China is one of the most religious countries in the world. While at it, it is largely a secular country. China is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious civilization. The Peoples Republic of China allows freedom of worship for its citizens. China has a history of religious tolerance. It dates back thousands of years. There have never been religious wars in China. Over time, many religions have emerged and flourished in China. These are Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity.
However, there is a percentage of the Chinese who do not subscribe to any religion. Most noteworthy, they are not atheists. They all believe in certain supernatural powers.
This religion has no gods. It follows the teachings of Confucius. These teachings profoundly affect the moral behaviour of the Chinese. Further, Confucianism holds that humans are naturally good. However, they can improve through their own efforts.
Confucianism lays emphasis on acting morally and treating others with compassion. The family is the foundational unit of any community. A harmonious community eventually promotes harmony in the society. Consequently, the government is in harmony too.
To date, the influence of Confucianism has spread worldwide. There are Confucius Institutes in various colleges and universities worldwide. These institutes teach and spread the Chinese culture. Also, they teach and promote the Chinese language.
Taoism is native to China. Lao Tsu founded this religion. It promotes the unity of opposites. Similarly, it promotes spiritual virtue and self-development. In essence, this religion emphasizes on the balance between opposites. For example, light and darkness, day and night and so on. Taoist sayings are popular around the world. For instance, ‘The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.’
The famous yin-yang symbol is an illustration of Taoist beliefs. Taoism advocates for harmony and balance in all aspects of life. Even more, the yin-yang symbol shows this harmony. Certainly, Taoism largely influenced Chinese literature, culture, and traditional medicine.
Today, Taoism is largely practiced in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and south-east Asia. There are about 300 Taoist temples scattered throughout China.
Buddhism is the most popular religion in China. It arrived in China from India and south-east Asia during the Tang Dynasty. It is a mixed religion. As a result, it borrows teachings from the Chinese folk religion and Taoism. As Buddhism spread and developed, it split into three sections. These were Han Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, and Southern Buddhism.
Above all, Buddhism has had a great influence on Chinese thoughts and culture. It affects their ideologies, art as well as literature.
Today, the Han are the largest followers of Buddhism. Most noteworthy, Han is the majority ethnic group in China. This means that close to 90% of China’s population are Buddhists. There are about 220,00 monks. Monks are people who withdraw from the world for the purpose of worship and understanding their religion. Besides that, there are over 15,000 Buddhist temples spread over mainland China.
Islam arrived in China with Arab traders and diplomats in the 7th Century. The then Tang Dynasty emperor, Taizong, built them a mosque. This was a gesture of welcoming the Muslims into China. Today the mosque still stands in Guangzhou. It is the oldest mosque in China.
The minority ethnic groups in China are the ones who practice Islam. These include Hui, Sunni, Kazak, Tajik, Tatar and Kirgiz among others. Additionally, Islam dominates the provinces of Xinjiang, Ningxia, Gansu and Qinghai.
Muslims in China do not eat pork. Likewise, they do not eat dog, horse and donkey meat. Moreover, their Islamic practices match those of other Muslims worldwide.
Christians first settled in China from Persia. They penetrated China as early as 700BC. Their numbers were small until the 20th Century. Christianity was spreading fast and in 1949, it came to a stop. It has begun to pick speed again in the 21st Century.
After the Sino-British Opium War in 1840, Christianity spread rapidly in China. As a result, Catholic and Protestant communities increased in number and influence. Today, China has over 30 million Christians. There are about 500 churches in China. The Christian community continues to build more with the rising Christian influence.
Chinese Christianity doctrines match those of other Christians worldwide. Most noteworthy, the Chinese government handles church administration independently. The government does not encourage recruitment of people into denominations. Also, preaching in public places is neither encouraged by the state.
It is evident that religion is quite diverse in China. The Chinese practice religion with utmost devotion. No religion stands on its own. Thus, religions are interdependent. They borrow teachings from each other.