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Religions & Beliefs

China is a country with a great diversity of religions, with over 100 million followers of the various faiths. The main religions Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, although it is true to say that Confucianism is a school of philosophy rather than a religion.

Generally speaking, Chinese people do not have a strong religious inclination but despite this the three main faiths have had a considerable following. 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.

Buddhism was introduced to China from India approximately in the 1st century AD, becoming increasingly popular and the most influential religion in China after the 4th century. Tibetan Buddhism, as a branch of Chinese Buddhism, is popular primarily in Tibet and Inner Mongolia. Now China has more than 13,000 Buddhist temples.

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. A visible human being is considered far more reliable than invisible gods or spirits.

China's indigenous Taoism, along with Shamanism, Eastern Orthodox hristianity and the Naxi people's Dongba religion. The Hui, Uygur, Kazak, Kirgiz, Tatar, Ozbek, Tajik, Dongxiang, Salar and Bonan peoples adhere to Islam; the Tibetan, Mongolian, Lhoba, Moinba, Tu and Yugur peoples, to Tibetan Buddhism (also known as Lamaism); and the Dai, Blang and Deang peoples to Theravada Buddhism. Quite a few Miao, Yao and Yi people are Christians. Religious Han Chinese tend to practice Buddhism, Christianity or Taoism.

Islam probably first reached China in the mid-7th century. The Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) witnessed the zenith of prosperity of Islam. Now China has more than 30,000 mosques. Catholic influence reached China several times after the seventh century, and Protestantism was introduced into China in the early 19th century. Now there are more than 4,600 Catholic churches and over 12,000 Protestant churches and over 25,000 other types of protestant places of worship in China.

Taoism probably took shape as a religion during the second century, based on the philosophy of Lao Zi (traditionally said to be born in 604 BC) and his work, the Dao De Jing (Classic of the Way and Virtue). China now has more than 1,500 Taoist temples.

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