The State of Religion in Today’s China

The U.S. Department of State reports that China is officially atheist (and has been for thousands of years). However, Taoist, Buddhist, Christian and Muslims are allowed to worship in China and these religions have a significant role in the lives of many Chinese.

A February 2007 survey conducted by East China Normal University and reported in China’s state-run media concluded that 31.4% of Chinese citizens ages 16 and over are religious believers.

While the Chinese constitution affirms “freedom of religious belief,” the Chinese Government places restrictions on religious practice outside officially recognized organizations. The five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism.

Singapore, another nation in Asia, has similar restrictions.

Historically, China has not been accepting of cults, and there is a difference between a religion and a cult. says, cult members are “followers of an unorthodox, extremist, or false religion or sect who often live outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.”

All one has to do is study China’s history to understand the Middle Kingdom’s sensitivity toward cults and political activists. China’s struggle with pagan cults reaches back almost a thousand years. Source: The Millennium Cult

There are no official statistics confirming the number of Taoists in China.

Fascinating discussion of how Chinese culture interacts with religions.

Official figures indicate there are 20 million Muslims, 20 million Protestants, and 5.3 million Catholics; unofficial estimates are much higher.

According to About Chinese, there are more than 85,000 sites for religious activities, some 300,000 clergy and over 3,000 religious organizations throughout China. In addition, there are 74 religious schools and colleges run by religious organizations for training clerical personnel.

Buddhism, the most popular religion in China with about a 100 million followers, has a 2,000-year history in the Middle Kingdom and there are about 13,000 Buddhist temples.

Taoism, native to China, has a history of more than 1,700 years with over 1,500 temples.

Islam, which was introduced into China in the seventh century has more than 30,000 mosques.

At present, China has about 4,600 Catholic churches and meetinghouses.

Protestantism first arrived in China in the early 19th century. Today there are more than 12,000 churches and 25,000 meeting places.

Although Judaism is not listed as one of the officially recognized religions in China, there are Jewish synagogues in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Jews first settled in Kaifeng, Henan Province in 960 AD after arriving along the Silk Road. The Jews were welcomed by the Imperial government, which encouraged them to retain their cultural identity by building the Kaifeng synagogue, which was finished in 1163 AD.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

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6 Responses to The State of Religion in Today’s China

  1. bennett says:

    The Communists tortured Buddhists and Christians. How can you say this?

    • What you say is true but that happened between 1949 and 1976. Then Mao died, and Deng Xiaoping’s faction in the Communist Party came to power, rebuilt many of the monasteries and churches that were damaged or destroyed and today people in China are allowed to worship as they want through one of the half dozen or so approved religions (all the major religions are represented in China) as long as those religions don’t get involved in politics in any way. Criticizing China’s government is not allowed. Freedom of speech like in the U.S. does not exist in China.

      In fact, freedom of speech isn’t total in the US either. The US Constitution only protects American citizens from being persecuted by their government when Americans criticize the government or elected officials. Practice total freedom of expression in the workplace, and a worker can lose their job. The 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was written to protect American citizens from their government, not business or corporations.

      Therefore, if an American wants to criticism the government, a business or corporation, it’s best to do it on government property like parks, government buildings, sidewalks and streets that are owned and maintained by local governments. But don’t like because the businesses and corporations can sue you for slander or libel. The government and elected officials, however, don’t have the option of suing American citizens for telling lies about them.

      That explains why during elections in the United States, rival politicians lie so much about each other. In fact, the major political parties lie all the time about each other in the constant political battle to win support from the people for political agendas like starting the wars in Vietnam or Iraq. Both of these wars were started by spreading lies to gain the support of the people who would then pressure the officials they vote for to support the war.

      This is what’s called manipulated mob rule. The tea party people are a perfect example of this.

  2. Tracey W says:

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  3. Y Chan says:

    When you talk about Buddhism and Taoism, the number of followers is totally irrelevant. To be an “official buddhist”, one has to take refuge in the “three jewels”, but traditionally, very few Chinese people do that.

    However, if you go to a Buddhist temple on Chinese New Year Eve in any major Chinese communities around the world, say, in Toronto, Canada, or San Francisco, CA., or in Hong Kong, you will find that the temple is jammed pack with people trying to “burn the first incense stick” to the Buddha or Kwan Yam (of Compassion).

    If you talk to Chinese people, most of them will think like Buddhists (rather than being like Chistians or Muslims or athiests), for example, in looking forward to be reborned in the next life rather than being “saved” by Jesus and going to Heaven in the afterlife.

    Even the Chinese language is itself a Buddhist language, “infested” with about 20% in Buddhist terms, words or proverbs. That is to say, if you speak or write Chinese, approximately 20% of the words, terms, or proverbs you will be using actually came from Buddhism!!!! Even the cultural revolution by Chairman Mao was unable to “clean out” Buddhist influence in the Chinese language.

    Around the world, there are several cults who pretends to be a school of Buddhism by imitating Buddhist philosophy or even rituals. The most notarious is the Falun Gong group.

    • I agree. Numbers are irrelevant for all religions.

      Many may call themselves Buddhists, Taoists, Christians, Jews or Muslims, but how many study and/or practice the faith or philosophy?

      However, I wanted to know what the demographics/statistics were for religions and looked for those number to give an idea of how many there may be in each. It is a generalization but not specific.

      Yes, Mao failed. He failed miserably while he ruled China for about 26 years (1949 – 1976). After he was gone, the Party guided by Deng Xiaoping repudiated revolutionary Maoism and rebuilt many of the major Buddhist temples even in Tibet.

      In fact, Mao is not the only individual from history that tried to change a culture, failed, and usually had the reverse effect by forcing people to go underground with more determination than ever to hold onto their beliefs.

      Thank you for the insight.

      And yes, the Falun Gong is infamous.

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