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Religions in China were varied widely since the beginning of Chinese history although most people have no religions. Many temples, mosques and Christian churches were built in China. The most popular religions in China are Taoism, Buddhism (mainly Mahayana Buddhism), Lamaism, Islam, Catholicism, and Christianity. At the same time quite a lot of people believe deities and ghosts that were superstitions which cannot be seriously regarded as religions.
Many Chinese belief systems have concepts of a sacred and spiritual world yet do not invoke a concept of God. To classify a Chinese belief system as religion, philosophy or superstition can be problematic and complicated. For instance Confucianism was the main belief, pursuit and philosophy of most intellectuals in China rather than a religion. However, it had some influence on the Chinese Heaven Worship practices.
Moreover, the Chinese religions, unlike many Western religions, are not organizations that demand the exclusive adherence of members. Chinese people may visit Buddhist temples while living according to Taoist principles, practicing Confucian thought and participating in ancestral worshiping rituals.
Major forms of religion that developed within China include ancestor veneration, deities and ghost’s veneration, Shamanism and Taoism. Most Chinese have a conception of heaven, Yinyang, Fengshui, geomancy, astrology and numerology.
Daoism is the native-born religion of China. It is based on the belief of supernatural being, which prevailed in the Warring State Period, it absorbed ancient wizardry, taboo, sacrifice, and mythology. Through personal cultivating, it can reach to release souls from purgatory and save people. At last Taoists can become immortal. Daoism is different with the other three main religions in the world. It attached great importance to realistic benefits in this world. Taoists denied death. They valued today’s life and they believe time flies quickly and people should cultivate themselves as soon as possible so as to become immortal. The founder was Laozi who was born in around 6thCentury BC. He was a great philosopher with his famous 5,000 words book: Daodejing, which expressed his view about cosmos, society and human being. Dao means the “way” which may also be explained as the “principle”. Laozi believed the Dao of universe was vast and boundless; Dao was the mother of all things in nature; Dao was eternal and moved without stopping and disappearing; Dao never did but through it things were done. Laozi’s life view and political view were reflected in his thought “wuwei” (no-action). Actually “wuwei” means to let things develop in their own way and to avoid actions against the nature. Laozi and Zhunagzi were against contesting but insisted discarding all contrivances and returning to a simple state of life. These ideas were negative to some extent but they became the origin of the thought of the hermits in the late dynasties.
Daoism became a religion at the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25AD-220AD). An alchemist called Zhangdoaling founded Tianshi Dao, which is regarded the earliest sect of Daoism. Daoism achieved great developments during the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589AD) and the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD) after it absorbed some contents from other religions and traditional Chinese culture.
Daoism has many gods and deities. Laozi and the Heavenly Jade Emperor were the two most important gods. Daoism pursued immortality by self-cultivation and taking elixir. So alchemy was very popular among the Taoists in ancient China.
Daoism had great influence on Chinese social life and culture. The ideas of Daoism were always practiced by feudal rulers to handle state affairs at the beginning of a newly established dynasty. It can help the people to restore production and relax themselves after turmoil of previous dynasty.
Confucianism was initiated by Confucius (Kong Zi), who was born to an official family in 551BC in the state of Lu (in modem Shan Dong province) was a great philosopher, educator. He was the most influential thinker in Chinese history. His main thoughts were reflected in the Analects. He sorted out the Book of Songs, the Book of History and compiled the Spring and Autumn Annals in his late years. He devoted himself in teaching. He believed that there should be no class distinction in education. He also suggested teaching people according to their aptitudes. According to some stories, he had 3,000 disciples and 72 of them were very outstanding, who mastered the six skills such as rites, music, shooting, driving, writing and mathematics.
Ren (benevolence, kind) was the main idea of Confucianism. Righteousness, propriety, faith and filial piety are also important virtues of Confucianism. For the political view Confucius advocated that the sovereign should be benevolent and the subjects should be obedient so that the harmony was achieved. When treating people Confucius proposed, “Don’t do to others what you don not want done to yourself”. This is really a golden rule even till today.
Confucianism was succeeded and further developed by Mencius (372BC-289BC) and Xun Zi. It was in the reign of Emperor Wu during the Han Dynasty that Confucianism was promoted to be the orthodox doctrine. In the coming Wei and Jin Dynasties, Confucianism coexisted with Buddhism and Taoism. Up to the Sui and Tang Dynasties, the struggle for dominance between the three became heated. The Song Dynasty witnessed a vital period of the development of Confucianism. But a renaissance came during the Song Dynasty when Confucianism responded to the challenge and developed its own metaphysics. This new trend is known as New-Confucianism, and its main exponent was Zhu Xi (1130-1200). It subsequently became the main orthodox doctrine of the scholar officials again until the collapse of the imperial system in 1911.
To some extent, Confucianism is not a religion but a doctrine and philosophy of life. It still influences Chinese people’s daily life.
Buddhism was originated from India with the founder of Sakyamuni (born in 6th century BC) but it witnessed its blossom in China after it was introduced to China in 1st Century AD.
Buddhism believes the universal sufferings are birth, aging, illness and death and that life is full of sorrows. The origin of sufferings lies in desires of our sense. We suffer these sorrows until deliverance is achieved. So we should eliminate these desires through mental cultivation so that we can overcome these sufferings and become enlightened.
For Mental cultivation the Buddhists follow the 8-fold Path, Which is a sacred path with eight principles. They are called right views of understanding, right aspirations, right speech, right conduct or action, right livelihood, right effort or endeavor, right mind control or concentration, and right mindfulness. These eight principles are not in succession or isolation from one another. They are different aspects of the way of life. By following the 8 principles Buddhists aim to attain “nirvana” which is a realm beyond the limits of mind, thoughts, feelings, desires and the will. It is a state of ecstasy.
After Buddhism was introduced to china, it spread very quickly in the successive dynasties. It reached its peak during the Tang Dynasty. So many Buddhist temples were built, Buddha’s images were carved and many sutras were translated. There were many schools of Buddhism in China such as Tiantai sect, Sanlun sect, Huayan sect, Chan (Zen) sect, Jingtu sect, Mi sect, Lu sect and Faxiang sect. These different sects belong to the Mahayana. Among them Chan sect became most powerful and influential because its meditative techniques are quite close to Chinese thought. Buddhism is still popular among Chinese people. There are around 75 million Buddhists in China.
Islam
Islam was derived from the world "salaam" which means “peace which comes by surrendering to God”. It was founded by Arab prophet, Mohammed. Islam believed there was only one God, Allah. Islam was introduced into China via the Silk Road in the 7th century by Arabian envoys. Islam was later spread by merchants and craftsmen via Silk Road. Many Persians migrated to China and they married Chinese. Their descendants preserved the faith of Islam. During the Yuan Dynasty, many Mosques and Islam learning centers were constructed.
Chinese Moslems lived mostly in the area of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Regions, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in China. There are around 20 million Muslims in China.
Christianity
Some consider the first entry of Christianity into China was the introduction of Nestorianism spread by Middle-Eastern travelers who came to China in AD635, as documented by the Nestorian stone in Xi’an. In 1582 Jesuits once again initiated mission work in China, introducing Western science, mathematics, and astronomy. One of these missionaries was Matteo Ricci.
During the 1840s, Western missionaries spread Christianity rapidly through the coastal cities that were open to foreign trade. Missionaries in China established schools, hospitals, orphanages, and as well as churches. Quite a lot of people follow Christianity.
After the P.R.C was founded, the Three-self Patriotic Movement, China Christian Council and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association were founded. Christianity in China was not controlled by foreigners. Chinese Christianity disavowed the Pope and became independent. There 16 millions Christians and Catholics in China.
Chinese Religion Policy
Self-government, self-foster and self-spread are basic policies of the government for managing religious affairs in China. Everybody in china has the freedom to choose his own religion. Religious activities should not break Chinese constitutions and laws. Foreign force can not interfere with Chinese religious affairs. Due to these favorable policies, Chinese religions are flourishing. Different religious groups can get along on with each other harmoniously.
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