Religions & Social Customs

Religious Belief 

China is a country with great diversity of religions, with over 100 million followers of the various faiths. The main religions are Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, China’s indigenous Taoism, along with Shamanism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and the Naxi people’s Dongba religion. The Hui, Uygur, Kazak, Kirgiz, Tatar, Ozbek, Tajik, Dongxiang, Salar and Bonan peoples adhere to Islam; the Tibetan, Mongolian, Lhoba, Moinba, Tu and Yugur, to Tibetan Buddhism, and the Dai, Blang and Deang to Theravada Buddhism. Quite a few Miao, Yao and Yi are Christians. Religious Han Chinese tend to practice Buddhism, Christianity or Taoism.

Buddhism was introduced to China from India approximately in the first century A.D., becoming increasingly popular after the fourth century. Tibetan Buddhism, or Lamaism as it is sometimes called, is found primarily in Tibet and Inner Mongolia. Now China has more than 13,000 Buddhist temples, with about 200,000 monks and nuns.

Islam probably first reached China in the mid-seventh century. During the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties, Arab and Persian merchants of the Islamic faith came overland through Central Asia to northwest China and by sea to the coastal cities in southeastern China, bringing with them the Islamic faith. The Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) witnessed the zenith of prosperity of Islam. Now China has more than 30,000 mosques and more than 40,000 imams and ahungs.

Christianity reached China several times after the seventh century, and was introduced to the country on a large scale after the Opium War of 1840. Now there are about four million Catholic believers, 4,000 clergy and more than 4,600 churches and meeting places in China.

Protestantism was introduced to China in the early 19th century, and spread widely after the Opium War. Now China has about 10 million Protestant believers, 18,000 clergy, and more than 12,000 churches and 25,000 other centers of worship.

Taoism probably took form as a religion during the second century, originating from sorcery, pursuit of immortality and other supernatural beliefs in ancient China. Taoists take the philosopher Lao Zi (traditionally said to be born in 604 B.C.) as their teacher, and his work, the Dao De Jing (The Classic of the Way and Its Power), as their canon. Sublimating the philosophical concept of “Dao” or “Tao” (the Way) as described in the Dao De Jing, they posit that man can become one with the “Tao” through self-cultivation, and achieve immortality. China now has more than 1,500 Taoist temples, and over 25,000 Taoist monks and nuns.

Buddhists, Moslems, Catholics, Protestants and Taoists have all established their own national and local organizations. The national religious organizations include the Buddhist Association of China, the China Taoist Association, the Islamic Association of China, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the Chinese Catholic Bishops College, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee of the Protestant Churches of China and the China Christian Council. They elect leading organs and leaders in accordance with their own rules, run their own religious affairs independently, set up religious schools, publish religious books and periodicals, print and distribute religious classics and found social welfare undertakings.

The Shaolin Monastery in Mount Songshan in Henan Province is the famous birthplace of Shaolin martial arts.



The enthronement ceremony of the Eleventh Panchen Erdeni.



Mount Wudang, Taoist mountain in Hubei Province.

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Last updated: 2000-07-13.