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Religion in China

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Religion in China

"Three laughs at Tiger Brook", Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism are one, a litang style painting portraying three men laughing by a river stream, 12th century, Song dynasty.
Public worship ceremony at the Temple of Shennong-Yandi, in Suizhou, Hubei.
Temple of the Filial Blessing, a place for cultivation of lineage origins, in Wenzhou, Zhejiang.
The imposing stupa enshrining the relic of Shakyamuni Buddha's finger bone, at Famen Temple, a Buddhist complex in Baoji, Shaanxi.
A Taoist temple in Shangrao, Jiangxi, dedicated to Dongyue, the god of Mount Tai, one of the Five Great Mountains.

  • eRenlai Ricci: The boundary between religion and the state in China by Prof. Lagerwey
  • GBTimes: THE DEBATE: Insight into religion in modern China (part 1)—Part 2
  • Berkeley Center: Ritual Economy and Religious Revivial in Rural Southeast China
  • Berkeley Center: Secularization Theory and the Study of Chinese Religions
  • Berkeley Center: Understanding Contemporary Religious Pluralism in China


  • Buddhist Association of China
  • Confucian Network of China
  • Chinese Confucianism
  • China Confucian Temples
  • Chinese Taoist Association
  • China Ancestral Temples Network
  • China Temples Network

External links

  • Bays, Daniel H. Christianity in China from the Eighteenth Century to the Present. (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996). ISBN 0804726094.
  • Ch'en, Kenneth K. S. Buddhism in China, a Historical Survey. (Princeton, N.J.,: Princeton University Press, The Virginia and Richard Stewart Memorial Lectures, 1961, 1964).
  • De Groot, J.J.M. (Jan Jakob Maria), The Religious System of China: Its Ancient Forms, Evolution, History and Present Aspect, Manners, Customs and Social Institutions Connected Therewith, Brill Publishers, Leiden, The Netherlands, 1892–1910. 6 volumes.
  • Overmyer, Daniel L. Religions of China: The World as a Living System. (New York: Harper & Row, Religious Traditions of the World, 1986).
  • Paper, Jordan D. (1995). The Spirits are Drunk: Comparative Approaches to Chinese Religion. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.  
  • Wright, Arthur F.. Buddhism in Chinese History. (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1959; various reprints and translations).
  • Yang, CK., Religion in Chinese Society (California U. Press, 1970)
  • Xinzhong Yao and Yanxia Zhao, Chinese Religion (Continuum, 2010)

Further reading

  • Adler, Joseph A. The Heritage of Non-theistic Belief in China. Department of Religious Studies, Kenyon College. For: Toward a Reasonable World: The Heritage of Western Humanism, Skepticism, and Freethought, San Diego, September 2011.
  • Billioud, Sébastien. Carrying the Confucian Torch to the Masses: The Challenge of Structuring the Confucian Revival in the People's Republic of China. On: OE 49 (2010)
  • Chen, Carolyn, Russell Jeung. Sustaining Faith Traditions: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion among the Latino and Asian American Second Generation. NYU Press, 2012. ASIN: B008F83N44
  • Chen, Yong. Confucianism as Religion: Controversies and Consequences. BRILL, 2012. ISBN 9004243739
  • Craig, Edward (1998), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Volume 7, Taylor & Francis,  
  • Fan Lizhu, Chen Na. The Revival of Indigenous Religion in China. Published on China Watch, Fudan-UC Center for China Studies, Fudan University, 2013.
  • Goossaert, Vincent, David Palmer. The Religious Question in Modern China. University of Chicago Press, 2011. ISBN 0226304167
  • Jing, Jun. The Temple of Memories: History, Power, and Morality in a Chinese Village. Stanford University Press, 1996. ASIN: B004FPIAVW
  • Kuhn, Robert Lawrence (2011). How China's Leaders Think: The Inside Story of China's Past, Current and Future Leaders. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 1118104250
  • Lagerway, John. China: A Religious State. Hong Kong, University of Hong Kong Press, 2010. ISBN 9888028049
  • Libbrecht, Ulrich. Within the Four Seas...: Introduction to Comparative Philosophy. Peeters Publishers, 2007. ISBN 9042918128.
  • Littlejohn, Ronnie. Confucianism: An Introduction. I. B. Tauris, 2010. ISBN 184885174X.
  • Miller, James. Chinese Religions in Contemporary Societies. ABC-CLIO, 2006. ISBN 1851096264.
  • Nadeau, Randal L. (2012). The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Chinese Religions. Malden, MA: Blackwell. 
  • Overmyer, Daniel. Religion in China Today. Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN 0521538238.
  • Palmer, David A., Glenn Landes Shive, Glenn Shive, Philip L. Wickeri. Chinese Religious Life. Oxford University Press, 2011. ISBN 0199731381
  • Palmer, D. A. Chinese Redemptive Societies and Salvationist Religion: Historical Phenomenon or Sociological Category?. On: Journal of Chinese Ritual, Theatre and Folklore, V. 172, 2011, p. 21-72
  • Pas, Julian F. Historical Dictionary of Taoism. Part of: Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements Series. Scarecrow Press, 2014. ASIN: B00IZ9E7EI
  • Ruokanen, Miikka, Paulos Zhanzhu Huang. Christianity and Chinese Culture. William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2011. ISBN 0802865569
  • Sautman, Barry. Myths of Descent, Racial Nationalism and Ethnic Minorities in the People's Republic of China. In: Frank Dikötter. The Construction of Racial Identities in China and Japan: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Honolulu, University of Hawai'i Press, 1997, pp. 75–95. ISBN 9622094430
  • Shen, Qingsong, Kwong-loi Shun. Confucian Ethics in Retrospect and Prospect. Council for Research in Values & Philosophy, 2007. ISBN 1565182456
  • Teiser, Stephen F.The Chinese Cosmos: Basic Concepts, extracts from: Stephen F. Teiser. The Spirits of Chinese Religion. In: Religions of China in Practice. Princeton University Press, 1996.
  • Thien Do. Vietnamese Supernaturalism: Views from the Southern Region. Series: Anthropology of Asia. Routledge, 2003. ISBN 0415307996
  • Wang, Robin R. Chinese Philosophy in an Era of Globalization. State University of New York Press, 2004. ISBN 0791460061
  • Yang, Fenggang, Graeme Lang. Social Scientific Studies of Religion in China. BRILL, 2012. ISBN 9004182462


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  158. ^ Richard Madsen. The Upsurge of Religion in China. Journal of Democracy, Volume 21, Number 4. October 2010. p. 66, quote: «The encouragement of local folk religion seems to have slowed the recent growth of evangelical Christianity in the countryside. The Christian God then becomes one in a pantheon of local gods among whom the rural population divides its loyalties.»
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  172. ^ Honoring the contribution of the Three-Great-Chinese-Ancestor Culture to develop world peace. Hun Yuan's website.
  173. ^ Build the City of the Eight Trigrams on Yunmeng Mountain, integrate the differences within Chinese culture, and support the union of the Chinese people. Hun Yuan's website.
  174. ^ Build temples for the Three Great Chinese Ancestors, solidify the national union, and pray together for Cross-Strait and worldwide peace. Hun Yuan's website.
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  1. ^ These two statistics exclude those who belong to one of the five official religions.
  2. ^ There is no consensus on whether Confucianism is a religion or not. Yong Chen opens his book on this very topic thus: "The question of whether Confucianism is a religion is probably one of the most controversial issues in both Confucian scholarship and the discipline of religious studies."[108] In another work on this topic the authors observe that "There have been, and are still, those scholars who have understood Confucianism as a religion; others have argued that Confucianism is not a religion but something else, often, a philosophy."[109]



See also

Irreligion in China

They were part of the project of cultural assimilation of Manchuria into Japan, or Japanisation. The same was happening in Taiwan. With the end of World War II and the Manchu Country (Manchukuo) in 1945, and the return of Manchuria and Taiwan to China under the Guomindang, Shinto was abolished and the shrines destroyed.

Between 1931 and 1945, with the establishment of the Japanese-controlled Manchukuo ("Manchu Country") in northeast China (Manchuria), many shrines of State Shinto (神社, Chinese: shénshè, Japanese: jinja) were established in the area.

Shinto shrine of Jilin city, Jilin province.


Zoroastrianism (琐罗亚斯德教 Suǒluōyàsīdéjiào or 祆教 Xiānjiào) expanded in northern China during the 6th century through the Silk Road. It gained the status of an officially authorised religion in some Chinese regions. Remains of Zoroastrian fire temples have been found in Kaifeng and Zhenjiang. According to some scholars, they were active until the 12th century, when the religion disappeared from China.


A small Hindu (印度教 Yìndùjiào) community of traders from India had existed in past centuries in coastal Fujian. A bilingual Tamil-Chinese inscription dated from the 13th century has been found within the remains of a Shiva temple in Quanzhou. This was one of possibly two Hindu temples of southern Indian architecture that were built in the southeastern area of the old port, where the foreign traders' enclave was located. Various influences from Hindu thought penetrated China through the spread of Buddhism in the country.

Relief of the Hindu god Narasimha shown at the museum of Quanzhou.


In 1120, a rebellion led by Fang Xi was believed to be caused by adherents of secret religious communities, whose meeting places were said to host political dissidents. This event brought crackdowns of unauthorized religious congregations and destruction of scriptures. In 1280, the rule of the Mongol Yuan dynasty gave a century of freedom to Manichaeism.[176] Subsequently, since 1368 the Ming dynasty started a new policy of extermination of the religion, which eventually disappeared completely.[176] Religious movements of the following centuries such as the Xiantiandao, are said to have inherited Manichaean influences.

The decline of Uyghur power in 840 brought an end to the prosperity of Manichaeism.[176] Emperor Wuzong of Tang started the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution, which was not exclusively against Buddhism but extended to all foreign religions. Manichaeism was suppressed but didn't disappear. During the period of the Five Dynasties, it re-emerged as an underground phenomenon, particularly in southern China.[176]

A turning point occurred in 762 with the conversion of Bogu Khan of the Uyghurs.[176] 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 the spread of Manichaeism into China. Manichaean temples were established in the two capitals, Chang'an and Luoyang, as well as in several other cities in northern and central China.[176]

Manichaeism (摩尼教 Móníjiào), an Iranian religion, entered China between the 6th and 8th centuries through interactions between the Tang dynasty and states of Central Asia, Daxia (Bactria).[176] In 731, a Manichaean priest was asked by the Chinese emperor to make a summary of the religion's teachings. He wrote the Compendium of the Teachings of Mani the Buddha of Light. The Tang emperors approved Manichaeism to be practiced by foreigners but prohibited preaching among Chinese people.[176]

A Manichaean inscription, dated 1445, at Cao'an Temple. (Modern replica).[175]
The Buddha of Light (Mani) carved from the living rock at Cao'an Temple (now Buddhist), in Jinjiang, Fujian.


Other religions

The Weixinist church, which was founded and headquartered in Taiwan, is active in China in the key birthplaces of the Chinese culture. It has a contract with Henan government for building the "City of Eight Trigrams" templar complex on Yunmeng Mountain (of the Yan Mountains),[173] and it has also built temples in Hebei.[174]

Weixinism (唯心聖教 Wéixīn shèngjiào, "Holy Religion of the Only Heart", or simply 心聖教 Wéixīnjiào) is a religion primarily based on the "orthodox lineages of Yijing and feng shui",[170] the Hundred Schools of Thought,[171] and worship of the "three great ancestors" (Huangdi, Yandi and Chiyou).[172] The movement promotes the restoration of the authentic roots of the Chinese civilization and Chinese reunification.[171]


Xiantiandao (先天道 Xiāntiāndào, "Way of the Original Heaven"), also simply Tiandao (天道 Tiāndào, "Way of the Heaven"), encompasses a group of religions of Chinese origin which trace their lineage back to the White Lotus movement in past centuries. They share a common background in Han Shenism (folk religion) and Taoism, but show themes and perspectives from Gnostic-Christian and Buddhist traditions. The most known group of the Xiantiandao lineage is Yiguandao.


Some movements are of Christian origin. This group includes Zhushenism, Linglingism, Fuhuodao, Mentuhui and Eastern Lightning or the Church of Almighty God.[169]

A variety of new religious movements are present in China.[168] The majority are indigenous, stemming from the cadre of Chinese folk religion and Taoism, and some were already active before the communist revolution in 1949. These are primarily the so-called Chinese salvationist religions, including the centuries-old Xiantiandao lineage. Also many Qigong schools may rely on the worldview of the Chinese folk religion: Falun Gong, Zhong Gong, Yuanji Gong and Wang Gong are examples of schools of Qigong. Another movement, Weixinism, promoting orthodox Chinese culture, has reached an accord with local governmental institutions.

Han dynasty fragments representing Qigong practices.

New religions

The Bahá'í Faith (巴哈伊信仰 Bāhāyī xìnyǎng, 巴哈伊教 Bāhāyī jiào, or, in old translations, 大同教 Dàtóng jiào) has a presence in China[167] since the 18th century.

Bahá'í Faith

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 (i.e. Institute of Jewish Studies (Nanjing), China Judaic Studies Association).[166]

Shanghai was particularly notable for its numerous Jewish refugees (Shanghai Ghetto), 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, especially by Chabad-Lubavitch.

Judaism (犹太教 Yóutàijiào) was introduced during the Tang dynasty 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, Shanghai, and Harbin during those cities' periods of economic expansion in the first decades of the century, as well as for the purpose of seeking refuge from anti-Semitic pogroms in the Russian Empire (the early 1900s), the communist revolution and civic war in Russia (1917–1918), and anti-Semitic Nazi policy in Central Europe, chiefly in Germany and Austria (1937–1940), and the last wave from Poland and other Eastern European countries (the early 1940s).[165]


Today Islam is experiencing a 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, but they constitute a majority only in Xinjiang, and a large amount of the population in Ningxia and Qinghai. Of China's recognised ethnic minorities, ten groups are predominantly Muslim. Accurate statistics on China's current Muslim population are hard to find; it is estimated that as of 2010 there are 23 million Muslims in the country (1.5% of the total population).[17] They are served by 35.000 to 45.000 mosques, 40.000 to 50.000 imams (ahong), and 10 Quranic institutions.[17]

After the fall of the Qing, Sun Yat-sen, proclaimed that the country belonged equally to the Han, Manchu, Mongol, Tibetan and Hui people. In the 1920s the provinces of Qinhai, Gansu and Ningxia came under the control of Muslim Governors/Warlords known as the Ma clique, who served as generals in the National Revolutionary Army. During Maoist rule, in the Cultural Revolution, mosques were often defaced, destroyed or closed and copies of the Quran were destroyed by the Red Guards.[164]

The rise of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) saw numerous rebellions including the Panthay Rebellion, which occurred in Yunnan province from 1855 to 1873, and the Dungan revolt, which occurred mostly in Xinjiang, Shaanxi and Gansu, from 1862 to 1877. The Manchu government ordered the execution of all rebels killing a million people in the Panthay Rebellion,[163] several million in the Dungan revolt.[163] However, many Muslims like Ma Zhan'ao, Ma Anliang, Dong Fuxiang, Ma Qianling, and Ma Julung defected to the Qing dynasty side, and helped the Qing general Zuo Zongtang exterminate the Muslim rebels. These Muslim generals belonged to the Khafiya sect, and they helped Qing defeat Jahariyya rebels. In 1895, another Dungan Revolt (1895) broke out, and loyalist Muslims like Dong Fuxiang, Ma Anliang, Ma Guoliang, Ma Fulu, and Ma Fuxiang suppressed and massacred the rebel Muslims led by Ma Dahan, Ma Yonglin, and Ma Wanfu. A Muslim army called the Kansu Braves led by General Dong Fuxiang fought for the Qing dynasty against the foreigners during the Boxer Rebellion.

During the Ming dynasty, Muslims continued to have an influence among the high classes. 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. Zheng He led seven expeditions to the Indian Ocean. The Hongwu Emperor composed The Hundred-word Eulogy in praise of Muhammad. Muslims who were descended from earlier immigrats began to assimilate by speaking Chinese dialects and by adopting Chinese names and culture. They developed their own cuisine, architecture, martial arts and calligraphy. This era, sometimes considered the Golden Age of Islam in China, also saw Nanjing become an important center of Islamic study.

Muslims went to China to trade and virtually dominated the import and export industry by the time of the Song dynasty, with the office of Director General of Shipping consistently being held by a Muslim. Immigration increased when hundreds of thousands of Muslims were relocated to help administer China during the Yuan dynasty. A Muslim, Yeheidie'erding, led the construction of the Yuan capital of Khanbaliq, in present-day Beijing.[163]

Islam (伊斯兰教 Yīsīlánjiào or 回教 Huíjiào) traditionally dates back to a diplomatic mission in 651, eighteen years after Muhammad's death, led by Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas. Emperor Gaozong is said to have shown esteem for Islam and established the Huaisheng Mosque, or Memorial Mosque, in memory of the Prophet.[162]

Taizi Mosque in Yinchuan, Ningxia.
The gongbei (shrine) of the Sufi master Yu Baba in Linxia City, Gansu.
Machang Mosque in Linxia, Gansu, is a mosque of the Xidaotang sect.


Christians have an uneven geographic distribution, but a more even social composition.[161] The only provinces in which they constitute a population significantly larger than 1 million persons are Henan, Anhui and Zhejiang.[161] The social composition of Christianity in China is characterised by a prevalence of women, illiterate, and elderly people.[161]

Christianity, especially in the Protestant form, gained momentum in China between the 1980s and the 1990s.[156] In more recent times it has been curbed by the rapid regeneration of indigenous beliefs.[157][158] Protestants today, including both official and unofficial churches, have between 25 and 35 million adherents.[159][160] Instead, Catholics are not more than 10 million.[159][160] A 2010 survey counted 33 million Christians, or 2.4% of the total population of China.[17]

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,[152] 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,[153] and the unjust treatment of maidservants, as well as launching charitable work and distributing food to the poor. They also opposed the opium trade[154] 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. By 1921, Harbin, Manchuria's largest city, had a Russian population of around 100,000, constituting a large part of Christianity in the city.[155]

Christianity began to take root in a significant way in the late imperial period, 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 period 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.

At the end of the Ming dynasty in the 16th century, Jesuits arrived in Beijing via Guangzhou. The most famous of the Jesuit missionaries 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 had existed in China as early as the 7th century AD, having multiple cycles of strong presence for hundreds of years at a time, disappearing for hundreds of years, and then being re-introduced. The arrival of the Persian missionary Alopen in 635, during the early part of the Tang dynasty, is considered by some to be the first entry of the Christian religion into China. What Westerners referred to as Nestorian Christianity flourished for hundreds of years, until Emperor Wuzong of the Tang dynasty adopted anti-religious measures in 845, expelling Buddhism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism and confiscating their considerable assets. Christianity again came to China in the 13th century during the Mongol-established Yuan dynasty, when the Mongols brought Nestorianism back to the region, and contacts began with the Papacy, such as Franciscan missionaries in 1294. When the native Chinese Ming dynasty overthrew the Yuan dynasty in the 14th century, Christians were again expelled from China.

Christianity (基督教 Jīdūjiào, "religion of Christ") in China comprises Protestantism (基督教新教 Jīdūjiào xīnjiào, "New-Christianity"), Catholicism (天主教 Tiānzhǔjiào, "religion of the Lord of Heaven"), and a small number of Orthodox Christians (正教 Zhèng jiào). Also Mormonism (摩爾門教 Mó'ěrménjiào) has a tiny presence.[150] The Orthodox Church, which has believers among the Russian minority and some Chinese in the far northeast and far northwest, is officially recognised only in Heilongjiang.[151]

The Lord's Prayer in Classical Chinese (1889).
Puqian Church (Protestant) in Fuzhou, Fujian.
Church of the Holy Family (Catholic) in Wuhan, Hubei.


Abrahamic religions

Manchu shamanism (满族萨满教 Mǎnzú sàmǎnjiào) is still practiced by some Manchu people, while most of them are either Buddhist, practitioners of Chinese religion, or non-religious. It had important role in the Qing dynasty period. It includes ancestor veneration, as Manchu shamans believe that all the spirits they sacrifice to are the original clans' spirits.

Yao Taoism is a branch of Taoism practiced by the Yao or Mien. The Yao adopted Taoism in the 13th century, translating Taoist scriptures from Chinese to their languages, and incorporating the new religion into their culture and ancestral worship. As a result, Yao Taoism is strictly bound to Yao culture, but at the same time its pantheon is more conservative than that of Chinese Taoism, which has evolved differently since the 14th century.

Ua Dab (Hmong word for "worshiping the gods") is the religion of most of the Hmong people in China. It is a religion of the animistic and shamanic typology, pantheistic theology, centered on worship and communication with gods and spirits, and on ancestor veneration. Through its history it has incorporated theoretical and ritual elements from Taoism, and broader Chinese culture, especially the emphasis on the pattern of the forces of natural universe and the need of human life to be in accordance with these forces.

The traditional religion of the Qiang people (mostly residing in north-western Sichuan) is known as Ruism.[149] It is a polytheistic and monistic religion, centered on the worship of ancestors and nature.[149] In the Ruist theology, there is a highest "god of Heaven", called Mubyasei or Shan Wang, five major gods, and twelve lesser gods, besides tree gods and mountain gods.[149] White stones are used as symbols of the Qiang gods.[149]

Dongbaism (東巴教 Dōngbajiào, "religion of the eastern Ba") is the primary religion of the Nakhi people. About two-thirds of today Nakhi are Dongbaists. The "dongba" ("eastern Ba") are masters of the culture, literature and the script of the Nakhi people. They originated as Bön masters that arrived among Nakhi during the 11th or 12th century. Dongbaism eventually originated by the combination of Bön with Nakhi native beliefs. Dongbaists worship nature and generation, in the form of chimera-dragon-serpent creatures called Shv or Shu.

Benzhuism (本主教 Běnzhǔjiào, "religion of the patrons") is the indigenous religion of the Bai people, an ethnic group of Yunnan. It consists in the worship of the ngel zex, Bai word for "patrons" or "lords", rendered as benzhu (本主) in Chinese, that are local gods and deified ancestors of the Bai nation. It is very similar to the Chinese traditional religion.


Mongolian shamanism (蒙古族萨满教 Ménggǔzú sàmǎnjiào) or Tengerism (腾格里教 Ténggélǐjiào) is practiced by many Mongols in China, mostly residing in the region of Inner Mongolia, besides Mongolian Buddhism. Genghis Khan worship is popular in Mongol shamanism, as the hero-ancestor is considered a manifestation and intermediary of Tenger (Heaven).[146] An important center of this belief is the Mausoleum of Genghis Khan in Ordos City; there are other temples dedicated to Genghis Khan in Inner Mongolia and northern China.[147][148]

Main hall of the Mausoleum of Genghis Khan in Ordos City, Inner Mongolia, one of the temples for the worship of Genghis Khan.

Mongol shamanism

Bön (Tibetan: བོན་; Chinese: 苯教 Běnjiào) is the oldest spiritual tradition of Tibet, dominant before the introduction of Buddhism. The Bön religion is considered to have been founded by the mythical figure of Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche. With the spread of Buddhism, Bön incorporated styles, iconography and clergy system of the new religion, whereas remaining a distinguished tradition. Simultaneously, Bönpo elements combined with original Buddhism gave origin to Tibetan Buddhism.

The Narshi Gompa, a Bönpo monastery in Aba, Sichuan.

Tibetan Bön

Bimoism (毕摩教 Bìmójiào) is the indigenous religion of the Yi people, the largest ethnic group in Yunnan after the Han Chinese. It takes its name from the bimo, shaman-priests who are also masters of Yi language and scriptures, wearing distinctive black robes and large hats. Since the 1980s, with the loosening of religion restrictions in China, Bimoism has undergone a revitalisation with the Bimo Culture Research Center founded in 1996. In the early 2010s the government of China has helped the revival of the Bimoist faith through the construction of large temples and ceremonial complexes.[143][144][145]

Yi Bimoism

Moism (摩教 Mójiào) or Zhuang Shigongism (壮族师公教 Zhuàngzú shīgōng jiào, "Zhuang ancestral father religion"), is the traditional religion of the Zhuang people, the largest ethnic minority of China, inhabiting Guangxi. About 80–90% of the Zhuang follow their ethnic faith.[142] It is a polytheistic-monistic and shamanic religion centered around the creator god Buluotuo. Its beliefs are codified into a mythology and a sacred scripture, the "Buluotuo Epic". A very similar religion of the same name is that of the Buyei people, kindred to the Zhuang.

Zhuang Moism

Various Chinese non-Han minority populations practice unique indigenous religions. The government of China promotes and protects the indigenous religions of minority nations as pivotal expression of their culture and ethnic identity.[141]

Non-Han indigenous religions

The government of China asserts that the present (11th) incarnation of the Panchen Lama is Gyancain Norbu, while the 14th Dalai Lama asserted it was Gedhun Choekyi Nyima in 1995.

There are controversies around the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy, specifically the succession of Tenzin Gyatso the 14th Dalai Lama, who was not only the spiritual leader of Gelug, the major branch of Tibetan Buddhism, but also the reputed traditional political ruler of Tibet and was exiled with the establishment of the modern People's Republic of China. The Panchen Lama, the Tibetan hierarch in charge of the designation of the future successor of the Dalai Lama, is the matter of controversy between the Chinese government and Tenzin Gyatso.

The Buddhist schools that emerged in the cultural sphere of Tibet also have an influence throughout China that dates back to historical interactions of the Han Chinese with Tibetans and Mongols. There are many Tibetan Buddhist temples as far east as Beijing. The Yonghe Temple of the capital city is one example.

Tibetan Buddhism

Sertar Larung Gar, the largest Tibetan Buddhist institute in the world, in Sêrtar, Sichuan.
Mount-like pavilion of the Tibetan Buddhist monastery of Tagong, Sichuan.

Today the most popular forms of Chinese Buddhism are the Pure Land and Chán schools. In recent years, the influence of Chinese Buddhism has been expressed through the construction of large-scale statues, pagodas and temples, including the Guan Yin of the South Sea of Sanya inaugurated in 2005, and the Spring Temple Buddha, the highest statue in the world. Many temples in China also claim to host relics of the original Gautama Buddha.

[17].formal initiates", of which only 17.300.000 (1.3%) are Buddhist making China the country with the most Buddhist adherents in the world. A 2010 survey has reported that 185.000.000 people (12.5%) identify as "[59][58][57] Most recent surveys have found that Buddhist adherents in China constitute 18% to 20% of the total population, or around 300 million people,[140] With the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949 Buddhism was suppressed and temples closed or destroyed. The

Buddhism was not universally welcomed, particularly among the gentry. The Buddha's teaching seemed alien and amoral to conservative and Confucian sensibilities.[138] 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.[135] However, Buddhism and Confucianism eventually reconciled after centuries of conflict and assimilation.[139]

The entry of Buddhism into China was marked by interaction with Taoism in particular,[134] from which a set of uniquely Chinese Buddhist schools emerged (汉传佛教 Hànchuán Fójiào, "Han Buddhism" or "Chinese Buddhism"). Originally seen as a kind of "foreign Taoism", Buddhism's scriptures were translated into Chinese using the Taoist vocabulary.[135] Chan Buddhism in particular was shaped 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".[136] In the Tang dynasty Taoism itself absorbed Buddhist influences such as monasticism, vegetarianism, prohibition of alcohol, and the doctrine of emptiness. During the same period, Chan Buddhism grew to become the largest sect in Chinese Buddhism.[137]

This led to a series of persecutions of Buddhism, starting with the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution, through which many monasteries were destroyed and the religion's influence in China was greatly reduced. Buddhism survived and regained a place in the Chinese society over the following centuries.

Buddhism was introduced into China from its western neighbouring peoples 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. The expansion of Buddhism reached its peak during the Tang dynasty, in the 9th century, when Buddhist monasteries had become very rich and powerful.

Chinese Buddhism

Gates of the Donglin Temple of Shanghai.
Golden Temple at the summit of Mount Emei, in Sichuan. Emei is another sacred mountain of Buddhism.
Unwilling-to-Leave Guanyin Temple in Zhoushan, Zhejiang, is a sanctuary dedicated to Guanyin of the Mount Putuo, one of the Four Sacred Mountains of Chinese Buddhism.

In China, Buddhism (佛教 Fójiào) is represented by a large number of people following the Mahayana form. This is distinguished in two very different cultural traditions, the schools of Chinese Buddhism followed by the Han Chinese, and the schools of Tibetan Buddhism followed by Tibetans and Mongols. The vast majority of Buddhists in China, counted in the hundreds of millions, are Chinese Buddhists, while Tibetan Buddhists are in the number of the tens of millions. Small communities of the Theravada exist among minority ethnic groups who live in southwestern provinces of Yunnan and Guangxi which border Burma, Thailand and Laos, and the Li people of Hainan.


Fashi are practitioners of tongji possession, healing, exorcism and jiao rituals[132] (although historically they were excluded from performing the jiao liturgy[128]). They aren't shamans (wu), with the exception of the fashi of Mount Lu Faism.[132] The priests of the Mount Lu order are popular in eastern China.[133]

Although the two types of priests, daoshi and fashi, have the same roles in Chinese society—in that they can marry and they perform rituals for communities' temples or private homes—Zhengyi daoshi emphasize their Taoist tradition, distinguished from the more vernacular tradition of the fashi.[128][131]

Chinese ritual masters, also referred to as practitioners of Faism (法教 Fǎjiào),[129][130] also named Folk Taoism (民间道教 Mínjiàn Dàojiào) or "Redhead Taoism", are orders of ritual mastery that operate within the Chinese folk religion, but outside institutional or official Taoism.[128] The "masters of rites", the fashi (法師), are also known as hongtou daoshi (紅頭道士), meaning "redhead" or "redhat" daoshi, in contradistinction with the wutou daoshi (traditional Chinese: 烏頭道士), "blackhead" or "blackhat" daoshi, as they call the sanju daoshi of Zhengyi Taoism that were traditionally ordained by the Celestial Master.[128]

A folk Taoist ritual master in China.

Ritual mastery—Faism

While the Chinese Taoist Association started as a Quanzhen institution, and remains based at the White Cloud Temple of Beijing, that is the central temple of the Quanzhen sect, since the 1990s it started to open to the sanju daoshi of the Zhengyi branch, who are more numerous than the Quanzhen monks. The Chinese Taoist Association had already 20.000 registered sanju daoshi in the mid-1990s,[126] while in the same years the total number of Zhengyi priests including the unregistered ones was estimated at 200.000.[127] The Zhengyi sanju daoshi are trained by other priests of the same sect, and historically received formal ordination by the Celestial Master,[128] although the 63rd Celestial Master Zhang Enpu fled to Taiwan in the 1940s during the Chinese Civil War.

There are two types of daoshi (Taoist priests), following the distinction between the Quanzhen and Zhengyi traditions. Quanzhen daoshi are celibate monks, and therefore the Taoist temples of the Quanzhen school are monasteries. Contrarywise, the Zhengyi daoshi, also known as sanju daoshi ("scattered" or "diffused" Taoists) or huoju daoshi ("Taoists who live at home"), are part-time priests who may marry and have other jobs, they live among the common people, and perform Taoist rituals within the field of the Chinese folk religion, for local temples and communities.

Suppressed during the Cultural Revolution, Taoism is undergoing a revival today.[125] In 1956 a national organization, the Chinese Taoist Association was set up to administer Taoist activities. A 2010 survey has found that in China, Taoism has 12,000,000 initiates (0.8% of the population) strictly identifying as only "Taoist" with another 173,000,000 (13%) who practice Chinese folk religion in a Taoist framework (adopting Taoist tenets and practices).[17]

Taoism has had profound influence on Chinese culture in the course of the centuries, and clerics of institutionalised Taoism (Chinese: 道士; pinyin: dàoshi, "masters of the Tao") usually take care to note distinction between their ritual tradition and the customs and practices found in Chinese folk religion as these distinctions sometimes appear blurred.

Taoist propriety and ethics may vary depending on the particular school, but in general tends to emphasize wu-wei (action through non-action), "naturalness", simplicity, spontaneity, and the Three Treasures: compassion, moderation, and humility.

Institutionalized forms, however, evolved over time in the shape of a number of different schools, that in more recent times are conventionally grouped into two main branches: Quanzhen Taoism and Zhengyi Taoism. Taoist schools traditionally feature reverence for Laozi, immortals or ancestors, along with a variety of divination and exorcism rituals, and practices for achieving ecstasy, longevity or immortality.

While Taoism drew its cosmological notions from the tenets of the School of Yin Yang, the Tao Te Ching, a compact and ambiguous book containing teachings attributed to Laozi is widely considered its keystone work. Together with the writings of Zhuangzi, these two texts build the philosophical foundation of Taoism. This philosophical Taoism, individualistic by nature, is not institutionalized.

Taoism as such did not come together as coherent or institutionalized religious tradition until the Han dynasty. In earlier ancient China, Taoists were thought of a hermits or recluses who did not participate in political life. Zhuangzi, was the best known of these, and it is significant that he lived in the south, where he was part of the earlier tradition of shamanism. [123] Women shamans played an important role in this tradition, which was particularly strong in the southern state of Chu. Early Taoist movements developed their own institution in contrast to shamanism, but absorbed basic shamanic elements. Shamans revealed basic texts of Taoism from early times down to at least the 20th century. [124]

Taoism (道教 Dàojiào) refers to a variety of related philosophical and ritual traditions, born in China itself in the 6th century BCE, that emphasize living in harmony with the Tao (also romanized as Dao). The term Tao means "way", "path" or "principle", and can also be found in Chinese philosophies and religions other than Taoism. In Taoism, however, Tao denotes something that is both the source and the driving force behind everything that exists. It is ultimately ineffable: "The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao."[122]

Altar to Shangdi (上帝 "Primordial God") and Doumu (斗母 "Mother of the Great Chariot"), together representing the originating principle of the universe in some Taoist cosmologies, in the Chengxu Temple of Zhouzhuang, Jiangxi.
Taoist temple dedicated to Jiutian Xuannü on Mount Fenghuang, in Lunmalong village, Duoba, Qinghai.


Other forms of revival are Chinese folk religion[117] or Chinese salvationist religion[118] groups with a Confucian focus, for example the Yidan xuetang (一耽学堂) based in Beijing.[119] "Confucian businessmen" (rushang, also "learned businessman"), is a recently recovered term that defines people of the enterpreneurial or economic elite that recognise their social responsibility and therefore apply Confucian culture to their business.[120] Also, the Hong Kong Confucian Academy, the heir of Kang Youwei's idea, has expanded its activities to the mainland, with the construction of statues of Confucius, and the first Confucian church in Shenzhen and another structure in Qufu in the year 2009.[121]

In contemporary China, the Confucian revival has developed into different, yet interwoven, directions: the proliferation of Confucian schools or academies (shuyuan 书院),[115] the resurgence of Confucian rites (chuantong liyi),[115] and the birth of new forms of Confucian activity on the popular level, such as the Confucian communities (shequ ruxue 社区儒学).

The idea of a "Confucian Church" as the state religion of China has roots in the thought of Kang Youwei, an exponent of the early New Confucian search for a regeneration of the social relevance of Confucianism, at a time when it was de-institutionalised with the collapse of the Qing dynasty and the Chinese empire.[116] Kang modeled his ideal "Confucian Church" after European national Christian churches, as a hierarchical and centralised institution, closely bound to the state, with local church branches, devoted to the worship and the spread of the teachings of Confucius.[116]

In 2005 the Center for the Study of Confucian Religion was established,[114] and guoxue education started to be implemented in public schools. Being well received by the population, even Confucian "televangelists" started to appear on television since 2006.[114] The most enthusiast New Confucians proclaim the uniqueness and superiority of Confucian Chinese culture, and have generated some popular sentiment against Western cultural influences in China.[114]

In the 2000s mainland China, Confucianism has been embraced as a religious identity by a large numbers of intellectuals and students.[114] In 2003 the Confucian intellectual Kang Xiaoguang published a manifesto in which he made four suggestions: Confucian education should enter official education at any level, from elementary to high school; the state should establish Confucianism as the state religion by law; Confucian religion should enter the daily life of ordinary people through standardization and development of doctrines, rituals, organisations, churches and activity sites; the Confucian religion should be spread through NGOs.[114] Another modern proponent of the institutionalisation of Confucianism in a state church is Jiang Qing.[115]

Religious aspects promoted by Confucianism include awareness of the Tian, ritual and sacrifice for gods and ancestors; however, over the centuries Confucianism never developed an official institutional structure as Taoism did, and its religious aspects never completely detached from Chinese folk religion.

The core of Confucianism is humanistic,[111] or what the philosopher Herbert Fingarette calls "the secular as sacred". Confucianism focuses on the practical order inscribed in a this-worldly awareness of the Tian and a proper respect of the gods (shen),[112] with particular emphasis on the importance of the family, rather than on a transcendent divine or a soteriology.[113] This stance rests on the belief that human beings are teachable, improvable, and perfectible through personal and communal endeavor especially self-cultivation and self-creation. Confucian thought focuses on the cultivation of virtue and maintenance of ethics. Some of the basic Confucian ethical concepts and practices include rén, , and , and zhì. Ren is an obligation of altruism and humaneness for other individuals. Yi is the upholding of righteousness and the moral disposition to do good. Li is a system of ritual norms and propriety that determines how a person should properly act in everyday life. Zhi is the ability to see what is right and fair, or the converse, in the behaviors exhibited by others. Confucianism holds one in contempt, either passively or actively, for the failure of upholding the cardinal moral values of ren and yi.

Confucianism lost its influence in the 20th century, substituted by the "Three Principles of the People" with the establishment of the Republic of China, and then Maoism under the People's Republic of China. In the late twentieth century, some people credited Confucianism with the rise of the East Asian economy and it enjoyed a rise in popularity both in China and abroad. A contemporary New Confucian revival continues revitalisation movements of the early 20th century.

Confucianism (儒教 Rújiào, "teaching of the cultured ones"; or 孔教 Kǒngjiào, "teaching of Confucius") is an ethical and philosophical system, on occasion described as a religion,[note 2] developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (孔夫子 Kǒng Fūzǐ, "Master Kong", 551–479 BCE). Confucianism originated as an "ethical-sociopolitical teaching" during the Spring and Autumn Period, but later developed metaphysical and cosmological elements in the Han dynasty,[110] and became the state ideology of the Chinese empire.


Prayer flairs at a Confucian temple.
Altar dedicated to Confucius at a temple in Pingyao, Shanxi.
Temple of Confucius of Liuzhou, Guangxi. This is a wénmiào (文庙), that is to say a temple where Confucius is worshiped as Wéndì (文帝), "Culture Emperor", "God Making Culture Thrive".

This group of religions includes[106] Putian region (Xinghua) of Fujian where it is legally recognised.[14]

Many of the redemptive religions of the 20th and 21st century aspire to become the repository of the entirety of the Chinese tradition in the face of Western modernism and materialism.[105]

They are characterised by egalitarianism; a foundation through a charismatic figure and a direct divine revelation; a millenarian eschatology and a voluntary path of salvation; an embodied experience of the numinous through healing and cultivation; and an expansive orientation through good deeds, evangelism and philanthropy.[104] Their practices are focused on their moral teachings, body cultivation, and recitation of scriptures.[99]

The 20th-century expression of this kind of religions has been studied under the definition of "redemptive societies" (救世团体 jiùshì tuántǐ),[101] while modern Chinese scholarship tends to describe them as "folk religious sects" (民间教门 mínjiān jiàomén or 民间教派 mínjiān jiàopài),[102] abandoning the ancient derogatory definition of xiéjiào (邪教), "heretical doctrines".[103]

China has a long history of sect traditions characterised by a soteriological and eschatological character, often called "salvationist religions" (救度宗教 jiùdù zōngjiào),[99] emerged from the traditional folk faith but neither ascribable to the lineage cult of ancestors and progenitors, nor to the communal-liturgical religion of village temples, neighbourhood, corporation, or national temples.[100]

Sect traditions

«... the two decades after the reforms have seen the revival of many folk societies organized around the worshipping of local deities, which had been banned by the state for decades as "feudal superstition". These societies enjoy wide local support, as they carry on traditions going back many generations, and cater to popular beliefs in theism, fatalism and retribution ... Because they build on tradition, common interest, and common values, these societies enjoy social legitimacy ...»

According to Yiyi Lu, discussing the reconstruction of Chinese civil society:[98]

The Chinese folk religion is a "diffused religion" rather than "institutional".[97] It is a meaning system of social solidarity and identity, ranging from the kinship systems to the community, the state, and the economy, that serves to integrate Chinese culture.[97]

«Chinese rarely use the term "religion" for their popular religious practices, and they also do not utilize vocabulary that they "believe in" gods or truths. Instead they engage in religious acts that assume a vast array of gods and spirits and that also assume the efficacy of these beings in intervening in this world.»

Chinese religion mirrors the social landscape, and takes on different meanings for different people.[96] According to Chen and Jeung,[97]

«... numbers for authorised religions are dwarfed by the huge comeback of traditional folk religion in China. ... these actually may involve the majority of the population. Chinese officials and scholars now are studying "folk faiths" ... after decades of suppressing any discussion of this phenomenon. Certain local officials for some time have had to treat regional folk faiths as de facto legitimate religion, alongside the five authorized religions.»

According to Wu and Lansdowne:[95]

According to old statistics, the Chinese folk religion has 454 million people involved, or about 6.6% of the world population,[92] making it one of the major religious traditions in the world. More recent statistics of the Pew Research Center put the number of practitioners in China at 22% of the total population.[93] A survey in 2010 has found larger numbers: 754,000,000 people (56.2%) practice Chinese ancestral worship, and 173,000,000 (12.9%) practice Taoism on a level indistinguishable from the folk religion.[17] Chen and Jeung (2012) report other figures collected through empirical research of self-identification, according to which in China 60% of the population believes in the at least one type of supernatural phenomenon (mostly fate and fortune).[60][61] Other figures from the micro-level testify the wide proliferation of folk religions: in 1989 there were 21,000 male and female shamans (shen han and wu po respectively, as they are named locally), 60% of them young, in the Pingguo County of Guangxi alone.[94]

Despite being heavily suppressed during the last two centuries of the history of China, from the Taiping Movement to the Cultural Revolution, it is now experiencing a revival[90][91] and many of its forms have received a degrees of official recognition by the government of China, such as in the cases of Mazuism and Xiaism in southeastern China,[14] and Huangdi worship.[15]

In Chinese religions, yin and yang is the polarity that describes the order of the universe,[88] held in balance by the interaction of principles of growth (shen) and principles of waning (gui),[80] with act (yang) usually preferred over receptiveness (yin).[89] Ling (numen or sacred) is the "medium" of the bivalency, and the inchoate order of creation.[89]

Despite their great diversity, all the expressions of Chinese folk religion have a common core that can be summarised as four spiritual, cosmological, and moral concepts[85]Tian (天), Heaven, the source of moral meaning, the utmost god and the universe itself; qi (气), the breath or substance of the universe; jingzu (敬祖), the veneration of ancestors; bao ying (报应), moral reciprocity—, and two traditional concepts of fate and meaning[86]ming yun (命运), the personal destiny or burgeoning; and yuan fen (缘分), "fateful coincidence",[87] good and bad chances and potential relationships.[87]

The Chinese folk religion has a variety of sources, localised worship forms, ritual and philosophical traditions. Among the ritual traditions, notable examples include Chinese shamanism (Wuism) and Nuo rituals. Chinese folk religion is sometimes categorized inadequately as "Taoism", since over the centuries institutional Taoism has been assimilating or administering local religions. Zhengyi Taoism is especially intertwined with local cults, with Zhengyi daoshi often performing rituals for local temples and communities. Various orders of ritual ministers operate in folk religion but outside codified Taoism. Confucianism advocates worship of gods and ancestors through proper rites.[83][84] Taoism in its various currents, either comprehended or not within the Chinese folk religion, has some of its origins from Wuism.[30]

Chinese traditional or folk religions (中国民间宗教 or 中国民间信仰, Zhōngguó mínjiān zōngjiào or Zhōngguó mínjiān xìnyǎng) are a collection of grassroots ethnic religious and/or spiritual experiences, disciplines, beliefs, practices of the Han Chinese, or the indigenous religion of China.[79] It primarily consists in the worship of the shen (神 "gods", "spirits", "awarenesses", "consciousnesses", "archetypes"; literally "expressions", the energies that generate things and make them thrive[80]) which can be nature deities, city deities or tutelary deities of other human agglomerations, national deities, cultural heroes and demigods, ancestors and progenitors, deities of the kinship. Holy narratives regarding some of these gods are codified into the body of Chinese mythology. Another name of this complex of religions is Chinese Universism (not in the sense of "universalism", that is a system of universal application, but in the original sense of "uni-verse" which is "towards the One", that is the TianShangdi or Taidi in Chinese thought), especially referring to its intrinsic metaphysical perspective.[81][82]

Different levels of the folk faith
Xuanyuan Temple, dedicated to the worship of Huangdi, in Yan'an, Shaanxi.
Temple of Yu the Great in Shaoxing, Zhejiang.
Temple of Bao Gong in Wenzhou, Zhejiang.
Temple of the City God of Xi'an, Shaanxi.
Worship at a temple of Mazu in Tianjin.
People forgathering at an ancestral shrine in Hong'an, Hubei.

Chinese traditional religion

Main religions

Confucianism inherited scholarship and the sacred books from the Shang and Zhou. In the theology of Confucianism, Shangdi is the logos (creating word), which is the manifesting path of Tian.[76] Rites are the logos of Shangdi.[77] In the tradition of New-Text School, Confucius is a "throne-less king" of Shangdi and a savior of the world. But Old-Text School persisted that Confucius is a sage of Shangdi who had given new interpretation to the heritage from previous three great dynasties.[78] In Taoist theology, Shangdi is Yuanshi Tianzun (元始天尊 "Heavenly Lord of the Primordial Beginning"), also venerated with the Temple of Heaven title "Primordial God the Heavenly King" (皇天上帝, Huángtiān Shàngdì).

Heaven worship is closely linked with the ancestral veneration and polytheism, as the ancestors and the gods are seen as a medium between Heaven (the origin) and man. The emperor of Chins was known as the "Son of Heaven", invested with the Mandate of Heaven, that was the legitimacy as ruler of the Chinese state.

"Heaven worship" was the ritual performed at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing by the emperors of China, that dates back, according to registered history, to the Shang dynasty, and that lasted until the overthrow of the Qing dynasty. It consisted in honour rendered to the Tian ("Heaven"), that is the "Cosmos" or "The One" in the terms of European religion and philosophy, also known with the title Shangdi ("Primordial Deity"), the god of the universe in traditional beliefs. Tian is the same as Tengri in Altaic shamanisms.

Honouring Heaven

(Replica) The well (藻井 zǎojǐng) of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests of the Temple of Heaven.
The Temple of Heaven, Beijing, where Chinese emperors prayed Heaven (1860).

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.

Besides the lineage worship of the founders of Chinese surnames and kins, virtuous historical figures that have had an important impact in the history of China are revered as gods. Notable examples include Confucius, Guan Yu, or Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor, considered the patriarch of all Han Chinese.

A practice developed in the Chinese folk religion of post-Maoist China, that started in the 1990s from the Confucian temples managed by the Kong kin (the lineage of the descendants of Confucius himself), is the representation of ancestors in ancestral shrines no longer just through tablets with their names, but through statues. Statuary effigies were previously exclusively used for Buddhist bodhisattva and Taoist gods.[75]

Relying on lineage rhetoric, sacrificial rites, and the updating of genealogies (zupu, "books of ancestors"), it evokes memory and thus identity of each generation.[73] Temple festivals and local arts are other displays of group identities.[73] Religious rituals, symbols, objects and ideas, are the means of the construction, maintaining, and transmission of these identities.[74]

This is the foundation of the Chinese practice of ancestor veneration or worship (拜祖 baizu or 敬祖 jingzu)[73] that dates back to prehistory, and is a backbone of Chinese folk religion and Confucianism. Defined "the essential religion of the Chinese",[73] it is the actual mean of memory and therefore cultural vitality of the entire Chinese civilisation.[73]

A worthy Chinese is supposed to remember a vast amount of information from the past, and to draw on this past a basis of moral reasoning.[72] The meticulous remembrance of the past is important equally for urban and rural people, where local history is entwined with the identities of descent-based groups.[73] The identity, outlook and behaviour, of a person who grows up in a certain group is molded by the process of learning from their past through a multitude of oral, written and performative media (mythology).[73]

«This continuity and unity are found most markedly in the philosophy, political theory, and ethics that are subsumed under the tradition of Confucian thought and in Buddhist and Taoist impacts on art, poetry, and religion.»

The Chinese civilisation claims an unusual continuity of several thousands of years and, as its habitat, several thousands of miles.[72] This continuity is possible through China's religion, understood as a system of knowledge transmission.[72]

People forgather for a Taoist-led ceremony at the pyramidal shaped Great Temple of Zhang Hui (张挥公大殿 Zhāng Huī gōng dàdiàn), the main ancestral shrine dedicated to the progenitor of the Zhang lineage, located at Zhangs' ancestral home in Qinghe, Hebei.
Statue of Confucius at a temple in Chongming, Shanghai.

Religion as cultural memory and morality

[71] Also, Buddhists are generally wealthy, while Christians most often belong to the poorest parts of the population.[70] Buddhists tend to be younger and better educated, while Christians are older and more likely to be illiterate.[69] Henan has been found to be host to the largest percentage of Christians of any province of China, about 6%.[69].Guangdong and Gansu, Henan, Liaoning, Shanghai The results also show a detailed analysis of five selected areas: [69] Although about 90% of respondents self-identified as "irreligious", the authors estimate that only 6.3% of all respondents are truly irreligious (as in they neither believe nor worship gods or spirits). The authors hypothesize that many of the respondents might have a biased understanding of religion and what it means to be religious.[68] A survey was conducted in 2012 by the

According to the surveys of Phil Zuckerman on in 1993 59%[63] of the Chinese population was irreligious, and in 2005 8% to 14% was atheist (from over 100 to 180 million).[64] 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.[65] 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 some 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".[66] Many Chinese belief systems have concepts of a sacred and sometimes spiritual natural world yet do not always invoke a concept of personal god.[67]

Some non-Han ethnic groups practice distinct ethnic religions (Benzhuism, Bimoism, Bön, Dongbaism, Ruism, Shigongism, Ua Dab, Yao Taoism, Mongolian shamanism and Manchu shamanism),[62] A number of distinctively Chinese new religions and sects (for example Xiantiandao and Falun Gong), may be part of the large population of practitioners of "Chinese folk religions" and "folk Taoism".

In 2010, according to a survey conducted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the number of Protestants in China is 1.8% of the total population.[56] Another survey conducted in 2010 by the Purdue's Center on Religion and Chinese Society revealed that 18% of the adult Chinese are Buddhist, 15% are atheists and 3.2% are Christian.[57] Average data from various surveys find that Buddhists are 18% to 20% of the total population, or around 300 million people.[57][58][59] Chen and Jeung (2012) report other figures collected through empirical research of self-identification, according to which in China 60% of the population believes in at least one type of supernatural phenomenon (mostly fate and fortune), while only 14% belong to the five officially organised religions.[60][61]

A survey conducted in 2010 by Purdue University’s Center on Religion and Chinese Society has revealed the following results:[17] many types of Chinese folk religions and Taoism are practiced by possibly hundreds of millions of people; 56.2% of Chinese practice Chinese ancestral worship, but only 16% assert a belief in the existence of ancestral shen; 12.9% practice Taoism on a level indistinguishable from the folk religion; 0.9% people identify exclusively with Taoism; 13.8% identify as "Buddhist", of which only 1.3% are formal initiates; 2.4% identify as Christians, of which 2.2% are Protestants and 0.02% are Catholics; an additional 1.7% are Muslims. As highlighted, the practice of Taoism and various Chinese folk religions easily blurs. Also, many Buddhists may also practice the worship of ancestors and gods.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center of Global Religious Landscape as of 2010, 21.9% of the population in China are folk religionists, 18.2% are Buddhist, 5.1% are Christians, 1.8% are Muslims, 0.8% are of other religions, while unaffiliated constitutes 52.2% of the population.[18]

A survey taken by Shanghai University in 2007 found that 31.4% of people above the age of 16 considered themselves religious. The survey also found that the major religions are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity, accounting for 67.4% of believers. About 66.1% of all believers are Buddhists, Taoists or worshippers of legendary figures such as the Dragon King and God of Fortune, while Christianity accounted for 12% of believers.[54][55]


Geographic distribution of religions in China.[52][53]
  Chinese traditional religions: including worship of gods and ancestors, Confucianism and Taoism
  Non-Han Chinese traditional faiths: Zhuang Shigongism, Yi Bimoism, Miao Hmongism, Yao Taoism
  Tengerism: Mongolian shamanism

Islam is the majority religion in the ethnic Hui areas, particularly Ningxia, and in the Uyghur province of Xinjiang. Many non-Han minority ethnic groups follow their own traditional ethnic religions: Benzhuism of the Bai, Bimoism of the Yi, Bön of the Tibetans, Dongbaism of the Nakhi, Ruism of the Qiang, Shigongism or Moism of the Zhuang, Ua Dab of the Hmong, Yao Taoism, Mongolian shamanism or Tengerism, and Manchu shamanism.

Sichuan is the area where Tianshi Taoism developed and the Celestial Masters had their main seat. Christians are mostly concentrated in easternmost provinces and coastal areas, particularly in Zhejiang, Anhui, and Henan, areas which were the most affected by the Taiping event. Tibetan Buddhism is the dominant religion in Tibet, and significantly present in other westernmost provinces where ethnic Tibetans constitute a significant amount of the population, and has an influence in Inner Mongolia in the north. It is also having a growing influence among ethnic Han.[51]

Chinese Buddhists are evenly distributed across the whole country. Southern provinces (Guangdong, Fujian, etcetera) have experienced the most vibrant revival of Chinese folk religion,[49] although it is present all over the country in a wide variety of forms, intertwined with Taoism, fashi orders, Nuo ritualism, Wuism and other forms of ritual, worship, ecstasy and devotion. The Chinese folk religion of northeastern China (Manchuria) has unique characteristics deriving from interactions with Manchu shamanism; these include chuma xian (出馬仙 "action-taking gods") shamanism, the worship of foxes and other animal deities, and the fox god and goddess—Húsān Tàiyé (胡三太爷) and Húsān Tàinǎi (胡三太奶)—at the head of pantheons.[50] Quanzhen Taoism is mostly present in the north.


This groundwork, which was already there in imperial China and plays an important role in modern Taiwan,[45] is seen as the driving force in the rapid economic development in parts of rural China, especially the southern and eastern coasts.[46][47] It is an "embedded capitalism", which preserves local identity and autonomy.[48] The drive for individual accumulation of money is tempered by the religious and kinship ethics of generosity in sharing wealth for devotion, ritual, and the construction of the civil society.[48]

Scholars have studied the economic dimension of Chinese folk religion,[43] with its ritual and templar economy that constitutes a form of grassroots capitalism, that produces well-being among local communities through the circulation of wealth and its investment in the "sacred capital" of temples, gods and ancestors.[44]

Folk temple on the rooftop of a commercial building in the city of Wenzhou.

Templar economy

The Communist Party, which remains an atheist organisation, presently formally recognises five religions in China: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism (though despite historic links, for political reasons, the Chinese Catholic Church has been separated from the Roman Catholic Church).[10][39] To some degree the government also controls the institutions of the religions it recognizes.[40] The Chinese government has banned some religious activities or movements for public health concerns.[41][42]

In recent years, the Chinese government has been open especially to traditional religions such as Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism and folk religion, emphasizing the role of religion in building a "harmonious society" (hexie shenui),[34] a Confucian idea.[35][36] At the same time, Abrahamic religions and especially Islam and Christianity are criticised by Chinese intellectuals as intolerant and arrogant, as well as vestiges of colonialism.[37] In late 2013, president Xi Jinping expressed hope that "traditional cultures" may fill "moral void" and fight corruption.[38]

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 first World Buddhist Forum in 2006, subsequent World Buddhist Fora, and a number of Taoist fora. The government sees these religions as an integral part of Chinese culture.[33]

The People's Republic of China was established on the 1 October 1949. Its government is officially atheist, having viewed religion as emblematic of feudalism and foreign colonialism, and maintained separation of state and the church. This changed during the Cultural Revolution, in 1966 and 1967. The Cultural Revolution led to a policy of elimination of religions; a massive number of places of worship were destroyed.

Incense Snow Temple (香雪寺 Xiāngxuě sì), a rural Buddhist community in Ouhai, Wenzhou, Zhejiang.
The Jade Buddha of Anshan, in Liaoning, is the largest jade statue in the world, enshrined in the Jade Buddha Temple.

20th—21st century

Sun Yat-sen, the first president of the Republic of China, and his successor nationalist leader of China Chiang Kai-shek were both Christians. But with the triumph of Mao Zedong's communists, mainland China was about to become officially atheist.

China entered the 20th century under the Manchu Qing dynasty, whose rulers favoured traditional Chinese religions, and participated in public religious ceremonies, with state pomp and ceremony, as at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, where prayers for the harvest were offered. On the empire's fringe, Tibetan Buddhists recognized the Dalai Lamas as their spiritual and temporal leaders.

From the 16th century, the Jesuit China missions played a significant role in opening dialogue between China and the West. The Jesuits brought Western sciences, becoming advisers to the imperial court on astronomy, taught mathematics and mechanics, but also adapted Chinese religious ideas such as admiration for Confucius and ancestor worship into the religious doctrine they taught in China.[31]

16th—19th century

Modern history

A variety of Chinese priests and monks seen by Johan Nieuhof between 1655 and 1658.
Matteo Ricci (left) and Xu Guangqi (right) in the Chinese edition of Euclid's Elements published in 1607.

The Zhou dynasty, succeeding the Shang, was more rooted in an agricultural worldview.[30] With them, gods of nature became dominant.[30] The utmost power in this period was named Tian (天, the "Great Oneness", "Heaven").[30] With Di (地, "earth") he forms the whole cosmos in a complementary duality.[30]

Libbrecht distinguishes two layers in the development of the Chinese religion, traditions derived respectively from the Shang and subsequent Zhou dynasties. The religion of the Shang era developed around ancestral worship.[30] The main gods from this period are not forces of nature in the Indo-European way, but deified virtuous men.[30] The ancestors of the emperors were called di (帝), "deities", and the greatest of them was called Shangdi (上帝, "Primordial Deity").[30] He is identified with the dragon, symbol of the universal power (qi) in its yang (generative) aspect.[30]

Ancient shamanism exhibits features that are especially connected to the ancient Neolithic cultures such as the Hongshan culture.[29] The Flemish philosopher Ulrich Libbrecht traces the origins of some features of Taoism to what he calls "Wuism", or Chinese shamanism. [30]

Prior to the formation of the Chinese civilisation and the spread of world religions in the region generally known today as East Asia (which includes the territorial boundaries of modern-day China), local tribes were united by animistic, shamanic and totemic worldviews, and mediatory individuals such as shamans were the way in which prayers, sacrifices or offerings were communicated to the spiritual world. Local Chinese folk religions preserve to the modern day this spiritual heritage.[27][28]

Expressions of ancient cultures of China
Jade Chinese dragon (yang principle) from the Hongshan culture.
Xiwangmu, the "Queen Mother of the West". From a Han dynasty mural.
Leishen (the "God of Thunder"), punishing evil-doers on Heaven's behalf (1923).

Ancient and pre-historic


  • Ancient and pre-historic 1
  • Modern history 2
    • 16th—19th century 2.1
    • 20th—21st century 2.2
    • Templar economy 2.3
  • Demographics 3
    • Statistics 3.1
  • Religion as cultural memory and morality 4
    • Honouring Heaven 4.1
  • Main religions 5
    • Chinese traditional religion 5.1
      • Sect traditions 5.1.1
      • Confucianism 5.1.2
      • Taoism 5.1.3
      • Ritual mastery—Faism 5.1.4
    • Buddhism 5.2
      • Chinese Buddhism 5.2.1
      • Tibetan Buddhism 5.2.2
  • Non-Han indigenous religions 6
    • Zhuang Moism 6.1
    • Yi Bimoism 6.2
    • Tibetan Bön 6.3
    • Mongol shamanism 6.4
    • Others 6.5
  • Abrahamic religions 7
    • Christianity 7.1
    • Islam 7.2
    • Judaism 7.3
    • Bahá'í Faith 7.4
  • New religions 8
    • Xiantiandao 8.1
    • Weixinism 8.2
  • Other religions 9
    • Manichaeism 9.1
    • Hinduism 9.2
    • Zoroastrianism 9.3
    • Shinto 9.4
  • Irreligion in China 10
  • See also 11
  • Notes 12
  • References 13
  • Sources 14
    • Further reading 14.1
  • External links 15
    • Media 15.1

Significant faiths specifically connected to certain ethnic groups include Tibetan Buddhism and the Islamic religion of the Hui and Uyghur peoples. Christianity in China, although established since the 7th century, declined in China according to Ken Joseph J. of The Keikyo Institute, as a result of persecution during the 10th through 14th centuries.[23] It was reintroduced in the 16th century by Jesuit missionaries. Protestant missions and later Catholic missionaries expanded the presence of Christianity, which influenced the Taiping Rebellion of the mid 19th century. Under Communism, foreign missionaries were expelled, most churches closed and their schools, hospitals and orphanages seized.[24] During the Cultural Revolution, many priests were imprisoned.[25] After the late 1970s, religious freedoms for Christians improved.[26]

Researchers have noted that in China "there is no clear boundary between Buddhism, Daoism and local folk religious practice". According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 22% of the Chinese are "folk religionists", and 18% are Buddhist.[18] However, there is overlap in religions, as many Chinese identify themselves as followers of both Chinese folk religion and Buddhism and these religions are mutual inclusive. According to a survey conducted in 2010, hundreds of millions of people practice some kind of Chinese folk religions and Taoism; of these 754 million (56.2%) people practice Chinese ancestral veneration, only 215 million (16%) believing in the existence of ancestral shen[note 1], 173 million (13%) adopt Taoist practices on a level which is indistinguishable from Chinese folk religion.[17] The same survey reports that 185 million (13.8%) are Buddhists, 33 million (2.4%) are Christians, and 23 million (1.7%) are Muslims.[17] In addition to Han local religion, also some non-Han ethnic minorities follow their traditional autochthone religions. Christians are between 2-5% of the population according to various surveys.[19][20][21] Muslims are 2%. Various new religious movements of indigenous origin are present in the country.[22] Confucianism as a religious self-designation is popular among intellectuals.

Demographically, the largest group of religious traditions is the [16] Guandi (god of war and business), Caishen (god of prosperity and richness), Pangu and many others. China has many of the world's tallest statues, including the tallest of all. Most of them represent buddhas and deities and have been built in the 2000s. The world's tallest statue is the Spring Temple Buddha, located in Henan. Recently built in the country are also the world's tallest pagoda in Tianning Temple, and the world's tallest stupa in Famen Temple. Chinese Buddhism developed since the 1st century, and remains the most influential single religion in modern China.[17]

[12][11] and the Chinese folk religion.Confucianism In recent years there have been projects of giving a more institutional recognition to [10]).Roman Catholic Church from the Chinese Catholic Church (though despite historic links, the Party enforces a separation of the Catholicism, and Protestantism, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism Presently, the Party formally and institutionally recognises five religions in China: [9]

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