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Religious Belief



China is a country with many religions, the most popular being Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity (both Catholicism and Protestantism). Currently, there are more than 100 million religious believers in China, with more than 100,000 sites for religious activities and 3,000-plus national and local religious organizations. Of about 300,000 religious clerics, 200,000 are Buddhist monks and nuns, 25,000 are Taoist monks and nuns, 40,000 are Islamic imams and akhunds (teachers), 4,000 are Catholic clerics and 20,000 are Protestant clerics.

Religious Policy

The Constitution of the People's Republic of China stipulates, "Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities." Meanwhile, the Constitution also provides, "No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state." Also, "religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination."

Other Chinese laws also provide stipulations on religious belief, including the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy, the General Principles of the Civil Law, the Education Law, the Labor Law, the Compulsory Education Law, the Electoral Law of the National People's Congress and Local People's Congresses, the Organic Law of the Villagers' Committees, and the Advertising Law. Relevant stipulations are: All citizens, regardless of their religious belief, have the right to vote and stand for election; the legal property of religious organizations is protected by law; education and religion are separate and citizens, regardless of their religious belief, have equal chance to receive education according to law; ethnic groups shall respect one another's language, customs and religious belief; citizens shall not be discriminated against in employment because of different religious beliefs; and advertisements and trademarks shall contain no content suggestive of ethnic or religious discrimination.

The Chinese Government has promulgated the Regulations on the Administration of Places and Sites for Religious Activities in a bid to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of places and sites for religious activities. According to the Rules on the Control of Religious Activities of Foreigners Within the Territory of the People's Republic of China, foreigners within the territory of China are respected for their freedom of religious belief, and are protected in their friendly contacts and cultural and academic exchanges with the Chinese religious community.

Chinese laws provide that citizens, while enjoying the freedom of religious belief, must bear obligations as stipulated by law. In China, all individuals, organizations and religions shall protect the people's interests, maintain the legal sanctity, and safeguard ethnic unity and national unification. This is consistent with relevant provisions of UN human rights documents and conventions.

While protecting normal religious activities, the state is resolute in cracking down on unlawful practices and reactionary activities under the disguise of religion, as well as various superstitious rather than religious activities that endanger social order and people's lives and property.

Religious Organizations

There are seven national religious organizations in China. They are the Buddhist Association of China, China Taoist Association, Islamic Association of China, Patriotic Association of the Catholic Church in China, Chinese Catholic Bishops College, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee of the Protestant Churches of China and the China Christian Council. All the religious organizations elect leaders and leading bodies according to their own articles of association.

All the religious organizations independently organize religious activities, conduct religious services, run religious schools, and train young religious staff under the protection of the Constitution and the law. Currently, there are 74 religious schools in China, the most popular being the Chinese Institute of Buddhist Studies, the Institute of Islamic Theology, the Chinese Institute of Taoist Studies, the Jinling Union Theological Seminary in Nanjing and the Chinese Catholic Seminary. Chinese religious organizations maintain contacts and exchanges with other religious organizations in more than 70 countries and regions in the world. Religious personnel also play an extensive role in political affairs, with 17,000 of them being deputies to people's congresses and members of the committees of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference at various levels.


Buddhism was introduced from ancient India around the first century. After long development and evolution, it was divided into Han (Chinese) Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism (popularly known as Lamaism) and Pali Buddhism (also known as Hinayana, or Lesser Vehicle). Han Buddhism is quite influential among Han people, but because there are no strict rituals and rules for becoming a Buddhist believer, it is hard to produce statistics on the number of believers. Tibetan Buddhism is basically the religion of ethnic minorities such as Tibetan, Mongolian, Yugur, Moinba and Tu, with a total of about 7.6 million believers. Pali Buddhism is basically the religion of such ethnic minorities as Dai, Blang, De'ang and Va, with the number of believers surpassing 1.5 million.

Currently, there are more than 13,000 Buddhist temples with about 200,000 monks and nuns. Of them, Tibetan Buddhism has about 120,000 lamas and nuns, over 1,700 living Buddha and more than 3,000 monasteries. Pali Buddhism has nearly 10,000 monks, nuns and elders, and more than 1,600 temples. In areas inhabited by the Han people, 142 Buddhist temples are under state-level protection.

The three language families of Buddhism have altogether 19 colleges/schools at the primary, secondary and senior levels, including 14 in Han, four in Tibetan and one in Pali. There are Buddhist websites on the Internet, such as China Buddhism Online (www.fjnet) and China Buddhism Information Network (


Taoism originated from China in the second century. Characterized by nature worship and ancestral worship, Taoism was historically divided into many sects, which gradually evolved into two major ones--Quanzhen Taoism (Way of Completeness and Truth) and Zhengyi Taoism (Way of Orthodox Unity). Primarily, Taoism is popular among the Han people. As there are no strict rituals and rules for becoming a Taoist, statistics on believers are not available. Currently, there are more than 1,500 Taoist temples in China.


Islam was introduced from Arabia in the seventh century. There are two major sects--Sunni and Shiite--with Chinese followers primarily belonging to the former. The vast majority of the 10 ethnic minorities of Hui, Uygur, Tatar, Kirgiz, Kazak, Ozbek, Tajik, Dongxiang, Salar and Bonan, totaling more than 20 million people, are Muslims. Currently, there are more than 30,000 mosques in China.


Catholicism began to enter into China in the seventh century, but did not get popular until after the First Opium War (1840-42). Currently, Chinese Catholics have 100 dioceses with close to 5 million followers. There are 5,000 churches open to the public throughout the country, together with 12 seminaries. Every year, about 50,000 people are baptized in Catholic churches. Since 1981, Chinese Catholic Church has trained and consecrated more than 1,500 priests. Of them, over 100 have been sent to seminaries in the United States, France, Britain, Belgium, Italy, Germany, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea and other countries, some of them obtaining a Master's or Doctor's degree before returning to China.

The Chinese Catholic Church has its own publishing organs, which have printed more than 3 million copies of The Bible and other kinds of religious works. Influential Catholic churches in the country are St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral (Xuanwumen Church) in Beijing, the Church of St. Michael in Qingdao of Shandong Province, the Church of St. Joseph (Xikai Cathedral) in Tianjin, Hongjialou Church in Jinan of Shandong Province, and Sheshan Church in Shanghai.


Protestantism was first introduced via Persia as early as 635. However, due to its failure to root itself in Chinese society and culture, it had never achieved significant development and almost disappeared several times. In the 19th century, Protestantism made significant advances into China from the West. In 1950, Chinese Protestants launched the three-self patriotic campaign, which consequently enabled them to be independent through self-administration, self-support and self-propagation. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), church activities were suspended. They resumed in 1979, followed by the founding of the Chinese Christian Council in 1980.

Over the past two and a half decades, Protestantism has developed well in China under the leadership of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee of the Protestant Churches of China and the Chinese Christian Council. Approximately 50,000 churches are now open to the public, 70 percent of them being built in recent years. The number of Chinese Protestants has surpassed 16 million, with rural followers accounting for over 70 percent.

At present, there are 18 seminaries and Bible schools throughout the country, and nearly 5,000 graduates are serving in churches or seminaries all over China. The Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee of the Protestant Churches of China and the Chinese Christian Council have published and distributed approximately 30 million copies of The Bible, 14 million copies of The Psalms (new edition). They also have their own website Chinese Protestant Church (

Respecting and Guaranteeing the Freedom of Religious Belief of Ethnic Minorities

Most people of ethnic minorities cherish religious beliefs. In some ethnic groups, the majority of the people are adherents to a certain religion. For instance, most Tibetans believe in Tibetan Buddhism, while the Hui and Uygur peoples are followers of Islam.

Organs of self-government in autonomous areas, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and relevant laws, respect and guarantee the freedom of religious belief of ethnic minorities, and safeguard all legal and normal religious activities of people of ethnic minorities.

By the end of 2003, there had been 1,700 sites in Tibet for Buddhists to conduct religious activities, and some 46,000 resident monks and nuns; there had been 23,788 mosques and 26,000 clerical personnel in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region; and there had been 3,500 mosques and 5,100 clerical personnel in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

All religious activities are conducted normally, and the freedom of religious belief of ethnic minorities is fully respected and guaranteed.

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