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Religion in China
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{{About|religion in the history of China and religion in the People's Republic of China|religion in the Republic of China|religion in Taiwan}}{{Use dmy dates|date=February 2012}}{{Pie chart! Province! ChineseancestorismData from the Chinese Spiritual Life Survey (CSLS) 2010 for Chinese ancestorists, and from the Chinese General Social Survey (CGSS) 2009 for Christians. Reported in ARTICLE, Wang, Xiuhua, Explaining Christianity in China: Why a Foreign Religion has Taken Root in Unfertile Ground, 2015, Baylor University,weblinkweblink 25 September 2015, 15, ! BuddhismData from the China Family Panel Studies (CFPS) 2012. Reported in ARTICLE, Gai, Rong Hua, Gao, Jun Hui, Multiple-Perspective Analysis on the Geological Distribution of Christians in China, PEOPLE: International Journal of Social Sciences, 2, 1, 809–817, 22 December 2016, 2454-5899, 10.20319/pijss.2016.s21.809817, ! Christianity! IslamData from ARTICLE, Yang, Zongde, Study on Current Muslim Population in China, Jinan Muslim, 2, 2010,weblinkweblink 27 April 2017, Reported in ARTICLE, Min, Junqing, The Present Situation and Characteristics of Contemporary Islam in China, JISMOR, 8, 2013,weblinkweblink 24 June 2017, p. 29. style="text-align:center;"| Fujian| 31.31%| 40.40%| 3.97%| 0.32% style="text-align:center;"| Zhejiang| 23.02%| 23.99%| 3.89%|

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China Family Panel Studies>CFPS 2014)For China Family Panel Studies 2014 survey results see release #1 (weblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20170225053713weblink">archived) and release #2 (weblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20170225211353weblink">archived). The tables also contain the results of CFPS 2012 (sample 20,035) and Chinese General Social Survey (CGSS) results for 2006, 2008 and 2010 (samples ~10.000/11,000). Also see, for comparison CFPS 2012 data in LU 卢>FIRST=YUNFENG 云峰TRANS-TITLE=REPORT ON RELIGIONS IN CONTEMPORARY CHINA – BASED ON CFPS (2012) SURVEY DATAYEAR=2014URL=HTTP://IWR.CASS.CN/ZJWH/201403/W020140303370398758556.PDFARCHIVEDATE=9 AUGUST 2014, p. 13, reporting the results of the CGSS 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2011, and their average (fifth column of the first table).WENZEL-TEUBER>FIRST=KATHARINAJOURNAL=RELIGIONS & CHRISTIANITY IN TODAY'S CHINANUMBER=2URL=HTTP://WWW.CHINA-ZENTRUM.DE/FILEADMIN/DOWNLOADS/RCTC/2017-2/RCTC_2017-2.26-53_WENZEL-TEUBER__STATISTICS_ON_RELIGIONS_AND_CHURCHES_IN_THE_PRC_%E2%80%93_UPDATE_FOR_THE_YEAR_2016.PDFARCHIVE-DATE=22 JULY 2017, {{refnname=Wenzel-TeuberCFPS2014comment27, note 4}} As noted by Katharina Wenzel-Teuber of China Zentrum, German institute for research on religion in China, compared to CFPS 2012, CFPS 2014 asked the Chinese about personal belief in certain conceptions of divinity (i.e. "Buddha", "Tao", "Allah", "God of the Christians/Jesus", "Heavenly Lord of the Catholics") rather than membership in a religious group.{{rp27, note 3}} and unregistered Christians.{{rp|28}} For these reasons, she concludes that CFPS 2014 results are more accurate than 2012 ones.}}Chinese folk religion (including local cults to deities and ancestors, Confucianism, Taoism, Chinese Buddhism) / irreligion>irreligious|value1 = 73.56|color1 = #C00000|label2 = Buddhism|value2 = 15.87|color2 = YellowChinese salvationist religions>folk salvationism and Taoism{{refnCFPS 2014 found that 5.94% of the population declared that they belonged to "other" religious categories besides the five state-sanctioned religions. An additional 0.85% of the population responded that they were "Taoists". Note that the title of "Taoist", in common Chinese usage, is generally attributed only to the Taoist clergy. CFPS 2014 found that a further 0.81% declared that they belonged to the popular salvationist sects, while CFPS 2012 found 2.2%, and CGSS 2006-2010 surveys found an average 3% of the population declaring that they belonged to such religions, while government estimates give higher figures (see the "statistics" section of the present article).}}|value3 = 7.6|color3 = Chartreuse|label4 = Christianity|value4=2.53|color4 = DodgerBlueIslam{{refn>group=noteHan Chinese>Han ethnicity. This may have resulted in an underestimation of Muslims. CGSS 2006–2010 surveys found an average 2-3% of the population of China declaring to be Muslim.}}|value5 = 0.45|color5 = Green}}File:Huxisanxiaotu.jpg|thumb|200px|right|"Three laughs at Tiger Brook", a Song dynastySong dynastyFile:Worship at the Great Temple of Shennong-Yandi in Suizhou, Hubei.jpg|thumb|right|200px|Public worship ceremony at the Great Temple of Yandi Shennong, in Suizhou, HubeiHubeiFile:Famen temple 7.jpg|thumb|200px|right|The imposing stupa enshrining the relic of Shakyamuni Buddha's finger bone, at Famen Temple, a Buddhist complex in Baoji, ShaanxiShaanxiFile:Fushou (Fortune and Longevity) Taoist Temple at Tianchi (Heavenly Lake) in Fukang, Changji, Xinjiang.jpg|thumb|200px|Temple of Fortune and Longevity, at the Heavenly Lake of Tianshan in Fukang, Changji, Xinjiang. It is an example of Taoist temple that hosts various chapels dedicated to popular gods.{{refn|group=note|The main axis of the Taoist Temple of Fortune and Longevity (福寿观 Fúshòuguān) has a Temple of the Three Patrons (三皇殿 Sānhuángdiàn) and a Temple of the Three Purities (三清殿 Sānqīngdiàn, the orthodox gods of Taoist theology). Side chapels include a Temple of the God of Wealth (財神殿 Cáishéndiàn), a Temple of the Lady (娘娘殿 Niángniángdiàn), a Temple of the Eight Immortals (八仙殿 Bāxiāndiàn), and a Temple of the (God of) Thriving Culture (文昌殿 Wénchāngdiàn). The Fushou Temple belongs to the Taoist ChurchTaoist ChurchFile:Temple of the Filial Blessing in Ouhai, Wenzhou, Zhejiang, China (1).jpg|thumb|200px|Temple of the Filial Blessing, a place for lineage religion, in Wenzhou, ZhejiangZhejiangFile:Main temple of the City of the Eight Symbols (八卦城), the holy see of Weixinism (唯心教) in Hebi (鹤壁市), Henan, China.jpg|thumb|200px|The City of the Eight Symbols in Qi, Hebi, is the headquarters of the Weixinist Church in Henan. Weixinism is a 21st-century reform body of Chinese religion and philosophy.]]China has long been a cradle and host to a variety of the most enduring religio-philosophical traditions of the world. Confucianism and Taoism, later joined by Buddhism, constitute the "three teachings" that have shaped Chinese culture. There are no clear boundaries between these intertwined religious systems, which do not claim to be exclusive, and elements of each enrich popular or folk religion. The emperors of China claimed the Mandate of Heaven and participated in Chinese religious practices. In the early 20th century, reform-minded officials and intellectuals attacked all religions as "superstitious", and since 1949, China has been governed by the Communist Party of China, an atheist institution that prohibits party members from practising religion while in office. In the culmination of a series of campaigns against religions already underway since the late 19th century, the Cultural Revolution against old habits, ideas, customs and culture, lasting from 1966 to 1967, destroyed or forced them underground.BOOK, Woodhead, Linda, Kawanami, Hiroko, Partridge, Christopher H., Religions in the Modern World: Traditions and Transformations, 2nd, 2009, Routledge, London, 0415458900, 237880815, {{rp|138}} Under following leaders, religious organisations were given more autonomy. The government formally recognises five religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism (though the Chinese Catholic Church is independent of the Catholic Church in Rome). In the early twenty-first century there has been increasing official recognition of Confucianism and Chinese folk religion as part of China's cultural inheritance.Folk or popular religion, the most widespread system of beliefs and practices, has evolved and adapted since at least the Shang and Zhou dynasties in the second millennium BCE. Fundamental elements of a theology and spiritual explanation for the nature of the universe harken back to this period and were further elaborated in the Axial Age. Basically, Chinese religion involves allegiance to the shen, often translated as "spirits", defining a variety of gods and immortals. These may be deities of the natural environment or ancestral principles of human groups, concepts of civility, culture heroes, many of whom feature in Chinese mythology and history.{{sfnb|Teiser|1996}} Confucian philosophy and religious practice began their long evolution during the later Zhou; Taoist institutionalised religions developed by the Han dynasty; Chinese Buddhism became widely popular by the Tang dynasty, and in response Confucian thinkers developed Neo-Confucian philosophies; and popular movements of salvation and local cults thrived.Christianity and Islam arrived in China in the 7th century. Christianity did not take root until it was reintroduced in the 16th century by Jesuit missionaries.{{sfnb|Bays|2012|pp=7–15, 18–21}} In the early 20th century Christian communities grew, but after 1949, foreign missionaries were expelled, and churches brought under government-controlled institutions. After the late 1970s, religious freedoms for Christians improved and new Chinese groups emerged.BOOK, Blainey, Geoffrey, A Short History of Christianity, 2011, {{rp|508, 532}} China is also often considered a home to humanist and secularist, this-worldly thought beginning in the time of Confucius.Because many, perhaps most, Han Chinese do not consider their spiritual beliefs and practices to be a "religion" and in any case do not feel that they must practise any one of them exclusively, it is difficult to gather clear and reliable statistics. According to scholarly opinion, "the great majority of China's population of 1.4+ billion" takes part in Chinese cosmological religion, its rituals and festivals of the lunar calendar, without belonging to any institutional teaching.{{sfnb|Feuchtwang|2016|p=144}} National surveys conducted in the early 21st century estimated that some 80% of the population of China, that is more than a billion people, practise some kind of Chinese folk religion or Taoism; 10–16% are Buddhists; 2–3% are Christians; and 1–2% are Muslims. Folk religious movements of salvation constitute 2–3% to 13% of the population, while many in the intellectual class adhere to Confucianism as a religious identity. In addition, ethnic minority groups practise distinctive religions, including Tibetan Buddhism, and Islam among the Hui and Uyghur peoples.

History

Proto-Chinese and Xia-Shang-Zhou culture

File:Neolithic jade dragon, Hongshan Culture, Inner Mongolia, 1971.jpg|thumb|200px|Jade dragon of the Hongshan culture. The dragon, associated to the constellation Draco winding the north ecliptic pole, represents the "protean" primordial power, which embodies Pankenier|2013|p=55}}File:Defang Ding.jpg|thumb|200px|Squared dǐng 鼎 (ritual cauldron) with tāotiè 饕餮 motif. According to Didier, both the cauldrons and the taotie symmetrical faces originate as symbols of Di as the squared north Didier|2009|pp=73–83, Vol. II, comprising the sections "The Taotie and the Northern Celestial Pole" and "The Significance of the Rectangle and Square in Shang Bronzes"}}File:Bloodletting chart, Tibet Wellcome L0035125.jpg|thumb|200px|Tibetan chart for bloodletting based on the Luoshu square. The Luoshu, the Hetu, liubo boards, sundials, Han diviner's boards (shì 式) and luopan for fengshui, and the derived compass, as well as Didier|2009|p=137 ff, Vol. III}}{{See also|Shang-Zhou theology}}{{Further information|Chinese shamanism|Wu (shaman)|Sino-Babylonianism}}Prior to the formation of Chinese civilisation and the spread of world religions in the region known today as East Asia (which includes the territorial boundaries of modern-day China), local tribes shared animistic, shamanic and totemic worldviews. Mediatory individuals such as shamans communicated prayers, sacrifices or offerings directly to the spiritual world, a heritage that survives in some modern forms of Chinese religion.{{sfnb|Yang|Lang|2012|p=112}}Ancient shamanism is especially connected to ancient Neolithic cultures such as the Hongshan culture.ARTICLE, Nelson, Sarah M., Matson, Rachel A., Roberts, Rachel M., Rock, Chris, Stencel, Robert E., Archaeoastronomical Evidence for Wuism at the Hongshan Site of Niuheliang, 2006, The Flemish philosopher Ulrich Libbrecht traces the origins of some features of Taoism to what Jan Jakob Maria de Groot called "Wuism",{{sfnb|De Groot|1892|loc=passim Vol. 6}} that is Chinese shamanism.{{sfnb|Libbrecht|2007|p=43}}Libbrecht distinguishes two layers in the development of the Chinese theology and religion that continues to this day, traditions derived respectively from the Shang (1600–1046 BCE) and subsequent Zhou dynasties (1046–256 BCE). The religion of the Shang was based on the worship of ancestors and god-kings, who survived as unseen divine forces after death. They were not transcendent entities, since the universe was "by itself so", not created by a force outside of it but generated by internal rhythms and cosmic powers. The royal ancestors were called di (帝), "deities", and the utmost progenitor was Shangdi (上帝 "Highest Deity"). Shangdi is identified with the dragon, symbol of the unlimited power (qi),{{sfnb|Libbrecht|2007|p=43}} of the "protean" primordial power which embodies yin and yang in unity, associated to the constellation Draco which winds around the north ecliptic pole,{{sfnb|Pankenier|2013|p=55}} and slithers between the Little and Big Dipper (or Great Chariot). Already in Shang theology, the multiplicity of gods of nature and ancestors were viewed as parts of Di, and the four 方 fāng ("directions" or "sides") and their 風 fēng ("winds") as his cosmic will.{{sfnb|Didier|2009|pp=143–144, Vol. II}}The Zhou dynasty, which overthrew the Shang, was more rooted in an agricultural worldview, and they emphasised a more universal idea of Tian (天 "Heaven").{{sfnb|Libbrecht|2007|p=43}} The Shang dynasty's identification of Shangdi as their ancestor-god had asserted their claim to power by divine right; the Zhou transformed this claim into a legitimacy based on moral power, the Mandate of Heaven. In Zhou theology, Tian had no singular earthly progeny, but bestowed divine favour on virtuous rulers. Zhou kings declared that their victory over the Shang was because they were virtuous and loved their people, while the Shang were tyrants and thus were deprived of power by Tian.{{sfnb|Fung|2008|p=163}}John C. Didier and David Pankenier relate the shapes of both the ancient Chinese characters for Di and Tian to the patterns of stars in the northern skies, either drawn, in Didier's theory by connecting the constellations bracketing the north celestial pole as a square,{{sfnb|Didier|2009|p=103, Vol. II}} or in Pankenier's theory by connecting some of the stars which form the constellations of the Big Dipper and broader Ursa Major, and Ursa Minor (Little Dipper).{{sfnb|Pankenier|2013|pp=138–148, "Chapter 4: Bringing Heaven Down to Earth"}} Cultures in other parts of the world have also conceived these stars or constellations as symbols of the origin of things, the supreme godhead, divinity and royal power.{{sfnb|Didier|2009|loc=passim Vol. I}}{{multiple image
width=100|header=Shang and Zhou graphemes for Di and Tiancaption1=①caption2=②caption3=③caption4=④caption5=⑤caption6=⑥Dì regular script>k:帝 ("Deity", "deities", "divinity"), which according to David W. Pankenier was drawn by connecting the stars of the "handle" of Ursa Major and the "scoop" of Ursa Minor determining the northern culmen (北极 Běijí).{{sfnb2013Dīng 口 (archaic of regular script>k:丁, which also signifies the square tool), the north celestial pole godhead as a square.{{sfnb2009passim}} The bar on top, which is either present or not and one or two in Shang script, is the regular script>k:上 shàng to signify "highest".{{sfnb2009fāng, itself meaning "square", "direction", "phase", "way" and "power", which in Shang versions was alternately represented as a cross potent ☩, homographically to 巫 wu (shaman)>wū ("shaman").{{sfnb2013Dì is equivalent to symbols like swastika>wàn 卍 ("all things"){{sfnb2009Mesopotamian 𒀭 Dingir/Anu>An ("Heaven").MAIR>FIRST=VICTOR H.EDITOR-LAST1=KRECHEDITOR-LAST2=STEINICKETITLE=DYNAMICS IN THE HISTORY OF RELIGIONS BETWEEN ASIA AND EUROPE: ENCOUNTERS, NOTIONS, AND COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVESPUBLISHER=BRILLPAGES=85–110Dì.{{sfnb>Didierp=100, Vol. II}}❸ One version of the Shang grapheme for the verbal dì regular script:禘, "to divine, to sacrifice (by fire)". The modern standard version is distinguished by the prefixion of the signifier for "cult" (礻shì) to the nominal Dì.{{sfnb>Didierp=107 ff, Vol. II}}{{sfnb2013Dīng 口),{{sfnb>Didierp=6, Vol. III}} or rather regular script:定 dìng, i.e. the Pegasus (constellation)>Square of Pegasus or Celestial Temple, when aligning with Dì and thus framing true north.{{sfnb2013dǐng regular script>k:鼎 ("cauldron", "thurible") may have derived from the verbal dì.{{sfnb2013Shàngjiǎ regular script>k:上甲, "Supreme Ancestor", an alternate name of Shangdi.{{sfnb2009Tiān ("Heaven") regular script>k:天, represented as a man with a squared (dīng 口) head.{{sfnb2009Tiān.{{sfnb>Didierpp=3–4, Vol. III}}}}

Latter Zhou and Warring States

{{Further|Hundred Schools of Thought}}By the 6th century BCE the power of Tian and the symbols that represented it on earth (architecture of cities, temples, altars and ritual cauldrons, and the Zhou ritual system) became "diffuse" and claimed by different potentates in the Zhou states to legitimise economic, political, and military ambitions. Divine right no longer was an exclusive privilege of the Zhou royal house, but might be bought by anyone able to afford the elaborate ceremonies and the old and new rites required to access the authority of Tian.{{sfnb|Didier|2009|pp=xxxvi–xxxvii, Vol. I}}Besides the waning Zhou ritual system, what may be defined as "wild" (野 yě) traditions, or traditions "outside of the official system", developed as attempts to access the will of Tian. The population had lost faith in the official tradition, which was no longer perceived as an effective way to communicate with Heaven. The traditions of the "Nine Fields" (九野 Jiǔyě) and of the Yijing flourished.{{sfnb|Didier|2009|pp=xxxvii–xxxviii, Vol. I}} Chinese thinkers, faced with this challenge to legitimacy, diverged in a "Hundred Schools of Thought", each proposing its own theories for the reconstruction of the Zhou moral order.

The background of Confucian thought

{{multiple image
width=100caption1=Large sealcaption2=Small sealrú, meaning "scholar", "refined one", "Confucian". It is composed of 人 rén ("man") and 需 xū ("to await"), itself composed of 雨 yǔ ("rain", "instruction") and 而 ér ("sky"), graphically a "man under the rain". Its full meaning is "man receiving instruction from Heaven". According to Kang Youwei, Hu Shih, and Xinzhong Yao>Yao Xinzhong, they were the official shaman-priests experts in rites and astronomy of the Shang, and later Zhou, dynasty.YAO>FIRST=XINZHONGYEAR=2000URL=HTTPS://BOOKS.GOOGLE.COM/BOOKS?ID=TAE2OJ9BPG0CISBN=0521643120, p. 19.}}{{See also|Confucian theology}}Confucius (551–479 BCE) appeared in this period of political decadence and spiritual questioning. He was educated in Shang-Zhou theology, which he contributed to transmit and reformulate giving centrality to self-cultivation and human agency,{{sfnb|Fung|2008|p=163}} and the educational power of the self-established individual in assisting others to establish themselves (the principle of 愛人 àirén, "loving others").{{sfnb|Zhou|2012|p=2}} As the Zhou reign collapsed, traditional values were abandoned resulting in a period of moral decline. Confucius saw an opportunity to reinforce values of compassion and tradition into society. Disillusioned with the widespread vulgarisation of the rituals to access Tian, he began to preach an ethical interpretation of traditional Zhou religion. In his view, the power of Tian is immanent, and responds positively to the sincere heart driven by humaneness and rightness, decency and altruism. Confucius conceived these qualities as the foundation needed to restore socio-political harmony. Like many contemporaries, Confucius saw ritual practices as efficacious ways to access Tian, but he thought that the crucial knot was the state of meditation that participants enter prior to engage in the ritual acts.{{sfnb|Didier|2009|p=xxxviii, Vol. I}} Confucius amended and recodified the classical books inherited from the Xia-Shang-Zhou dynasties, and composed the Spring and Autumn Annals.{{sfnb|Zhou|2012|p=1}}Philosophers in the Warring States compiled in the Analects, and formulated the classical metaphysics which became the lash of Confucianism. In accordance with the Master, they identified mental tranquility as the state of Tian, or the One (一 Yī), which in each individual is the Heaven-bestowed divine power to rule one's own life and the world. Going beyond the Master, they theorised the oneness of production and reabsorption into the cosmic source, and the possibility to understand and therefore reattain it through meditation. This line of thought would have influenced all Chinese individual and collective-political mystical theories and practices thereafter.{{sfnb|Didier|2009|pp=xxxviii–xxxix, Vol. I}}According to Zhou Youguang, Confucianism's name in Chinese, basically 儒 rú, originally referred to shamanic methods of holding rites and existed before Confucius' times, but with Confucius it came to mean devotion to propagating such teachings to bring civilisation to the people. Confucianism was initiated by Confucius, developed by Mencius (~372–289 BCE) and inherited by later generations, undergoing constant transformations and restructuring since its establishment, but preserving the principles of humaneness and righteousness at its core.{{sfnb|Zhou|2012|p=1}}

Qin and Han dynasties

File:Tai'an Dai Miao 2015.08.13 10-17-53.jpg|thumb|250px|Main hall of the Dai Temple (岱庙 Dàimiào) at Mount Tai. As the major one of the Eastern Peak Temples, dedicated to the Green (or Blue) Emperor (蒼帝 Cāngdì or 青帝 Qīngdì), the spring aspect of the Highest Deity identified with Jupiter,{{sfnb|Zhou|2005|loc=passim}} it is a site of fire sacrifice to Di since prehistoric times.{{sfnb|Zhou|2005|p=1}} Mount Tai is the holiest of the China's sacred mountains; according to mythology it formed from PanguPangu{{See also|Qin-Han theology}}The Qin (221–206 BCE), and especially Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), inherited the philosophical developments of the Warring States period molding them into a universalistic philosophy, cosmology and religion. It was in this period that religious focus shifted to the Earth (地 Dì), regarded as representative of Heaven's (celestial pole's) power. In the Han period, the philosophical concern was especially the crucial role of the human being on earth, completing the cosmological trinity of Heaven-Earth-humanity (天地人 Tiāndìrén). Han philosophers conceived the immanent virtue of Tian as working through earth and humanity to complete the 宇宙 yǔzhòu ("space-time").{{sfnb|Didier|2009|pp=xl–xli, Vol. I}}The short-lived Qin dynasty, started by Qin Shihuang (247–220 BCE), who reunified the Warring States and was the first Chinese ruler to use the title of "emperor", chose Legalism as the state ideology, banning and persecuting all other schools of thought. Confucianism was harshly suppressed, with the burning of Confucian classics and killing of scholars who espoused the Confucian cause.{{sfnb|Lagerwey|Kalinowski|2008|p=771, chapter: Nylan, Michael. "Classics Without Canonization: Learning and Authority in Qin and Han"}}{{sfnb|Zhou|2012|p=3}} The state ritual of the Qin was indeed similar to that of the following Han dynasty.{{sfnb|Lagerwey|Kalinowski|2008|p=766, chapter: Nylan, Michael. "Classics Without Canonization: Learning and Authority in Qin and Han"}} Qin Shihuang personally held sacrifices to Di at Mount Tai, a site dedicated to the worship of the supreme God since pre-Xia times, and in the suburbs of the capital Xianyang.{{sfnb|Zhou|2005|p=5}}{{sfnb|Lagerwey|Kalinowski|2008|p=783, chapter: Bujard, Marianne. "State and Local Cults in Han Religion"}} The emperors of Qin also concentrated the cults of the five forms of God, previously held at different locations, in unified temple complexes.{{sfnb|Lagerwey|Kalinowski|2008|p=784, chapter: Bujard, Marianne. "State and Local Cults in Han Religion"}}The universal religion of the Han, which became connected at an early time with the proto-Taoist Huang–Lao movement, was focused on the idea of the incarnation of God as the Yellow Emperor, the central one of the "Five Forms of the Highest Deity" (五方上帝 Wǔfāng Shàngdì). The idea of the incarnation of God was not new, as already the Shang royal lineage regarded themselves as divine. Their progenitors were "sons of God", born by women who "stepped on the imprinting" of Di. This was also true for royal ancestors of the early Zhou dynasty.{{sfnb|Zhou|2005|pp=7–8}} The difference rests upon the fact that the Yellow Emperor was no longer an exclusive ancestor of some royal lineage, but rather a more universal archetype of the human being. The competing factions of the Confucians and the fāngshì (方士 "masters of directions"), regarded as representatives of the ancient religious tradition inherited from previous dynasties, concurred in the formulation of Han state religion, the former pushing for a centralisation of religio-political power around the worship of the God of Heaven by the emperor, while the latter emphasising the multiplicity of the local gods and the theology of the Yellow Emperor.{{sfnb|Lagerwey|Kalinowski|2008|pp=777–779, chapter: Bujard, Marianne. "State and Local Cults in Han Religion"}} Besides these developments of common Chinese and Confucian state religion, the latter Han dynasty was characterised by new religious phenomena: the emergence of Taoism outside state orthodoxy, the rise of indigenous millenarian religious movements, and the introduction of the foreign religion of Buddhism.

The cult of the Yellow Emperor

File:The god of Thunder.jpg|thumb|200px|The eagle-faced Thunder God (雷神 Léishén), punisher of those who go against the order of Heaven (1923 drawing). In the oldest accounts, he is one and the same with the Yellow Emperor.BOOK, Song, Yaoliang, The Deified Human Face Petroglyphs of Prehistoric China, 2015, World Scientific, 1938368339, p. 239: in the Hetudijitong and the Chunqiuhechengtu the Yellow Emperor is identified as the Thunder God.BOOK, Yang, Lihui, An, Deming, Handbook of Chinese Mythology, ABC-CLIO, 2005, 157607806X, p. 138. In other accounts, such as the Huangdi NeijingHuangdi Neijing{{See also|Yellow God theology}}By the Han dynasty, the universal God of early Shang-Zhou theology had found new expression by the names of Tàiyǐ (太乙 "Great Oneness"), "Supreme Oneness of the Central Yellow" (中黄太乙 Zhōnghuáng Tàiyǐ), or the "Yellow God of the Northern Dipper (i.e. Ursa Major)" (黄神北斗 Huángshén Běidǒu), other than by names inherited from the previous tradition. Although the name "Taiyi" became prominent in the Han, it harkens back to the Warring States, as attested in the poem The Supreme Oneness Gives Birth to Water, and possibly to the Shang dynasty as Dàyī (大一 "Big Oneness"), an alternative name for Shangs' (and universe's) greatest ancestor.{{sfnb|Didier|2009|loc=passim Vol. III, esp. "Chapter 6: Great Ancestor Dayi 大乙; Polar God Taiyi 太乙; Yi 一, "One"; and the Development of Early Imperial Chinese Cosmology"}} Han theology focalised on the Yellow Emperor, a culture hero and creator of civility, who, according to a definition in apocryphal texts related to the Hétú 河圖, "proceeds from the essence of the Yellow God of the Northern Dipper", is born to "a daughter of a chthonic deity", and as such he is "a cosmic product of the conflation of Heaven and Earth".{{sfnb|Espesset|2008|pp=22–28}}In the myth, the Yellow Emperor was conceived by a virgin mother, Fubao, who was impregnated by Taiyi's radiance (yuanqi, "primordial pneuma") from the Big Dipper after she gazed at it. Through his human side, he was a descendant of 有熊氏 Yǒuxióng, the lineage of the Bear (another reference to the Ursa Major). Didier has studied the parallels that the Yellow Emperor's mythology has in other cultures, deducing a plausible ancient origin of the myth in Siberia or in north Asia.{{sfnb|Didier|2009|pp=153–156, Vol. I}}In latter Han-dynasty description of the cosmology of the five forms of God by Sima Qian, it is important that the Yellow Emperor was portrayed as the grandfather of the Black Emperor (黑帝 Hēidì) of the north who personifies as well the pole stars, and as the tamer of the Flaming Emperor (炎帝 Yándì, otherwise known as the "Red Emperor"), his half-brother, who is the spirit of the southern Chinese populations known collectively as Chu in the Zhou dynasty.{{sfnb|Didier|2009|p=156, Vol. I}}Emperor Wu of Han (142–87 BCE), under the influence of the scholar Dong Zhongshu (who incorporated into Confucianism the man-focused developments of the common religion, formulating the doctrine of the Interactions Between Heaven and Mankind),{{sfnb|Zhou|2012|p=4}} and of prominent fangshi,{{sfnb|Lagerwey|Kalinowski|2008|p=785}} officially integrated the Confucian state religion and ritual inherited from the erstwhile dynasties with the theology of Taiyi,{{sfnb|Didier|2009|pp=163–164, Vol. I}} while outside the state religion the Yellow God was the focus of Huang-Lao religious movements which influenced the primitive Taoist Church.{{sfnb|Espesset|2008|pp=22–28}} Before the Confucian turn of Emperor Wu and after him, the early and latter Han dynasty had Huang-Lao as the state doctrine under various emperors; in Huang-Lao, the philosopher-god Laozi was identified as the Yellow Emperor and received imperial sacrifices, for instance by Emperor Huan (146-168).{{sfnb|Espesset|2008|p=19}}

Latter Han: popular millenarian and early Taoist churches

(File:Xiwangmu.jpg|thumb|200px|Han dynasty mural representing the Queen Mother of the West.)The latter Han dynasty (25–220 CE) struggled with both internal instability and menace by non-Chinese peoples from the outer edges of the empire. Prospects for a better personal life and salvation appealed to the masses who were periodically hit by natural disasters and galvanised by uprisings organised by self-proclaimed "kings" and "heirs". In such harsh conditions, while the imperial cult continued the sacrifices to the cosmological gods, common people estranged from the rationalism of the state religion found solace in enlightened masters and in reviving and perpetuating more or less abandoned cults of national, regional and local divinities that better represented indigenous identities. The Han state religion itself was "ethnicised" by associating the cosmological deities to regional populations.{{sfnb|Espesset|2008|pp=1–2}}By the end of the dynasty (206 BCE–8 CE) the earliest record of a mass religious movement attests the excitement provoked by the belief in the imminent advent of the Queen Mother of the West (西王母 Xīwángmǔ) in the northeastern provinces (then Henan, Hebei and Shandong) in the first half of the year 3 BCE. Though the soteriological movement included improper and possibly reprehensive collective behavior, it was not crushed by the government. Indeed, from the elites' point of view, the movement was connected to a series of abnormal cosmic phenomena seen as characteristic of an excess of 阴 yīn (femininity, sinister, reabsorption of the order of nature).{{sfnb|Espesset|2008|pp=2–3}}Between 184 and 205 CE, the Way of the Supreme Peace (太平道 Tàipíngdào) in the Central Plains, the earliest attested popular Taoist religious-military movement led by members of the Zhang lineage—prominently Zhang Jue and Zhang Liu, among leaders from other families—, organised the so-called Yellow Turban Rebellion against the Han dynasty.{{sfnb|Espesset|2008|pp=6–10}} Later Taoist religious movements flourished in the Han state of Shu (modern Sichuan). A 巫 wū (shaman) of the Supreme Peace named Zhang Xiu was known to have led a group of followers from Shu into the uprising of the year 184. In 191 he reappeared as a military official in the province, together with the apparently unrelated Zhang Lu. During a military mission in Hanning (modern southwest Shaanxi), Xiu either died in battle or was killed by Lu himself, who incorporated Xiu's followers and seized the city, which he renamed Hanzhong. A characteristic of the territory governed by Lu was its significant non-Chinese population. Between 143 and 198, starting with the grandfather Zhang Daoling and culminating with Zhang Lu, the Zhang lineage had been organising the territory into dioceses or parishes, establishing a Taoist theocracy, the early Celestial Masters' Church (in Chinese variously called 五斗米道 Wǔdǒumǐdào, "Way of the Five Pecks of Rice", and later 天师道 Tiānshīdào, "Way of the Celestial Masters", or 正一道 Zhèngyīdào, "Way of the Orthodox Unity"). Zhang Lu died in 216 or 217, and between 215 and 219 the people of Hanzhong were gradually dispersed northwards, implanting Celestial Masters' Taoism in other parts of the empire.{{sfnb|Espesset|2008|pp=11–15}}

The introduction of Buddhism

File:SerindianGroup.jpg|thumb|200px|"Heroic Gesture of the Awakened Being" from Tumxuk, 6th or 7th century piece of Buddhist Serindian artSerindian art{{Further|Silk Road transmission of Buddhism}}Buddhism was introduced during the latter Han dynasty, and first mentioned in 65 CE.BOOK, Needham, Joseph, Joseph Needham, Science and Civilisation in China. Volume I: Introductory Orientations, 1959, p. 112.BOOK, Demiéville, Paul, Philosophy and religion from Han to Sui, Twitchett, Denis, Loewe, Michael, Cambridge History of China: Volume I: the Ch'in and Han Empires, 221 B.C. – A.D. 220, 1986, Cambridge University Press, 808–872, 9780521243278, {{rp|821–822}} Liu Ying, a half brother of Emperor Ming of Han (57–75 CE) was one of the earliest Chinese adherents, at a time when the imported religion interacted with Huang-Lao proto-Taoism.{{rp|821–822}} China's earliest known Buddhist temple, the White Horse Temple, was established outside the walls of the capital Luoyang during Emperor Ming's reign.{{rp|823}}Buddhism entered China via the Silk Road, transmitted by the Buddhist populations who inhabited the Western Regions (modern Xinjiang), then Indo-Europeans (predominantly Tocharians and Saka). It began to grow to become a significant influence in China proper only after the fall of the Han dynasty, in the period of political division.{{sfnb|Zhou|2012|p=4}} When Buddhism had become an established religion it began to compete with Chinese indigenous religion and Taoist movements, deprecatorily designated as Ways of Demons (鬼道 Guǐdào) in Buddhist polemical literature.{{sfnb|Espesset|2008|p=18}}

The period of division of the Six Dynasties

After the fall of the Han dynasty, a period of disunity defined as the "Six Dynasties" began. After the first stage of the Three Kingdoms (220–280), China was partially unified under the Jin dynasty (265–420), while much of the north was governed by sixteen independent states. The fall of the Han capital Luoyang to the Xiongnu in 311 led the royal court and Celestial Masters' clerics to migrate southwards. Jiangnan became the epicenter of the "southern tradition" of Celestial Masters' Taoism, which developed characteristic features, among which a meditation technique known as "guarding the One" (shouyi), that is visualising the unity God in the human organism.{{sfnb|Pregadio|2016}}{{rp|3.2}}Representatives of Jiangnan's indigenous religions responded to the spread of Celestial Masters' Taoism by reformulating their own traditions according to the imported religion. This led to the foundation of two new Taoist schools, with their own scriptural and ritual bodies: Shangqing Taoism (上清派 Shàngqīngpài, "Highest Clarity school"), based on revelations that occurred between 364 and 370 in modern-day Nanjing, and Lingbao Taoism (灵宝派 Língbǎopài, "Numinous Gem school"), based on revelations of the years between 397 and 402 and recodified later by Lu Xiujing (406-77). Lingbao incorporated from Buddhism the ideas of "universal salvation" and ranked "heavens", and focused on communal rituals.{{sfnb|Pregadio|2016}}{{rp|3.3}}Buddhism brought a model of afterlife to Chinese people and had a deep influence on Chinese culture. The story Mulian Rescues His Mother, for instance, is a parable dated back to the 3rd century, which adapts an originally Buddhist fable to show Confucian values of filial piety. In the story, a virtuous monk descends into hell to rescue his mother, who had been condemned for her transgressions.{{sfnb|Teiser|1988|pp=8–9}}

Sui and Tang dynasties

In the Tang dynasty (618–907) the concept of "Tian" became more common at the expense of "Di", continuing a tendency that started in the Han dynasty. Both also expanded their meanings, with "di" now more frequently used as suffix of a deity's name rather than to refer to the supreme power. "Tian", besides, became more associated to its meaning of "Heaven" as a paradise or the hierarchy of physical skies. The proliferation of foreign religions in the Tang, especially Buddhist sects, entailed that each of them conceived their own ideal "Heaven". "Tian" itself started to be used, linguistically, as an affix in composite names to mean "heavenly" or "divine". This was also the case in the Buddhist context, with many monasteries' names containing this element.{{sfnb|Chang|2000|pp=40–41}}Under the influence of foreign cultures and thought systems, new concepts to refer to the supreme God were formulated, such as Tiānzhōngtiān (天中天 "God of the Gods"), seemingly introduced by Yuezhi Buddhist missionaries to render the Sanskrit Devātideva (of the same meaning) or Bhagavān from their Iranian sources.{{sfnb|Chang|2000|p=38}}Both Buddhism and Taoism developed hierarchic pantheons which merged metaphysical (celestial) and physical (terrestrial) being, blurring the edge between the human and the divine, which reinforced the religious belief that gods and devotees sustain one another.{{sfnb|Chang|2000|p=42}}

The cult of the City Gods

File:The Temple of the Town Deity in Sheng County 44 2017-03.jpg|thumb|250px|Temple of the City God of Sheng County, ZhejiangZhejiangThe principle of reciprocity between the human and the divine, which was strengthened during the Tang dynasty, led to changes in the pantheon that reflected changes in the society. The late Tang dynasty saw the spread of the cult of the City Gods in direct bond to the development of the cities as centres of commerce and the rise in influence of merchant classes. Commercial travel opened China to influences from foreign cultures.{{sfnb|Chang|2000|p=43. Cit. Ebrey, Patricia Buckley, and Peter N. Gregory, ed. Religion and Society in Tang and Song China. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993. p. 29}}The City God is a protector of the boundaries of a city and of its internal and economic affairs, such as trade and elections of politicians. In each city, the respective City God is embodied by one or more historical personages, native of the city itself, who distinguished themselves by extraordinary attainments. Scholar Valerie Hansen argues that the City God is not a homegrown cult, but has its prototype in the Indian Vaiśravaṇa as a guardian deity.{{sfnb|Chang|2000|p=43. Cit. Ebrey, Patricia Buckley, and Peter N. Gregory, ed. Religion and Society in Tang and Song China. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993. p. 30}}

The suppressions of Buddhism and foreign religions

{{Further|Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution}}

Ming dynasty

In the 16th century, the Jesuit China missions played a significant role in opening dialogue between China and the West. The Jesuits brought Western sciences, becoming advisers to the imperial court on astronomy, taught mathematics and mechanics, but also adapted Chinese religious ideas such as admiration for Confucius and ancestor veneration into the religious doctrine they taught in China.{{rp|384}}

Qing dynasty

{{multiple image| align = right| direction = horizontal| width = 200| image2 = CIM1902.jpg
China Inland Mission of Protestant missions in China 1807–1953>Protestants in 1902, with hubs in Zhejiang, and between Gansu, Shanxi, Shaanxi and Henan. In the late 19th and early 20th century China was flooded with Christian missionaries working for Western powers.| image3 = Taiping2.PNG| caption3 = Domains of the Christian-inspired Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (1851–1864), founded by the Christian convert Hong Xiuquan inspired by Biblical millenarianism. The civil war started by Taiping Christians costed between 20–30 million deaths.}}Founded by Manchu rulers, the Qing dynasty (1636–1912) promoted the teachings of Confucius as the textual tradition superior to all others, despite Manchus were followers of Tibetan Buddhism. The Qing made their laws more severely patriarchal than any previous dynasty, and Buddhism and Taoism were downgraded. Despite this, Tibetan Buddhism began in this period to have significant presence in China, with Tibetan influence in the west, and with the Mongols and Manchus in the north.{{sfnb|Feuchtwang|2016|p=148}}Later, many folk religious and institutional religious temples were destroyed during the Taiping Rebellion (1850–1871).{{sfnb|Fan|Chen|2013|p=9}} It was organised by Christian movements which established a separate state in south-east China against the Qing dynasty. In the Christian-inspired Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, official policies pursued the elimination of Chinese religions to substitute them with forms of Christianity. In this effort, the libraries of the Buddhist monasteries were destroyed, almost completely in the Yangtze River Delta.{{citation|last=Tarocco|first=Francesca|p=48|title=The Cultural Practices of Modern Chinese Buddhism: Attuning the Dharma|publisher=Routledge|location=London|date=2008|isbn=0415596173}}As a reaction, the Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the century (1899–1901) would have been inspired by indigenous Chinese movements against the influence of Christian missionaries—"devils" as they were called by the Boxers—and Western colonialism. At that time China was being gradually invaded by European and American powers, and since 1860 Christian missionaries had had the right to build or rent premises, and they appropriated many temples. Churches with their high steeples and foreigners' infrastructures, factories and mines were viewed as distrupting feng shui ("wind–water" cosmic balance) and caused "tremendous offence" to the Chinese. The Boxers' action was aimed at sabotaging or outrightly destroying these infrastructures.BOOK, Preston, Diana, The Boxer Rebellion: The Dramatic Story of China's War on Foreigners That Shook the World in the Summer of 1900, 2000, Walker, New York, 0802713610, pp. 25–30.

Early 20th century

{{Further information|Freedom of religion in China}}File:Buddhist temple in Midong, Urumqi, Xinjiang (2).jpg|thumb|200px|Temple of the Great Buddha in Midong, Urumqi, XinjiangXinjiangFile:VM 6095 Lanzhou evening market at Xiguan.jpg|thumb|200px|Evening market at the Temple of Supreme Brightness (太清宫 Tàiqīnggōng), an urban temple of Zhengyi Taoism in Xiguan, Lanzhou, GansuGansuChina entered the 20th century under the Manchu Qing dynasty, whose rulers favoured traditional Chinese religions, and participated in public religious ceremonies, with state pomp, as at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, where prayers for the harvest were offered. Tibetan Buddhists recognised the Dalai Lama as their spiritual and temporal leader. Popular cults were regulated by imperial policies, promoting certain deities while suppressing others.{{sfnb|Overmyer|2009|p=46}} During the anti-foreign and anti-Christian Boxer Uprising of 1900, thousands of Chinese Christians and foreign missionaries were killed, but in the aftermath of the retaliatory invasion, numbers of reform-minded Chinese turned to Christianity.{{sfnb|Bays|2012|pp=84–87}} Between 1898 and 1904 the imperial government issued a measure to "build schools with temple property" (庙产兴学 miàochǎn xīngxué).JOURNAL, Liang, Yongjia, The Anthropological Study of Religion in China: Contexts, Collaborations, Debates and Trends, Asia Research Institute Working Paper Series, 250, 25, 2016,weblinkweblink 23 October 2017, {{rp|3}}{{sfnb|Overmyer|2009|p=50}}After the Revolution of 1911, with increasing urbanisation and Western influence, the issue for the new intellectual class was no longer the worship of heterodox gods as it was the case in imperial times, but the delegitimisation of religion itself, and especially folk religion, as an obstacle to modernisation.{{sfnb|Overmyer|2009|p=50}} Leaders of the New Culture Movement (1916–1923) debated whether religion was cosmopolitan spirituality or irrational superstition, and the Anti-Christian Movement of 1923 was part of a rejection of Christianity as an instrument of foreign imperialism.{{sfnb|Bays|2012|pp=107–113}}The Guomindang-governed Republic of China (1912–49) intensified the suppression of local religion. Temples were widely appropriated, destroyed, or used for schools.{{sfnb|Overmyer|2009|p=43}} The 1928 "Standards for retaining or abolishing gods and shrines" formally abolished all cults of gods with the exception of human heroes such as Yu the Great, Guan Yu and Confucius.{{sfnb|Overmyer|2009|p=51}} Sun Yat-sen, the first president of the Republic of China, and his successor Chiang Kai-shek, were both Christians. During the Japanese invasion of China between 1937 and 1945 many temples were used as barracks by soldiers and destroyed in warfare.{{sfnb|Fan|Chen|2013|p=9}}{{sfnb|Overmyer|2009|p=45}}

People's Republic of China

File:HuiAn - Chongwu Cheng - P1230301.JPG|thumb|200px|A Buddhist temple being refurbished in 2015 in Chongwu, FujianFujianFile:炎黄二帝巨型塑像正面视角.JPG|thumb|200px|Statues and ceremonial complex of the Yellow and Red Deities in Zhengzhou, HenanHenanThe People's Republic of China, proclaimed in 1949 under the leadership of Mao Zedong, established a policy of state atheism. Initially, the new government did not suppress religious practice, but, like its dynastic ancestors, viewed popular religious movements, especially in the countryside, as possibly seditious. The government condemned religious organisations, labeling them as superstitious. Religions that were deemed "appropriate" and given freedom were those that entailed the ancestral tradition of consolidated state rule.BOOK, Woodhead, Linda, Partridge, Christopher, Kawanami, Hiroko, Religions in the Modern World: Traditions and Transformations, 3rd, Routledge, 2016, p. 159. In addition, Marxism viewed religion as feudal. The Three-Self Patriotic Movement institutionalised Protestant churches in official organisations that renounced foreign funding and foreign control as imperialist. Chinese Catholics resisted the new government's move towards state control and independence from the Vatican.{{sfnb|Bays|2012|pp=159–166}} Later onwards, the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) involved a systematic effort to destroy religion.{{sfnb|Fan|Chen|2013|p=9}}{{sfnb|Overmyer|2009|p=51}} The historian Arthur Waldron explains that "communism was, in effect, a religion for its early Chinese converts: more than a sociological analysis, it was a revelation and a prophecy that engaged their entire beings and was expounded in sacred texts, many imported from Moscow and often printed in English".{{sfnb|Waldron|1998|p=325}}The radical policy relaxed considerably in the late 1970s. Since 1978, the Constitution of the People's Republic of China guarantees "freedom of religion". Its article 36 states that:WEB,weblink China's Policy on Religion, english.people.com.cn,weblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20170708061748weblink">weblink 8 July 2017, WEB,weblink Constitution of the People's Republic of China (Adopted on December 4, 1982), English,
"Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities. No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state. Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination."
For several decades, the party acquiesced or even encouraged a religious revival. Most Chinese were allowed to worship as they felt best. Although "spiritual practices" such as the Falungong were banned and some practitioners arrested, local authorities were likely to follow a hands-off policy towards other religions. In the late 20th century there was a reactivation of the state cults devoted to the Yellow Emperor and the Red Emperor.{{sfnb|Sautman|1997|pp=79–84}} In the early 2000s, the Chinese government became open especially to traditional religions such as Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism and folk religion, emphasising the role of religion in building a "Harmonious Society" (hexie shehui),BOOK, Marsh, Christopher, Religion and the State in Russia and China: Suppression, Survival, and Revival, Bloomsbury Academic, 2011, 1441112472, p. 239. a Confucian idea.BOOK, Solé-Farràs, Jesús, New Confucianism in Twenty-First Century China: The Construction of a Discourse, Routledge, 2013, 113473915X, p. 56.BOOK, Bell, Daniel A., China's New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society, Princeton University Press, 2010, 0691145857, p. 14. China hosted religious meetings and conferences including the first World Buddhist Forum in 2006 and the subsequent World Buddhist Forums, a number of international Taoist meetings and local conferences on folk religions. Aligning with Chinese anthropologists' emphasis on "religious culture",{{rp|5–7}} the government considers these religions as integral expressions of national "Chinese culture".BOOK, Koesel, Karrie J., Religion and Authoritarianism: Cooperation, Conflict, and the Consequences, Cambridge University Press, 2014, 1139867792, p. 8.A turning point was reached in 2005, when folk religious cults began to be protected and promoted under the policies of intangible cultural heritage.{{rp|9}} Not only were traditions that had been interrupted for decades resumed, but ceremonies forgotten for centuries were reinvented. The annual worship of the god Cáncóng of the ancient state of Shu, for instance, was resumed at a ceremonial complex near the Sanxingdui archaeological site in Sichuan.JOURNAL, Te Winkle, Kimberley S., A Sacred Trinity: God, Mountain and Bird. Cultic Practices of the Bronze Age Chengdu Plain, Sino-Platonic Papers, 149, Victor H. Mair, 2005,weblink 2157-9687, New deities have emerged, including Chēshén (车神), the god protecting motor vehicles, and modern Chinese political leaders have been deified into the common Chinese pantheon.{{sfnb|Feuchtwang|2016|p=162}}In 2012 Xi Jinping was elected as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China. During his early political career in the 1980s, Xi was the secretary of Zhengding County in Hebei, where he allied himself with Chan master Youming and helped the reconstruction of the county's Buddhist temples, explicitly expressing interest towards Buddhism. Once he became president of China, fighting moral void and corruption through a return to traditional culture became the primary tasks of the new government.{{sfnb|Johnson|2017|p=280}} The government's project also involved restricting Christian churches, which resulted in some removals of crosses from steeples and churches' demolition. At least one prominent pastor who protested was arrested on charges of misusing church funds. A lawyer who had counselled these churches appeared on state television to confess that he had been in collusion with American organisations to incite local Christians.WEB, Johnson, Ian, Decapitated Churches in China's Christian Heartland, The New York Times, 21 May 2016,weblink André Laliberté noted that despite there having been much talk about "persecution against religion (especially Christianity) in China", one should not jump to hasty conclusions, since "a large proportion of the population worship, pray, perform rituals and hold certain beliefs with the full support of the Party. Most of this activity affects people who subscribe to world views that are sometimes formally acknowledged by the state and are institutionalised, or others that are tacitly approved as customs". In this context, Christianity not only represents a small proportion of the population, but its adherents are still seen by the majority who observe traditional rituals as followers of a foreign religion that sets them apart from the body of society.{{sfnb|Laliberté|2011|pp=3–4}}

Demographics

Demoscopic analyses and general results

File:Shanwei Fengshan Zumiao 2014.01.18 11-32-52.jpg|thumb|250px|Temple of Mazu, the goddess of the sea, in Shanwei, GuangdongGuangdongFile:Worship in Suzhou City God Temple.png|thumb|200px|Worshipers at the Temple of the City God of Suzhou, Pregadio|2013|p=xv}}File:Heshen temple in Hequ, Xinzhou, Shanxi, China.jpg|thumb|200px|Temple of Hebo ("River Lord"), the god (Heshen, "River God") of the sacred Yellow River, in Hequ, Xinzhou, ShanxiShanxiFile:Incense Snow Temple, a rural Buddhist monastery in Ouhai, Wenzhou, Zhejiang, China.jpg|thumb|200px|Incense Snow Temple (香雪寺 Xiāngxuěsì), a rural Buddhist convent in Ouhai, Wenzhou, ZhejiangZhejiangFile:Chongwu Town - P1230259.JPG|thumb|200px|A neighbourhood folk shrine festooned for a festival, in Chongwu, FujianFujianCounting the number of religious people anywhere is hard; counting them in China is even harder. Low response rates, non-random samples, and adverse political and cultural climates are persistent problems.BOOK, Zuckerman, Phil, Atheism: Contemporary Numbers and Patterns, Martin, Michael, The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, Cambridge University Press, 2006, 1139827391, {{rp|47}} One scholar concludes that statistics on religious believers in China "cannot be accurate in a real scientific sense", since definitions of "religion" exclude people who do not see themselves as members of a religious organisation but are still "religious" in their daily actions and fundamental beliefs.{{sfnb|Yao|2010|p=9}} The forms of Chinese religious expression tend to be syncretic and following one religion does not necessarily mean the rejection or denial of others.{{sfnb|Yao|2010|p=10}} In surveys, few people identify as "Taoists" because to most Chinese this term refers to ordained priests of the religion. Traditionally, the Chinese language has not included a term for a lay follower of Taoism,{{sfnb|Pregadio|2013|p=326}} since the concept of being "Taoist" in this sense is a new word that derives from the Western concept of "religion" as membership in a church institution.Analysing Chinese traditional religions is further complicated by discrepancies between the terminologies used in Chinese and Western languages. While in the English current usage "folk religion" means broadly all forms of common cults of gods and ancestors, in Chinese usage and in academia these cults have not had an overarching name. By "folk religion" (民間宗教 mínjiān zōngjiào) or "folk beliefs" (民間信仰 mínjiān xìnyǎng) Chinese scholars have usually meant folk religious organisations and salvationist movements (folk religious sects).{{sfnb|Palmer|2011|p=12, quoting: "Chinese sectarianism, millennialism and heterodoxy, called 'popular religious sects' (minjian zongjiao 民間宗教, minjian jiaomen 民間教門, minjian jiaopai 民間教派) in the Chinese scholarship, often inextricable from debates on the exact nature of the so-called 'White Lotus' tradition."; p. 14: "The local and anthropological focus of these studies, and their undermining of rigid distinctions between 'sectarian' groups and other forms of local religiosity, tends to draw them into the category of 'popular religion' 民間信仰."}}{{sfnb|Clart|2014|p=393|ps=: "[...] The problem started when the Taiwanese translator of my paper chose to render 'popular religion' literally as minjian zongjiao 民間宗教. The immediate association this term caused in the minds of many Taiwanese and practically all mainland Chinese participants in the conference was of popular sects (minjian jiaopai 民間教派), rather than the local and communal religious life that was the main focus of my paper."}} Furthermore, in the 1990s some of these organisations began to register as branches of the official Taoist Association and therefore to fall under the label of "Taoism".{{sfnb|Goossaert|Palmer|2011|p=347, quoting: "[Since the 1990s] [...] a number of [...] lay salvationist groups (such as Xiantiandao in southern China and Hongyangism [弘阳教 Hóngyáng jiào] in Hebei) also successfully registered with the Taoist association, thus gaining legitimacy."}} In order to address this terminological confusion, some Chinese intellectuals have proposed recognition and legal management of the indigenous religion by the state and to adopt the label "Chinese native (or indigenous) religion" (民俗宗教 mínsú zōngjiào) or "Chinese ethnic religion" (民族宗教 mínzú zōngjiào),{{sfnb|Clart|2014|pp=402–406}} or other names.{{refn|group=note|Other names that have been proposed are:{{sfnb|Clart|2014|p=409}}
  • Simply "Chinese religion" (中華教 Zhōnghuájiào), viewed as comparable to the usage of "Hinduism";
  • "Shenxianism" (神仙教 Shénxiānjiào), "religion of gods and immortals", partly inspired to Allan J. A. Elliott's "Shenism".{{sfnb|Shi|2008}}}}
There has been much speculation by some Western authors about the number of Christians in China. Chris White, in a 2017 work for the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity of the Max Planck Society, criticises the data and narratives put forward by these authors. He notices that these authors work in the wake of a "Western evangelical bias" reflected in the coverage carried forward by popular media, especially in the United States, which rely upon a "considerable romanticisation" of Chinese Christians. Their data are mostly ungrounded or manipulated through undue interpretations, as "survey results do not support the authors' assertions".ARTICLE, White, Chris, Counting Christians in China: A critical reading of A star in the East: The rise of Christianity in China,weblink MMG Working Paper 17-03, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen, 2192-2357, 2017,weblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20180613131056weblink">weblink 13 June 2018,
  • According to the results of an official census provided in 1995 by the Information Office of the State Council of China, at that time the Chinese traditional religions were already popular among nearly 1 billion people.{{sfnb|Yao|2010|p=9}}
  • 2005: a survey of the religiosity of urban Chinese from the five cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Nantong, Wuhan and Baoding, conducted by professor Xinzhong Yao, found that only 5.3% of the analysed population belonged to religious organisations, while 51.8% were non religious, in that they did not belong to any religious association. Nevertheless, 23.8% of the population regularly worshipped gods and venerated ancestors, 23.1% worshipped Buddha or identified themselves as Buddhists, up to 38.5% had beliefs and practices associated with the folk religions such as feng shui or belief in celestial powers, and only 32.9% were convinced atheists.ARTICLE, Yao, Xinzhong, Religious Belief and Practice in Urban China 1995-2005, Journal of Contemporary Religion, 22, 2, May 2007, pp. 169-185.
  • Three surveys conducted respectively in 2005, 2006 and 2007 by the Horizon Research Consultancy Group on a disproportionately urban and suburban sample, found that Buddhists constituted between 11% and 16% of the total population, Christians were between 2% and 4%, and Muslims approximately 1%.ARTICLE, Religion in China on the Eve of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Religion and Public Life Project, 2008, Pew Research Center,weblink The surveys also found that ~60% of the population believed in concepts such as fate and fortune associated to the folk religion.
  • 2007: a survey conducted by the East China Normal University taking into account people from different regions of China, concluded that there were approximately 300 million religious believers (≈31% of the total population), of whom the vast majority ascribable to Buddhism, Taoism and folk religions.
  • 2008: a survey conducted in that year by Yu Tao of the University of Oxford with a survey scheme led and supervised by the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy and the Peking University, analysing the rural populations of the six provinces of Jiangsu, Sichuan, Shaanxi, Jilin, Hebei and Fujian, each representing different geographic and economic regions of China, found that followers of the Chinese folk religions were 31.9% of the analysed population, Buddhists were 10.85%, Christians were 3.93% of whom 3.54% Protestants and 0.39% Catholics, and Taoists were 0.71%.ARTICLE, Yu Tao, A Solo, a Duet, or an Ensemble? Analysing the Recent Development of Religious Communities in Contemporary Rural China, ECRAN – Europe-China Research and Advice Network, University of Nottingham, 2012,weblink The remaining 53.41% of the population claimed to be not religious.
  • 2010: the Chinese Spiritual Life Survey directed by the Purdue University's Center on Religion and Chinese Society concluded that many types of Chinese folk religions and Taoism are practised by possibly hundreds of millions of people; 56.2% of the total population or 754 million people practised Chinese ancestral religion{{refn|group=note|These numerical results for practitioners of the folk religions exclude those who identified with one of the institutional religions, even the 173 million folk Taoists. p. 34 of Wenzel-Teuber (2011): "The CSLS questioned people on popular religious beliefs and practices as well, and came to the following estimates (excluding those who identified themselves with an institutional religion)."ARTICLE, Wenzel-Teuber, Katharina, Strait, David, People's Republic of China: Religions and Churches Statistical Overview 2011, Religions & Christianity in Today's China, II, 3, 2012, 29–54, 2192-9289,weblinkweblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20170427151725weblink">weblink 27 April 2017, }}, but only 16% claiming to "believe in the existence" of the ancestor;{{refn|group=note|However, there is considerable discrepancy between what Chinese and Western cultures intend with the concepts of "belief", "existence" and "practice". The Chinese folk religion is often considered one of "belonging" rather than "believing".{{sfnb|Fan|Chen|2013|p=5}}}} 12.9% or 173 million practised Taoism on a level indistinguishable from the folk religion; 0.9% or 12 million people identified exclusively as Taoists; 13.8% or 185 million identified as Buddhists, of whom 1.3% or 17.3 million had received formal initiation; 2.4% or 33 million identified as Christians, of whom 2.2% or 30 million as Protestants (of whom only 38% baptised in the official churches) and 0.02% or 3 million as Catholics; and an additional 1.7% or 23 million were Muslims.2010 Chinese Spiritual Life Survey, Purdue University's Center on Religion and Chinese Society. Data reported in ARTICLE, Wenzel-Teuber, Katharina, Strait, David, People's Republic of China: Religions and Churches Statistical Overview 2011, Religions & Christianity in Today's China, II, 3, 2012, 29–54, 2192-9289,weblinkweblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20170427151725weblink">weblink 27 April 2017,
  • 2012: the China Family Panel Studies (CFPS) conducted a survey of 25 of the provinces of China. The provinces surveyed had a Han majority, and did not include the autonomous regions of Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Tibet and Xinjiang, and of Hong Kong and Macau.China Family Panel Studies 2012. Reported and compared with Chinese General Social Survey (CGSS) 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2011 in ARTICLE, Lu 卢, Yunfeng 云峰, 卢云峰:当代中国宗教状况报告——基于CFPS(2012)调查数据, Report on Religions in Contemporary China – Based on CFPS (2012) Survey Data, World Religious Cultures, 2014, 1,weblinkweblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20140809051625weblink">weblink 9 August 2014, {{rp|11–12}} The survey found only ~10% of the population belonging to organised religions; specifically, 6.75% were Buddhists, 2.4% were Christians (of whom 1.89% Protestants and 0.41% Catholics), 0.54% were Taoists, 0.46% were Muslims, and 0.40% declared to belong to other religions.{{rp|12}} Although ~90% of the population declared that they did not belong to any religion, the survey estimated (according to a 1992 figure) that only 6.3% were atheists while the remaining 81% (≈1 billion people) prayed to or worshipped gods and ancestors in the manner of the folk religion.{{rp|13}}
  • Four surveys conducted respectively in the years 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2011 as part of the Chinese General Social Survey (CGSS) of the Renmin University of China found an average 6.2% of the Chinese identifying as Buddhists, 2.3% as Christians (of whom 2% Protestants and 0.3% Catholics), 2.2% as members of folk religious sects, 1.7% as Muslims, and 0.2% as Taoists.{{rp|13}}
  • 2012-2014: analyses published in a study by Fenggang Yang and Anning Hu found that 55.5% of the adult population (15+) of China, or 578 million people in absolute numbers, believed and practised folk religions, including a 20% who practised ancestor veneration or communal worship of deities, and the rest who practised what Yang and Hu define "individual" folk religions like devotion to specific gods such as Caishen. Members of folk religious sects were not taken into account.{{sfnb|Yang|Hu|2012|p=514}} Around the same year, Kenneth Dean estimated 680 million people involved in folk religion, or 51% of the total population.{{refn|group=note|Scholar Kenneth Dean estimates 680 million people involved in folk temples and rituals. Quote: "According to Dean, 'in the rural sector... if one takes a rough figure of 1000 people per village living in 680,000 administrative villages and assume an average of two or three temples per village, one arrives at a figure of over 680 million villagers involved in some way with well over a million temples and their rituals'."{{sfnb|Fan|Chen|2013|p=8, citing: Dean, Kenneth (2011). "Local Ritual Traditions of Southeast China: A Challenge to Definitions of Religion and Theories of Ritual". In Yang, Fenggang; Lang, Graeme. Social Scientific Study of Religion in China: Methodology, Theories, and Findings. Leiden: Brill. p. 134}}}} In the same years, reports of the Chinese government claim that the folk religious sects have about the same number of followers of the five state-sanctioned religions counted together (~13% ≈180 million).ARTICLE, 大陆民间宗教管理变局, Mainland folk religion management change, Phoenix Weekly, 500, July 2014, Pu Shi Institute for Social Science,weblinkweblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20160304070046weblink">weblink 4 March 2016,
  • The CFPS 2014 survey, published in early 2017, found that 15.87% of the Chinese declare to be Buddhists, 5.94% to belong to unspecified other religions, 0.85% to be Taoists, 0.81% to be members of the popular sects, 2.53% to be Christians (2.19% Protestants and 0.34% Catholics) and 0.45% to be Muslims. 73.56% of the population does not belong to the state-sanctioned religions. CFPS 2014 asked the Chinese about belief in a certain conception of divinity rather than membership in a religious group, for this reason it is considered one of the most accurate surveys to date.{{refn|group=note|name=Wenzel-TeuberCFPS2014comment}}
Besides the surveys based on fieldwork, estimates using projections have been published by the Pew Research Center as part of its study of the Global Religious Landscape in 2010. This study estimated 21.9% of the population of China believed in folk religions, 18.2% were Buddhists, 5.1% were Christians, 1.8% were Muslims, 0.8% believed in other religions, while unaffiliated people constituted 52.2% of the population.ARTICLE, The Global Religious Landscape,weblink Pew Research Center, December 2012, 46, According to the surveys by Phil Zuckerman published on Adherents.com, 59% of the Chinese population was not religious in 1993, and in 2005 between 8% and 14% was atheist (from over 100 to 180 million). A survey held in 2012 by WIN/GIA found that in China the atheists comprise 47% of the population.WEB, Global Index of Religion and Atheism 2012, Win-Gallup International,weblinkweblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20120812210929weblink">weblink 12 August 2012, Yu Tao's survey of the year 2008 provided a detailed analysis of the social characteristics of the religious communities. It found that the proportion of male believers was higher than the average among folk religious people, Taoists, and Catholics, while it was lower than the average among Protestants. The Buddhist community shew a greater balance of male and female believers. Concerning the age of believers, folk religious people and Catholics tended to be younger than the average, while Protestant and Taoist communities were composed by older people. The Christian community was more likely than other religions to have members belonging to the ethnic minorities. The study analysed the proportion of believers that were at the same time members of the local section of the Communist Party of China, finding that it was exceptionally high among the Taoists, while the lowest proportion was found among the Protestants. About education and wealth, the survey found that the wealthiest populations were those of Buddhists and especially Catholics, while the poorest was that of the Protestants; Taoists and Catholics were the better educated, while the Protestants were the less educated among the religious communities. These findings confirmed a description by Francis Ching-Wah Yip that the Protestant population was predominantly composed of rural people, illiterate and semi-illiterate people, elderly people, and women, already in the 1990s and early 2000s. A 2017 study of the Christian communities of Wuhan found the same socio-econimic characteristics, with the addition that Christians were more likely to suffer from physical and mental illness than the general population.ARTICLE, Han, Junqiang, Meng, Yingying, Xu, Chengcheng, Qin, Siqi, Urban Residents' Religious Beliefs and Influencing Factors on Christianity in Wuhan, China, Religions, 8, 244, 2017, 10.3390/rel8110244, pp. 9–11.The China Family Panel Studies' findings for 2012 shew that Buddhists tended to be younger and better educated, while Christians were older and more likely to be illiterate.{{rp|17–18}} Furthermore, Buddhists were generally wealthy, while Christians most often belonged to the poorest parts of the population.{{rp|20–21}} Henan was found hosting the largest percentage of Christians of any province of China, about 6%.{{rp|13}} According to Ji Zhe, Chan Buddhism and individual, non-institutional forms of folk religiosity are particularly successful among the contemporary Chinese youth.ARTICLE, Ji Zhe, Non-institutional Religious Re-composition among the Chinese Youth, Social Compass, 53, 4, 2006, SAGE Publications, 535–549,weblinkweblink 1 January 2018, {{Religion in China surveys}}

Geographic distribution

File:Distribution of religions in China.png|thumb|300px|Geographic distribution of religions in China.MAP, Religions en Chine,weblink Dumortier, Brigitte, Atlas des religions. Croyances, pratiques et territoires, 2002, Atlas/Monde, Autrement, Paris, France, French, 2746702649,weblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20170427135523weblink">weblink 27 April 2017, p. 34.MAP, Religions in China,weblink Narody Vostochnoi Asii, Ethnic Groups of East Asia, 1965,weblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20170427135600weblink">weblink 27 April 2017, Zhongguo Minsu Dili [Folklore Geography of China], 1999; Zhongguo Dili [Geography of China], 2002.MAP, Religions in China,weblink Gao 高, Wende 文德, 中国少数民族史大辞典, Chinese Dictionary of Minorities' History, 1995, Jilin Education Press (吉林教育出版社), Changchun, Chinese,weblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20170427135641weblink">weblink 27 April 2017, MAP, Religions in China,weblink Yin 殷, Haishan 海山, Li 李, Yaozong 耀宗, Guo 郭, Jie 洁, 中国少数民族艺术词典, Chinese Minorities' Arts Dictionary, 1991, National Publishing House (民族出版社), Beijing, Chinese,weblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20170427135713weblink">weblink 27 April 2017, {{colorbull|#C00000}} Chinese folk religion (and Confucianism, Taoism, and groups of Chinese Buddhism){{colorbull|#FFFF00}} Buddhism tout court{{colorbull|#008000}} Islam{{colorbull|#FF00FF}} Ethnic minorities' indigenous religions{{colorbull|#00CCFF}} Mongolian folk religion{{colorbull|#00FF00}} Northeast China folk religion influenced by Tungus and Manchu shamanism, widespread ShanrendaoShanrendao(File:Map of Religions in China.png|thumb|300px|Geographic distributions and major communities of religions in China.)The varieties of Chinese religion are spread across the map of China in different degrees. Southern provinces have experienced the most evident revival of Chinese folk religion,ARTICLE, Zhao, Litao, Tan, Soon Heng, Religious Revival in China, East Asian Institute Background Brief, 368, 2008,weblinkweblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20180101030408weblink">weblink 1 January 2018, pp. i–ii: "Their revival is most evident in South-east China, where annual festivals for local and regional gods often mobilize the entire village population for elaborate rites and rituals. The deep and rich ritual traditions share close similarities with those of Taiwan and overseas Chinese and financial help from these connections make coastal Fujian a frontrunner in reviving local communal religion."{{sfnb|Waldron|1998|p=325}} although it is present all over China in a great variety of forms, intertwined with Taoism, fashi orders, Confucianism, Nuo rituals, shamanism and other religious currents. Quanzhen Taoism is mostly present in the north, while Sichuan is the area where Tianshi Taoism developed and the early Celestial Masters had their main seat. Along the southeastern coast, Taoism reportedly dominates the ritual activity of popular religion, both in registered and unregistered forms (Zhengyi Taoism and unrecognised fashi orders). Since the 1990s, Taoism has been well-developed in the area.{{sfnb|Chan|2005|p=93, quoting: "By the early 1990s Daoist activities had become popular especially in rural areas, and began to get out of control as the line between legitimate Daoist activities and popular folk religious activities - officially regarded as feudal superstition - became blurred. [...] Unregulated activities can range from orthodox Daoist liturgy to shamanistic rites. The popularity of these Daoist activities underscores the fact that Chinese rural society has a long tradition of religiosity and has preserved and perpetuated Daoism regardless of official policy and religious institutions. With the growth of economic prosperity in rural areas, especially in the coastal provinces where Daoist activities are concentrated, with a more liberal policy on religion, and with the revival of local cultural identity, Daoism - be it the officially sanctioned variety or Daoist activities which are beyond the edge of the official Daoist body - seems to be enjoying a strong comeback, at least for the time being."}}{{sfnb|Overmyer|2009|p=185|ps=: about Taoism in southeastern China: "Ethnographic research into the temple festivals and communal rituals celebrated within these god cults has revealed the widespread distribution of Daoist ritual traditions in this area, including especially Zhengyi (Celestial Master Daoism) and variants of Lushan Daoist ritual traditions. Various Buddhist ritual traditions (Pu'anjiao, Xianghua married monks and so on) are practised throughout this region, particularly for requiem services". (quoting BOOK, Dean, Kenneth, Local Communal Religion in Contemporary Southeast China, 2003, Overmyer, Daniel L., Religion in China Today, Cambridge University Press, pp. 32–34.)}}Many scholars see "north Chinese religion" as distinct from practices in the south.JOURNAL, Goossaert, Vincent, Is There a North China Religion? A Review Essay, Journal of Chinese Religions, 39, 1, 83–93, Routledge, 2011,weblink 0737-769X, 10.1179/073776911806153907, The folk religion of southern and southeastern provinces is primarily focused on the lineages and their churches (zōngzú xiéhuì 宗族协会) and the worship of ancestor-gods. The folk religion of central-northern China (North China Plain), otherwise, is focused on the communal worship of tutelary deities of creation and nature as identitary symbols, by villages populated by families of different surnames,{{sfnb|Overmyer|2009|pp=12–13|ps=: "As for the physical and social structure of villages on this vast flat expanse; they consist of close groups of houses built on a raised area, surrounded by their fields, with a multi-surnamed population of families who own and cultivate their own land, though usually not much more than twenty mou or about three acres. [...] Families of different surnames living in one small community meant that lineages were not strong enough to maintain lineage shrines and cross-village organizations, so, at best, they owned small burial plots and took part only in intra-village activities. The old imperial government encouraged villages to manage themselves and collect and hand over their own taxes. [...] leaders were responsible for settling disputes, dealing with local government, organizing crop protection and planning for collective ceremonies. All these factors tended to strengthen the local protective deities and their temples as focal points of village identity and activity. This social context defines North China local religion, and keeps us from wandering off into vague discussions of 'popular' and 'elite' and relationships with Daoism and Buddhism."}} structured into "communities of the god(s)" (shénshè 神社, or huì 会, "association"),{{sfnb|Overmyer|2009|p=xii}} which organise temple ceremonies (miaohui 庙会), involving processions and pilgrimages,{{sfnb|Overmyer|2009|p=10|ps=: "There were and are many such pilgrimages to regional and national temples in China, and of course such pilgrimages cannot always be clearly distinguished from festivals for the gods or saints of local communities, because such festivals can involve participants from surrounding villages and home communities celebrating the birthdays or death days of their patron gods or saints, whatever their appeal to those from other areas. People worship and petition at both pilgrimages and local festivals for similar reasons. The chief differences between the two are the central role of a journey in pilgrimages, the size of the area from which participants are attracted, and the role of pilgrimage societies in organizing the long trips that may be involved. [...] pilgrimage in China is also characterized by extensive planning and organization both by the host temples and those visiting them."}} and led by indigenous ritual masters (fashi) who are often hereditary and linked to secular authority.{{refn|group=note|Overmyer (2009, p. 73), says that from the late 19th to the 20th century few professional priests (i.e. licensed Taoists) were involved in local religion in the central and northern provinces of China, and discusses various types of folk ritual specialists including: the yuehu 樂戶, the zhuli 主禮 (p. 74), the shenjia 神家 ("godly families", hereditary specialists of gods and their rites; p. 77), then (p. 179) the yinyang or fengshui masters (as "[...] folk Zhengyi Daoists of the Lingbao scriptural tradition, living as ordinary peasants. They earn their living both as a group from performing public rituals, and individually [...] by doing geomancy and calendrical consultations for fengshui and auspicious days"; quoting: S. Jones (2007), Ritual and Music of North China: Shawm Bands in Shanxi). He also describes shamans or media known by different names: mapi 馬裨, wupo 巫婆, shen momo 神嬤嬤 or shen han 神漢 (p. 87); xingdao de 香道的 ("practitioners of the incense way"; p. 85); village xiangtou 香頭 ("incense heads"; p. 86); matong 馬童 (the same as southern jitong), either wushen 巫神 (possessed by gods) or shenguan 神官 (possessed by immortals; pp. 88-89); or "godly sages" (shensheng 神聖; p. 91). Further (p. 76), he discusses, for example, the sai 賽, ceremonies of thanksgiving to the gods in Shanxi with roots in the Song era, whose leaders very often corresponded to local political authorities. This pattern continues today with former village Communist Party secretaries elected as temple association bosses (p. 83). He concludes (p. 92): "In sum, since at least the early twentieth century the majority of local ritual leaders in north China have been products of their own or nearby communities. They have special skills in organization, ritual performance or interaction with the gods, but none are full-time ritual specialists; they have all ‘kept their day jobs’! As such they are exemplars of ordinary people organizing and carrying out their own cultural traditions, persistent traditions with their own structure, functions and logic that deserve to be understood as such."}} Northern and southern folk religions also have a different pantheon, of which the northern one is composed of more ancient gods of Chinese mythology.{{sfnb|Overmyer|2009|p=3|ps=: "[...] there are significant differences between aspects of local religion in the south and north, one of which is the gods who are worshiped."; p. 33: "[...] the veneration in the north of ancient deities attested to in pre-Han sources, deities such as Nüwa, Fuxi and Shennong, the legendary founder of agriculture and herbal medicine. In some instances these gods were worshiped at places believed to be where they originated, with indications of grottoes, temples and festivals for them, some of which continue to exist or have been revived. Of course, these gods were worshiped elsewhere in China as well, though perhaps not with the same sense of original geographical location."}}Folk religious movements of salvation have historically been more successful in the central plains and in the northeastern provinces than in southern China, and central-northern popular religion shares characteristics of some of the sects, such as the great importance given to mother goddess worship and shamanism,{{sfnb|Overmyer|2009|p=15|ps=: "[...] Popular religious sects with their own forms of organization, leaders, deities, rituals, beliefs and scripture texts were active throughout the Ming and Qing periods, particularly in north China. Individuals and families who joined them were promised special divine protection in this life and the next by leaders who functioned both as ritual masters and missionaries. These sects were more active in some communities than in others, but in principle were open to all who responded to these leaders and believed in their efficacy and teachings, so some of these groups spread to wide areas of the country. [...] significant for us here though is evidence for the residual influence of sectarian beliefs and practices on non-sectarian community religion where the sects no longer exist, particularly the feminization of deities by adding to their names the characters mu or Laomu, Mother or Venerable Mother, as in Guanyin Laomu, Puxianmu, Dizangmu, etc., based on the name of the chief sectarian deity, Wusheng Laomu, the Eternal Venerable Mother. Puxian and Dizang are bodhisattvas normally considered 'male', though in Buddhist theory such gender categories don’t really apply. This practice of adding mu to the names of deities, found already in Ming period sectarian scriptures called baojuan 'precious volumes' from the north, does not occur in the names of southern deities."}} as well as their scriptural transmission.{{rp|92}} Also Confucian churches and jiaohua organisations have historically found much resonance among the population of the northeast; in the 1930s the Universal Church of the Way and its Virtue alone aggregated at least 25% of the population of the state of Manchuria{{sfnb|Ownby|2008}} and contemporary Shandong has been analysed as an area of rapid growth of folk Confucian groups.{{sfnb|Payette|2016}}Goossaert talks of this distinction, although recognising it as an oversimplification, between a "Taoist south" and a "village-religion/Confucian centre-north",{{rp|47}} with the northern context also characterised by important orders of "folk Taoist" ritual masters, one order being that of the 阴阳生 yīnyángshēng,{{rp|86}}JOURNAL, Jones, Stephen, Yinyang: Household Daoists of North China and Their Rituals, Daoism: Religion, History & Society, 3, 1, 83–114, 2011, and sectarian traditions,{{rp|92}} and also by a low influence of Buddhism and official Taoism.{{rp|90}}The folk religion of northeast China (Manchuria) has unique characteristics deriving from the interaction of Han religion with Tungus and Manchu shamanisms; these include the practice of chūmǎxiān (出马仙 "riding for the immortals"), the worship of Fox Gods and other zoomorphic deities, and of the Great Lord of the Three Foxes (胡三太爷 Húsān Tàiyé) and the Great Lady of the Three Foxes (胡三太奶 Húsān Tàinǎi) usually positioned at the head of pantheons.THESIS, Deng, Claire Qiuju, 2014, Action-Taking Gods: Animal Spirit Shamanism in Liaoning, China, Master in East Asian Studies, McGill University, Department of East Asian Studies, Montreal,weblinkweblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20180116232101weblink">weblink 16 January 2018, Otherwise, in the religious context of Inner Mongolia there has been a significant integration of Han Chinese into the traditional folk religion of the region.Across China, Han religion has even adopted deities from Tibetan folk religion, especially wealth gods.ENCYCLOPEDIA, Juergensmeyer, Mark, Roof, Wade Clark, Encyclopedia of Global Religion, 2011, SAGE Publications, 1452266565, p. 202. In Tibet, across broader western China, and in Inner Mongolia, there has been a growth of the cult of Gesar with the explicit support of the Chinese government, Gesar being a cross-ethnic Han-Tibetan, Mongol and Manchu deity—the Han identify him as an aspect of the god of war analogically with Guandi—and culture hero whose mythology is embodied in a culturally important epic poem.BOOK, Penny, Benjamin, Religion and Biography in China and Tibet, 2013, Routledge, 1136113940, pp. 185–187.The Han Chinese schools of Buddhism are mostly practised in the eastern part of the country. On the other hand, Tibetan Buddhism is the dominant religion in Tibet, and significantly present in other westernmost provinces where ethnic Tibetans constitute a significant part of the population, and has a strong influence in Inner Mongolia in the north. The Tibetan tradition has also been gaining a growing influence among the Han Chinese.ARTICLE, Jones, A. D., Contemporary Han Chinese Involvement in Tibetan Buddhism: A Case Study from Nanjing, Social Compass, 2011, 58, 4, 540–553, Christians are especially concentrated in the three provinces of Henan, Anhui and Zhejiang.Francis Ching-Wah Yip, in Miller, 2006. p. 186. The latter two provinces were in the area affected by the Taiping Rebellion, and Zhejiang along with Henan were hubs of the intense Protestant missionary activity in the 19th and early 20th century.Islam is the majority religion in areas inhabited by the Hui Muslims, particularly the province of Ningxia, and in the province of Xinjiang that is inhabited by the Uyghurs. Many ethnic minority groups in China follow their own traditional ethnic religions: Benzhuism of the Bai, Bimoism of the Yi, Bön of the Tibetans, Dongbaism of the Nakhi, Miao folk religion, Qiang folk religion, Yao folk religion, Zhuang folk religion, Mongolian shamanism or Tengerism, and Manchu shamanism among Manchus.

Religions by province

{{multiple image|perrow=2|total_width=650|header=Mapping of religions in China, by province
caption1=Chinese ancestorism{{refnChinese ancestral or lineage religion is the worship of kin's ancestor-gods in the system of lineage churches and ancestral shrines. It is worthwhile to note that this does not include other forms of Chinese religion, such as the worship of national ancestral gods or the gods of nature (which in northern China is more common than ancestor worship), and Taoism and Confucianism.}}caption2=Chinese salvationist religions, Confucian churches and jiaohua movements{{refnThe map represents the geographic diffusion of the tradition of folk religious movements of salvation, Confucian churches and jiaohua ("transformative teachings") movements, based on historical data and contemporary fieldwork. Due to incomplete data and ambiguous identity of many of these traditions the map may not be completely accurate. Sources include a World Religion Map from Harvard University, based on data from the World Religion Database, showing highly unprecise ranges of Chinese folk (salvationist) religions' membership by province. Another source, the studies of China's Regional Religious System, find "very high activity of popular religion and secret societies and low Buddhist presence in northern regions, while very high Buddhist presence in the southeast".WU>FIRST1=JIANGFIRST2=DAOQINPUBLISHER=UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONAARCHIVE-URL=HTTPS://WEB.ARCHIVE.ORG/WEB/20170427135907/HTTP://CHINADATACENTER.ORG/FILES/201203201336113771.PDF, 27 April 2017, Historical record and contemporary scholarly fieldwork testify certain central and northern provinces of China as hotbeds of folk religious sects and Confucian religious groups.
  • Hebei: Fieldwork by Thomas David Dubois{{sfnb|Dubois|2005}} testifies the dominance of folk religious movements, specifically the Church of the Heaven and the Earth and the Church of the Highest Supreme, since their "energetic revival since the 1970s" (p. 13), in the religious life of the counties of Hebei. Religious life in rural Hebei is also characterised by a type of organisation called the benevolent churches and the salvationist movement known as Zailiism has returned active since the 1990s.
  • Henan: According to Heberer and Jakobi (2000)ARTICLE, Heberer, Thomas, Jakobi, Sabine, Henan - The Model: From Hegemonism to Fragmentism. Portrait of the Political Culture of China's Most Populated Province, Duisburg Working Papers on East Asian Studies, 32, 2000,weblink Henan has been for centuries a hub of folk religious sects (p. 7) that constitute significant focuses of the religious life of the province. Sects present in the region include the Baguadao or Tianli ("Order of Heaven") sect, the Dadaohui, the Tianxianmiaodao, the Yiguandao, and many others. Henan also has a strong popular Confucian orientation (p. 5).
  • Northeast China: According to official records by the then-government, the Universal Church of the Way and its Virtue or Morality Society had 8 million members in Manchuria, or northeast China in the 1930s, making up about 25% of the total population of the area (note that the state of Manchuria also included the eastern end of modern-day Inner Mongolia).{{sfnb|Ownby|2008}} Folk religious movements of a Confucian nature, or Confucian churches, were in fact very successful in the northeast.
  • Shandong: The province is traditionally a stronghold of Confucianism and is the area of origin of many folk religious sects and Confucian churches of the modern period, including the Universal Church of the Way and its Virtue, the Way of the Return to the One (皈依道 GuÄ«yÄ«dào), the Way of Unity (一貫道 YÄ«guàndào), and others. Alex Payette (2016) testifies the rapid growth of Confucian groups in the province in the 2010s.{{sfnb|Payette|2016}}
According to the Chinese General Social Survey of 2012,ARTICLE, Lu 卢, Yunfeng 云峰, 卢云峰:当代中国宗教状况报告——基于CFPS(2012)调查数据, Report on Religions in Contemporary China – Based on CFPS (2012) Survey Data, World Religious Cultures, 2014, 1,weblinkweblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20140809051625weblink">weblink 9 August 2014, p. 13. The report compares the data of the China Family Panel Studies 2012 with those of the Renmin University's Chinese General Social Survey (CGSS) of the years 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2011. about 2.2% of the total population of China (around 30 million people) claims membership in the folk religious sects, which have likely maintained their historical dominance in central-northern and northeastern China.}}
caption3=TaoismTAOISM IN CHINA>MAP-URL=HTTP://PREVIEWS.FIGSHARE.COM/1117823/PREVIEW_1117823.JPGARCHIVE-URL=HTTPS://WEB.ARCHIVE.ORG/WEB/20170427135809/HTTP://PREVIEWS.FIGSHARE.COM/1117823/PREVIEW_1117823.JPG, 27 April 2017, The map illustrates local religion led by Taoist specialists, forms and institutions.caption4=Buddhismcaption5=Christianitycaption6=Islam}}{| class="wikitable sortable"
group=note|The statistics for Chinese ancestorism, that is the worship of ancestor-gods within the lineage system, are from the Chinese Spiritual Life Survey of 2010. The statistics for Buddhism and Christianity are from the China Family Panel Studies survey of 2012. The statistics for Islam are from a survey conducted in 2010. It is worthwhile to note that the populations of Chinese ancestorism and Buddhism may overlap, even with the large remaining parts of the population whose belief is not documented in the table. The latter, the uncharted population, may practise other forms of Chinese religion, such as the worship of gods, Taoism, Confucianism and folk salvationisms, or may be atheist. Indeed, according to the CFPS 2012, only 6.3% of the Chinese were irreligious in the sense of "atheism", while the rest practised the worship of gods and ancestors.{{rp|13}}}}