ChinaOnYourMind: Religion in China

History and Introduction of the Religions
There are five major religions/philosophies in China: Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. Among them, Taoism and Confucianism are uniquely Chinese. The other three were later imports.

The two major indigenous systems of thought in China, Confucianism and Taoism, arose at about the same time in the 5 BC. Neither was originally a religion. Confucianism emphasized a reiteration of current moral values and Taoism developed a system of based upon a harmonization of man with the natural order. These two popular philosophies, however, developed into popular religions eventually.

Besides the major religions, ancestor worship and animism also have strong support in China. Chinese people are very pragmatic, worshipping gods that might answer their prayers. A lot of rich people used to support several kinds temples, not unlike the donations to both Republican and Democratic parties by wealthy individuals and corporations in the States.


Buddhism arrived in China from India during the Han Dynasty (206 BC - AD 220). It achieved its greatest power during Tang Dynasty. However, it was also during the latter part of Tang when Buddhism was brutally suppressed by the emperors who were concerned with the temple's wealth and power. Buddhism never again reached such heights during the subsequent dynasties.

Buddhism temples in China come in two basic varieties, the Chinese Buddhist Temples and the Lama Temples. These two kinds of temples differ in the statues inside and the architectural styles. Lama temples are expressions of the Tibetan and Mongolian form of Buddhism and are mostly seen in Tibet.


Christianity arrived in China in the latter part of the 19th century with the missionaries. The most famous Christian was probably Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the father of the Republic of China. Most churches in China are transplants from Europe.


With a history of over 2,500 years, Confucianism started as rules of conduct or right behaviors. Despite the fact that Confucius himself rejected the supernatural, he was made a god after his death.

The Confucius temples usually have no statues, but simply tablets with the names of ancestors written on them. This is probably a combination of ancestor worship and Confucius' teaching of respect for the elderly. The largest Confucius temples are in Beijing and Qufu.


Founded 1,800 years ago, Taoism was probably best known by its symbol of the dual Ying-Yang (as seen on many westerners' wrists and ankles). The symbol conveys the basics of Taoism: everything exists through the interplay of two opposite forces: male-female; positive-negative; hot-cold; light-dark; heaven-earth; yang-yin, etc.

The most famous characters of Taoism are the Eight Immortals who were originally eight humans that discovered the secrets of nature and acquired supernatural power. One of these eight immortals is a woman.

Feng Shui or geomancy is also related to Taoism.


Islam arrived in China in 652 AD. There are approximately 17 million followers in China, including Hui (Han Moslems), Uygurs, Kazaks, Kirgiz and Uzbeks.

There are two varieties of Islamic mosques. The ones seen in the northwest of China are just like the ones in the Middle East. The other ones look like Chinese temples.

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