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Religion in China

A wide variety of religions have been practiced in China since the beginning of its history. Temples of many different religions dot the landscape of China.

The study of religion in China is complicated by several issues. Because many Chinese belief systems have concepts of a sacred and sometimes spiritual world yet do not invoke a concept of God, classifying a Chinese belief system as either a religion or a philosophy can be problematic. Thus, some regard Confucianism and Taoism as a religions, while others regard it as solely a philosophy of life.

Secondly, unlike Abrahamic religion, Chinese belief systems allow for syncretism and it is common to profess a belief in multiple belief systems. It is possible for someone to claim to be a Buddhist while living life according to Taoist principles and participating in ancestor worship rituals. A Buddhist would have no trouble viewing Jesus Christ as a Bodhisattva and incorporating Christian concepts into Buddhism while the latter is not necessarily the case.

Major belief systems that developed within China include ancestor worship, Chinese folk religion, Confucianism, shamanism, and Taoism. Most Chinese have a conception of Heaven and yin and yang. The Chinese have also believed in such practices as astrology, Feng Shui, and geomancy.

Influential religions introduced from abroad include Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity.

Table of contents
1 Buddhism
2 Taoism
3 Islam
4 Christianity
5 People's Republic of China
6 Related articles


Main article: Buddhism in China

Buddhism was introduced from India during the Han dynasty and has been very popular among Chinese of all walks of life, admired by commoners, and sponsored by emperors.


Main article: Taoism


Islam was brought into China via the Silk Road in the 7th century.

It is now practised by such minority groups as the Hui, the Uygur, and the Kazakhs.


Christianity was spread by European or Middle-Eastern travellers who came to China in AD 635, as documented by the Nestorian Stone in Xi'an.

In 1289, Franciscan friars initiated mission work in China. This mission collapsed in 1368.

The fist Jesuit attempt to reach China was made in 1552 by Francis Xavier, but he died the same year on the Chinese island of Shangchuan, without having reached the mainland. In 1582, Jesuits once again initiated mission work in China, introducing Western science, mathematics, and astronomy. One of these missionaries was Matteo Ricci.

In the early 18th century, the Chinese Rites controversy, a dispute within the Catholic Church, arose over whether Chinese folk religion rituals and offerings to the emperor constituted idolatry.

During the 1840s, foreign missionaries spread Christianity rapidly through the foreign occupied coastal cities; the Taiping Rebellion was an indirect result. British and American churches (such as the British Methodist Church) continued to send missionaries until they were prevented from doing so following the establishment of the People's Republic of China. Protestant missionaries played an extremely important role in introducing China to the United States and the United States to China. The book The Small Woman and film Inn of the Sixth Happiness tell the story of one such missionary, Gladys Aylward.

Since loosening of restrictions on religion after the 1970's, Christianity has become increasing popular within the People's Republic.

People's Republic of China

The Constitution of the People's Republic of China guarantees freedom of religion subject to a number of restrictions, the most important of which is that the Communist Party of China will react harshly against groups such as Falun Gong which it perceives as challenging its authority. During the Cultural Revolution, religion was condemned as feudalistic, but this attitude has relaxed considerably in the late 1970s, and since the mid-1990s there has been a massive program to rebuild Buddhist temples that were destroyed in the Cultural Revolution.

Many Chinese actually continue to practice a wide variety of religions. One source gives about 100 million religious worshippers (less than 10% of the population) in China:

However, this estimate of only 100 million worshippers possibly vastly undercounts the actual extent of religious practice in China.

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