In the beginning of the twenty-first century, the government-approved sites of the five religions, as recorded in the 2004 Economic Census, show some interesting patterns of spatial distribution. Map 1 shows the predominant religion at the county level, which is the religion with the highest number of sites in each county. Islamic mosques are predominant in most counties in the northwest, and Buddhist temples in the southwest. This is not surprising, given that the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region are in the northwest and Xizang (Tibet) Autonomous Region in the southwest; these ethnic groups are traditionally associated with these particular religions. Buddhism is also predominant in most of Qinghai, Gansu, Inner Mongolia, and many counties in south-central and southeast China. What is surprising, however, is that Protestant Christianity has become the predominant religion in central China between the Yellow River and the Huai River, in many counties along the Yangtze River, and also in most counties in the northeast. Catholicism is most prominent in many counties in Hebei, some counties of Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang, and various counties in the middle. The distribution pattern of each religion is depicted in the following sections.
Buddhism, known as Fojiao 佛教 [Buddha teaching], has a history of about two thousand years in China. In 1953, Buddhists became the first religious group to be organized as an official, national association in the PRC. Many of the regional Buddhist clerical and lay organizations had already formed vast networks in China during the first half of the twentieth century. In the Republican era (1912–1949), especially in Shanghai, Buddhist associations made sharp distinctions between their religion and the “superstitions” of village temples. This new vision of Buddhism coincided with the new society envisioned by the Westernization projects launched by the Republican regime.1 At the same time, Buddhist clerics and groups needed to organize to protect temples and other assets during a tumultuous period. They founded multiple associations and competed for the recognition and resources of the government. Finally, the Buddhist Association of the Republic of China (Zhonghua Fojiao hui 中華佛教會, hereafter BAROC) became the official representative of Buddhism under the Guomindang (also known as the Kuomintang or Nationalist) regime.
In 1949, the BAROC moved to Taiwan along with the nationalist government. The CCP felt it necessary to have an official representative organ of Buddhism for its unofficial diplomacy. Meanwhile, some pro-communist Buddhists felt an urgent need to cooperate with the new regime, but most did not. In 1952, the Peace Conference of Asia and Pacific Regions was held in Beijing, during which Chinese monks joined Buddhists from eight countries in signing a call for international peace. This led the Communists to realize that Buddhism, as an influential world religion, could be utilized to endorse its foreign policy. With the support of the Communist Party, 20 Buddhists formed a preparatory committee in November 1952.2 Subsequently, the inaugural meeting of the national Buddhist Association of China (Zhongguo Fojiao xiehui 中国佛教协会, hereafter BAC) was held from May 29 to June 3, 1953. While the BAC was never officially dismissed, even during the Cultural Revolution, it was hardly visible until it resurfaced in 1980.
According to official numbers from the current BAC website, there are about 33,000 Buddhist temples and monasteries and 240,000 Buddhist monks and nuns.3 There are higher concentrations of Buddhist temples located in southeast and southwest China, but they are scattered in most of the other counties throughout the country (Map 2).
BAC positions itself as a corporatist body representing Buddhist practitioners and their concerns to the government and assisting party and government leaders in implementing religious policies. Since 1980, a focus of BAC has been the propagation of “Humanist Buddhism” (renjian fojiao 人间佛教), which refers to an attempt to integrate Buddhist practices into everyday life and to serve both the Chinese people and the CCP regime. The association publishes four journals: Fayin 法音 [Dharma voice], Foxue yanjiu 佛学研究 [Buddhist research], Fojiao wenhua 佛教文化 [Buddhist culture], and Zhongguo foxue 中国佛学 [Chinese Buddhist studies]. These journals serve as venues for the scholarly study of Buddhism, discussions of Buddhist art and culture, and dogmatic discussions.4
The BAC is directed by the SARA. Local Buddhist associations at the county, prefecture, and province levels are linked by overlapping membership but not as chapters of a single association.5 For example, Xuecheng 学诚, the current president of the National Buddhist Association, is also the head of the Buddhist Association of Fujian Province. Many of the regional Buddhist associations support Buddhist academies, where monks and nuns receive training.
According to the national BAC in Beijing, there are 38 Buddhist academies (seminaries) in the country, not counting Tibetan Buddhist or Theravada academies. The coursework in these academies include courses in Buddhist philosophy and history, but these schools also require students to take courses in English, Chinese philosophy, Indian philosophy, Western philosophy, law and political policies, and elementary computer science.6 Many of the Buddhist academies in China predate 1949. The Minnan Buddhist Academy, for example, was founded in 1925 at Nanputuo Temple 南普陀寺 in Fujian Province. Many monks graduated from the academy before the invasion of Japan in 1937, which forced the academy to close. The academy was reopened in 1986 and provides preparatory courses, an undergraduate program, and a master’s degree program. To date, over one thousand monks and nuns have graduated from the academy (Photo 3).7
The two main branches of Buddhism in China are Han Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism (Map 3). There are also a number of Theravada Buddhist temples in Yunnan Province. Tibetan Buddhism is not only influential in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China and the surrounding Tibetan areas in other provinces, but also in other regions around the Himalayas, such as Bhutan and Nepal, as well as Mongolia. In recent years, Tibetan Buddhism has become popular in some metropolitan areas in the eastern parts of China. Buddhism spread to Tibet in the seventh century and incorporated some elements of a local religion, Bon. Tibetan Buddhism is composed of four major sects: Nyingma 宁玛, which is the oldest one, Kagyu 噶举, Sakya 萨迦, and Gelug 格鲁. Gelug (Gelupai 格鲁派) is also called “Yellow Hat.” Kagyu, which narrowly refers to the “Red Hat” sect, can sometimes be applied to all non-Gelug sects. The two most famous monks, the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, who are believed to be incarnations of Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva and Amitābha Buddha, practice Gelug Buddhism. Most Tibetan monasteries are in western regions, such as Qinghai, Tibet, and western Sichuan (Photo 4). Some are in Innor Mongolia and the Northeast.
Temples identifying as Han Buddhist are found in most provinces. There are a variety of sects, although many that were historically prominent are now marginalized or have disappeared completely. One of the most common forms of Han Buddhism is the Pure Land lineage (jingtu zong 净土宗), which developed as early as the sixth century CE; it focuses on the veneration of Amitābha Buddha (amituofo 阿弥陀佛), who is thought to preside over a vast paradise in another universe in the west. Practitioners often feel compelled to honor Amitābha to advance their spiritual progress toward reincarnation in the western paradise. According to Pure Land Buddhism, the main way to accumulate merits is to repeatedly recite the name of Amitābha (nianfo 念佛). Compared with the practices required by other Buddhist traditions, such as intense meditation, reciting Amitābha’s name is often touted as an accessible and easier path for lay followers.
Another influential tradition of Han Buddhist sites is Chan, or Zen (chanzong 禅宗). The Chan tradition is attributed to Bodhidharma (Putidamo 菩提达摩), a Central Asian or Indian monk, who came to China and founded this practice in the sixth century. Chan Buddhism gained popularity off and on throughout imperial China, and often took on local characteristics in different parts of China. In general, Chan Buddhism emphasizes sudden awakening (dunwu 顿悟), a sudden insight into the Buddha-nature (foxing 佛性) of sentient beings or the void (kong 空) of all things that typically occurs under the instruction of a Buddhist master. A mythical and personal understanding of Buddha-nature or the void, instead of mere knowledge of sutras and doctrine, is a core element of Chan Buddhism. In dynastic China, Chan Buddhism was popularized among the educated elites, especially those who retired from, were forced out of, or failed to obtain an imperial office, as reflected in their paintings, poetry, and various writings.
Despite the many different expressions of Buddhism in China, there are a few practices that are quite common throughout the country. Most practitioners of Buddhism incorporate some form of meditation into daily life and/or communal rituals. Meditation involves directed thought and reflection, and practitioners attempt to enter into a state of deep concentration and, with practice, arrive at a higher state of consciousness. Through meditation, a Buddhist practitioner trains the body and mind for spiritual enlightenment. Meditation is often cited as an important practice for following the Noble Eightfold Path (bazhengdao 八正道). First, meditation allows Buddhists to practice “right mindfulness.” During meditation, Buddhists become intentionally aware of their present ideas, feelings, and bodily actions. Second, meditation helps Buddhists develop “right concentration.” In the act of meditation, Buddhists cultivate clear and focused thought. Third, meditation helps Buddhists develop “right view,” which, in turn, strengthens one’s capacity for understanding and enlightenment. It is common for Buddhists to meditate in a seated posture and to direct their attention toward a statue or other idol. The meditating Buddhist may contemplate personal experiences, reflect on selected teachings of the Buddha, or focus on breathing. The object of meditation that a Buddhist chooses depends on the specific goals of each meditation experience and the Buddhist tradition they follow.8 At local monasteries or Buddhist centers, masters advise students of Buddhism on the proper techniques, offer suggestions on meditation subjects, and share their own reflections on the Buddha’s teachings.
Written scriptures also play an important part among clerical and lay Buddhist groups in China. Texts are sung during ceremonies and scriptures are distributed (often for free) among lay practitioners. Many different canons of Buddhist scriptures developed in China over the centuries. Many of these collections are based on early canons developed in India and central Asia, which include the vinaya (monastic codes), sūtras (scriptures), and commentaries. These three parts of the canon are often referred to as the “three baskets” of the Buddha’s teachings. There are various canons in use among Han and Tibetan Buddhist organizations, which include translations of various sutras, as well as writings by significant commentators.9 Unlike the Bible or Qur’an, however, people rarely possess their own copies of a Buddhist canon. Not all lay practitioners have an interest in reading Buddhist scriptures. Those who do often refer to “morality books” (shanshu 善书). These are often scriptures revealed through a spirit-medium and written in vernacular languages, and they are often freely distributed at Chinese Buddhist temples.10 This was a popular practice of folk religion, and the mixing of Buddhism and folk religion was very common.
Another common feature of Buddhism in China is celebrations in honor of the birth of the historical Buddha, on the eighth day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar. Other common days for pilgrimage and gathering are the celebrations of the enlightenment of the Buddha (the eighth day of the twelfth month) and the passing of the Buddha into nirvana (the fifteenth day of the second month). Some Chinese Buddhists, however, celebrate all three events of the Buddha’s life on a single day. This day, Buddha Day, is observed during the first full moon of the fourth month of the lunar calendar. To celebrate the life events of the Buddha, Chinese Buddhists visit local temples to offer flowers, fruits, incense, prayers, and donations. Buddhist temples also host local festivals, which may include fireworks, colored smoke displays, formal teachings, music, and dance. Across China, festivals vary in complexity and scale.
In some parts of China, Buddhist temples receive financial support from local officials to host large and elaborate festivals that attract visitors from around the country and the world. Since the end of the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese government has embraced Buddhist festivals as an opportunity to strengthen tourism and develop local economies. It is common for local officials to play a role in promoting these festivals as celebrations of Chinese traditional culture.11 Many festivals involve pilgrimages to regional mountain temples, especially the four sacred Buddhist mountains in China: Mount Wutai 五台山 in Shanxi, Mount Emei 峨眉山 in Sichuan, Mount Putuo 普陀山 in Zhejiang, and Mount Jiuhua 九华山 in Anhui.12
Many ideas about the supernatural are common among Buddhists in China. The first teacher of Buddhism, Shakyamuni (shijiamoni 释迦牟尼), is believed to have attained full enlightenment while meditating under a peepal tree (puti shu 菩提树). Buddhists believe that Buddhahood is attainable for all people. Any person can become a Buddha by nurturing the Buddha-nature that every human possesses. In this sense, all people are equal; all are capable of achieving enlightenment and transcendence. Upon reaching Buddhahood, a person ceases to exist in any spiritual or material form. It is common to hear Buddhist monks, nuns, and lay leaders exhort devotees to strive for enlightenment (kaiwu 开悟). One of the most prominent ideas is the notion that sentient beings should model their thoughts and actions on the past Buddhas (fotuo 佛陀) and bodhisattvas (pusa 菩萨) who have lived at various times and places in the universe. While many Buddhists believe that all people have the potential to become a Buddha, most regard Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as spiritual beings like gods, spirits, or angels, who can be called upon for rescue from danger or for salvation from the suffering in this world and alleviation in the Pure Land of another world.
Most Buddhists in China also view the sum of a person’s deeds and actions in this and in previous lives as determining their path of rebirth in future lives. This notion, called karma (ye 業), stems from the idea stressed by Buddhist philosophers that all phenomena are inherently empty (kong 空). Every cosmic process has its beginning and ending; nothing is eternal. Everything has its formation, existence, destruction, and emptiness, just as every human experiences the cycle of living, illness, and dying. The repeated cycle of living, dying, and rebirth is called samsāra (lunhui 轮回), and when a person achieves Buddhahood, he/she will be liberated from suffering and the repeating cycle of life. In general, good karma that a person has accumulated in past lifetimes will result in happiness in a person’s present life; bad karma will bring suffering in the next life.
It is difficult to determine the number of Buddhists in China. The BAC and its affiliated temples and monasteries do not maintain membership lists, except for monks and nuns. Many believers may not engage in regular practices, and many people who burn incense sticks in temples may not be more than casual tourists. However, in surveys we may use two criteria to identify Buddhists: self-identification with Buddhism and a claim of “having taken refuge in the Three Jewels” (guiyi sanbao 皈依三宝), which is a ritual somewhat comparable to Christian baptism. Like baptism, taking refuge in the Three Jewels signifies a person’s commitment to the Buddha, Dharma (teachings), and Sanga (community). Unlike baptism, which is a unique event, a Buddhist may take refuge with multiple masters at different temples. In the 2007 Chinese Spiritual Life Survey, about 18 percent of the respondents self-identified with Buddhism, which corresponded to about 200 million adults in China, a surprisingly large number compared with the BAC claim of about 100 million Buddhists. However, among the respondents with Buddhist identities, only about 9 percent said they had taken refuge. This indicates that 90 percent of the self-identified Buddhists are cultural Buddhists who do not have a religious commitment.
Table 1 shows the demographic characteristics of self-identified Buddhists in comparison with the others polled in the 2007 Chinese Spiritual Life Survey. Over 11 percent of Buddhists were 60 years old or older, which is a slightly larger proportion than that of the other respondents in the survey; this age difference is statistically significant at the .05 level. Women made up about 60 percent of Buddhists, significantly higher than the proportion of women among other respondents.
Demographic characteristics of Buddhists and others (%)
Notes: (1) CCP: Chinese Communist Party. CCYL: Chinese Communist Youth League; (2) Numbers do not always add up to 100 due to rounding; (3) two-tailed t-test ***p<.001 **p<.01 *p<.05.
The educational levels of Buddhists were not significantly different from those of other respondents (Figure 1). Nearly 62 percent of Buddhists completed middle school or below, almost 29 percent graduated from high school or vocational school, and nearly 10 percent attended college or above.
China has been rapidly urbanized in the past decades.13 According to the 2010 Population Census, nearly half of the Chinese population lived in urban areas. The majority of Buddhists, however (62 percent), lived in rural areas (Figure 2).
Although both CCP and CCYL members are required to uphold atheism as the orthodox ideology, survey findings show that 3.8 percent of self-identified Buddhists were CCP members and 10.3 percent were CCYL members.
The Chinese National Islamic Association (Zhongguo yisilanjiao xiehui 中国伊斯兰教协会, or Yixie 伊协) was founded in Beijing in 1953 by a group of prominent Muslims, such as Burhan Shehidi 包尔汉·沙希迪. Unlike the other national associations, the Islamic Association was first categorized as an ethnic organization under the bureau of ethnic minority affairs. Ten of the 55 ethnic minorities officially recognized by the PRC, who receive various affirmative-action policy benefits, are considered as traditionally following Islam.14 Among them, Hui (回) and Uyghur (Weiwu’er 维吾尔) are the big two, with 10,586,087 and 10,069,346 people in 2010, respectively, followed by the third largest group, Kazakhs (Hasake 哈萨克), with a population of 1,462,588. The other seven minority groups have significantly smaller populations, with about 621,500 Dongxiang (东乡), 130,607 Salar (Sala 撒拉), 51,069 Tajiks (Tajike 塔吉克), 20,074 Bonan (Bao’an 保安), 18,608 Kyrgyz (Ke’erkezi 柯尔克孜), 10,569 Uzbeks (Wuzibieke 乌兹别克), and 3,556 Tatars (Tata’er 塔塔尔).15
In 1959, the Islamic Association was moved to the bureau of religious affairs, although the bureau of ethnic minority affairs has continued to administer the ten ethnic minorities through the Islamic Association. Gradually, Islamic associations were established at lower administrative levels (e.g., province, prefecture, county). All of these associations are organizationally independent from each other. That is, the lower-level associations are not branches of the higher-level association. This vast network of Islamic associations has shaped local affairs by executing governmental policies. These associations serve as a bridge between the Chinese party-state and China’s Muslim minorities, with the aim of promoting a harmonious relationship between Islam and socialism. The double administration by the bureau of religious affairs and the bureau of ethnic minority affairs seem to have created advantages for Islam in China. The officially registered mosques listed in the 2004 Economic Census numbered 34,305, the largest number of sites associated with any of the five officially recognized religions, which accounts for 47 percent of all religious sites. While mosques are scattered widely throughout China, they are located primarily in the northwest, and Yunnan Province, with pockets of concentration in the north-central and northeast as well (Map 4). However, there are large areas of deserts in Xinjiang and the population density is low in many counties. Map 5 shows the location of Islamic mosques in the 2004 Economic Census.
The day-to-day tasks of Chinese Islamic associations mainly include the education of Muslims, research on Islam, and communicating with other Muslims in China and abroad. The national association has three sections in charge of these tasks. The Education Section (jiaowubu 教务部) holds competitions for giving sermons and Qur’an recital contests; it also monitors the manufacture of halal goods and arranges visits of Muslim leaders within China. The International Section (guojibu 国际部) coordinates friendly communications with Muslims abroad. The association is also in charge of pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia (maijia chaojin 麦加朝觐). There are a limited number of Chinese Muslims permitted to make the pilgrimage each year; any person who wants to go on the trip must first apply through the local Islamic association. The association holds training courses and arranges for transportation and lodging. The Cultural Research Section (wenhua yanjiubu 文化研究部) is in charge of publications on the history and culture of Islam. The association publishes a journal, Chinese Muslim (Zhongguo musilin 中国穆斯林), in both Chinese and Uyghur.
Like other religions in China, Islam is associated with national and regional education centers. The China Islamic Institute (Zhongguo yisilanjiao jingxueyuan 中国伊斯兰教经学院) is the national institute, and was founded by the Chinese Islam Association in Beijing in 1955. The institute recruits students from all over China through national examinations and trains them to be future imams, referred to as akhoond (ahong 阿訇). Graduate students from this institute often take positions in the local, prefectural, and provincial offices of the SARA, or serve as lecturers at local Islamic institutes (Photo 5). Many students choose to continue their study abroad, in countries like Egypt, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. In China, female graduates can also serve as imams or teachers in Islamic academies. In fact, they have played an important role in educating Muslim girls, especially those in remote areas of China.16
The Islamic Institute also develops and offers senior college and vocational courses for aspiring clerics. Besides the study of the Qur’an in Arabic, students learn history, geography, politics, Chinese literature, and other subjects in the social sciences.17 The institute was closed in 1966 at the start of the Cultural Revolution and was not reopened until November 1982. Since the 1980s, nine additional Islamic institutes have been established, such as Xinjiang Islamic Institute in Urumqi and Lanzhou Islamic Institute. The China Islamic Association has hosted many leaders from Muslim countries since 1979, such as Muammar Gaddafi, the former president of Libya, and played an important role in establishing friendly connections with the Chinese Muslim diaspora.18
Besides the 10 government-run institutes, independent Islamic academies have been established since the 1980s. One of the most respected independent Islamic academies is located in a village outside Dali 大理 in Yunnan Province, which was opened in 1991. Courses offered are similar to those in government-run institutes. Graduates from independent Islamic academies are often sent to villages needing teachers. Only a limited pool of these graduates can continue their studies overseas or become teachers at schools.19
It is uncertain when Islam was first introduced to China. Liu Chih, in his Life of Muhammad, writes that Islam entered China as early as the Sui Dynasty (581–618). According to Liu Chih, the prophet Muhammad 穆罕默德 (570–632) sent his maternal cousin Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas, along with three other men, as an envoy to China.20 On the other hand, Dai Kangsheng says that S’ad’s visit as a diplomatic envoy does not necessarily mean that Islam was propagated in China.21 He finds evidence of several envoys after Mohammad’s lifetime, such as the one sent by the third caliph, Uthman bin Affan (奥斯曼·伊本·阿凡), to the Tang emperor Gaozong in 651 CE. Another was sent during the Abbasid period to help fight alongside Chinese soldiers to quell a rebellion. In Dai’s opinion, the later interactions mark the true beginning of Islam’s propagation in the mid-eighth century. The Abbasid veterans settled after the war and intermarried with Chinese women. They became ancestors of many Chinese Muslims. Some historians think that trading routes to China, along the sea and the Silk Road, may have been the most important factor leading to the establishment of foreign Muslim enclaves and the practice of Islam in China.22
There are several Muslim traditions operating in China. The four most common ones are Qadim (Gedimu 格底目), Ikhwani (Yihewani 依赫瓦尼), Xidao Tang 西道堂, and Menhuan 门宦. The majority of Chinese Muslims are Qadim Muslims, following Sunni doctrines. There is only a small proportion of Shi’i communities in China, mainly in northwestern China among the Tajik people who live in Tashkurgan County in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Qadim means “ancient” in Arabic. Qadim Muslims try to preserve traditional rules and rituals. They believe in following the orthodox teachings of Sunni Islam and the teachings of the Qur’an and emphasize principles of the Hadith and rituals.
Ikhwani is an interpretation of Islam popularized by Ma Wanfu 马万福 (1853–1934). There are now 10 clerics in Hezhou 河州 (Linxia 临夏, Gansu Province). The faction was not popular until the 1940s when it won support from local Muslims in Gansu, Qinghai, and Ningxia provinces. Ikhwani Muslims distinguish themselves by asserting their respect for the Qur’an, opposing all Chinese customs, and rejecting heresy. They oppose kneeling down to people on the grounds that Allah alone deserves worship. The Ikhwani faction is proud of their fidelity to the Qur’an but criticizes Qadim Muslims for being influenced by Chinese customs.
The Menhuan orders are prevalent in the northwest provinces of Gansu, Ningxia, and Qinghai. They include Muslims who follow Sufism, which first became prevalent in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when Arabic and Central Asian Sufis came to China through trading opportunities.23 Sufism became popular among local people. Four prominent orders of the Menhuan movement include Khufiyya (Hufuye 虎夫耶), Jahriyya (Zhehelinye 哲赫林耶), Qadiriyya (Kadilinye 卡迪林耶), and Kubrawiyya (Kubuerye 库布尔耶). Most of the followers think that leaders (jiaozhu 教主) have the ability to guide believers to heaven, and a shrine or qubba (gongbei 拱北) is often built at their tombs.24
The Xidao Tang group was founded by Ma Qixi 马启西 (1857–1914), who claimed independence from Menhuan in 1902 in Lintan 临潭, Gansu Province. The group is also known as “Study the Han Fraction” (Han xuepai 汉学派) for interpreting the scripture using Confucianism, as proposed by Liu Zhi 刘智 (1655–1745). In theological matters, the Xidao Tang group is similar to the Qadim Muslims, as it stresses the Qur’an and Five Pillars; organizationally, however, it is close to the Menhuan orders, especially with respect to the high prestige and power of order leaders.
In recent decades, Wahhabism (Wahabi zhuyi 瓦哈比主义), a conservative religious movement in Sunni Islam, has become visible in western China.25 Wahhabism is named after its founder, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, an eighteenth-century preacher who started a movement to abolish idolatrous practices like the worship of saints and shrine and tomb visitation.26 This reform movement began in Saudi Arabia and has spread worldwide over the past four decades.27 Followers of Wahhabism reject that term in favor of the name Salafiyya. The movement is referred to as “fundamentalism” (yuanjiaozhi zhuyi 原教旨主义) in Chinese.28 An important aim of the conservative movement is to implement Islamic law or sharia. Sharia defines the obligations of Muslims with regard to crime, politics, marriage contracts, trade, economics, hygiene, diet, and sexual intercourse. In modern societies, such as Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Iran, sharia permeates law and policy. In other countries, it is used to legislate certain civil rights. As of 2013, more than 70 percent of Muslims supported making sharia the official law of the land in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Iraq. There is less support for sharia among Muslims in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan.29 The social consequences of this religious movement have been controversial. Some news sources have reported that Wahhabism has fueled riots in the western provinces of China.30
Regardless of doctrinal affiliation, Muslims in China all understand that the Qur’an is a divine scripture revealed through the archangel Gabriel (Jibril) to Muhammad on multiple occasions during 610–632 CE. Over a period of 23 years, Muhammad heard the words of God from the Archangel Gabriel and memorized them precisely. The Qur’an was written in Arabic, the language in which it was believed to be revealed to Muhammad, and consists of 114 suras or chapters. The suras discuss Allah and his prophets, previous nations, the afterlife, codes of conduct, and how a reader can live a pious and righteous life in obedience to the commandments of Allah. Muslims read and consult the Qur’an for spiritual guidance and also recite verses from the Qur’an during the five daily prayers (salat). For many centuries, Chinese Muslims learned the teachings of the Qur’an predominately through oral tradition. Chinese Muslim leaders feared that a translation of the Qur’an from Arabic to Chinese would blaspheme the words of Allah. A full translation of the Qur’an into Chinese was not completed until 1927.31
Many of the daily practices among the various Muslim communities in China also follow similar patterns. Like Muslims elsewhere in the world, Chinese Muslims are obliged to perform five basic religious acts in their lives, which are called the Five Pillars of Islam (wuda tianming 五大天命):
Testimony (nian 念; Arabic shahādah) includes the recitation of the statement, “I bear witness that there is no deity worthy of worship except the One God, Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Servant and final Messenger of God.” The testimony is also recited during daily prayers.
Prayer (li 礼; Arabic salāh) is conducted five times throughout the day. During prayer, Muslims must be in a state of purity and must face in the direction of the Ka’bah (Ke’erbai 克尔白), the sacred center of the Islamic faith (see below). When praying, Muslims recite verses of the Qur’an and praise Allah using phrases such as “All the salutations, prayers, and good things are for Allah.”
Almsgiving (ke 课; Arabic zakāt) consists of taxes on certain types of wealth (gold, silver, and cash) that are collected each lunar year to be given to Muslims who are in need. Almsgiving is not expected from all members of Muslim society but is obligatory on those whose wealth exceeds a limit established by the prophet Muhammad.32
Fasting (zhai 斋; Arabic ṣawm) is performed from dawn to dusk during Ramadan (lamadan 拉马丹 or zhaijie yue 斋戒月), the ninth month of the lunar year. During fasting, Muslims refrain from eating, sexual intercourse, and foul language. The fasting is a purification process tied to the worship of Allah, and it also reminds believers to consider their fellow Muslims in need. It is obligatory for all practicing adult Muslims to observe Ramadan, excluding those who are sick, elderly, pregnant, or menstruating. During Ramadan, Muslim men and women refrain from eating during daylight hours. They commonly eat a meal before sunrise, the suhoor (fengzhai fan 封斋饭), and a meal following sunset, the iftar (kaijie fan 开解饭). In some parts of China, party officials, public servants, and students are prohibited from fasting during Ramadan. In recent years, those who break the fasting ban have been fined, arrested, or imprisoned.33
Muslims are expected to make a pilgrimage (chao 朝; Arabic Hajj 哈吉) to the sanctuary of Mecca in Saudi Arabia at least once in their lifetime if they are physically and financially able to make the trip.34 To perform the Hajj, one completes the ritual bath, enters a state of ritual purity, and dresses in white clothes. Men wear two garments: one covers the lower body and the other is a shawl worn on the shoulders.35 The ability of Chinese Muslims to make the Hajj has historically depended on the quota set by Saudi Arabia, the restrictions set by the Chinese government, and the ability of individual Muslims to finance their journeys. During the Cultural Revolution, from 1964 to 1979, Chinese Muslims were prohibited from making the Hajj. The first group of Chinese Hajjis permitted to travel after the Cultural Revolution made their pilgrimage in October 1979.36 Presently, all Chinese citizens who embark on the Hajj must register with officials and earn a spot on one of the trips organized by the Islamic Association of China. Making the Hajj can be costly due to transport expenses, guide costs, passport fees, and, in some parts of China, trip deposits.37
Most Muslim communities also observe jumu’ah (juli 聚礼), or Friday prayer, which is a congregational prayer held on Fridays at midday. Jumu’ah is an occasion for Muslims to gather at local mosques, listen to the teachings of Islam, and join together to worship Allah. It is recommended that before attending jumu’ah, Muslim men and women take a shower or perform a ritual ablution and dress in clean clothes, and men wear perfume. The Friday prayer service typically includes two parts, a sermon and a communal prayer. During the sermon (khutbah), an imam (yimamu 伊玛目) or cleric (ahong 阿訇) provides religious guidance to the congregation and reads verses from the Qur’an or Hadith. Following the prayer, members of the congregation may choose to offer voluntary prayers. In some parts of China, women attend jumu’ah in separate mosques from men. In men-only mosques, jumu’ah is led by male imams. In women-only mosques, jumu’ah may be led by a male imam or a female spiritual leader.38
Islam is a monotheistic religion. The word “Islam” itself means voluntary submission to worshipping the one god, Allah (Ala 阿拉). For Muslims, Allah is pre-eternal and perpetual, omniscient and omnipotent, unique and absolute. Muslims believe that the world was created by Allah’s will, and that the purpose of humans is to honor Allah. He is beyond comprehension by human intellect. “There is nothing like him,” thus any visual representation of Allah is prohibited. Allah is understood by Muslims through his attributes, which are described in the Qur’an (Gulan jing 古兰经) and the Hadith (shengxun 圣训).
Survey data helps us gain a sense of the Muslim population in China. Table 2 shows demographic characteristics of self-identified Muslims and others according to the 2010 Chinese General Social Survey. The majority of Chinese Muslims are ethnic minorities. According to the Islamic Association of China, as of 2015, the 10 ethnic groups accounted for about 2 percent of the Chinese population, which corresponds to about 24 million people. However, many members of these 10 ethnic groups do not believe or practice Islam. On the other hand, a small number of Muslims are also found in other ethnic minority groups, such as Tibetans, Mongolians, and the Dai people in southwest China.39 According to the SARA, the total number of Muslims was 21 million in 2010.40
Demographic characteristics of Muslims and others (%)
Notes: (1) Data source: China General Social Survey 2010; (2) CCP: Chinese Communist Party. CCYL: Chinese Communist Youth League; (3) Numbers do not always add up to 100 due to rounding; (4) twotailed t-test ***p<.001 **p<.01 *p<.05.
Self-identified Muslims tend to be significantly younger than the others, with 87.5 percent under age 60 and only 12.5 percent age 60 or older. In contrast, 79 percent of the others were under age 60 and 21 percent were age 60 or older. Women constituted a significantly greater proportion among Muslims than among the others (Figure 3), with 56.2 percent women.
The educational attainment of Muslims in China was significantly lower than the others; 79.2 percent attended middle school or lower, 12.7 percent completed high school or vocational school, and only 8.2 percent attended college.
The majority of Muslims, especially those in Xinjiang and Ningxia autonomous regions, live in rural areas. According to the 2010 CGSS, however, more than 63 percent of Muslims were urban residents (Figure 4). The high percentage of urban Muslims in the CGSS sample is probably due to the exclusion of Xinjiang and Ningxia from the sampling frame. This may also mean that outside the autonomous regions, the scattered communities of Muslims tend to live in urban areas.
The proportion of CCP members was lower among Chinese Muslims than among the others, at 6.4 percent versus 11.4 percent. However, 9 percent of Muslims claim to be CCYL members, which is higher than that of the others.
In China, Protestantism is known as Jidujiao 基督教 [Christianity], whereas Catholicism is known as Tianzhujiao 天主教 [Lord in heaven religion]; the two are seen as different religions. Informed scholars in China often use Jidu zongjiao 基督宗教 for all traditions of Christianity, and Jidu xin jiao 基督新教 for Protestantism in order to differentiate it from Catholicism. Protestant denominations have been banned by the Communist party-state since 1958, but in reality there are various Protestant groups, sects, networks, and traditions.
The Protestant mission to China began in 1807 when Anglo-Scottish missionary Robert Morrison (1782–1834) arrived in China. After the Opium Wars (1839–1842 and 1856–1860), hundreds or thousands of Protestant missionaries came from various countries and denominations. During the first half of the twentieth century, foreign missions played a key role in funding educational institutions, modern hospitals, and charity organizations. At the same time, several indigenous denominations and sects emerged. By 1949, there were between seven hundred thousand and one million Protestant Christians in China.
When the CCP United Front Department commissioned a small group of individuals in July 1950 to investigate the religious situation in China, a central concern was the presence of foreign missionaries. The institutions and churches that were receiving funding and subsidies from the United States and other Western countries were among the chief targets of these investigations. In part as a response to anti-Western sentiment, Chinese Protestant leaders underscored their independence from foreign missions. Working in cooperation with the CCP, Wu Yaozong 吴耀宗 (1893–1979), the head of Shanghai’s Young Men’s Christian Association, campaigned for patriotism and independence from foreign missions. Wu was instrumental in developing the movement based on the three-self principle—self-ruling (zizhi 自治), self-supporting (ziyang 自养), and self-propagating (zichuan 自传). The three-self principle was initially proposed in Shanghai during the late nineteenth century by foreign missionaries who understood that an indigenous expression of Christianity was essential for its successful evangelism. Upon the establishment of the PRC, the CCP perceived these ideas as useful means to mobilize Christians to send foreign missionaries away and cut off ties with Western missions and international organizations such as the World Council of Churches. In 1954, Wu’s efforts to adapt Protestantism to the CCP social vision resulted in the creation of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee (Sanzi aiguo yundong weiyuanhui 三自爱国运动委员会, hereafter TSPM). Thereafter, TSPM committees were established on the provincial, prefecture, and county levels. These TSPM associations are independent from each other in organization. That is, the lower-level committees are not branches of the higher-level committee. However, some individuals hold offices on multiple TSPM committees at different levels. Initially, the TSPM was a coalition of denominations and independent churches. In 1958, denominations were disbanded, and all Christians were conglomerated into “union services” (lianhe libai 联合礼拜) based on residence. The local TSPM committees became the single administrative organization of Protestants, managing church properties, assigning ministerial and clerical positions in churches, and supervising preaching and ministries. Officially, the party-state designates the TSPM committee as the organization bridging between Christians and the party-state.
Like other religious associations, the TSPM ceased operations during the Cultural Revolution and was restored in 1980. In addition, the China Christian Council (Zhongguo jidujiao xiehui 中国基督教协会, hereafter CCC) was established in 1980 to give direction on doctrine, liturgy, and theological education. In reality, the TSPM Committee and the CCC have become intertwined and inseparable from each other, so much so that they are often referred to as lianghui 两会 [The two councils]. Since the 1950s, one of the most visible leaders of the TSPM, and then of the lianghui, was Ding Guangxun 丁光训 (1915–2012). Ding contributed to the CCC’s successful effort to become a member of the World Council of Churches in 1991. Following the lead or instruction of the CCP, Ding advocated reconstructing theology and accommodating to socialist society and Communist ideology in China.41 The TSPM and CCC claim that Chinese Protestantism has moved into a postdenominational era, which means that no denomination is legally recognized by the TSPM/CCC or by the party-state. In reality, some denominational traditions and organizational structures continue to exist in less visible ways within the TSPM/CCC.
Protestant leaders convene every five years for the National Congress of Delegates (Quanguo daibiao dahui 全国代表大会) to elect the leaders of CCC and TSPM. These two groups also jointly publish statistics about the church in China. As of 2017, the website of the two organizations claimed that there were 53,000 official churches, 70 percent of which were founded after 1979. The distribution of these churches may not be very different from the distribution of churches reflected in the 2004 Economic Census data (Map 6), with higher numbers in Henan, Anhui, Zhejiang, and north and northeast China. The website also claimed that there were nearly 20 million Protestants, but provided no information on the geographical distribution of Christians. Asia Harvest, a Christian missionary organization, provided an estimate of the proportion of Christians in each province. Although the exact numbers may not be accurate, the general pattern of the uneven geographical distribution looks plausible: the proportion of Christians is highest in Henan, Anhui, and Zhejiang provinces, and relatively high in north and northeast China. Map 7 shows the location of Protestant churches throughout China.
A 2006 article stated that there were about 3,700 pastors and associate pastors in China, as compared to 36,000 lay workers.42 A recent report indicates that there has been an increase in the number of pastors: between 2007 and 2012, church communities hired an additional 1,057 pastors and 482 associate pastors. According to a SARA report from 2014, there were 48,000 people working for the church, but this number includes both pastors and elders of churches.43 The number of churches, especially in China’s southeast (see Photo 6), has risen rapidly, and the demand for ministers has increaded demand for Christian educational institutions.
At present, there are 19 theological seminaries in China, all of which are under the supervision of the TSPM/CCC.44 Of all China’s Protestant seminaries, the largest is Nanjing Union Theological Seminary (Jinling xiehe shenxueyuan 金陵协和神学院), the flagship seminary of TSPM/CCC. Its predecessor was Nanking Theological Seminary (Jinling shenxueyuan 金陵神学院), which was founded with assistance from U.S. missionaries in 1917. In 1952, 10 other seminaries in East China, along with Nanking Theological Seminary, were incorporated as the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary. The seminary was reopened in 1981 after the Cultural Revolution. As of 2017, there are 22 full-time teachers and 310 full-time undergraduate and graduate students. The number of alumni is about 2,000, most of whom are working in churches throughout the country. There are four programs: a four-year undergraduate program, a three-year master’s program, a part-time pastoral postgraduate program for pastors and church staff, and correspondence courses. The courses focus on biblical study, theological research, church history, and practical theology. To date, the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary is the only one that has been allowed to employ foreign teachers.45
The key tenets of Protestantism in China are similar to those of Protestant churches elsewhere in the world. Protestant Christians profess a faith in the Trinitarian God. For Chinese Protestants God is called Shangdi 上帝 or Shen 神. While some Chinese Protestants insist on using Shangdi, others insist on using Shen, and many Chinese Protestants use both interchangeably. God is the creator of the world and humankind. Humans, however, have been sinful and imperfect since the very first humans, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God.46 According to Protestant teachings, Adam and Eve, seduced by Satan (Sadan 撒旦), disobeyed God’s commands. By disobeying God’s commands, Adam and Eve introduced a separation between the human world and the kingdom of God. Protestants maintain that God sent his only son, Jesus (Yesu 耶稣), to redeem the sinful through dying on the cross. Jesus is the Christ (Jidu 基督), the redeemer or savior, who was crucified and died, but resurrected on the third day. Following Jesus’s ascension, the Holy Spirit (Shengling 圣灵) entered the followers of Jesus as a companion (baohuishi 保惠师). Protestant Christians believe in the Holy Trinity of God, that is, God the Father (Shengfu 圣父), God the Son (Shengzi 圣子), who is Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit (Shengling 圣灵). Most Protestants seek to discover and follow God’s will, and believe that God has a plan for every person. God’s plan is revealed to humans through prayer and through reading the words of God in the Bible. Protestants believe individual believers are able to communicate directly with God to discern God’s plan for them because the Holy Spirit is present within them. Protestants also consider it important for every Christian to spread the gospel (fuyin 福音) to others, in order to fulfill the Great Commission (da shiming 大使命) given by Jesus Christ to his followers before his ascension to heaven.
Protestant churches commonly hold worship services on Sundays. During these services, pastors deliver sermons, exegesis biblical verses, and lead congregational worship. Attendees are encouraged to reflect on God’s teachings and spend time fellowshipping with other congregation members. Sunday services in China’s urban Protestant churches are frequently unable to accommodate the crowds they draw. Many people have to stand or sit outside of the church and listen to the sermon and prayers through loudspeakers. The overcrowding is largely attributable to the shortage of Protestant churches and pastors. During the Cultural Revolution, Protestant churches were closed and Protestant pastors were imprisoned, executed, or banned from practicing their faith. Since the Cultural Revolution, Protestant churches have begun to reopen. Yet, the demand for Protestant services outstrips the supply of available worship spaces and of pastors currently registered to perform the services. To address this issue, some Protestant churches hold multiple services on Sundays or hold additional services on other days of the week.47 Meanwhile, some Chinese Protestants insist on holding worship services on Saturday, the Sabbath.
Baptism (xili 洗礼) and Communion (shengcan 圣餐) are the two common rituals for Protestants. Baptism is the ritual during which a convert pronounces the faith; it may also be performed for an infant born to Christian parents. Among Chinese Protestants, there are various forms of baptism, including full submersion, pouring water on the head, or sprinkling water on the head. Communion is partaking of bread and wine (or grape juice) during a worship service, as Jesus did with his disciples on the night before he died. The theological interpretation of Communion varies significantly among different Protestant traditions. While denominations are not officially allowed in China under TSPM/CCC, Protestant pastors and believers continue to follow various theological traditions. Some Chinese Christians have maintained a tradition of gathering for worship at believers’ homes (jiating chongbai 家庭崇拜), which often includes a ritual of breaking bread (bobing 擘饼).
The Bible is the foundational text of Protestantism. The Bible is composed of two primary sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament describes the origin of humankind, the first sin against God, and the subsequent relationship between humans and God. The New Testament details the teachings, life, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The first complete Chinese Bible was published by missionary Robert Morrison and his coworkers in 1823. Following Morrison’s version in classical Chinese (wenyan wen 文言文), missionaries and missionary organizations published a multitude of Chinese Bibles in local dialects. Currently, the most commonly used is the Chinese Union Version (Heheben shengjing 和合本圣经), which was first published in 1919. This vernacular Mandarin translation of the Bible proceeded the vernacular movement (baihuawen yundong 白话文运动) in the larger society around that time.
For Protestants, the Bible is a potent source of religious knowledge and spiritual guidance. Bible study sessions provide opportunities for directed reading and discussion. During a Bible study session, a small group of Protestants gather to consider the significance of stories and lessons from the Bible. Some Chinese Protestant churches allow congregation members to convene Bible studies on their premises. In China, the Communist party-state rule is that children under the age of 18 are not permitted to participate in Bible study sessions. A church that hosts a Bible study for minors could be cited for interfering with secular state education.48 Likewise, Communist Party members are not allowed to organize Bible study sessions.49 In reality, however, many churches do have Sunday schools for children and some Chinese Communist Party members have become converts.
According to the official figures released by the SARA, there were about 23 million protestants in China in 2010.50 However, the World Christian Database estimates there were more than 100 million Protestants in China.51 The Pew Research Center’s report on global Christianity estimated that there were 58 million Protestants in China in 2010. In surveys, only about 3 percent of respondents self-identified as Christians. If we look at specific Protestant beliefs or practices, however, the number of believers or followers doubles or triples. In the following discussion, we present the basic characteristics of the respondents who had Christian identities based on the 2007 Chinese Spiritual Life Survey (Table 3).
Demographic characteristics of Protestants and others (%)
Notes: (1) CCP: Chinese Communist Party. CCYL: Chinese Communist Youth League; (2) Numbers do not always add up to 100 due to rounding; (3) two-tailed t-test ***p<.001 **p<.01 *p<.05.
The vast majority, 93 percent, of self-identified Protestant Christians were between the ages of 16 and 59. Only about 7.3 percent were 60 or older. This is not much different from the other respondents. Women accounted for almost 70 percent of Chinese Protestants, which is much higher than among the other respondents (Figure 5).
Survey results also show that the educational attainment of self-identified Protestants is not significantly different from that of the other respondents. As displayed in Figure 6, about 12 percent of Protestants had at least a college degree, 25 percent attended high school or vocational school, and 63.1 percent had at most a middle school education. Figure 7 shows that more than 68 percent of Protestants lived in rural areas, which is not statistically significant from the urban/rural distribution of the other respondents.
Very few of the respondents with Protestant identities were members of the CCP. However, almost 11 percent of the respondents with Protestant identities were CCYL members, which is similar to the proportion of CCYL members among the other respondents.
The Chinese Daoist Association was established in 1957. At the founding of the PRC, Daoist institutions were particularly weak due to guidelines developed by the Government Administration Council of the Central People’s Government (Zhonghua renmin gongheguo zhengwuyuan 中华人民共和国政务院) in 1950. In an effort to alleviate problems related to land ownership, the council declared that all the land surrounding religious sites now belonged to the state. Since many Daoist institutions relied on rents from tenant farmers, these new guidelines meant the loss of a once lucrative source of revenue.52 The Upper Clarity’s Celestial Master Bureau (Shangqing tianshi fu 上青天师府) in Guixi 贵溪 (northeast Jiangxi), for example, collected 90,000 bushels of grain as rent in the early part of the twentieth century. The income of most temples during this period is unknown, but based on mid-century land records, some of the numbers must have been staggering. For example, the Baiyun Temple 白云观 of Beijing held over 5,800 mu 亩 (over 950 acres) throughout the greater Beijing area.53
The individual who led the effort to form a Daoist association was Yue Chongdai 岳崇岱 (1888–1958, also known as Yue Yunfa 岳云发), the head priest of the Taiqing Temple 太清宮 in Shenyang, Liaoning Province. In the early summer of 1956, Yue contacted many of the top Daoist leaders throughout China asking them to support his proposed Chinese Daoist Association (Zhongguo daojiao xiehui 中国道教协会). Yue had risen to prominence nearly two decades earlier when he was elected as a permanent member of the Daoist Central Association (Daojiao zonghui 道教总会) of Shanghai in 1927. Just as Yue began contacting other top priests in the country, he was invited to reside in Beijing by the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (Quanguo zhengzhi xieshang huiyi 全国政治协商会议, hereafter CPPCC), the political arm that helps the CCP communicate with various mass organizations and ethnic groups. Yue met with the chair of the CPPCC, Zhou Enlai 周恩來 (1893–1976), on March 9, 1957. A little over a month later, on April 12, the first meeting of the National Daoist Association convened in Beijing. The meeting had the support of the vice chairman of the PRC, Zhu De 朱德 (1886–1976).
Like the other religious institutions, the Chinese Daoist Association re-emerged in 1979 after a 10-year hiatus. Today its stated purposes are to unite Chinese Daoists, promote love of Daoism, and contribute to a socialist society.54 The association coordinates Daoist practices, controls the initiation of priests and nuns, publishes a monthly journal, Chinese Daoism (Zhongguo daojiao 中国道教), and maintains Daoist cultural centers for religious and scholarly training. The Chinese Daoist Association is headquartered at the Baiyun Temple in Beijing. The association has over one hundred regional organizations at the provincial, city, and community levels, whose distribution in space corresponds to the distribution of Daoist temples (Map 8). Each association must be registered with the RAB at the correspondent level. Regional associations often provide training in liturgy and scripture, organize the repair and maintenance of temples and religious sites, and recruit new priests and register people who are qualified to perform rituals. The largest regional association is the Shanghai Daoist Association, which publishes its own journal, Daoism in Shanghai (Shanghai Daojiao 上海道教).
There has been a recent surge in the construction and expansion of Daoist academies, which are postsecondary schools where monks, nuns, and laypeople take courses related to Daoist studies. Chinese Daoist academies typically offer two programs of study: a concentrated study program and a continued study program. Students interested in the concentrated study program must receive a recommendation from the local Daoist organization and pass an admissions test. After completing the concentrated study program, students continue to take courses in the continued studies program. The curriculum of the Chinese Daoist Academies includes courses in religious studies, political studies, and cultural studies. Additionally, students complete courses on current political events, socialist education, Chinese history, English, and Daoist martial arts. Laypeople may enroll in selected courses through “life learning” programs, which focus on specific aspects of Daoism, such as Daoist philosophy, the history of Daoism, calligraphy, current events, and modern Chinese government.
Most academies and large Daoist institutions belong to the Quanzhen 全真 (Complete Perfection) lineage, which originated in northern China (Map 9). Quanzhen teachings trace the school’s origin to Wang Chongyang 王重阳 (1113–1170), a twelfth-century priest who lived in the Zhongnan Mountains in Shaanxi Province. This school is Daoism’s monastic branch. Quanzhen priests reside in monasteries and abbeys and engage in ascetic practices (Photo 7). They must remain celibate and dress in religious garments. The Quanzhen lineage operates at least 25 large-scale monasteries throughout China that include training centers and sites of ordination.55 Other Daoist orders belong to the Zhengyi 正一 (Orthodox Unity) tradition, which is nonmonastic and predominately located in southern China. Zhengyi priests may live in temples or stay with their families. The Zhengyi lineage regards Zhang Daoling 张道陵 (34–156), who was believed to have received revelation from Laozi in the mid-second century CE, as the first Celestial Master 天师.56 Since medieval times, the designation of Celestial Master has been passed on generation after generation through Zhang’s descendants. The Zhengyi school embraces a body of scriptures and writings called the Teaching of Orthodox Unity, which includes practices such as spiritual retreats, offering rituals, the use of talismans, and conferring certificates on lay ritual leaders across China. Certificates are divided into grades according to believers’ knowledge of and experience with Daoist practice and rites.57
In addition to Daoist priests, there are many lay Daoist associations that act as the primary intermediaries between local religious communities and Daoist temples. Lay associations are community-level religious organizations that are commonly led by local religious masters who are not ordained by the Chinese Daoist Association. The practices of lay associations vary widely across China. In general, lay associations serve four primary purposes. First, lay associations perform religious services, which can include Daoist liturgies and rituals. Second, lay associations organize and finance religious festivals and events, some of which can be complex and costly. For certain services and festivals, such as the jiao 醮, lay associations arrange for priests of nearby temples to visit and preside over the religious ceremonies. Third, lay associations provide education and moral instruction to members of the community. Fourth, lay associations coordinate social services, charity, and socioreligious activities.58 In China, lay associations function as important vehicles for the transmission of Daoist principles to Chinese local communities. Members of local communities who cannot travel to Daoist temples or academies learn about the Dao from local religious specialists and visiting priests.
Daoist rituals serve various purposes, such as thanksgiving, sacrifice, prayers for rain, exorcizing demons, communicating with deceased family members, and so on. These rituals are a combination of singing, chanting, recitation, and dancing. According to the general pattern of these rituals, the priests first place talismans around the altar to sanctify the space and prepare it for further actions. Then, priests burn talismans and offer incense, tea, wine, or other sacrifices, and invite transcendent beings to come down from heaven or rise up from the underworld. The priest announces his purposes to the divine beings and asks their assistance. The ritual ends with a feast for the gods, at which time the priest expresses thanks and sends the deities on their away.59
A key tool for Daoist rituals is the talisman, a slender object typically made of wood, metal, or paper. To transform it into a religiously powerful instrument, Daoist masters write characters, figures, signs, and symbols on the talisman. The characters that are inscribed on talismans usually concern ideas like yin and yang, fire, light, and so on. In terms of symbols, small circles represent stars, curves symbolize water, and spirals refer to clouds. In general, a talisman is a tool bearing cosmic force and having various functions. It is burned to create a sacred place or to invite gods. To keep themselves safe and avoid evil, Daoists carry talismans or place them at specific places in the home, such as over a door or beside a bed. Talismans may also be burned and the ashes mixed in a cup of water; a person can drink this talisman-infused water in order to cure sickness.60 When conducting rituals, priests often incorporate spells into their repertoire; this ritualistic language conveys the priest’s wishes to deities. The spells usually end with a special phrase: jiji ru lüling 急急如律令 “promptly, promptly, in accordance with the statues and ordinances.”
Many Daoist practices, both rituals performed by priests and carried out by lay practitioners, involve various kinds of meditation that may be classified into two types. One type is commonly called yangsheng 养生, which involves a wide range of gymnastic and mental exercises intended to improve the state of the body and confer robust health and longevity on the meditator. The second type bears more religious significance, as the meditator aims at becoming immortal (仙 xian).61 Self-cultivation techniques for health and longevity are more popular (Photo 8). In the twentieth century, these techniques have become regarded by many practitioners as a scientific way of ensuring healthy life instead of a religious practice. These techniques include but are not limited to (1) breathing exercises in which people inhale qi 氣 (vital air) and exhale its impure counterpart in a rhythmic way, in order to get rid of negative moods; (2) abstaining from grains (bigu 辟谷), which are replaced with qi, medicinal herbs, or fruits; (3) physical exercise and self-massage, which conduct the circulation of qi within the body in order to cure disease and prolong life; (4) drinking water infused with the ashes of specific talismans to heal disease; 5) clenching the fists to hold qi within the body and prevent it from leaking out.62
These cultivation techniques are the preliminary and preparatory stages of advanced practices undertaken by Daoist masters. Most important is the cultivation of neidan 内丹, the inner alchemy. Nurturing the inner alchemy within the body is one of the ultimate goals for many Daoist believers, as it can make them more transcendent and unite them with the Dao, enabling them to become an immortal being. The practices of developing the inner alchemy are very abstract and metaphysical. They consist of building a foundation within the body, combining yin-yang visualization, ingesting medicines, and circulating fire energy throughout the body.
Daoist rituals are also performed in the local community. The local lineage or neighborhood can sponsor the priests, host the rites, and provide offerings. Daoism has developed alongside many of China’s folk arts, such as music, dance, painting, and sculpture, which are common in residences and at festivals. Music is a key component of Daoist rituals, and some of its music is derived from folk songs since many priests are from the countryside. Daoist music is quickly becoming one of the most popular tools to attract potential adherents, and is often used to illustrate Daoist teachings. On the other hand, Daoist music has gradually diffused into other aspects of life, such as weddings, offerings to ancestors, and agricultural festivals.63 Often, Daoist stories are incorporated into plays and public dramas, and many of these recitals, such as shuochang 说唱, are now an independent art form without a religious dimension.64
Key among the teachings of Daoism is that humans strive to unite with the Dao 道, the central element of the Daoist system of beliefs. The term Dao, originally denoting a “way” or “path,” is understood not as the “way” or order of human society, but rather as a metaphysical basis of the natural order itself. Dao—the life force of the universe—is formless and invisible. The Dao manifests in humans as de 德, often translated as virtue. In Daoist cosmogony, the Dao was present at the origins of the universe and dispersed as qi 氣, and gradually congealed to form Daoist deities (shen 神). Qi is energy and matter; it is the basic building block of all things in the universe.65 Many Daoists profess that humans can unite with the Dao by cultivating virtue. Many different paths are available to humans who seek to become transcendent. Transcendent beings possess various supernormal powers, such as the ability to fly and ascend to heaven.66 If a Daoist lives a particularly virtuous life, he or she might also ascend to higher ranks in Daoism’s vast pantheon. There are various traditions and sublineages within the religion that promise believers access to various levels of postmortem rank. As people ascend into the heavens, new gods have been added over time. In Daoism, deities live in divine places that humans cannot easily reach, such as floating islands in the eastern seas, as well as palaces in the sky. There are many stories of Daoist practitioners, including emperors, who attempted to reach these supernatural places.
Many of China’s most famous Daoist sites are located on mountains that are viewed as heavenly places transposed to earth. Daoist practitioners seek out these mountains and caves, which are traditionally considered efficacious for the practice of self-cultivation. The most well-known Chinese mountains linked to Daoism are the Five Peaks (wuyue 五岳): Mount Tai 泰山 in Shandong, Mount Heng 衡山 in Hunan, Mount Hua 华山 in Shaanxi, Mount Heng 恒山 in Shanxi, and Mount Song 嵩山 in Henan. But there are dozens of peaks throughout China thought to be portals into Daoist realms called Grotto-Heavens (dongtian 洞天) and Blissful Lands (fudi 福地). The Grotto-Heavens are believed to contain scriptures and treasures, hidden by deities.
While the Daodejing 道德经 is perhaps the most famous Daoist scripture, Daoism has an open canon of scriptures; there are hundreds of divinely inspired texts detailing ways to practice and cultivate the Dao for an everlasting life. Daoism sees all existence, humans, and things to be part of Dao. The perfect human is a flawless microcosm of the cosmic whole whose bodily spirits are perfectly attuned to the larger whole, the macrocosm. There are gods and spirits in the body, each having names and functions. According to Taiping jing 太平经 (Scripture of great peace), these detailed descriptions are provided as support for meditation: visualizing the inner gods causes them to remain in their corporeal abodes and perform their functions, while their departure would result in illness and death. There are three main terms used to refer to the human body in Daoism. The first, “body” (ti 体), designates the physical frame as an ordered whole made of interdependent parts. The second, “form” (xing 形), refers to the body as the counterpart and residence of spirit. The third, “spirit” (shen 神), denotes the whole human being, including its nonmaterial aspects like feeling and thinking. Daoists believe that what determines a person’s birth and death, or life span, is not any external force but the person herself. Dao is the beginning of everything, and associates with life.
It is hard to accurately estimate the number of Daoists in China, partially due to the lack of reliable sources of data. Also, the mixing of Daoist and folk religious rituals and beliefs makes it hard to distinguish Daoists from adherents of folk religion. According to the 2007 Chinese Spiritual Life Survey, only about 1 percent of the 7,021 respondents claimed Daoist identities, which corresponded to about 11 million Chinese adults in 2010. Nonetheless, the survey also shows that a much larger proportion of Chinese adults participate in one or more Daoist practices (Table 4).
Demographic characteristics of Daoists and others (%)
Notes: (1) CCP: Chinese Communist Party. CCYL: Chinese Communist Youth League; (2) Numbers do not always add up to 100 due to rounding; (3) two-tailed t-test ***p<.001 **p<.01 *p<.05.
Because of the very small number of self-identified Daoists in the survey, we cannot reliably assess the statistical significance of demographic differences between Daoists and the others. Tentatively, however, we see that the vast majority of self-identified Daoists were between the ages of 16 and 59. Only about 5 percent were age 60 or older. Men comprised 44 percent of all Daoists. The overall educational attainment of Daoists tended to be slightly higher than the others, with about 19 percent college educated. And about three-quarters of them live in rural areas. Among the respondents with Daoist identities, less than 2 percent were CCP members. About 18 percent were CCYL members, much higher than among the other respondents or in the general population.
Catholicism is known as Tianzhujiao 天主教 in China, which literally means “Lord in Heaven religion.” Even though a Catholic presence in China can be traced back to the Yuan Dynasty (1260–1368), when the Franciscan monk Giovanni di Monte Corvino arrived in Beijing in 1293, it ended at the turn from the Yuan to the Ming Dynasty in 1368. More than two hundred years later, in 1583, Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) arrived in China and succeeded in converting many Chinese to Catholicism. Ricci consciously chose Tianzhu as the term for God rather than other words like Shangdi 上帝 [High thearch] and Tian 天 [Heaven], which demonstrates that he understood the possible Daoist and Buddhist connotations of these names.67
In the People’s Republic of China, a national association of Catholics was first established in 1957, the last of the five associations for officially recognized religions. At the time of the founding of the PRC, Pope Pius XII threatened to excommunicate clergy who cooperated with the Communist Party in China. Without the cooperation of the Catholic clergy, after many years of effort, the party-state managed to form the China Catholic Laypeople Patriotic Association (Zhongguo tianzhujiao jiaoyou aiguohui 中国天主教教友爱国会) in 1957. Thereafter, China selected new bishops whose legitimacy was not recognized by the pope. In 1962, the association changed its name to the China Catholic Patriotic Association (Zhongguo tianzhujiao aiguohui 中国天主教爱国会, hereafter CCPA). During the Cultural Revolution, the CCPA was disbanded and all churches were shut down.
In 1980, alongside the restored CCPA, Catholic leaders formed the Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in China (Zhongguo tianzhujiao zhujiaotuan 中国天主教主教团, hereafter BCCCC) for theological and liturgical matters. The CCPA and BCCCC resemble the Protestant “two councils” and are often jointly called the “One Association and One Conference” (Yihui yituan 一会一团). In principle, the BCCCC monitors religious affairs and the CCPA is responsible for meeting the church’s institutional need for clergy and churches. Yet institutional and doctrinal affairs can overlap in Chinese Catholicism.68 One of the principal roles of the BCCCC is to monitor the education offered in the country’s 11 seminaries.69 They are located in Beijing, Shenyang, Chengdu, Hohhot, Taiyuan, Jinan, Wuhan, Xi’an, and Jilin. The largest is the National Seminary of the Catholic Church (Zhongguo tianzhujiao shenzhe xueyuan 中国天主教神哲学院, hereafter NSCCC). Founded in 1983 in Beijing, the national seminary has a six-year undergraduate program. Coursework includes dogmatic theology, theology of ethics, canon law, and other theological classes; ontology, epistemology, history of Chinese philosophy, and other philosophical courses; and Latin, Chinese, politics, music, and other cultural courses. More than six hundred students have graduated from the national seminary; half of these men have been ordained as priests in China and seven have been ordained as bishops.70
There are 97 dioceses under the CCPA/BCCC, which are different from yet overlapping with the 137 dioceses designated by the Vatican in 1946. The two sets of overlapping dioceses are a cause of feuds between underground and aboveground Catholics. In 2004, according to the SARA, there were about 4,000 Catholic churches throughout the country.71 According to the 2004 Economic Census, Catholic churches have spread out throughout China, including Tibet, with high concentrations in North China, especially Hebei Province, and Southeast China, especially Fujian Province. There are also sizeable pockets near Shanghai and in Shaanxi Province (Maps 10 and 11).
The theology and devotional practices in China’s Catholic churches are centered on the seven sacraments (shengshi 圣事): baptism (shengxi 圣洗), confirmation (jianzhen 坚振), confession (gaojie 告解), the Eucharist (shengti 圣体), anointing of the sick (zhongfu 终傅 or bingren fuyou 病人傅油), ordination (shengyi 圣秩 or shenpin 神品), and matrimony (hunpei 婚配). All Catholics must be baptized. When Catholics reach adulthood, they are confirmed into the church by bishops (zhujiao 主教), though in special cases the sacrament can be performed by priests (siduo 司铎). Confirmation is sometimes referred to as the anointment of the baptized, intended to reinforce their faith.
The most common Catholic ritual is the sacrament of the Eucharist, which is also referred to as the Lord’s Supper (zhu de yanxi 主的宴席) or “breaking the bread” (baibing 掰饼), and is performed during Mass (misa 弥撒). Mass is divided into two parts: the Liturgy of the Word (shengdao li 圣道礼), which includes scripture readings, a homily, and prayer (xinyou daoci 信友祷词); and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (shengji li 圣祭礼), which includes the Eucharistic prayer and the distribution of consecrated bread to the congregation. Historically, it has been debated whether Mass should be celebrated in Chinese or Latin. In 1615, the Roman Catholic Church permitted Chinese Catholics to conduct Mass in Chinese, but this was rarely done until recent times. It was not until 1989, for example, that the Chinese Catholic Diocese at Sheshan Cathedral 佘山天主堂 in Shanghai conducted its first mass in Chinese.
Catholics view prayer and the seven sacraments as the primary ways to receive blessings from God. Prayer refers to any communication addressed to God, and typically expresses praise, admiration, or love for God. During prayer, Catholics may read scripture and meditate (moxiang 默想). Catholics can pray to ask for blessings or mercy or to offer thanksgiving to God. Prayer is an important spiritual practice in Catholicism. Catholics often pray in the morning, in the evening, and before and after meals. The Catholic Church also encourages its followers to make the sign of the cross before praying. Following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), the Catholic liturgy has been adapted to suit Chinese society. The priest Andrew Chao (Yizhou Zhao 赵一舟, 1927–2015) was an expert in localizing liturgy and wrote a series of books, such as Jiating liyi 家庭礼仪 [Family rituals] to address the importance of prayer in everyday life. In recent times, church leaders have also encouraged parishioners to pray during the celebration of traditional Chinese festivals such as the Dragon Boat Festival (duanwu jie 端午节) and the Double Ninth Festival (chongyang jie 重阳节), during ancestor veneration, and also during important life events like birthdays, graduations, and housewarmings.72 In villages, it is very common to hold periodic processions, such as the November procession celebrating the Virgin Mary (Photo 9).
In many ways, the principal beliefs of Catholics resemble those of Protestant Christians. Catholicism is a monotheistic religion. Catholics believe that one God created the world and humankind. This God exists in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father refers to the noncorporeal, heavenly form of God; the Son refers to Jesus Christ, the incarnate form of God; and the Holy Spirit refers to the divine will and spirit of God. Together, these three persons are called the Holy Trinity or the Blessed Trinity. The triadic personhood of God—or how one God can exist in three persons—is a central mystery of Catholic life and faith. Furthermore, the Bible plays a key role in Catholic liturgy and devotional life.73 Currently, the most popular version among Chinese Catholics is the Studium Biblicum Version (Sigao yiben 思高译本).
Nevertheless, for many, Catholicism is perceived as a distinct and separate religion from Protestantism. For example, there is a strong emphasis in Catholic communities on the need to atone for one’s sins before facing God’s final judgment. This process involves faith, good works, and the sacraments of baptism and confession. Confession requires that Catholics admit their sins to God and ask for his forgiveness. A bishop or priest conducts the rite in a small room called a confessional (gaojie shi 告解室) and declares that a person’s sins have been forgiven.
Throughout CCP rule, the pope, as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, has been a controversial figure. The Chinese government does not permit Chinese citizens to maintain a “double loyalty,” meaning that Chinese Catholics cannot claim loyalty to their country and to the pope. For this reason, the Catholic Church in China is officially separate from the universal Catholic Church. In practice, however, many Chinese Catholics still recognize the pope as a figure of religious authority.74 Historically, the Chinese government has been at odds with the Vatican. Chinese officials have often criticized the Vatican as an “imperialist force” interfering in China’s internal affairs. Official Catholic churches in China were ordered to ordain new bishops without the consent of the Holy See. Since the 1980s, the relationship between the Chinese government and the Vatican has slowly improved, with each side making concessions. Most bishops have secretly sought and received recognition by the Holy See before or after their ordination in the Chinese Catholic church. On the other hand, the Chinese government, respecting Catholics’ concern for sacramental integrity, allows Catholics to express their spiritual allegiance to the pope. Charters of both the CCPA and the BCCCC declare communion with the pope.75 More recently, the Chinese government and the Vatican have opened discussions on how to resolve disagreements and establish diplomatic relations.76
In the official Catholic churches, priests are ordained by bishops of the BCCC, but only some of these ordinations have been recognized by Roman Catholic church authorities.77 In some cases, Chinese priests have been ordained with the approval of the bishops loyal to the pope. In other cases, Chinese priests have been ordained without the approval or with the expressed disapproval of the Vatican.
According to the SARA, as of 2010 there were more than 5.5 million Catholics in China.78 Outside sources estimated that there could be as many as 10 to 12 million Catholics in China. Survey data suggests that about two to four million adults were Catholics in China. While the absolute number of Catholics in China is certainly large, the respondents with Catholic identities contained in the survey datasets were too few to warrant a reliable analysis of the demographic characteristics of Chinese Catholics. Therefore, the following analysis, based on the 2007 Chinese Spiritual Life Survey (Table 5), is a rough sketch of the Catholic population in China.
Demographic characteristics of Catholics and others (%)
As with followers of other religious traditions, the vast majority of Catholics fell into the 16–59 age group. Women accounted for 62 percent of Catholics, and 13.4 percent were college educated. The majority (55 percent) of Catholics lived in urban areas. Among the respondents with Catholic identities, about 20 percent belonged to the CCYL but less than 1 percent to the CCP.
Goossaert, “Republican Church Engineering.”
Welch, Buddhism under Mao, 472.
For more information, see Buddhist Association of China, “A Brief Introduction.”
For detailed information about these Buddhist journals, see Buddhist Association of China, “The Journals of the Buddhist Association of China.”
Ashiwa and Wank, “The Politics of a Reviving Buddhist Temple.”
Buddhist Academy of China, “Education and Teaching.”
For a brief history of the academy, see Minnan Buddhist Academy, “A Brief Introduction”; see also Travagnin, “The Impact of Politics on the Minnan Buddhist Institute.”
Greene, “Meditation, Repentance, and Visionary Experience,” 5.
J. Wu, “The Chinese Buddhist Canon,” 363.
G. Fisher, From Comrades to Bodhisattvas, 140.
Ryan and Gu, “Constructionism and Culture in Research,” 170.
Robson, “Buddhist Sacred Geography,” 1383.
State Information Center, “The Past and Future of Urbanization in China.”
For details, see China Islamic Association, “The Population of Muslims among Ethnic Minorities in China.”
National Bureau of Statistics of the PRC, “Tabulation of the 2010 Population of the People’s Republic of China.”
Armijo, “Islamic Education in China.”
IslamiChina, “Islamic Education in China.”
For more information, see China Islamic Association, “A Brief Introduction to the China Islamic Association.” http://www.chinaislam.net.cn/about/zbyx/about190.html.
Armijo, “Islamic Education in China”; Noor, Sikand, and van Bruinessen, The Madrasa in Asia.
Winters, Mao or Muhammad.
Kangsheng, “Research on the History of Chinese Islam in China Today.”
Winters, Mao or Muhammad.
China Culture, “Menhuan.”
Acharya, Gunaratna, and Wang, Ethnic Identity and National Conflict in China.
Tatlow, “A Model of Inclusion for Muslim Women.”
C. M. Blanchard, “The Islamic Traditions of Wahhabism and Salafiyya.”
Al-Sudairi, “Chinese Salafism and the Saudi Connection.”
G. Chen, Handbook for A-hong in the New Period.
Pew Research Center, “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society.”
Netease, “Dangerous Signals about Conservatism”; Ifeng, “Believing in Wahabism Is a Form of Passive Resistance.”
Jin, “The Qur’an in China,” 99.
Tarsin, Being Muslim.
U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. 2015 Annual Report.
G. Chen, Handbook for A-hong in the New Period.
Tarsin, Being Muslim.
Dillon, China’s Muslim Hui Community.
Wong, “Wary of Islam, China Tightens a Vise of Rules.”
Jaschok and Shui, The History of Women’s Mosques in Chinese Islam, 104.
Chinese Ethnicity and Religion, “Mongolians and Islam”; idem, “Walking Close to Tibetan Muslims in Shigatse”; idem, “The Dai Muslims.”
State Administration for Religious Affairs, “Introduction to Religions in China.”
F. T. Ying, “The Church-State Relationship in Contemporary China.”
Gospel Times, “How Many Christians Are in China?”.
State Administration for Religious Affairs, “Basic Condition of Religions in Our Country.”
For details, see China Christian Council and Three-Self Patriotic Movement, “A Brief Introduction to TSPM and CCC.”
For more information, see Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, “A Brief Introduction.”
China Christian Council and Three-Self Patriotic Movement, “In the Beginning Was the Word”; idem, “Resurrection.”
F. Yang, “Lost in the Market,” 429.
Potter, “Belief in Control.”
Shambaugh, “Training China’s Political Elite,” 833.
State Administration for Religious Affairs, “Introduction to Religions in China.”
Welch, “The Chang T’ien Shih and Taoism in China,” 192.
Y. Li, Contemporary Taoism, 45.
Bokenkamp, “Daoism,” 2189.
Kleeman, Celestial Masters.
Y. Chen, “Zhengyi.”
Goossaert, “Taoist Lay Associations.”
Dean, “Daoist Ritual Today.”
Despeux, “Talismans and Diagrams.”
Goossaert, “Daoist in the Modern Chinese Self-Cultivation Market.”
Engelhardt, “Longevity Techniques and Chinese Medicine.”
Yuzo and Liu, “Daoist Ritual Music.”
Yuzo and Liu, “Daoist Ritual Music.”
Bokenkamp, “Daoism,” 2177.
Pregadio, Encyclopedia of Taoism, 1092.
Oak, “Competing Chinese Names for God.”
Madsen, “Catholic Revival during the Reform Era.”
Chinese Catholic Handbook, 2–3.
For more information about the National Seminary, see NSCCC, “Introduction to the National Seminary of the Catholic Church in China.”
D. Zhang, “The Chinese Catholic Church’s Surveys.”
Y. Zhao, Family Rituals, 77–107.
Ren, Basic Knowledge about Catholicism in China, 144–146; Chinacath, “The Catholic Theology on the Bible.”
Chu, “China and the Vatican.”
Madsen, “Catholic Revival during the Reform Era.”
Jucca, Lim, and Torode, “After Decades of Mistrust, Pope Pushes for Diplomatic Breakthrough with China.”
Wiest, “Sino-Vatican Relations under Pope Benedict XVI.”
State Administration for Religious Affairs, “Introduction to Religions in China.”