China - Religions

Three faiths—Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism—have long been established in China. The religious practice of the average Chinese traditionally has been an eclectic mixture of all three. Confucianism has no religious organization but consists of a code of ethics and philosophy; filial piety, benevolence, fidelity, and justice are among its principal virtues. Taoism, a native Chinese religion that evolved from a philosophy probably founded in the 6th century BC by Lao-tzu (Laozi), and Buddhism, imported from India during the Han dynasty, both have elaborate rituals. Tradition-minded Chinese base their philosophy of life on Confucianism, but such old habits of thought came under strong attack during the Cultural Revolution.

Suppression of religion and the introduction of programs of antireligious indoctrination began in 1949 and intensified, with the closure of temples, shrines, mosques, and churches, from the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s. Overt antireligious activity eased in 1976, and the government reactivated its Bureau of Religious Affairs. The Constitution of 1982 provides for freedom of belief and worship. According to 2002 estimates, Buddhists make up the largest body of organized religious believers, with more than 100 million followers, most of whom are from the dominant Han ethnic group.

Islam claims an estimated 20 million followers, or 2–3% of the population, nearly all are members of the ethnic minority nationalities; most belong to the Sunni branch, but the Tajiks are Shi'as. The tiny Jewish minority has virtually disappeared through emigration and assimilation. It is estimated that when the PRC was founded in 1949 there were up to three million Roman Catholics and 700,000 Protestants in China. As late as 1981, only small numbers of Christians were attending the approximately 80 Protestant and 40 Roman Catholic churches open in urban areas. By the mid-1990s, however, interest in religion was exploding and the number of Christians was increasing rapidly. The increase in the number of Christians has resulted in an increase in the demand for Bibles. In 1998 the government approved the printing of more than three million Bibles, and there are currently more than 18 million Bibles in print. Reports in 2002 indicated that the number of Christians had risen to about 5 million Catholics and 15 million Protestants.

Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa) is a combination of Taoism, Buddhism, meditation techniques, and the physical exercises of quigong. Though spiritual in content, it is considered more of a general practice than a religion, since there are no clergy and no places of worship. The group has been considered a heretical cult by the Chinese government and reports indicate that thousands of adherents have been arrested and imprisoned since 1999. It is believed that several hundred have died while in detention.

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