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Religions and Beliefs


China is a nation where numerous religions are practiced. These beliefs include Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Christianity. Chinese citizens can freely choose and express their own beliefs, and make clear their religious affiliations.

Generally speaking, Chinese people do not have a strong religious inclination. Religion in China has often been a matter not of which, but of how many. No religion has ever assumed a dominant position in China. The major belief systems in China include traditional Chinese religion, Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism.

While the Han Nationality has never had a religion that is shared by all of the members of the nationality, while many of the ethnic minorities have a religion that all of the people of the minority group believe in. In addition, religions from other parts of the world have influenced China. Foreign religions, influenced and assimilated by time-honored Chinese Culture and tradition have gradually become religions with Chinese characteristic.

There is no central authority and consistent beliefs in China. The fact that Confucianism is a philosophy rather than religion meant that it became the orthodox doctrine for Chinese intellectuals in the days of the feudalist society. However, these intellectuals did not stick to their doctrine as a believer clings to his belief. Someone summarized the true attitude of Chinese intellectuals as - they followed the teachings of Confucius and Mencius when they were successful but would turn to Taoism when they were frustrated. Many people say they are Buddhists yet have never read the sutras. Most people will say they believe in gods, destiny, fate, luck and an afterlife. Even so, on most occasions, rather than rely on prayer, people will make decisions all by themselves or resort to either family or friends for help.

Ancestral Worship
The largest part of traditional Chinese religious practice is ancestor worship. Families in traditional China had shrines to ancestors and presented sacrifices and offerings on prescribed days. They believed that their ancestors had the power to affect the human world, so they offered prized foods and paper money to appease their ancestors' spirits. Today, these rituals echo in Chinese society. Much stronger in the rural areas, where modernization has had the least effect, traditional Chinese beliefs and practices still influence customs.

Confucianism is another major belief system in China that has at taken on characteristics of both a religion and a philosophy. Founded by Confucius during the Warring States Period, Confucianism became the state philosophy of Imperial China in the Han Dynasty, and was the basis of the education system in China until the twentieth century. Confucianism promoted social stability, hierarchies, and the power of the family. Its complicated texts defined Chinese relationships for millennia, a sort of manual for a virtue-based, traditional Chinese society. One virtue that is still particularly striking in Chinese society today is that of filial piety. The Confucian ideal instilled in children an overwhelming respect, love and sense of debt owed to parents. Today, many children still send money to their parents, invite their parents to live in their homes as they grow older, and, in general, carry a deep respect for older people.

Another Chinese tradition that has served as both a philosophy and religion is Taoism, which emerged during the Warring States Period and recognizes Laozi, a contemporary of Confucius, as its founder. In Chinese, the character Tao () literally means "the way" or "the path," and Taoist beliefs are based on continuous energies in the universe that, when in balance, lead to peace and happiness. The most well known visual representation of this is the black and white, circular yin yang symbol. Traditional Taoist practices are based on meditation and contemplation, and the influences of Taoism can be seen in other aspects of Chinese culture. Cooking, literature, art, martial arts, and medicine are a few examples.

Buddhism is another religion that has been influential in China. First entering China in the first century AD via the Silk Road from Central Asia and India, it struggled to grow until after the fall of the Han Dynasty, when social upheaval in northern China broke down established Confucian and Taoist hierarchies. Buddhism was flexible enough to incorporate traditional Chinese practices into the doctrine, but also identified its main goal as ending the suffering of a cyclic existence. Buddhism offered an individual spirituality not found in Confucianism or Taoism through the institution of the temple and monks, who were regarded as worldly examples of holy men. 

Another sect of Buddhism developed in Tibet that has had important implications for modern history and politics. Tibetan Buddhism incorporated many local religious practices into its doctrines, including Tantric practices and some black magic, and also drew from Indian Buddhist and yogic practices. There are several schools of Tibetan Buddhism, one of which is headed by the Dalai Lama, a figure who has served as the religious and political leader of Tibet for the last 400 years and is believed to be an incarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.


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