There are five major religions in China, including Buddhism, Taoism (or Daoism), Islamism, Catholicism and Christianity. Among these, Buddhism and Taoism have the longest history and have exerted the greatest influence on Chinese culture. In addition, countless folk beliefs also exist in China.
Buddhism, introduced to China from India in the 1st century AD, is the most popular religion among the Chinese. Currently, China has more than 13,000 Buddhist temples with some 200,000 monks and nuns. Since there is no strict ceremony when one becomes a religious believer, it is difficult to get the exact number of Buddhists. According to the statistics issued by the national organization of Buddhism in China, the Buddhist Association of China, the country has about 100 million Buddhists.
Buddhism has a wide influence among China’s ethnic minorities. By the 8th century, Indian monks came to Tibet to spread Esoterism. Under the influence of the Han people’s Mahayana Buddhism and the original religion of Tibet, known as Bon, a new faith known as Tibetan Buddhism (also called Lamaism) was developed. The followers of Tibetan Buddhism live mostly in areas inhabited by the Tibetans, Mongolians, Tus, Qiangs, and Uygurs.
During the Cultural Revolution, massive Buddhist temples and monasteries have been destroyed. But today, restored Buddhist temples and monasteries are busy with the activity of incense-burning and kowtowing constituents in prayer.
Taoism is China’s only truly indigenous religion that was formed during the Eastern Han Dynasty (24-220) based on the ancient philosophy of Tao in China. The Tao, meaning “the way”, has been described as the way of nature. In Taoism, all things have balance, a yin and yang, which can be achieved though a mystical sense of inaction and letting things develop as they may. In feudal China, Taoism, together with Buddhism, exerted great influence on the country’s economy, culture and political thinking. There are more than 1,500 Taoist temples nationwide with 25,000 Taoist priests. It’s also difficult to know the actual number of its followers since Taoism, like Buddhism, doesn’t have strict admittance rites.
Islamism reached China in 651 during the Tang Dynasty. Muslims are mainly distributed in 10 ethnic minorities, such as the Hui, Uygur, Kazak, Tatar, Taijk, Uzbek, Kirgiz, Dongxiang, Salar and Bonan. They live mostly in Northwest China. In cities along the ancient Silk Road, the Muslim Uygur and Hui minority populations have faithfully preserved their Islamic way of life, worshipping Allah and following the teachings of the prophet Muhammad.
Catholicism was introduced into China in the 13th century and experienced ups and downs till the 1940s, when scores of Catholic missionaries rushed into China. Now the country is home to over 5 million Catholics with more than 5,000 churches and venues.
Christianity (referred to Protestantism in particular) reached China in early 19th century. By 2002, there were 16 million Christianity believers and 8,000 Protestant Churches in China.
China’s regulations provide for one official Catholic organization – the Catholic Patriotic Association, and one official Protestant organization – the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM).
Chinese people have the right to believe in or not believe in religion. Non-believers are free to become believers and vice versa. Many Han people are religious believers, but the numbers only account for less than 10 percent of the total population of religious believers in China. Chinese ethnic minorities have a large proportion of religious believers with deep faith. According to data, Religious believers account for over 50 percent of the total population in 55 ethnic minorities. In over 20 ethnic minorities, every one used to be a religious believer in history, and currently religious believers sill take a majority in these ethnic groups.