The State of Religion in Today’s China

December 19, 2010

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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