prefer using 'thought systems' or 'cultural practices' rather than the word, 'religion'. As a result, it is more difficult to gauge how many people actually belong to a particular religious belief.

Adding to this oddity is the People's Republic of China's Governmental view that it is officially atheist. This is because they feel that religion is an emblem of foreign colonialism and feudalism. For example, famous Communist leaders such as Mao Zedong and Vladimir Lenin were critical of religious institutions so houses of worships such as churches, mosques, temples, and pagodas were converted into buildings for non-religious use. In addition, the Cultural Revolution led to a policy which eliminated religions and therefore their places of worship. However, since the 1980's, this policy has become more tolerant where there were even massive programs to rebuild Taoist and Buddhist temples, as the Government sees these 2 religions as part of the Chinese culture.

According to the Chinese Communist Party, there are 5 religions that are officially recognised. These are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism. Although religious policy is much more relaxed than during the Cultural Revolution, it does control these religions to some degree by banning some new religious movements.

Buddhism is the single most popular religion in the People's Republic of China ever since it was introduced in the 1st century. Shenism, a Chinese folk religion of the Han people, which encompasses Taoism as well as shens who are local ethnic deities, ancestors, heroes, Chinese mythological figures, and more also play a part in this. 30% of the population are Buddhists, and Shenism-Taoism are 20% of the population. There are many Taoists in Sichuan as this is where the Celestial Masters held their seat.

There are many amazing Buddhist statues in China. Some of them include different Buddhas, deities, and religious personalities such as the Spring Temple Buddha in Henan. There is also the world's tallest stupa and the world's tallest pagoda in China. Tibetan Buddhism is dominant in Tibet.

Christianity is prominent in the coastal and eastern-most provinces such as Anhui, Zhejian, and areas where Wu is spoken. There are Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians (e.g. Russian Orthodox) in China. It is a minority religious group that has been growing for the past 200 years, especially since the 1970s. Unfortunately, some religious practices are still tightly controlled. For example, those over 18 are allowed to be involved with officially sanctioned Christian meetings through either the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association or the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. However, there are some 'unregistered' hose church meetings and there are reports of Christians being persecuted sporadically even after the Boxer Rebellion and the Taiping Rebellion. Despite this, the first modern clinics, hospitals, training for nurses, and educational institutions were established by Christians. China says there are 4 million Roman Catholics and 10 million Protestants, however as most of the growth has taken place 'underground', it is thought that there are actually 40 to 54 million Christians in China as the indigenous Chinese Christian population has been growing.

Islam has always been prominent in the Hui areas such as in Xinjiang and Ningxia. Islam was introduced into China in 651, which was led by an envoy which included Muhammad's uncle, Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas. The Gaozhong Emperor established the Huaisheng Mosque in memory of Prophet Muhammad. Muslims dominated during the Song and Yuan Dynasties in trade, exploration, and more. Islam is experiencing a revival due to inter-ethnic co-ordinated activities, and there are 10 minority groups which are predominantly Muslim. It is thought that there are between 20 to 30 million Muslims, with 35,000 places of worship and 45,000 imams. A record number of Chinese travelled to Mecca for the hajj in 2006, which was 40% more than the year before.

Judaism was introduced during the Tang Dynasty by small groups of Jews who settled in China. The most prominent community were the Kaifeng Jews, who are from Kaifeng, Henan. During the 20th century, there were many Jews who sought refuge from anti-Semitic programs in the Russian Empire as well as wars and revolutions from China, as well as the Central European Nazi policy in countries such as Germany, Austria, Poland, and other Eastern European Nations. Many of these people arrived in Harbin, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. In fact, there is even a Shanghai Ghetto which was known for its large population of Jewish refugees who relocated either after the war, or during the establishment of the People's Republic of China. Today, many descendants of Kaifeng Jews live amongst the population, but are unaware of their roots. However, later arrivals in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong have developed communities and academic studies in China.

Other than these major world religions, there are traditional non-Han ethnic religions such as the White Stone Religions, Dongbaism, and Moz. There are also many new religious movements that were inspired by QiGong, such as Falun Gong, Yuanji Gong, Zhong Gong, Wong Gong, and even Christian-inspired groups such as Mentuhui, Fuhuodao, Lightning from the East, Linglingism, and Zhushenism.

Confucianism is also popular amongst intellectuals. Even though it was originally rejected by the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China, the current Government now supports this ancient Chinese philosophy. There are many Confucius Institutes all around the world due to the rise in cultural conservatism and nationalism.

There are also several religions which either have a very small percentage of followers or have collapsed entirely. This includes the worship of Heaven, Manichaeism, and Zoroastrianism. Hinduism only has 130,000 followers but there are Hindu influences such as the Six Doctrines, yoga, stupas, and more in China. In the late 13th century, there were bilingual Chinese and Tamil language inscription found at a temple of Shiva in Quanzhou. This is one of 2 southern Indian-style temples which were built at an old port where foreign traders used to live.