China is a country with a great diversity of religions, protected by law, with over 100 million followers of various faiths. At more than 85,000 sites around China people worship Buddha, chant scriptures, pray, preach, read the mass, conduct baptisms, are welcomed into the ministry, and observe Ramadan or other religious festivals. Religious activities are supported by 300,000 religious personnel and over 3,000 religious associations that operate some 74 religious colleges and universities. Each major religion in China has its own national periodical, also circulated abroad, and all the classic religious texts are published and distributed by religious associations.
The main religions are Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism and 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 (also known as Lamaism), and the Dai, Blang and Deang to Hinayana or Southern Buddhism. Quite a few Miao, Yao and Yi are Catholics and Christians. Religious Han Chinese tend to practice Buddhism, Christianity, Catholicism or Taoism.
Buddhism was introduced to China from India approximately in the first century A.D., and grew increasingly popular to become the most influential religion in China after the fourth century. Chinese Buddhism has three branches: Han, the most widely practiced; Tibetan Buddhism popular primarily in Tibet and Inner Mongolia; and Pali or Southern Buddhism practiced mostly in Yunnan Province. China has more than 13,000 Buddhist temples.
Islam first reached China probably in the mid-seventh century. The Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) witnessed the zenith of prosperity of Islam. Now China has more than 30,000 mosques.
Catholic influence reached China in the seventh century, and Protestantism was introduced into China in the early 19th century. Now there are more than 4,600 Catholic churches and over 12,000 Protestant churches, as well as over 25,000 other types of Christian places of worship in China.
Daoism probably took shape as a religion during the second century, based on the philosophy of Lao Zi (traditionally said to be born in 604 B.C.) and his work, the Dao De Jing (Classic of the Way and Virtue). China today has more than 1,500 Daoist temples.