Chapter 7 South-Central China 中南地区

In: Atlas of Religion in China: Social and Geographical Contexts
Fenggang Yang
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J. E. E. Pettit
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MAP 88
MAP 88

Subregional map of South-Central China.

16. Henan 河南

Land area: 167,000 km2

Population: 94,029,939

Capital: Zhengzhou 郑州


Henan province is at the very center of China, both culturally and physically. The province consists of 17 prefectures, including 52 urban districts, 21 county-level cities, and 85 counties. With 94 million residents, Henan is the fourth most populous province in the country and also has a diverse ethnic population of Hui, Mongol, and Manchu people. Ethnic minorities comprise 1.2 percent of the total population.

Western and eastern Henan have vastly different topographies (Map 89). The eastern part of the province belongs to the North China Plain while the western part of the province is covered with mountains. Two of China’s most iconic rivers flow through Henan: the Yellow River in the north and the Huai River in the southeast. Henan is also home to Mount Song 嵩山, which lies southwest of Zhengzhou, the capital of the province. Mount Song is famous as the site of the Buddhist Shaolin Temple 少林寺 and the Daoist Zhongyue Temple 中岳庙 [Central Mount Temple].

Henan’s economy is essentially agricultural, yielding abundant products such as grain, wheat, rapeseed, and a large number of livestock, and its food processing industry is well developed. Ninety percent of the ingredients used by Chinese McDonald’s and KFC restaurants come from Henan. The province is also rich in a wide variety of minerals and natural resources, and thus equipment manufacturing is another leading industry in Henan.


Henan has a large population, which increased 3 percent between 2000 and 2010, from 91,236,854 to 94,029,939. The proportion of urban residents increased slightly from 17 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2010. People holding a college degree formed only 3 percent of the total population in 2000, doubling to 6 percent in 2010, and were concentrated in the major cities of Zhengzhou, Kaifeng 开封, and Nanyang 南阳. The sex ratio was 106.46 males per 100 females in 2000 and dropped to 102.05 in 2010. The average family size decreased slightly from 3.7 persons to 3.5 during the same decade. The percentage of elderly residents rose from 10 percent to 13 percent (Maps 90–91).

MAP 90
MAP 90

Henan: Elderly population in 2000.

MAP 91
MAP 91

Henan: Elderly population in 2010.

Key Religious Facts

Henan Province has one of the largest Christian populations in China (Map 92 and Figure 24).1 Protestant churches are clearly predominant throughout the province. Nanyang Prefecture, and sometimes the entire province of Henan, is referred to as “the Galilee of China” because of its high number of Christians and their evangelistic efforts throughout the nation.2 In the 1960s, Henan was singled out, along with Zhejiang and Inner Mongolia, as an experimental zone for an anti-religion campaign by the Communist Party. According to government estimates, the number of Protestant Christians dropped from 120,000 in 1949 to 78,000 in 1965 (one year before the Cultural Revolution). In reality, however, many Christians kept their faith and went underground. Since the 1970s, several house church networks have developed in Henan and spread to many other provinces. The largest is probably the Fangcheng Fellowship 方城团契, which claims to have about 10 million believers.3 An evangelist from this area, Li Tian’en 李天恩 (1928–2016), after being released from prison and labor camps, led revivals in the 1970s.4 Zhang Rongliang 张荣亮, Li’s disciple and the current leader of the Fangcheng Fellowship, has also been arrested and imprisoned multiple times.5

MAP 92

Henan: Distribution of religious sites by prefecture.

Henan Province has the fourth-largest Hui population in China, after Ningxia 宁夏, Gansu 甘肃, and Xinjiang 新疆. The Hui population makes up 1 percent of the total population of Henan and is concentrated in Zhengzhou, Kaifeng 开封, and Luoyang 洛阳.6 The origin of the Hui population in Henan can be dated back to the Tang Dynasty (618–907); their number increased during the Song Dynasty (960–1279), mostly due to the settlement of overseas businessmen, as well as farmers.7

While Buddhist temples are scattered around the whole province, Daoist temples are mostly found in western prefectures (Photo 22). Some of the most famous Buddhist sites are located in Henan, most notably the Shaolin Temple, which is renowned for its kung fu monks. This Chan monastery was originally built in the fifth century, and its martial arts tradition is believed to stem from the seventeenth century.8 Under the leadership of Shi Yongxin 释永信, the abbot of Shaolin Monastery, Shaolin has been transformed from a poor and relatively unknown outpost into a global brand. Yongxin thus became known as the “CEO monk.”9 In recent years, some scandalous accusations have been filed against him.10


Yangtai Temple in Jiyuan City (Henan).

Credit: Linji Wei

Henan is also famous for the descendants of Jews in Kaifeng. Jews may have arrived in China as early as 92 BCE. During the Song Dynasty (960–1279), there is good evidence for the presence of Jews in Kaifeng, at that time the capital city. However, the descendants of the original Jewish population in Kaifeng have intermarried for many generations and have lost most of the traditional Jewish practices. In the 1980s, the Sino-Judaic Institute was founded by an international group of scholars to research the history of the Jewish communities in China.11 Up to 1,000 residents in Kaifeng are of Jewish ancestry, but only a small number of individuals participate in Jewish activities.12 In 2015, Shavei Israel, the Jerusalem-based nonprofit organization that assists lost and hidden Jews worldwide to reconnect with their heritage, appointed an Israeli sinologist as its new emissary to the Kaifeng Jewish community.13

17. Hubei 湖北

Land area: 185,900 km2

Population: 57,237,727

Capital: Wuhan 武汉


Hubei Province is located on the middle reaches of the Yangtze River in the central part of China. Its name is derived from its location to the north of Lake Dongting 洞庭湖. Hubei has 13 prefectures, including 39 urban districts, 24 county-level cities, and 37 counties. Ethnic minorities make up a little over 4 percent of the total population and they are mainly distributed in southwestern Hubei, including Tujia, Miao, Hui, and Dong 侗.

The terrain of Hubei descends from the mountains surrounding the province on three sides to the lowlands in the southeast areas, the Yangtze Plain (Map 93). Some of China’s most famous religious sites are located in Hubei, including those in the Wudang Mountains 武当山 in the northwestern part of the province, and the Dabie Mountains 大别山 and Mufu Mountains 幕府山 to the east. The numerous waterways of Hubei have earned it the nickname “Thoroughfare of Nine Provinces” (Jiusheng Tongqu 九省通衢). Its river systems, most notably the Yangtze River and its tributary the Han River 汉江, flow into lakes in the eastern part of the province, the largest of which is Lake Hong 洪湖. The rivers and lakes of Hubei have given rise to a well-developed agriculture and fishery. The river systems have also made Hubei the hydropower base of China. Its facilities include the famous Three Gorges Project 三峡工程, located in the Yichang 宜昌 area. Hubei has a seasonal climate with burning hot summers and chilly winters.


Unlike most provinces that experienced population growth, the total population of Hubei decreased from 59,508,870 in 2000 to 57,237,727 in 2010, a 4 percent decline. The number of immigrants from other provinces also decreased from 1,629,131 in 2000 to 1,013,612 a decade later, a significant drop. Nonetheless, urbanization and education made substantial progress. The urban population grew to 31 percent in 2010 from 27 percent in 2000. The proportion of people with at least a college degree increased from 4 percent in 2000 to 10 percent in 2010. The average family size decreased from 3.5 persons in 2000 to 3.2 in 2010. In the same decade, the percentage of elderly persons in the general population increased from 9 percent to 14 percent.

Although Hubei attracted fewer immigrants from other provinces, scholars have taken note of the internal migration within the province.14 People moved from rural areas to cities, and from western areas to eastern regions that were more prosperous. The internal migration led to varying levels of aging among the counties. The percentage of elderly people increased in almost all counties, but especially in the western mountainous areas because of the outflow of young people (Maps 94–95). The sex ratio remains unbalanced in Hubei, especially in the populous eastern areas. The infant sex ratio was higher than 120 males per 100 females in most eastern counties. However, in central- west areas, the ratio was below 110. This spatial distribution of sex ratios changed little between 2000 and 2010.

MAP 94
MAP 94

Hubei: Elderly population in 2000.

MAP 95
MAP 95

Hubei: Elderly population in 2010.

Key Religious Facts

The religious landscape of Hubei is predominantly composed of Buddhist temples as well as Daoist temples, especially in the eastern and southern prefectures (Map 96 and Figure 25). There are good numbers of Protestant churches in southern Xianning 咸宁, Wuhan, southeastern Jingzhou 荆州, and northwestern Shiyan 十堰. Catholic churches are more likely to be found in central and eastern prefectures. There are a notable number of mosques in the northwestern tip as well as in the central prefectures of Xiangyang 襄阳 and Jingmen 荆门.

MAP 96

Hubei: Distribution of religious sites by prefecture.

The official description of Hubei characterizes the province as “Chan in the East and Dao in the West” (Dongchan xidao 东禅西道).15 One of the most famous clusters of temples in Hubei is located in the Wudang Mountains in northwestern Hubei, which cover over 312 square kilometers and rise above the region with their main summit at a height of 1,612 meters above sea level. In the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), Wudang was considered one of China’s most spiritual peaks, especially in connection with the development of late imperial Daoism.16 Wudang martial arts have become famous for their distinct styles. This incidentally feeds into the current emphasis on the “soft power” of the state, as the upright, honest, loyal virtues associated with the martial arts are considered instrumental for domestic nation-building as well as cultivating China’s international image.17 Therefore, martial arts are often the showcase of Chinese culture at events and classes overseas. In October 2016, the Centre de Culture Chinoise in Paris organized the first Wudang martial arts and well-being festival, inviting Wudang martial arts masters and representatives from the Wudang Mountains Tourism Economic Zone 武当山旅游经济特区 to attend.18 Chinese-language media covered this event with great enthusiasm.19 The media narratives emphasized that social harmony could be attained through Daoist practices of well-being. This position was reinforced by President Xi Jinping’s 2013 talk on how Daoism as a traditional religion could fill the moral void and promote social harmony in China.20

Hubei is the birthplace of Shennong 神农, who is also known as the Yan Emperor 炎帝. According to legend, Emperor Yan was the god of agriculture and herbal medicine.21 The Chinese Han people have called themselves the descendants of the Emperors Yan and Huang for about 5,000 years. The birthplace of Emperor Yan is believed to be in Suizhou 随州, Hubei, and since 2009 Chinese descendants around the world have come to Suizhou in May each year, seeking their roots and paying homage to the primogenitor. On May 21, 2017, about 10,000 Chinese came to attend the grand ceremony at the Suizhou Emperor Yan Shennong’s birthplace, offering incense and laying wreaths.22

18. Hunan 湖南

Land area: 210,000 km2

Population: 65,700,762

Capital: Changsha 长沙


Hunan’s name literally means “south of the lake,” which refers to Lake Dongting. This province lies in south- central China and comprises 14 prefectures, including 35 urban districts, 17 county-level cities, and 70 counties. In the western and southern parts of the province live people of the ethnic minorities of Tujia, Miao, Dong, and Yao, who make up nearly 10 percent of the total population in Hunan.

Hunan is surrounded by mountains and hills in the east, west, and south (Map 97). Lake Dongting in north Hunan is the largest lake in the province and the second largest freshwater lake in China. Several rivers, including the Xiang River 湘江, Zi River 资水, and the Li River 澧水, all converge at Lake Dongting. Agriculture is a major contributor to Hunan’s economy, especially in the area surrounding Lake Dongting. The province ranks first in rice production in China and second in tea cultivation. Thanks to its large deposits of nonferrous and nonmetallic minerals, mining, machinery, and electronics production play important roles in Hunan’s economy. In recent years, the entertainment industry has become well developed in Hunan. The great success of the Hunan Broadcasting System has helped the province to expand its national influence.


The total population increased from 63,274,173 in 2000 to 65,700,762 in 2010, a small growth of 4 percent. Immigrants comprised only about 1 percent of the total population in 2010. The population density is very high in the cities in the northern and central areas of Hunan, but low in the western and southern mountain areas. The percentage of people registered as urban residents grew from 19.5 percent in 2000 to 23.2 percent in 2010 (Maps 98–99). While urbanization was slow, Hunan is a leading province in terms of population growth in towns.23 The major engine of Hunan’s urbanization is the Changsha-Zhuzhou 株洲- Xiangtan 湘潭 City and Town Cluster (Changzhutan chengzhenqun 长株潭城镇群), which is the political and economic core of the province. The average family size decreased slightly from 3.5 persons to 3.3 during this period. The proportion of the population with at least a college education increased by a factor of two and a half between 2000 and 2010, from 2.9 percent to 7.5 percent.

MAP 98
MAP 98

Hunan: Urbanization in 2000.

MAP 99
MAP 99

Hunan: Urbanization in 2010.

Key Religious Facts

According to the 2004 Economic Census, Buddhist monasteries comprise the majority of religious sites in Hunan, while a considerable number of Daoist sites are spread over the eastern part of the province as well as in northwestern Huaihua 怀化 (Map 100 and Figure 26). Protestant churches are scattered around the province, with some concentrations in Loudi 娄底, eastern Hengyang 衡阳, and southern Zhangjiajie 张家界.

MAP 100

Hunan: Distribution of religious sites by prefecture.

Hunan has temple associations throughout the province that organize communal gatherings throughout the year (see Photo 23). Some of Hunan’s Buddhist associations are among the oldest in China. These groups have played a vital role in the past century to respond to the changing political climate. During the Japanese invasion in World War II, Buddhists in Hunan established the Nanyue Buddhist Association for Saving the Nation 南岳佛教救国会, whose name was later changed to the Nanyue Buddhist and Daoist Society for Disaster Relief 南岳佛道赈灾会.24 In November 2016, the Nanyue area celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Buddhist Association of Nanyue 南岳佛教协会. According to the official rhetoric, the patriotic actions of Buddhists in Hunan date back to the War of Resistance against Japan in the 1930s, and its charity works since the 1980s are considered to exemplify the continuity of Nanyue Buddhists’ patriotic character.25 Similarly, Daoist institutions have also been quite successful. In 2011, the International Daoism Forum took place in the Hengshan Mountains 衡山, attracting 500 scholars from 21 countries and regions.26 The state media regarded this event as a recognition of the growing Daoist influence in modern China; the Daoist emphasis on nature and ecology is considered important for the contemporary world.27


A village feast at Wulong Temple in Yangletian (Yingjiang Township, Dao County, Hunan).

Credit: Chengwei Zhou

Hunan has the largest population of Uyghurs outside of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Fengshu 枫树 is home to thousands of Uyghurs whose ancestors moved from eastern Xinjiang and settled here more than 600 years ago.28 However, they have lost many of their distinct ethnic features and the Uyghur language. Nevertheless, the government has helped to expand the mosque and encouraged Uyghur language teaching in the local schools.

Mao Zedong 毛泽东 (1893–1976), the supreme leader of the Chinese Communist Party for more than four decades, was born in Shaoshan 韶山 in Hunan. In 2013, the local government spent over 1.9 billion yuan (about $312 million) to restore Mao’s former residence, renovate the local museum, and construct a nearby memorial plaza.29

Christianity in Hunan has a long history and there were many churches in the province before the formation of the PRC. Since 1979, the TSPM has helped to restore or build anew more than 1,000 churches. In February 2017, around the Chinese New Year’s holiday, a 15-hectare theme park opened to the public in Changsha; it features an 80-meter tall Christian church, the Hunan Bible College, and the office buildings of the Hunan TSPM and Christian Council. Some Mao admirers expressed strong objections to the theme park on social media, demanding the removal of the cross on the rooftop of the church, which was taller than the statue of Mao Zedong, and the suppression of Christian growth in order to protect orthodox Maoism.30

19. Guangdong 广东

Land area: 180,000 km2

Population: 104,320,459

Capital: Guangzhou 广州


Bordering on the South China Sea 南海, Guangdong forms a significant part of China’s south and southeastern coastlines. Guangdong is divided into 21 prefectures, including 60 urban districts, 20 county-level cities, and 39 counties. Ethnic minorities include the Zhuang, Yao, and Tujia, accounting for 2 percent of the total population.

The terrain of Guangdong slopes from north to south and is covered by mountains and hills (Map 101). The Nan Mountains 南岭 extend along the boundary with Hunan in the north, while the Jiulian Mountains 九连山 and Lianhua Mountains 莲花山 buffer the eastern parts of the province. The southern coast is mostly level territory. The Pearl River 珠江 is the largest river in Guangdong, and its mouth forms the Pearl River Delta 珠江三角洲, one of China’s key economic zones. Guangdong has a long and jagged coastline with numerous offshore islands. Guangdong has a tropical climate with an annual average temperature around 19°C.

MAP 101

Bordering Hong Kong and Macau, Guangdong attracts large amounts of overseas capital. Guangdong’s light industry comprises over half of its total industrial output, including electronics, automobile parts, and clothing. The Pearl River Delta, which embraces the metropolises of Shenzhen 深圳, Zhuhai 珠海, and Guangzhou, the capital of the province, has highly developed manufacturing and service industries. Shenzhen and Zhuhai are two special economic zones designated by the central government for attracting foreign investment, learning new technologies, and generating employment opportunities.31 The GDP of Guangdong was about $610 billion in 2010, the largest among China’s provinces.32 Guangdong leads the nation in the production of soybeans, sugarcane, silk, and fruits. The Leizhou Peninsula 雷州半岛 in Guangdong’s southwest produces tropical goods like rubber and coffee. All of these industries and agriculture have attracted a large number of immigrants from other provinces, resulting in a massive population boom.33 The number of immigrants from other provinces rose more than threefold between 2000 and 2010 (Maps 102–103).

MAP 102
MAP 102

Guangdong: Immigration in 2000.

MAP 103
MAP 103

Guangdong: Immigration in 2010.


In general, Guangdong is a very populous province. The total population of Guangdong rose from 85,225,007 in 2000 to 104,320,459 in 2010, a dramatic increase of 22 percent. Three separate areas along the coast are major population centers: the Pearl River Delta in the middle, a cluster of cities around Shantou 汕头 in the east, and some western counties in Maoming 茂名.

The increased accessibility of higher education is evident. Individuals with at least a college education formed less than 4 percent of the total population in 2000, but increased to about 9 percent in 2010. The overall sex ratio became less balanced, increasing from 103.7 males per 100 females to 109.0 during this decade. Meanwhile, the sex ratio among newborns decreased from 131 to 120. The average family size decreased from 3.7 persons in 2000 to 3.1 in 2010.

Key Religious Facts

The religious landscape of Guangdong shows that Buddhist temples are scattered around the province, with high concentrations in the eastern prefectures of Meizhou 梅州, Chaozhou 潮州, and Shantou 汕头 (Map 104 and Figure 27). There are also a good number of Catholic and Protestant churches in Shantou, Chaozhou, Meizhou, Guangzhou, and Foshan 佛山. Daoist temples are more likely to be found in Guangzhou, Huizhou 惠州, and Dongguan 东莞.

MAP 104
MAP 104

Guangdong: Religious sites.


Guangdong: Distribution of religious sites by prefecture.

Guangdong was one of the coastal provinces visited by many missionaries in the past. Indeed, in modern times, Catholic and Protestant missionaries first entered China through Guangdong. In recent decades, however, Christian growth in Guangdong seems slower than in many other provinces. Today, Christians in Guangdong maintain close links with Christians in Hong Kong, Macau, southeast Asia, and the West. In August 2014, the Shenzhen Christian Church held a celebration of thanksgiving at Shenzhen Stadium. This event was led by an overseas Chinese Christian worship team, and thousands of people attended the event. This celebration should not be seen as an endorsement of the status quo, but rather as a critical remembrance of the troubled past of Christian churches vis-à-vis the state.34

Ancestral worship remains a key element in the social and cultural life of Guangdong.35 At the same time, Guangdong’s connection to Special Administrative Regions, including Hong Kong and Macau, and to foreign countries have made it a hotspot for religious activities. As a trading hub between China and the Middle East, the province has a large number of Jewish residents and many Jewish business travelers pass through this busy city. In order to meet their religious needs, Chabad of Shenzhen was established in February 2006. The rabbis who set up this Chabad moved to China from an Israeli Chabad village. Today Chabad of Shenzhen is a branch of Chabad of Hong Kong, which operates in major cities of political or trading significance in China including Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu 成都, Shenzhen, Kunming 昆明, and Yiwu.36

Sometimes functioning as the bridge between Hong Kong and inland China, Guangdong often accommodates new religious organizations from across the border. In 2008, Kongshengtang 孔圣堂, a temple dedicated to the worship of Confucius, was established in Shenzhen by Zhang Hua 张华, president of Hong Kong-based Samwo International Group, and his friend Zhou Beichen 周北辰, a disciple of contemporary Confucian philosopher Jiang Qing 蒋庆. The group has ties with Tu Weiming 杜维明, a prominent Confucian scholar retired from Harvard University, and with Tang En-Jia 汤恩佳, the president of Hong Kong Confucian Academy. Kongshengtang is also supported and financed by the local chamber of commerce. As such, Kongshengtang holds high social visibility and commercial interest. This is part of the Confucian revival of filial values in Chinese cultural and spiritual life. The leaders of the revival seek to apply Confucianism to solve economic, political, and spiritual problems that have been caused or exacerbated by Western ideas such as capitalism, democracy, and Christianity. While never directly challenging the Communist Party, they have expressed the desire to remove Marxism and replace it with Confucianism in the educational and political systems.37

20. Guangxi 广西

Land area: 236,000 km2

Population: 46,023,761

Capital: Nanning 南宁


Guangxi, officially the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, is located in south China and borders Vietnam. Guangxi is divided into 14 prefectures, including 40 urban districts, 7 county-level cities, and 64 counties. Ethnic minorities make up over 37 percent of the total population in Guangxi, with over 14 million Zhuang people, accounting for 85.4 percent of the Zhuang population in all of China. Other ethnic minorities include Dong, Miao, Yao, Yi 彝, and Hui.

The land of Guangxi is full of mountains and hills (Map 105). Terrain in the province slopes from north to south. The population of Guangxi is evenly distributed in the central, northern, and southern counties. The northwestern counties are close to the Yungui Plateau 云贵高原.

MAP 105

In the south, Guangxi has a short coastline on the Gulf of Tonkin 北部湾 [Beibu Wan]. Guangxi has a monsoon climate with long, hot summers and occasionally cold winters. The rich water resources and plentiful rainfall have benefited Guangxi’s agricultural development, which includes the production of sugarcane. Half of China’s sugar is grown in Guangxi.


The total population of Guangxi increased slightly from 43,854,538 in 2000 to 46,023,761 in 2010. The number of immigrants from other provinces dropped by 41 percent to 841,806 between 2000 and 2010. This may be due to the languishing economy of Guangxi, compared with other provinces, and its lack of manufacturing industry.38 The percentage of people registered as urban residents changed in most counties during the decade 2000–2010 (Maps 106–107).

MAP 106
MAP 106

Guangxi: Urbanization in 2000.

MAP 107
MAP 107

Guangxi: Urbanization in 2010.

The proportion of elderly people in most counties ranged between 8 percent and 12 percent in 2000; by 2010 this range had increased to between 12 percent and 18 percent in most counties.

Key Religious Facts

As a region with pronounced ethnic minorities, Guangxi accommodates great religious diversity. Buddhism and Protestantism flourish in various areas, and significant numbers of Catholic churches and Islamic mosques are present. According to official statistics released in 2016, there were 700,000 religious believers in Guangxi, including 450,000 Buddhists, 10,000 Daoists, 37,000 Muslims, 71,000 Catholics, and 130,000 Protestants (Map 108 and Figure 28).39

MAP 108
MAP 108

Guangxi: Religious sites.


Guangxi: Distribution of religious sites by prefecture.

Han Buddhist sites comprise 29 percent of all the religious sites in Guangxi. In 2016, the Guangxi Buddhist Association 广西佛教协会 announced the first issuing of Buddhist clergy certificates to 233 Buddhist clergy in Guangxi.40 Some view this new regulation as a response to incidents of fake “living Buddhas” and fraudulent monks.41

The Zhuang group mostly practices its traditional religion, Buluotuo 布洛陀, which appears to consist of traditional ancestor worship beliefs and practices reconstructed in recent years.42 In April 2016, 10,000 members of various ethnic groups participated in a Buluotuo ancestral ceremony in Tianyang 田阳 as part of the Guangxi Buluotuo Ethnic Cultural Festival.43 The Guangxi government also invited ethnic representatives from Taiwan to participate in the festival, demonstrating a continuing official endeavor.

There are 3,2319 Hui people living in Guangxi, mainly distributed in Guilin 桂林, Liuzhou 柳州, and Nanning Prefectures. Hui people started to settle in Guangxi during the Song Dynasty (960–1279). In the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), more Hui people from Hubei, Hunan, Guangdong, and Yunnan 云南 moved to Guangxi.44

21. Hainan 海南

Land area: 34,000 km2

Population: 8,671,485

Capital: Haikou 海口


Hainan is a province at the southern tip of China. In 1988 it separated from Guangdong Province and formed 4 prefectures, including 8 urban districts, 5 county-level cities, and 10 counties. Ethnic minorities make up 16.4 percent of the total population, including Li 黎, Miao, and Hui. The main island is mostly plains, with the Limu Mountains 黎母山 and Wuzhi Mountains 五指山 in the center (Map 109). The Qiongzhou Strait 琼州海峡 separates Hainan from the Leizhou Peninsula of Guangdong. To the south are the Nansha (Spratly) Islands 南沙群岛, the Zhongsha Islands 中沙群岛, the Xisha Islands 西沙群岛, and Zengmu Shoal 曾母暗沙. Hainan enjoys a tropical climate with little annual temperature differentiation; temperatures average between 22°C to 27°C with high humidity.

MAP 109

Hainan’s tropical climate makes the province an important source of palm oil, tropical fruit, rubber, and fish. Plenty of beautiful beaches, lush forested areas, and other tropical scenery attracts tourists every year. Tourism has been the main economic driver in the province since the late 1990s. Many new hotels, restaurants, apartments, and other tourist facilities have been built since then. The real estate market of Hainan has also boomed as many people from mainland China, drawn by the clean air and beautiful environment, purchase houses on the island. In recent decades, the government has increased its infrastructure investment and developed the tourism industry, both of which have made Hainan’s economy more promising and more attractive to immigrants.45


While this province includes hundreds of islands in the South China Sea, most residents live in the provincial capital, Haikou, on the northeast side of the island. The total population increased from 7,559,035 in 2000 to 8,671,485 in 2010, a 15 percent increase. The number of immigrants from other provinces doubled from 272,322 in 2000 to 588,463 in 2010. Urbanization is evident in the counties along the east coast. The proportion of people with a college education increased from 3 percent of the total population in 2000 to 8 percent a decade later; most of the well-educated residents are concentrated in Haikou and Sanya 三亚, the two major cities on the island (Maps 110–111). Average family size decreased from 4.1 persons to 3.5 over the same period. Unlike other provinces, where a rising elderly population is common, the percentage of persons aged 60 or above remained around 10 percent in Hainan.

MAP 110
MAP 110

Hainan: Education in 2000.

MAP 111
MAP 111

Hainan: Education in 2010.

Key Religious Facts

The 2004 Economic Census lists only two religious sites in Hainan. However, we were able to identify a few more religious venues through multiple methods (Map 112 and Figure 29). Even though it is the smallest province in China, Hainan’s unique coastal location and its connection to various islands has fostered a diverse religious ecology with strong ties to the rest of the world. In recent times, Hainan has been a significant locus of Protestant activity. Charlie Soong 宋耀如 (1863–1918), a well-known Protestant evangelist, was born in northeastern Hainan. At the age of 15, he sailed with his uncle to Boston in the United States. After coming back to China, Soong became a Methodist minister, a successful businessman, and a generous supporter of Sun Yat-sen’s Republican Revolution. His sons and daughters were active in the Republican government. His son, T. V. Soong 宋子文 (1894–1971), served in various roles in the government and was the premier under President Chiang Kai-shek 蒋介石 (1887–1975) in the mid-1940s. One of his daughters, Soong Ching-ling 宋庆龄 (1893–1981), married Sun Yat-sen, and another, Soong Mei-ling 宋美龄 (1897–2003), married Chiang Kai-shek. Today Christianity in Hainan continues to grow with tenacity. In 2013, the Christian Council in Hainan began offering courses and training on divinity, pastorship, and hymns.46 Furthermore, in 2013 alone, more than 10 house churches were raided, which shows that the number of Christians in Hainan is remarkable considering the small size of the province.47

MAP 112

Hainan: Distribution of religious sites by prefecture.

Given the importance of tourism in the province’s economy, religion is in the process of being commercialized. Nanshan Temple 南山寺, a grand Buddhist temple located in Sanya, is an example. The temple was built in 1988 as part of an area known as the Nanshan Buddhist Cultural Zone, a tourist site featuring a huge statue of the Guanyin of the South Sea.48

As the largest ethnic minority population in Hainan, Li people comprised 14.6 percent of the total population in 2010. Li people practice ancestor worship and believe in spirits of heaven, land, the moon, the sun, water, rocks, trees, and mountains, which are not very different from those in Daoism (Photo 24).49 After the Li people were introduced to Daoism in the Tang Dynasty (618–907), Daoist influence grew gradually and has become a mainstream religious belief among this minority.50


A public sacrifice in Yongxing Town (Haikou City, Hainan).

Credit: Yiwen Ji

There are five key Muslim tomb sites on Hainan Island, including Huixin Village 回新村 near Fenghuang Township 凤凰乡 of Sanya City. The navy requisitioned the area and planned to build a training base. When authorities attempted to demolish the tombs, which date back over a thousand years, the Hui villagers appealed to the government to recognize their ancestral claim to the land and rejected a proposal by the navy to move the tombs to another location. In March 2009, villagers staged a round-the-clock vigil to protect the bones of their Muslim ancestors.51


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