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Religions in China
2004/10/27
China is a country with many religions. Buddhism, Taoism and Islam are quite popular, while there are also Christian believers (both Catholic and Protestant).

Chinese citizens have freedom of religious belief. The State protects normal religious activities and the legitimate rights and interests of the religious circles. The Constitution, Criminal Law, Civil Law, Electoral Law, Military Service Law, Compulsory Education Law, Labor Law, the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy and the General Principles of the Civil Law all provide explicit and detailed stipulations on the protection of freedom of religious belief and the equal rights of believers. No State organs, public organizations and individuals 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.

National religious bodies include the Buddhist Association of China, China Taoist Association, Islamic Association of China, Patriotic Association of the Catholic Church in China, Chinese Catholic Bishops College, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee of the Protestant Churches of China and the China Christian Council. All the religious bodies elect leaders and leading bodies according to their own articles of association.

In addition to the aforementioned national religious bodies, there are more than 3,000 religious bodies at the provincial and county levels. All the religious bodies and believers independently organize religious activities and conduct religious services under the protection of the Constitution and the law. Currently, there are 74 religious schools in China, such as the Chinese Institute of Buddhist Studies, the Institute of Islamic Theology, the Chinese Institute of Taoist Studies, Jinling Union Theological Seminary in Nanjing and Chinese Catholic Seminary. There are more than 10 religious publications, 85,000 venues for religious activities, 100 million religious believers and 300,000 professional religious personnel.

Buddhism has a history of 2,000 years in China. Now there are more than 13,000 Buddhist temples with about 200,000 monks and nuns. Of them, about 7 million are people of different ethnic groups who believe in Tibetan Buddhism, including 120,000 lamas and nuns and 1,700 Living Buddhas in more than 3,000 monasteries.

Taoism originated from China and has a history of more than 1,700 years. Currently there are more than 1,500 Taoist temples, with over 25,000 Taoist priests and nuns.

Islam was introduced to China in the seventh century. Now 10 ethnic minorities believe in Islam, including the Hui and Uygur people, totaling 18 million. There are more than 30,000 mosques and more than 40,000 imams and akhunds (teachers).

Catholicism began to enter into China in the seventh century and got popular after the First Opium War (1840-42). Chinese Catholics now have 115 dioceses, 70 bishops, more than 1,100 priests, 1,200 nuns, 4 million followers and 4,000 clerics. There are close to 5,000 churches open to the public throughout the country, together with 36 monasteries with more than 1,900 friars. Since 1981, consecration was held for more than 900 priests. There are also 50-plus convents in the country, and more than 1,000 nuns have expressed their preliminary desire to serve God. The Chinese Catholic Church has its own publishing houses, which have printed more than 3 million copies of The Bible and other church publications. The Chinese Catholic Bishops College and the Patriotic Association of Catholic Church in China jointly publish a magazine entitled Chinese Catholicism.

Protestantism was introduced to China in the early 19th century, especially after the Opium War. Currently, there are about 15 million Protestants, and 18,000 pastors and other staff. They have 12,000 churches and 25,000 sites for religious activities.

Chinese citizens are not only entitled to the right to freedom of religious belief but also must perform duties prescribed by the Constitution and the law. The Constitution of the PRC explicitly stipulates: "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." For those who make use of religion to engage in illegal activities, the Chinese Government will punish them according to law, regardless of whether they are religious believers or not. Religious believers who have violated law will be penalized according to law like any other citizens who have violated the law.

In the big multi-ethnic family of China, many ethnic minorities have their religions. Some ethnic minorities collectively believe in a certain religion. For instance, the Tibetans believe in Tibetan Buddhism. In accordance with the stipulation in the Constitution on citizens’ freedom of religious belief, the Chinese Government made specific policies to respect and protect the freedom of religious belief of ethnic minorities and safeguard all normal religious activities of ethnic minority citizens. In China, all their normal religious activities are under the protection of law.

Tibet is the origin of Tibetan Buddhism, which has a history of over 1,300 years. Tibetan Buddhism has exerted profound influence on the social life of Tibetan and some other ethnic minorities. In Tibet, the freedom of religious belief is under the protection of the Constitution and the law. The government treats all religions, all religious sects and all people, whether they are religious believers or not, without discrimination. All of them are respected and protected as equals. Tax reduction/exemption policies have been adopted for the cultivated land and pastureland of patriotic religious bodies as well as their economic entities operated for the purpose of self-support.

Since 1980, the Central Government has allocated more than 300 million yuan of special funds to Tibet for the maintenance and renovation of well-known monasteries. With a completely new look, renovated monasteries have attracted an unprecedented number of believers as well as tourists from home and abroad. Incomplete statistics show that the number of believers and tourists going to Jokhang Monastery for worship and sightseeing exceeds 1 million a year.

Currently, there are more than 1,700 sites for Buddhist activities in Tibet, with more than 46,000 monks and nuns, accounting for 2 percent of the region's population. Almost all believers have a small tabernacle or a niche for the statue of Buddha in their home.

The State has also allocated special funds to support Buddhist circles in compiling and publishing important Tibetan Buddhist classics such as the Tripitaka. To meet the needs of believers for cultivation, more than 1,490 copies of bKa'-'gyur (Tibetan canonical collection of Buddhist scriptures) have been printed over the past decade. In addition, separate editions of many other religious books have also been printed.

To cultivate religious personnel, the Buddhist Association of China Tibetan Chapter has founded the Tibet Buddhist Theological Institute in Lhasa. The first recruits exceeded 200, who became backbone forces in passing Buddhist knowledge and monastery administration. In addition, monasteries of different sects with conditions have provided scripture study courses, with students amounting to 3,276. They have also recommended and sent more than 50 Living Buddhas and dGe-bshes (Buddhist equivalent doctor of divinity) to the Senior Tibetan Buddhist College of China in Beijing.

The government has attached great importance to the unique incarnation system of Living Buddha in Tibetan Buddhism. In recent years, the seeking, affirmation and enthronement of the 11th Bainqen Lama of the Gelug Sect have been completed satisfactorily.

The government respects the religious customs and festivals of all ethnic groups. Some influential religious festivals, such as the annual Shoton Festival (Sour Milk Drinking Festival) in Lhasa, have been resumed.

The CPC and government respect and protect the religious belief and ethnic customs of Muslims. There are nine institutes of Islamic theology throughout the country. Since the 1980s, more than 40,000 Chinese Muslims have been to Mecca on a pilgrimage. In Xinjiang, there are approximately 23,000 mosques with 29,000 clerics, meeting the needs of believers.

Chinese religions stick to the principles of independence and self-governance. They oppose any foreign country from interfering in the internal affairs of Chinese religions and any overseas forces from infiltrating into China by means of religion. Meanwhile, they actively conduct friendly exchanges with foreign religious bodies and religious personnel and participate in activities of the international religious circles. China's religious bodies have established friendly ties with religious organizations and personnel in more than 70 countries and regions. By participating in many important activities of international organizations such as the United Nations, they have played an important role in safeguarding world peace and enhancing friendship between Chinese people and people in other countries.

On May 1, 2001, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its so-called annual report. In the part dealing with China, the report wantonly attacks China's religious policy and the Chinese Government's ban of the Falun Gong cult according to law. Personages of China's religious circles expressed strong protests against the attacks. They include Fu Tieshan, Chairman of the Patriotic Association of the Catholic Church in China and Vice Chairman of the Chinese Catholic Bishops College, Chen Guangyuan, President of the Islamic Association of China, Dao Shuren, Vice President of the Buddhist Association of China, Zhang Jiyu, Vice President of China Taoist Association, Yu Xinli, Deputy Director-General of China Christian Council, and Living Buddha Qoggyi at the Senior Tibetan Buddhist College of China. They stated that the Chinese religious circles are puzzled and indignant at the practice of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. China allows no wanton interference in its internal affairs and no willful vilification of its freedom of religious belief.

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