OE CULTURE: RELIGION IN CHINA
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SECTION II. INTRODUCTION
Method of Instruction: Conference / Discussion
Instructor to Student Ratio is:
Time of Instruction: 0 hrs
Motivator The Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party clearly states that all party
members should be atheist. This makes the PRC also officially atheist though
citizens’ freedom of religion is an article in the country’s constitution. The Chinese
government claims to protect people’s right to choose and practice their own
religions. At the same time, a religion will not be recognized or permitted unless it
is registered at the government. Despite the government’s strong hand on
controlling religious activities, the number of adherents to some sort of believe
system increases continuously. According to a recently released government-
sponsored survey in China, there are as many as 300 million Chinese people are
religious. This is much higher than the long-standing official number of 100 million.
Researchers believe that along with the increasing quality of the Chinese people’s
material life, they are willing and able to seek more spirituality. The paradox
between official atheism and people’s belief in higher powers permeates all aspect
of religion in China. Many international observers agree that although there is still a
long way to go before achieving fully religious freedom, China has made significant
progress towards this direction since the Cultural Revolution. The Chinese people
are allowed to practice their religions quite freely under the condition that the
government does not detect any threat to its status from them. The underlined
implication is that ―if you do not touch politics, you are almost free.‖
The following block of instruction is to provide students with the basic
understanding of the Chinese government’s attitude towards religions, major
religions practiced in the country and how they affect people’s life, and other belief
systems such as ancestor worship, etc.
Terminal NOTE: Inform the students of the following Terminal Learning Objective requirements.
Objective At the completion of this lesson, you [the student] will:
Action: Identify all relevant cultural aspects of China
Conditions: With handouts
Standards: Complete written evaluation with 100% accuracy
Risk Low - Low - Low
Environmental NOTE: It is the responsibility of all Soldiers and DA civilians to protect the environment from
NOTE: It is the responsibility of all Soldiers and DA civilians to protect the
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Evaluation Student checks on learning, written evaluation
Lead-In The agenda of this presentation includes a brief introduction and the following: the
five major religions, which include Han Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Taoism,
Islam in China, and Christianity in China. We also discuss folk religions,
superstitions, and other religions. We will discuss these religions and its impact on
the culture. We will also discuss the impact these religions have the the
government of China. Then the lecture will be concluded with a summary and a
SECTION III. PRESENTATION
1. Learning Step / Activity 1. Identify the major religions and other belief systems in China
Method of Instruction: Conference / Discussion
Instructor to Student Ratio: 1:30
Time of Instruction: 4 hrs
Slide 5: Overview
Although a communist party member is supposed to be an atheist, the majority of the
Han people believe in deities and the existence of higher powers of some sort.
Freedom of religion in China’s Constitution
Officially, citizens’ religious freedom and rights are protected by the constitution and
laws. According to PRC’s Constitution, freedom of choosing ones religion is a
citizen’s basic right. No government departments, social organizations or
individuals can force a citizen to believe or not to believe a religion. Neither can
they discriminate against an individual because of his religion orientation.
Therefore, the nation protects normal religious activities. However, using religion
to destroy social order, harm other citizens or obstruct national education is not
Tensions between government and religious communities
Currently, although the numbers of religious schools and believers are exploding,
tensions exist between the Chinese government, which is concerned about
maintaining social stability and economic development, and unregistered
Catholics, Tibetan Buddhists, and Uighur Muslims. For religious organizations to
function legally, they must register with the five patriotic associations to be
monitored and closely supervised. Unregistered organizations have experienced
problems such as arrest, detention, imprisonment, irregular trials and ―re-
education through labor.‖ Catholicism: Regarding Catholicism, the Chinese
government, through the Bureau of Religious Affairs continues to select their own
bishops, disregarding the authority of the Pope. This has caused underground
and house churches to form that are not officially registered, who maintain
allegiance to the Pope. In 1999, Pope John Paul II was refused a visit to Hong
Kong. In October, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI invited four Chinese Bishops, two
recognized by the government and two underground, to the Synod on the
Eucharist. Beijing denied the four bishops permission to attend. In 2007, Pope
Benedict XVI issued a ―Letter to Chinese Catholics‖ stating his willingness ―to
engage in respectful and constructive dialogue‖ but ultimately the one who has
the final authority to appoint bishops. Tibetan Buddhism: In 2007, the
government issued the preposterous ―Order Number 5‖, which push the conflicts
between the government and the Tibetan community to a peak. ―Order Number
5‖ states that all future Tibetan Buddhist reincarnated (return from the dead)
Buddhas (Huo Fo) must receive governmental approval. The Dalai Lama, the
best-known spiritual leader of Tibet, has been in exile in northern India since the
50s. Although he always expresses his pursuit for autonomy instead of
independence of the Great Tibetan region (all Tibetan habitats, including present-
time Tibet, part of Sichuan province, party of Gansu Province, part of Yunan
province, and part of Xinjiang AR), the Chinese government believes that he and
his followers want independence and are engaging in ―splittest‖ activities. Since
2002, the Tibetan government in exile in India, (which was established after the
Chinese government gained control of Tibet in 1950s) and the Chinese
government have engaged in six rounds of meetings with little progress due to
fundamental differences. The Tibetan riots in March 2008 and the protests during
the Olympic Torch Relay in different countries have brought this issue into
people’s attention even more. Uighur Muslims: Some Uighur Muslims state that
they have faced various levels of restrictions on their religious practice in the
Uighur Autonomous Region or Xinjiang province. Religious leaders, or imams,
are required to attend political training every year to retain their licenses and
religious texts and sermons are censored. In 2005, Uighur activist Rebiya
Kadeer was released from prison after a five and a half year sentence. Rebiya
Kadeer created a trading company in northwestern China and have been very
open about her criticism of the human rights issue in the Uigure area in China.
The Chinese government believes that she is involved in the Eastern Turkestan
Islamic Movement (ETIM) by rallying and providing financial support to the
Movement. This movement is a Uighur organization that advocates the creation
of an independent, Islamic state of Eastern Turkestan in the Xinjiang province. It
is considered a terrorist organization by the governments of China, Kazakhstan,
the United States, and the United Nations. Though Kadeer denied the accusation,
the meeting between her and President George W. Bush in 2007 was blasted by
the Chinese government. Falun Gong: In 1992, Li Hongzhi introduced Falun
Gong to China. Falun Gong means ―Practice of the Wheel of Law.‖ It is a kind of
qigong practice, incorporating aspects of Buddhism and Taoism and five sets of
meditation exercises. Its influence quickly spread many areas in China due to the
charisma of Li Hongzhi. Many people became loyal followers of Li, which raised a
red flag to the government. In 1998, they claimed from 70 to 100 million
practitioners. In 1999, at the Chinese Communist Party headquarters, 10,000
practitioners staged a silent protest requesting legal recognition and protection of
their practice. This was followed by the government banning and cracking down
on Falun Gong members. According to the government, Falun Gong was a
political group opposed to the communist party and central government, not
legally registered, supported superstitious beliefs, created disturbances and
endangered social stability. Nowadays there is hardly any evidence that the
organization still operates in China. Many members operate branches, produce
publications, hold regular meetings, and occasionally carry out protest in front of
the PRC diplomatic installations overseas.
Confucianism is a way of life, not a religion
For at least two thousand years, China was officially influenced by Confucian
philosophy, both in government affairs and in the people’s everyday life.
Confucianism is sometimes misunderstood as a religion, instead of a philosophy
or way of life. During the Han Dynasty, and several hundred years after
Confucius’ death, his ideas were officially adopted as state policies. Before the
1st century BCE, Confucian values were the foundation of the family, and
knowledge of the Confucian classics was required to pass the exams which led to
good government jobs. Between the 1st century BCE and when the imperial
system was dissolved in 1912 CE, Confucian philosophy was the foundation of
the Chinese state. Though Confucianism was discredited throughout most of the
20th century, especially during the Cultural Revolution, Chiang Kai Chek briefly
revived it in the 1930’s and in Taiwan after 1949. Confucianism enjoyed a major
resurgence during the 1980’s and 1990’s as the primary reason for East Asia’s
economic revival and success. Today, the Chinese government supports
Confucian values as the key to social stability, continued economic growth and
maximizing its role in international relations and globalization.
The ―largest soul market‖ in the world
Along with the rapid economy development in the last two decades, the once firm
Communism ideology is slowing collapsing or at least being put to the sidewalk.
The line between Communism, Socialism, and the ―evil‖ Capitalism has been
increasingly blurry. In China, this phenomenon has created an ideological void
among the mass. Many people are desperate to find something to believe in and
many others finally have spare time and energy to ponder upon spiritual needs
without worrying about food or warmth. Observers have noticed that China is
turning into the ―largest soul market‖ in the world. Religion transformed from a
counter-revolutionary taboo into part of the quality life.
Former President of the PRC and Secretary General of the CCP, Jiang Zemin, visited
Mount. Tai, which is considered by many a holy mountain for Taoism and
Confucianism. Some Chinese people have frowned at Jiang’s involvement in
religious activities considering his position in the CCP. However, according to
Jiang, he is still an atheist and merely doing ―research‖ on religions. This is an
example of many CCP members’ ―flexibility‖ on issue of religion.
Slide 6: Five Major Religions
There are five religions that are recognized by the Chinese government. They are
Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism. There are also
some other religious communities, such as Judaism and Shamanism, that are not
officially admitted by the government. The chart on the slide illustrate the length of
history, number of adherents, and population share of each major religion. *Some
students might have noticed that the combined share of Buddhist and Taoist
populations exceed 100%. This is because these two religions have been interacting
and influencing each other for two thousand years and many believers nowadays
claim to be adherents to both. *
Buddhism is the largest organized faith in China. It was introduced to China from
India through Central Asia, some time during the 1st century BCE. Buddhism was
founded by the historical figure, the Buddha, which means ―the awakened one.‖ His
teachings are based on the Four Noble Truths and the eightfold path, which identifies
the causes of suffering and the way to eliminate suffering. The majority of Buddhists
in China follow Mahayana (see note to instructors).
The three different sects of Buddhism in China: Han Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism,
and Southern Buddhism. The first two sects are more influential in China and will be
discussion in more detail in the following slides.
Note to instructors:
The following information on the “three vehicles” of Buddhism is for your
reference only and not required for the student evaluation on this topic.
Theravada Buddhism: Meaning the “Lesser Vehicle” was founded in 250 BC in
Ceylon. Followed by monks and nuns, it focuses on the rules of morality and
the monastic life for oneself. It exists in southwest China, and the rest of
Southeast Asia including Laos, Burma and Vietnam.
Mahayana Buddhism: Meaning the “Greater Vehicle” the layperson seeks
release from suffering in order to save all people. It is found throughout China,
including India, Tibet, Japan, Korea, and Nepal.
Vajrayana Buddhism: Meaning “Diamond Vehicle”, it contains magical
practices, yoga and chanting sacred words. It was found throughout India,
China and Japan. But today it flourishes primarily in Tibet.
Taoism is one of the oldest, indigenous religions of China. Tao (or Dao in Mandarin),
meaning the way or path is the main theme contained in the ancient book of wisdom,
titled Tao Te Ching. Lao Tzu, is credited with authorship of the book. During the 2 nd
century CE, Lao Tzu received imperial recognition as a divinity and awarded official
status by the emperors in the Tang Dynasty. Many emperors during the Song
Dynasty published the books of the Taoist Canon and promoted Taoism. At the
beginning of the 20th century, the only complete copy of the Taoist Canon was at
White Cloud Monastery in Beijing. Today, Taoism is a popular resource for
environmental ethics, emphasizing the relationship between nature and humans.
Taoism may be found in China, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore.
Islam was introduced into China in the 7th century CE through trade by the Silk Road.
It is practiced predominantly by minority groups such as the Hui, the Uygurs,
Kazakhs, Uzbek, Tajik, and Dongxiang. The majority of Muslims reside in
northwestern China including the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and the Ningxia
Hui Autonomous Region. There are currently over 30,000 mosques in the country.
Muslims living in the Han areas are mostly Hui and they have a very similar life style
and appearance as their Han neighbors. The Uyghurs are culturally and linguistically
much different from the Han Chinese and speak Turkic languages. Also, there are
many Qingzhen (pure, clean) restaurants that serve food without pork throughout the
Although some form of Christianity existed in China since Tang Dynasty, the first
Jesuit missionaries entered China in the late 1500’s. In 1601, Matteo Ricci
established a permanent mission. Unlike the Protestants, Ricci appreciated Chinese
culture and could read and write classical Chinese. Understanding that Chinese
culture is heavily influenced by Confucian values, he believed that Christianity had to
adapt to it in order to be attractive to the Chinese people. He was the first Westerner
invited to the Forbidden City and the first to translate the Confucian classics into
In the early 19th century, Protestantism arrived in China. Missionaries were
interested in evangelicalism, not adapting to Chinese religion or culture. In 1807,
Robert Morrison of the London Missionary Society began work in Macau, translating
the Bible into Chinese. The Taiping Rebellion or Heavenly Kingdom, from 1850-1864,
was inspired by Protestantism and was a revolt against the government in China.
Their leader, Hung Hsiu-chuan, was a convert to Christianity and he claimed to be the
younger brother of Jesus Christ and wanted to replace Confucianism, Buddhism, and
Chinese Folk Religion with his own form of Christianity. Until the defeat of military
revolts, twenty to thirty million people died. It is considered one of the most tragic
conflicts in Chinese history. Nevertheless, during this time, Protestant Christians in
China created the first hospitals and modern schools, and distributed food to the poor.
They also opposed female foot binding and the opium trade.
The Sociological Quarterly 47 (2006) 93-122
Slide 7: Student Check
Q: Why is China officially an atheist state while the majority of the population is
A: Because the CCP runs the government and a CCP member is supposed to be
atheist based on the CCP constitution.
Slide 8: Han Buddhism
Introduced to China from India in 1st century CE
Although China has the largest population of adherents to Buddhism in the world,
Buddhism did not originate from China. It was introduced to China from India during
the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) and soon accepted by many people in the royal
families and aristocracy. According the oldest written records about the import of the
religion, the Han Emperor Ming sent emissaries to the country of Yuezhi to bring back
missionaries and sutras in Sanskrit which were translated into Chinese later on.
Because Buddhism was perceived to share much commonality with Taoism, the
domestic religion that was influential in the Chinese society by then, many Chinese
integrated this foreign belief system into their original religious practices. Despite
occasional opposition and destruction incidents, Buddhism were supported by the
ruling class much of the time throughout the imperial history of China. Buddhism has
been mingling with the Han culture since then and become a distinct version of the
Closely related to Confucianism and Taoism
During the Han Dynasty, and several hundred years after Confucius’ death, his ideas
were officially adopted as state policy. By the 1st century BCE, Confucian values had
become the foundation of the family and society, and knowledge of the Confucian
classics was required to pass the exams that led to good governmental positions in
late imperial periods. Lixue, or Neo-Confucianism, was a form of Confucianism
developed during the Song Dynasty and Ming Dynasty, and it embraced some basic
thoughts from Buddhism and Taoism. The integration of Confucian and Taoist
elements into Buddhist believes and practice transformed this foreign religion into a
natural part of the Chinese culture.
Mix of Zen, Pure Land, and other schools
After the introduction of Buddhism, there have been many different sects of Buddhist
thoughts developed in China. During the zenith of Han Buddhism, there were thirteen
various sects in the country. However, many of these sects became less popular later
on and some completely vanished by the end of the Tang Dynasty due to the lack of
scholarly interest. Among the surviving Chan, Pure Land (Jingtu), Tiantai, Huayan,
and Nanshan Lu five sects, Chan and Pureland, especially Chan, are the most
prosperous. Buddhism in the Han areas of the present-day China is a combination of
thoughts from different schools.
Chan, or Zen in Japan, means meditation. It is believed to be founded by
Bodhidharma from India. According to historic records, Bodhidharma travelled from
India to Guangzhou, a port city in southern China, in 520 CE. After an unfruitful
discussion with the Emperor Wu of Liang in present-day Nanjing, Bodhidharma
trekked to Shaoling Temple and waited until his successor emerged. Bodhidharma
believed that everybody had Buddha nature and anybody can become a real Buddha
through direct insight of his own experience. This Han Buddhist sect was formally
established by Huineng (638 CE – 713 CE), the sixth patriarch of Chan Buddhism
and also one of the most influential philosophers in Chinese history. It is believed that
his body is still preserved and worshipped in Huanan Temple in Guangdong, where
He dedicated 37 years to the teaching and promoting of Chan. Currently various
forms of Chan Buddhism are being practiced in China, Japan, Korea, Thailand,
Vietnam, and Western countries. It emphasizes meditation and logical thinking of
daily experience over reliance on religious texts.
Pure Land Buddhism was founded in China in 402 CE by a monk named Hui-yuan.
The Pure Land is a beautiful Buddhist paradise of bliss in contrast to the grimy land of
earth. Pure Land Buddhists hope and believe they will be reborn there, not because
of personal good deeds, but with the help from one of the Buddhas of the four
directions—east, west, north, and south. Practices include visualizing the Buddhist
paradise in one’s head or viewing a picture and reciting the name of Buddha
Amitabha’, either silently or out loud. The goal is to have the Buddha appear to one
in a vision and for the person to be able to foresee the time of their death.
The Buddhists in China believe in the existence of different deities whose statutes are
worshipped in Buddhist temples. Often with Chinese features, these statutes
represent the Chinese people’s imagination of their deities. For example, Guanyin
(Avalokiteshvara) Bodhisattva is worshipped by most Chinese Han Buddhists and the
statutes of a kind Asian female in an ancient Chinese white dress are normally used
as the representation of this Buddha. Buddhists in Han areas believe that the highest
accomplishment of Buddhist practice will be to become a Buddha and Buddhas are
everywhere such as Mi Le Fo (Maitreya in Sanskrit, i.e. Future Buddha) and E Mi Tuo
Fo (Amitabha in Sanskrit, i.e. Buddha of infinite merits) from the West Pure Land.
Left: Monks at Baima Temple are taking a political theory class.
Right: painting illustrating the story of the three masters--the Buddha, Confucius, and
LaoTzu—tasting a jar of vinegar together, symbolizing sharing wisdom together.
Slide 9: Han Buddhism
Doctrines: modesty, generosity, fidelity, altruism
The most basic doctrines for Han Buddhism are modesty, generosity, fidelity,
altruism. However, the interpretations of these doctrines vary among the mass.
Monastic way of life
When a Buddhist decides to become a monk or a nun, he or she will have to go
through an initiation ceremony in which he or she will be accepted as a student of the
religious mater in a temple. A new religious name, usually comprised of two syllables,
will be given by the mater to replace the new-comer’s original name. This ceremony
symbolizes the beginning of the person’s new life and he/she is required to leave
everything in his/her old life behind and not be disturbed by any issues from the old
social circle including the family. A new member of a Buddhist temple will have his
head shaved. Traditionally, the master from the temple will use a burn incense to
leave a number of oval burnt marks on the new monk’s scalp and the number of
marks represent the monk’s seniority. This practice has been discarded.
Most Buddhist monks and nuns follow a modest and simple life style. Their daily
dresses are long robes in grey or brown color though they will wear robes in bright
yellow and red during religious ceremonies or important events. They have a strict
regular schedule everyday according to which the practitioners normally start their
days before dawn by meditating or reciting religious scripts and end their days in early
evening. Vegetarianism is a requirement. Meat, fish, eggs, and strong-smelling
plants, such as garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, and chives, are all considered non-
vegetarian and restricted from temple diet.
Most Han Buddhist monks and nuns follow the Buddhist disciplines and ethic, which
include avoidance of harming living beings; taking things not freely given; sexual
misconduct; false speech; intoxication by drinks or drugs; use of garlands, perfumes,
and personal adornment; use of high seats or big beds; keeping of personal wealth;
taking untimely meals; and taking pleasure in dancing, singing, and music, etc. The
last percept has become lax in recent times. Nowadays many monks listen to the
radio, watch TV, and even use the internet. Typically there are 250 precepts for
monks and 348 for nuns and these may vary across different monasteries.
Traditionally, Han Buddhist temples were sponsored by lay people. Nowadays, some
temples grow their own crops, some live on governmental subsidies, and the others
receive income from admissions from tourists or donation from lay people.
Impact on people’s daily life
Buddhism has been impacting the Han people’s daily life for centuries. Its influence
can be seen even on people that are not adherents to Buddhism. One of the impacts
is daily language. Many words and phrases have root in a Buddhist origin. For
example, Chinese use the phrase ―to hold the Buddha’s foot at the last moment‖ to
imply making a last minute effort. Some other examples include:
―put down the slaughter knife and become a Buddha instantly‖→t is never too late to
stop any wrong-doing;
―if you do not want to honor the monk, at least honor the Buddha‖→o do someone a
favor or forgive someone for the sake of a third person;
―contribute someone else’s flowers to the Buddha‖ →o use things from someone else
to do a favor;
―Buddha jumping over the wall‖ →ame of a traditional Chinese dish made with
precious ingredients such as shark fin, scallops, sea cucumbers, abalones, etc. It is
believed to be extremely delicious that even a Buddha has to jump over the wall to
Many Buddhist holidays are not only celebrated in the temples but also by ordinary
citizens at home. Some of these holidays are the Birthday of Gautama Buddha on
April 8 (Agricultural Calendar), Ullabana, Zhongyuan or Ghost Holiday called by many
people on July 15 (Agricultural Calendar), and the Birthday of Guanyin
(Avalokiteshvara) Bodhisattva on February 19 (Agricultural Calendar). On these
holidays, people will go to the Buddhist or Taoist temples to worship or perform some
rituals at home by providing sacrifices to statues of the Buddha, wishing for blessings
from the deities.
Theoretically, observing vegetarianism is not required in Buddhism, unless the
Buddhist has seen, heard, or known that animals were specifically killed to feed him.
Many people in the lay communities follow this rule by observing vegetarianism or
consuming only San Jing Rou (three clean meat). Some people practice
vegetarianism once per week or month, or on special occasions such as religious
holidays. There are Buddhist vegetarian restaurants in many cities around China.
Chefs at these restaurants are normally very creative in imitating meat using prepared
wheat gluten, tofu, fungi, and other plant products with meat-like seasonings.
Lay people’s precepts (wu jie):
Most lay people follow at least the basic Buddhist ethic, the five precepts (Wu Jie),
which are avoidance of killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, or intoxicants.
However, people hold different interpretations or applications towards these precepts.
For example, some Buddhists believe that homosexuality is a violation of the precept
of non sexual misconduct, while others consider it as acceptable as long as it is
sincere, consensual, and not breaking any vows.
Slide 10: Tibetan Buddhism
Primarily in Tibet and Inner Mongolia
Buddhism was introduced to Tibet through imperial marriage in the Tang Dynasty. In
the mid 7th century, the first Tibetan King, Songtsan Gampo, married the Nepalese
Princess Bhrikuti Devi, and the Chinese Princess Wencheng, both devout Buddhists.
Under their influence, Songtsan Gampo converted to Buddhism and built many
Buddhist temples including the famous Jokhang Temple and Ramoche Temple in
The version of Buddhism currently prevails in Tibet was founded in the 8th century by
the Precious Guru or Guru Rinpoche, under the protection of King Trisong Detsen.
Also called Lamaism, Esoteric Buddhism and Vajrayana, it is practiced in Tibet; the
Tibetan areas in Sichuan Province, Yunnan Province, Gansu Province, and Qinghai
Province; the neighboring Himalayan regions of Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal, northern India
and Kashmir; Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region; Manchurian areas in northeast
China; and Mongolia. Tibetan Buddhists, like those of other Buddhist schools, believe
in taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma (religious principles), and Sangha (monks),
but also take refuge in lamas or religious masters. Though based on Mahayana,
Tibetan Buddhism incorporates aspects of Vajrayana not practiced in Theravada.
Elements of earlier Tibetan faiths
Buddhism was introduced to Tibet from northern China and India. Tibetan Buddhism
was developed from the struggle between this foreign religion and the indigenous
faiths, especially Bön. Bön is a complex combination of ingredients from animism,
Shamanism, Hinduism, mysticism, magic, and folk religions. Although Buddhism
proved to surpass Bön and other indigenous faiths and become the dominant belief
system in Tibet, it has also incorporated many elements from them such as some
rituals and practices.
Four major schools
In the 11th century, different schools and sub-schools of Tibetan Buddhism started to
take shape. These different schools were formed according to either internal factors
like founders, teachers, choices of groundwork, and understanding of religious texts,
or external factors like geography or circles of patrons. This evolution did not stop
until the emergence of Gelugpa school in the 15th century.
Currently most of the Tibetan Buddhist schools are either extinct or becoming extinct.
There are four major schools that survived and are still influential. These four major
schools are Nyingma(pa), Sakya(pa), Kagyu(pa), and Gelug(pa), which are also
called by many Chinese the red school, the multi-color school, the white school, and
the yellow school respectively, due to the main colors of the monks’ dress or temple
walls. Among them, Gelug(pa) is the youngest and the most well-known school. Both
the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama are religious and political leaders from this
Reincarnation of living Bodhisattvas
Reincarnation of Bodhisattvas is one of the most important and distinct aspect of
Tibetan Buddhism. It originated from the 12th century and is exercised by all schools.
In 1193 CE, the founder of Karma Kagyu School, Düsum Khyenpa, stated to his
followers shortly before his death that he would reincarnate, and left instruction for the
search and recognition. This event laid the foundation of the later reincarnation
system for Tibetan Buddhism. This practice was widely adopted by all schools and
sub-schools. The current estimate for ―living Bodhisattvas‖ in Tibet is as high as
10,000. The most famous among them is the Dalai Lama, who is the 14th
reincarnation of Chenresig (Sanskrit: Avalokiteshvara), the Bodhisattva of
Role of Lamas
Lama is the Tibetan word for ―teacher‖. It is normally used on people that are senior
and knowledgeable of religious wisdom. A lama can be either male or female. The
fact that Tibetan Buddhism is sometimes called ―Lamaism‖ indicates the significance
of lamas in the Tibetan community.
To become a lama, an individual should first join a monastery as an apprentice. The
apprenticeship will normally last for 6 to 10 years during which the individual studies
Tibetan script and classic religious texts under the teaching of the senior lamas and
also take care of housework in the monastery. After passing the lama entry exam, the
individual will end his apprenticeship and become a lama himself. There exists a very
clear and strict system for different levels of lama. These levels are almost equivalent
to the various post-graduate degrees. A lama can reach higher level by taking exams
progressively. It takes decades and considerable amount of wealth to gain the
required knowledge for higher levels. Therefore, lamas in higher positions are greatly
respected by the Tibetans.
Tibetan lamas are believed to have Bodhisattva wisdom, kindness, and strength, so
they enjoy prominent social status. The lay people provide lamas with mental and
financial support in order to reach their own salvation. So most lamas in Tibet live an
affluent life. Fewer lamas are believed to be the reincarnations of the late exceptional
lamas and thus enjoy even greater respect and more contribution from their followers.
The range of a lama’s regular duties span from praying, worshipping, and reciting
scripture, to teaching and guiding followers. The more prominent lamas have
authority over politics. Currently the two most powerful Tibetan lamas are the Dalai
Lama (the 14th reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara) and the Panchen Lama ( the 11th
reincarnation of Amitabha Buddha), who once were the heads of the Tibetan
government under the Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China.
Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace, Lhasa
Tibetan Buddhist monks
Tibetan woman turning prayer wheels:
Slide 11: Tibetan Buddhism
Rituals & Initiations
In practice, Tibetan Buddhism is different from other Buddhist schools because it
combines monastic practices with magical practices such as highly detailed rituals,
meditation, yoga, chanting, special ritual gestures and contemplation of sacred
The Tibetans enjoy various festivals such as the Shoton Festival starting on the 30 th
day of the 6th month according to Tibetan calendar (usu. later half of August) when
people appreciate Tibetan operas and Buddha paintings while tasting sour milk, and
the Sager Dawa Festival around the 15th day of April according to Tibetan calendar
to celebrate Sakyamuni’s birth, death, and becoming Buddha. Tibetan Buddhist rites
and ceremonies often involve loud chanting, music played with traditional
instruments, striking decorations, and bright-colored outfits.
Pilgrimage is considered by religious Tibetans a sacred duty. Pilgrimage sites include
the Potala Palace in Lhasa, other Buddhist temples, and sacred mountains. On roads
leading to Lhasa, many Tibetans are performing their duty in their distinct way. They
will get down every three steps with their whole body and forehead touching the
ground to show their respect and faith of the higher power, wishing for salvation in
their next life. Though in modern times, many people use automobiles to travel to
pilgrimage sites, the more orthodoxy practicers still fulfill their religious obligation in
the most traditional way, taking months or even years on the road with limited budget.
Sympathetic tourists’ offers of ride are mostly rejected.
Traditionally, there are five methods of burying the death—tower burial, fire burial, sky
burial (corpse eaten by vultures), water burial (corpse eaten by fish), and soil burial—
corresponding to descending degree of respect and social status of the death.
Funerals are normally carried out with complex ceremonies performed by Buddhist
monks. The Tibetans believe that an individual’s soul will not die with his body but
rather be reborn after pass a state after death, the Bardo. Funerals will guide the
transformation of the soul and prepare it for rebirth.
• Do not sit in a higher seat than the senior religious practitioners do while
meeting with them;
• Accept Ha Da (a long cloth often in white offered by the local Tibetans a gift of
respect, friendship, and welcome) with both hands and put it around the neck;
• Do not show bottom of feet to religious masters, sacred structures, or holy
• Do not step on a religious master’s shadow, garments, or ritual implements.
A Tibetan Buddhist temple will be brightly painted in dark red combined with other
bright colors and Tibetan Buddhist symbols. A Tibetan Buddhist Monk will wear dark
red or maroon colored robes, sometimes with a different colored sash to illustrate
rank. The main symbol is the Buddhist eight spooked dharma wheel, which
represents the Noble Eightfold Path of ethics to destroy suffering.
Slide 12: Taoism
The only indigenous among five major religions
Among the five major religions in China—Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism,
and Roman Catholicism, Taoism is the only religion originated in China though it is
probably the least familiar to many Westerners. It emerged in this ancient oriental
kingdom and became influential before any other religion was introduced to China.
The fact that Buddhism, especially Han Buddhism, was widely accepted when it first
entered the country and has become the dominant belief system in China later on,
greatly attributes to its incorporation and embracement of the prevailing Taoist
The founding of Taoism is normally credited to Lao Tzu (or Lao Zi in Pin Yin), who
lived in the present-day Henan Province during the 6th century BCE. He worked in
the court of the emperor as an astrologer, performing divination and readings. It is
believed that he wrote the first and one of the most important Taoist scriptures, the
Tao Te Ching (or Dao De Jing in Chinese). In the last few centuries, Tao Te Ching
has been translated into up to 17 different European languages and almost 500
different versions. It is the second most translated work in the world, after the Bible.
Note to instructors:
The following information is not required for the TLO of this lesson but solely
as a reference for additional questions from interested students.
The other important texts of Taoism are the Zhuangzi and the Taoist Canon.
Tao Te Ching means the “Classic Way of Power” and it is a short text,
containing poems that describe how to attain the Tao and how it is expressed
in life. The “Zhuangzi”, written by Chuang Tzu, around the 4 th Century BCE,
states that all knowledge is limited by our personal perspectives, which
prevents us from fully understanding the Tao. Chuang Tzu was an official who
liked the writings of Lao Tzu, which he illustrated through metaphorical stories.
He used great humor and knowledge to the point that no scholars of his day
could defeat him. The Taoist Canon, called the Treasury of Tao includes 1500
texts and is divided in to three sections; The “Truth”, “Mystery” and “Divine”
Together with Confucianism established foundation for traditional Chinese ethics
Taoism is not only a religion but also a set of philosophical ideas and traditions. Tao,
or Dao in Chinese, means ―path‖ or ―way‖. Tao is the energy underlying the natural
and the flow of the universe, which keeps it balanced and harmonious. It is also
translated as ―do‖ or ―to‖ in Korean and Japan such as in Judo, Taekwondo, and
Shinto. Thus Taoism can be understood as the religion of the way in basic terms. The
more practical representation of the somehow abstract Tao is Te, or De, meaning
virtue and morality. This is also accentuated in Confucianism. It is believed by some
scholars that Tao Te Ching was inspired by dialogues between Lao Tzu and
Confucius. Though skeptical of the Confucian hierarchical society, Taoism places
great emphasis on values and ethics as Confucianism does. These two philosophical
systems went hand-in-hand and established the foundation for the traditional Chinese
ethics which was utilized by the ruling class in various periods of the Chinese imperial
Unity of human and nature was first developed by Chuang Tzu. This concept was
also illustrated in Yi-Ching. Taoist philosophers believe that universe, earth, and
humans are connected and corresponding to each other, and that universe and earth
are the mother of everything else. Due to the connection between nature and
humans, everything done by humans should follow the natural principles without
disturbing the harmony. This unity can be achieved by an individual through diligent
practicing and self improvement.
Stemming from this idea, immortality is considered a possibility and an evident of
religious achievement. During the zenith of Taoism, many followers performed
alchemy to seek the elixir of life. This practice has now transformed into a more subtle
and spiritual version, internal alchemy.
Concept of Yin-Yang emerged in China as early as in the Spring-Autumn period and
was illustrated in bother Yi Ching and Tao Te Ching. According to this theory, any
object or phenomenon has two opposite yet complementary aspects—Yin and Yang.
Yin represents soft, dark, quiet, cold, corresponding to things like female, water, the
moon, and night, while Yang represents strong, bright, warm, exciting, and
corresponding to things like male, fire, the sun, and day. These two qualities
constrain, complement, transform, and rely on each other. Concept of Yin-Yang has
significant impact on the traditional Chinese medicine.
The main symbol of Taoism is called T’ai Ch’i or yin yang. T’ai Ch’i means the
ultimate reality, from which everything in the physical and spiritual world is created.
This symbol is stitched in to clerical robes, on Taoist flags and logos and temple
floors. Taoist temples can be identified by the roofs, which have multi colored,
ceramic dragons and phoenixes, which symbolize the harmony of yin and yang.
The Three Jewels of the Tao, are compassion, moderation and humility. These are
important virtues in Taoism and form the foundation of the practices. Compassion is
like brotherly love, loving others and being kind. Moderation or restraint is to be
efficient and simple in all things. Humility means not always having to be first and
aggressive, to be modest in behavior, which benefits and creates more opportunities
for growth and success.
One of the most fundamental and well-known Taoist thoughts is Wu Wei, which
means not doing, non-action, or actionless. Being inactive under any circumstance or
laziness, which sometimes is used as a joke or an excuse for being slack by some
people, is an erroneous explanation of Wu Wei. The appropriate interpretation is not
doing in the sense of taking no action contrary to the natural flow. Taoists generally
believe that order results from inaction while disorder results from action. The more
practical indication of this thought is the abstaining from pursuit of wealth, power,
pleasure, and other practical desires. This thought stems from the idea of the unity of
human and nature and the emphasis on harmony.
Chinese Taoists are polytheistic and believe that heaven reflects the bureaucratic
structure on earth. In popular Taoism the Jade Emperor is the head deity, in elite
Taoism, Lao Tzu and the Three Pure Ones are the head deities. Many deities were
extraordinary humans lifted to heaven because of their contribution or suffering on
earth. They are in charge of various functions in the heavenly imperial court and can
be promoted, demoted, or even expelled back to the earth due to their behaviors in
heaven. Many Chinese Buddhists practice Buddhism and Taoism at the same time.
Top-right: Taoist priests performing a ritual at Wudangshan Taoist Monastery.
Bottom-right: statute of Lao Tzu on Mount Qingyuan in Quanzhou city
Bottom-left: symbol of Yin-Yang on the wall of a Taoist monastery
Slide 13: Taoism
Two sects: Quanzhen and Zhengyi
The professional Taoist practitioners or Taoist priests are called ―dao shi‖ (or ―dao gu‖
for females) in Chinese. Currently there exist two sects of dao shi in mainland
China: Quanzhen and Zhengyi prevailing in the north and south respectively.
Based on official statistics, there are approximately 50,000 dao shi and 5,000
Taoist monasteries open to the public.
Quanzhen is more orthodox compared with Zhengyi though Zhengyi means Orthodox
in Chinese. Quanzhen dao shi normally live in mountain monasteries in order to be
away from lay people and concentrate on self purification and improvement. They
wear dark blue robes, black cloth cats, and black cotton pumps. Traditionally,
Quanzhen dao shi had a distinct look with long hair tied into a bun on top of the
head and a long beard. Nowadays, many dao shi have forgone the long-beard
custom. Most Quanzhen dao shi practice vegetarianism and are celibate. Their
practice focuses on internal alchemy. On the other hand, most Zhengyi dao shi still
maintain their family life and are allowed to get married and eat meat. Unlike their
Quanzhen counterparts, they do not grow long hair or long beard or wear distinct
dao shi outfits. So their identity as Taoist priests is not apparent. Their practice
focuses mainly on using supernatural talismans to influence deities and spirits.
White Cloud Monastery in Beijing is the headquarters of the Chinese Taoist
Percepts similar to Han Buddhism
Taoists follow a set of percepts very close to those of Han Buddhism. They mainly
include avoidance of harming living beings; taking things not freely given; sexual
misconduct; false speech; intoxication by drinks or drugs. Some Taoists will also
abstain from use of garlands, perfumes, and personal adornment; use of high
seats or big beds; or taking pleasure in dancing, singing, and music, etc.
Taoist laity practice and taboos
Lay Taoists normally carry out their worship at home. Bowing towards an altar may be
done holding incense with both hands and kneeling for respect. The altar may
have a number of deities or ancestral tablets and is usually done according to
certain dates of the lunar or solar calendar. Food is set out for the spirits of the
departed or gods such as fruit, meat and flowers. Another type of sacrifice
involves burning fake paper money, so as to appear in the spirit world for the spirits
to use. .
When visiting a Taoist temple in China, an individual need to respect their tradition
and avoid violating taboos. Here are some notes to remember:
• Do not enter a temple without shoes or appropriate attire;
• Do not bring animal products into a Quanzhen temple;
• Do not raise voice in a temple;
• Do not greet Taoist priests with the typical Buddhist gesture palms touching and
fingers pointed upwards. Instead, form a fist with one hand, hold the fist in the
other hand, and slight shake the hands in front of your chest;
• Do not as a Taoist priest his age;
• If a visitor decides to pray with incenses, wash hands before lighting incenses; do
not use even number of incenses to worship (three incenses are most commonly
used); hold incenses in right hand and support with left hand; do not look around
while praying with incenses;
• A visitor can bow to an altar but this is optional.
Tightly intertwined with aspects of traditional culture
Fortune telling includes reading the I Ching and doing astrology readings. Many
martial art traditions are bases on Taoist principles, such as Tai Chi Chuan, which
is typically done all over China in public parks. It looks like slow, continuous
dancing with many poses and is done for health and longevity. Feng Shui means
wind and water is an ancient Chinese practice that combines astronomy, and
geography to improve ones life by receiving good energy. An example is arranging
furniture in ones home, choosing a place to live to be in harmony with the
environment. Supporters claim it improves personal relationships, wealth and
Top-right: A Han Buddhist monk and a Taoist priest on Mount Wutai
Bottom-left: Quanzhen Sect Taoists performing religious ritual at the Taoist temple on
Bottom-center: Symbol is Yin-Yang Bagua
Bottom-right: Application of Taoist thoughts on medicine
Kaltenmark, Max. ―Lao Tzu and Taoism.‖ Stanford, California, Stanford University
Ching, Julia. ―Chinese Religions.‖ Maryknoll, New York, OBIS BOOKS, 1993. 186-
Slide 14: Student Check
Q: What are the similarities between Han Buddhism and Taoism in China?
A: Long history
Closely connected to Confucianism
Significant influence on Chinese culture
Prevail in Han community
Slide 15: Islam
Present in China since the 7th century
Islam has been present in China for over 1300 years, as a result of China’s
participation in the global maritime trade network (that linked the Roman West to the
Far East). Muslim traders were instrumental in facilitating trade and global
connectivity. Islam was first introduced at maritime ports on China’s southeast coast.
Later, (13-14th centuries), overland trade along the Silk Route contributed to an
exponential increase in converts. Historians note that an influx of Persians, Arabs,
Central Asians and Mongols, and subsequent intermarriage with locals, was
instrumental. However, it should be noted that locals also converted for instrumental
reasons. Access to new alliances, trade and economic opportunities would have
facilitated the rate of conversion.
Introduced at maritime posts and along the Silk Route
The majority of Muslims in China live in its Western frontier (Xinjiang, Gansu, Tibet,
and Ningxia provinces), an area known for its rich supplies of oil, natural gas, and
precious minerals. However, the Hui, numerically the most populous, live throughout
the country and tend to be native speakers of their local (regional) dialect.
Religious orthodoxy on the rise within the Muslim communities
Religious orthodoxy is on the upswing within Chinese Muslim communities. The
Chinese government actively supports relations between certain communities
(particularly the Hui) and the Middle East. This ties into China’s overall energy policy,
which hinges on friendly relations with oil rich Middle Eastern and African Islamic
nations. A correlate of this is an increase in formal religious education among
Chinese Muslims. According to Armijo (2008:205), between 1000 and 1500 Chinese
Muslims are currently studying at Islamic universities abroad. These students tend to
spend between 5 to 8 years away, and it not uncommon for them to settle within the
communities they were educated. After graduation, these students may become part
of informal Islamic support networks, operating missions within Chinese Muslim
communities (Armijo 2008:211).
The Chinese Communist Party maintains oversight of the nation’s Muslims through
official arms of the CCP (e.g. Religious Affairs Bureau, The Islamic Association of
China). The Religious Affairs Bureau appoints every imam across the country,
decides who leads Friday prayers, and has set a quota of 2000 annual hajjis (those
who make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca). The number of annual hajjis is invariably
higher (recent estimates range from 7000 in 2004 to over 10,000 in 2007), as
Chinese Muslims are able to maintain visas to Saudi Arabia via neighboring countries
such as Thailand and Pakistan (Armijo 2008:210-211).
It was previously noted that the Hui were among the least orthodox and most
Sinicized of the Muslim minorities. However, thousands of Hui have pursued higher
education in Arab countries and have returned with a stricter interpretation of Islam.
More Hui are growing beards, and more woman are choosing to wear the hijab (veil)
as markers of an increasingly pan-Islamic identity. Armijo (2008:198) notes that as a
predominantly urban group, the Hui were more likely to assimilate and identify with
the majority Han than their rural, primarily Turkic, northwestern co-practitioners.
However, due to the aforementioned increasing religiosity within the Hui community,
this trend is reversing.
Within the Uighur community, Islam is promoted as an identity marker that
distinguishes them from the majority Han. As tensions increase between the two
communities, it should be expected that a stricter Islamic identity will be promoted.
China has recently admitted that protests, ostensibly related to restrictions upon the
wearing of the hijab (headscarf), took place on March 23, 2008 in the Xinjiang Uighur
Autonomous region (nytimes.com2008/04/02) A few weeks earlier, the Chinese
government announced that a Uighur woman was apprehended smuggling
combustible liquids upon a commercial airliner (www.nytimes.com/2008/04/03). The
government attributes this activity to ―splittest‖ or separatist elements within the
Uighur community; particularly the ethnic Uighur East Turkestan Islamic Movement
(ETIM). It is noteworthy that these protests fall in line with ongoing recent protests
within China’s Tibetan community (a community that also has a longstanding history
of tensions with the majority Han, and more importantly, is also concentrated in the
The Chinese government recognizes the Uighur separatist organization, the East
Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) as a terrorist organization. This decision was
officially endorsed by the US in 2002. China maintains that Osama Bin Laden and Al
Qaeda have provided training and funding to Xinjiang separatists (nytimes.com
12/16/03). Critics maintain that China is using the US-led Global War on Terror
(GWOT) as a pretext to repress the ethnic and culturally distinct Uighur. Like Tibet,
this region has a long history of autonomous rule. The area was first incorporated in
1759 during the Manchu Qing dynasty. In 1945, taking advantage of internal fighting
between the Chinese Communists (Mao Ze Dong) and the Chinese Nationalists
(under Chiang Kai Shek) the area once again proclaimed independence as the
Republic of East Turkestan. The area remained autonomous until 1949 when the
Communist Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) reincorporated it into the modern Chinese
state. Since then, Uighur separatists have operated within diasporic communities in
Turkey, Kazakhstan, the United States and United Kingdom. China has many
reasons to wish to maintain order in this region. First, as already mentioned, the
northwest is rich in natural resources. Second, the area borders several unstable
Central Asian nations (Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Afghanistan).
Slide 16: Islam
Estimates range from 20 million to 50 million Muslims in China
Official estimates place the Islamic population of China at 20 million (an estimate from
the Islamic Association of China). This is based on census data, which conflate
ethnic identity with religious practice (e.g. the ten official minority groups that
historically practice Islam are counted), and does not take into account converts to
the religion. Others argue that the number is likely higher; probably closer to 50
million. Places of worship are estimated at 35,000 countrywide; the majority of
them (over 23,000) in the province of Xinjiang alone.
Hui, Uigur, Kazakh, Uzbek, Tajik (and 5 other ethnic groups)
In contemporary China, practitioners of the Islamic faith include, Hui, Uighur, Uzbek,
Kazakh, Donxiang, Salar, Bonan, Tajik, Kyrgyz, and Tatar. Muslims in China are
speakers of Sino-Tibetan (Hui), Turkic (Uighur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tatar), Turkic-
Mongolian (Dongxiang, Salar, Bonan) and Indo-European (Tajik) languages.
Primarily Sunni with a small Shi’a minority
The majority of Muslims in China are Sunni and follow the Hanafi (or gedimu chinese;
qadim Arabic) school of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh). Hanafi jurisprudence is
known for its openness and tolerance of other Islamic sects. Hanafi teaching
emphasizes belief over practice, and should be differentiated from the
fundamentalist Salafi (Wahhabi). Within China, ethnic Hui, Uighur, Uzbek, Tatar
etc. can all be subsumed within the Sunni Hanafi school.
The Indo-European-speaking Tajiks of Xinjiang province constitute a small minority of
Shi’a (of the Ismaili sect). There are approximately 41,000 (according to the 2000
national census) Tajiks living in Xinjiang. Ismailis, also called Seveners, are a
branch of Shi’a Islam that traces its spiritual lineage from Ismail, the son of the 6 th
Shi’a Imam Jafar al-Sadiq, over his younger brother Musa As-Kazim (from which
the majority Twelvers trace their line). Ismailis also differ in that they believe in a
dual imamate, that of the visible (as exemplified by the current Aga Khan) and the
hidden (a messiah who will return to lead the faithful).
Sufism has also been actively practiced in China since the 17th century. Sufism
profoundly influenced Hui and Uighur communities in the northwest, presenting a
direct challenge to the established gedimu (ancient), Sunni Hanafi, practice first
introduced in the 7th century (Gladney 1987:46-7). Still influential in China today,
particularly within the Hui communities, Sufism represents an experiential attempt
to directly interact with the godhead, through practices such as meditation and
chanting. In China, Sufi tarika (brotherhoods) generally center upon the tombs of
founding saints. Worldwide, Sufism has acted to propel the Islamic religion. The
experiential nature of Sufism dovetails neatly with Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism,
and mystical Christianity. Like the Sunni Hanafi tradition that preceded it, Sufi
tenets elevate belief over practice. Sufi practitioners are even known to forgo
adherence to the five pillars in their attempts to directly interact with allah. As
such, locals with a foundation in one of the above-stated religions would find an
internal logic in the liberal doctrine and practice of Sufi Islam. It should also be
noted that informal Sufi networks have been credited with providing an avenue for
personal Islamic practice within a sometimes harsh, and officially atheist,
Islam in China, like elsewhere in the Muslim world, has undergone periodic episodes
of reform, in which new practices have supplanted old ones, usually in an attempt
to introduce a ―purer‖ strain of religion. The Chinese government has repeatedly
stepped in to arbitrate, and as the official sponsor of all religions, has consistently
acted to determine normative practice. However, as economic and political ties to
the Islamic world become more critical, Muslim communities are becoming
empowered, and the central governments ability to regulate religious practice is
weakening (Gladney). In the past, China’s position as a polar node on the global
maritime and overland trade routes exposed its Islamic community to innumerable
trends and movements. Similarly, the contemporary era of globalization, in which
a new generation of transnational citizens are studying abroad, record numbers of
pilgrims are making the hajj, and scores of Chinese Muslims are plugged into the
experience of the global ummah via the internet and satellite media, ensures that
China will continue to remain current.
Slide 17: Christianity
Population estimate controversial
The estimate of Christians in China ranges from the official number 20 million, 40
million by the CIA World Factbook, to 300 million based on a independent survey
Comprises mostly of Protestants and Catholics
Christianity is one of most significant imported religions in China. Its recorded history
in China traces all the way back to the 7th century during the Tang Dynasty.
Christianity is called Ji Du Jiao in Mandarin, which means the religion of Jesus. It
mainly comprises of Protestants and fewer Roman Catholics. There are also a
very small number of Eastern Orthodox adherents in northern China. When
Christianity is mentioned, the speaker often specifically means Protestantism
The Chinese terms for Protestantism and Catholicism are Xin Jiao and Tian Zhu Jiao,
meaning the new religion and the religion of the heaven lord respectively. By the
end of 2006, there are at least 1.6 million Protestants and 5 million Catholics in
China and these numbers have been increasing continuously.
Contribution to social development in China
Christian missionaries from the West reached China as early as the 7th century CE.
Since then there have several waves of missionaries that had influence in China.
However, Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism, struggled to survived due
to its severe differences from the incumbent belief systems. Christianity started to
have significant impact near the end of the Qing Dynasty, the last imperial
dynasty of China. Missionaries introduced the ideas of Western medicine and
education, and helped establish modern hospitals and universities. Under their
influence, many young Chinese abandoned the obsolete tradition, such as long
hair and female foot wrapping, and devoted their effort to the democratic
revolution in the early 20th century. Among these young Chinese was Sun Yat-
sen, the founding father of modern China and a converted Christian.
―Three Self‖ principle
The ―Three Self‖ principle is often seen by observers as the compromise from the
Christian communities in China in exchange for right to practice their religion. In
1950 soon after the establishment of the PRC, a group of Chinese Christians
submitted a declaration for the ―Three Self‖ principle to the new government and
started the Three Self Patriotism Movement. This principle has become the
highest religion policy in China. The ―Three Self‖ Policy requires that Chinese
religious organizations need to be ―self-administering, self-supporting and self-
To Catholicism, this policy mandates cutting off all links with the Vatican and the Pope
who ordains Bishops, in favor of local elections of Bishops in China. This caused
a division between the open Catholic Churches (government approved church)
and the ―underground‖ (house) Catholic church (Vatican affiliated Churches). For
believers this challenges the very foundations of their faith. But, the Chinese
government considers the policy necessary for establishing and maintaining it’s
sovereignty and control over its internal religious activities. Currently,
approximately two thirds of China’s church bishops, who are registered are
recognized by the Vatican. In 2007, relations improved slightly when two bishops
were ordained in China with papal approval.
The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) is an integral part of the state
bureaucracy and reports to the Religious Affairs Bureau. The CCPA is an
organization of clergy and laity, beneath the leadership of the government and
the party, to assist the Catholic church in applying the ―Three Self Policy‖ and
unify Catholics in patriotism. Becoming a member of the CCPA requires rejecting
ties with the Vatican. The China Christian Council is the only Chinese Protestant
organization allowed to openly function by the Communist Party. It was formed in
the early 1980s to give the Protestant church hierarchy a measure of
independence from the ―Three Self Policy‖ and organization.
Today, in certain instances, members from unregistered and registered churches
worship together and receive sacraments from the same clergy. In some areas,
the divisions between the two churches are deep, in other areas they are not,
which adds to the confusion about the issue.
Missionaries not welcomed
In the few years after the establishment of the PRC, all foreign missionaries were
forced to leave the country. Until nowadays, under the ―Three Self‖ principle, no
foreigner is allowed to carry out formal missions in China.
A ChineseCatholic cathedral
Catholic bishops attending a ceremony
Slide 18: Christianity
System of evangelizing
According to Cardinal Joseph Zen from Hong Kong, the Protestants are winning the
souls of Chinese people, more than Catholicism, because their system of
evangelizing is much less formal, less rigid and quicker to indoctrinate believers.
Baptism conducted at home
Because there is a shortage of clergy and dioceses in China, baptisms are often
conducted at home until official rituals can be completed by clergy.
Debate over terms for God
Among Christians in China, the words for God are different. As far as the word for
God itself, there was some debate. At first, scholars and Catholic missionaries
supported the use of the word ―Lord on High,‖ (Shang Di) until they decided that the
more Confucian term ―Lord of Heaven‖ (Tian Zhu) was appropriate. Whereas the
Catholic word for God is ―Lord of Heaven‖, the Protestant preference is ―Lord on High‖
or ―Emperor from Above‖, Shang Di. Shang Di was used in ancient times and means
Supreme God which is a native term in the Chinese language.
Flourished among urban middle class
Christian missionary work used to focus on rural areas in China where poverty was
worse and people were in desperate need for medical care and education. Since of
the beginning of economic reform in the late 70’s, more and more Chinese from the
new middle class and the younger generations became interested in this faith.
Dilemma over roles of underground churches
Hotbed for cults. Eg. Oriental Lightening.
Chinese Christians praying
Chinese Catholics in Liuhe Village of Shanxi Province, the largest Catholic village in
China, reiterated a Bible story
Chinese Christians praying passionately
Ching, Julia. ―Chinese Religions.‖ Maryknoll, New York, OBIS BOOKS, 1993. 186-
Aikman, David. ―Jesus in Beijing.‖ Washington D.C., Regerny Publishing, 2006. 89-
Reese, William L. ―Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion.‖ New York, Humanity
MacGregor, Geddes. ―Dictionary of Religion and Philosophy.‖ New York, Paragon
Slide 19: Student Check
Q: What are the two largest ethnic groups that are predominately Muslim?
A: The Hui and the Uighur.
Slide 20: Ancestor Worship and Superstition
Heaven worship pre-dated any current religion in China. It was used as a governing
tool. It was believed that the emperor was the Son of Heaven (Tian-Zi) so he owned
all people and properties on earth. Elements of heaven worship are integrated into
Chinese folk religion. People used to believe that if an emperor’s cruelty, negligence
of worship rituals, or other wrongdoings would cause the end of mandate. The evils
will be executed by lighting. The concept of Heaven remained popular among people
until now. Some common phrases include ―old heaven‖ (lao tian) and ―thank the
heaven and the earth‖ (xie tian xie di).
Veneration of ancestors
Ancestor worship have existed since before any religion in China. Until nowadays, the
Chinese people still revere their deceased ancestors a great deal and perform various
rituals to venerate them. Many Chinese take great pride in the legendary figures and
historically important characters that carried the same family names. At a more casual
level, some Chinese even feel specially connected to others that have the same
surnames. A very commonly used Chinese phrase is ―one family five hundred years
ago‖ (wu bai nian qian shi yi jia) and it is used to describe that the people with the
same family names are descendents from the same ancestor.
Practicality in folk religion
This belief is embedded into people’s daily life and shows some sign of what they
don’t have in real life—real democracy. They believe that there are many gods or
spirits that are in charge of different aspects of human life. They can choose whoever
they like or need to worship. Wealth god, door god to secure the home, kitchen god to
prevent fire, fertility god to provide children……Most business have Mater Guan
(Guan Gong)’s statutes in their stores since they believe that he can protect them
from evil spirit or misfortune.
In the first few decades of the Communist rule, many old traditions that had been
practiced in China for hundreds of years were considered counter-revolutionary and
abandoned, with an exception of Hong Kong, an crown colony until 1997, where most
traditions were untouched. However, there is a revive of these customs in recent
years, even among younger generations. One reason is that since the beginning of
the economic reform in the early 80’s, the CCP and the Chinese government are
becoming increasingly tolerant of them as long as they impose no threat to the power
of the Party. Another reason is that more and more Chinese people realize that these
superstitions are part of the traditional culture they have been giving up in search of a
modern material life. The come-back of these practices indicates the Chinese
people’s desire for their ancestry and cultural roots.
Villain hitting is one of the old customs prevail Guangdong Province and Hong Kong.
It is usually executed in a dim location such as under a bridge on March 5 (Gregorian
calendar) , or the first and the fifteenth days of each month (Chinese traditional
calendar). It is normally done by an older woman that is supposed to be
professionally trained on this process. Before performing villain hitting, the practitioner
will prepare a piece of white paper cut into human shape. If the client request the
ritual on a specific individual, the villain’s name, birthday and birth time will be written
on the paper. The paper representation of the villain will be hit by the practitioner with
an old shoe, a mock weapon, or even a burning incense, while curses on the villain
and prayers for the client are murmured. Many people in southern China, especially in
the older generations, believe that this ritual can keep a troublemaker away from
them. If the client does not have a specific person in mind, villain hitting can still be
performed on bad characters in general he might run into in the future just in case.
This kind of general villain hitting is mostly desired by people getting ready for a long
trip or starting a new business or career.
House warming rituals are another important piece in the Chinese superstitious
practice. They vary widely depending on the regional tradition. They include the order
of household items being moved into the new home, choice of movers, preparation of
the new house before the move, arrangement of furniture in the new house, house
warming reception, and a wide range of taboos. For example, many Chinese believe
that greeting the spirits located around the new home such as the land god is
necessary for safety and peace in the new home, so they will hold some burning
incenses while walking around the new home and saying prayers at the same time.
Some people will also sweep all walls and corners of the new house with a new
broom before moving in and brush away all the dust out from the main door. This act
is considered a symbol of getting rid of all the evil originally situated in the house.
Chinese people will also invite many friends and relatives to a meal in the new home.
To an American, many of the taboos regarding house warming seem ridiculous.
However, it is important to be aware of, recognize, and respect them to save us
unnecessary trouble or conflicts. Some examples of these taboos are greet strangers
while moving, moving after dusk, taking a nap on the same day of moving, having a
pregnant woman present while moving, and moving into the new house without
The ultimate oath, which is also called ―cutting the chicken head‖ or ―burning the
yellow paper‖, is a way to swear that might seem somehow bizarre to the Westerners.
This custom used to be very popular in Hong Kong, and was spread to some other
areas. The ultimate oath ritual is done in front of statues of deities. The people
involved in the oath will light incenses as contribution to the deities. Then each will
write down his oath and the extremely cruel and serious punishment for breaking the
oath on a piece of yellow paper. A live chicken will then be beheaded and its blood is
dripped on the yellow paper. The ritual is concluded with burning the blood soaked
yellow paper. Many people believe that after the ritual is performed, the mishap
written on the paper will come true if the oath is broken. Therefore the oath is credible
and guaranteed to be fulfilled.
Traditional holidays have become less and less important to the Chinese due to a
much faster-pace lifestyle. Therefore, many holiday do’s and don’ts are becoming
obsolete though there are relatively more people in the south still practice some of
them. These do’s and don’ts include to make offering to the Kitchen God on
December 23, to finish cleaning the house by New Year’s Eve, and to stay up for the
whole night on New Year’s Eve, etc.
Pictures (from left to right):
• A Chinese woman is hitting villains
• Poster of the ―Kitchen God‖
• Poster of the ―Door God‖
Slide 21: Other Religions
Pali or Southern Buddhism is the third sect of Buddhism existing in China, together
with Han Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism. It was introduced from Myanmar in the
7th century and is mostly practiced by the Dai, the Blang, and some other minorities
in Yunnan Province of Southwest China today. Most of the Dai boys are required to
become monks while they reach school age and study cultural knowledge in temples
until they enter adulthood. The ones that perform extraordinarily and show potentials
may stay temples in pursuit of becoming professional monks respected greatly by the
community. There are about ten progressing levels of monks and achievement of the
last five levels is extremely difficult. Currently there is only one member from each of
the Dai and the Blang communities that has obtained the highest two levels.
The Dai people have their own language which belongs to the Tai-Kadai branch of
the Sino-Tibetan language family. It is a phonetic language that evolved from Pali.
The Dai people have their own holidays and taboos related to their religion. The most
important holidays are the Splash Festival, Door-open Festival, and Door-close
Festival. Some examples of taboos are wearing shoes inside a temple building,
touching the head of a little monk, and touching items that are sacred in the temple.
Shamanism has existed since the prehistory world, before any organized religion
emerged. The word, Shaman, was from the Siberian Tungusic term for ―the person
that knows‖. Shamanism comprises a range of traditional beliefs and practices
concerned with communicating to the spirit world. Adherents believe that spirits can
have impact on lives of the living. The most important difference between Shamanism
and animism is that Shamanism requires professional practicers with special
knowledge and magical power—the Shamans—to carry out any religious activities.
Nowadays, Shamanism is still vibrant among Siberian tribes and South American
The following beliefs are shared by all forms of Shamanism:
- The spirits can play important roles in human lives
- The shaman can control and/or cooperate with the spirits for the community’s
- Spirits can be either good or bad
- Shamans can engage various processes and techniques to incite trance, such
as singing, dancing, taking entheogens, meditating and drumming
- Animals play an important role, acting as omens and message bearers
In China, Shamanism predated Buddhism and Islam among all northern peoples such
as the Manchu, the Mongol, the Uygur, the Uzbek, and the Dongxiang. Its influence is
so deeply rooted in their customs that trace of it can still be found in these peoples’
Buddhist or Islamic practices. This belief system is the best preserved by the
ethnicities in east Inner Mongolia and the three-river basin in Northeast China,
including the Xibe, the Oroqen, the Evenks, the Nanai, and the Daur.
Dongba is an indigenous religion practiced mostly by the Naxi people, a minority with
a three hundred thousand population residing along the border of Yunan Province,
Sichuan Province, and Tibet in southwest China. It originated from the primitive
witchcraft. The script preachers are called Dongba by the local people. This is how
the religion is named. The practice of this religion features ancestors, spirits, and
nature worship, in forms of funeral ceremonies, exorcism, fortune telling, etc.
Dongba’s enjoy rather high social status among the Naxi community. They are
perceived as the media between humans, gods, and ghosts, and are capable of
expelling malicious deities and bringing blessings. Dongbas are allowed to marry and
have children. The profession is normally passed on from father to son or to son-in-
law if no son is available.
The major religious texts include Dongba Jing, written in their own characters, the
only existing pictographs in the world today. These characters are also termed as the
―living fossils‖ for language origin and development.
Slide 22: Other Religions
Eastern Orthodox Christianity
Eastern Orthodox Christianity is the national religion of Russia. It has increasing
influence in Russia since the dissolution of the former Soviet Union. According to
official statistics, there are about 10,000 to 12,000 Eastern Orthodox Christians in
mainland China, most of whom are descendants of the Russian Cossacks. In 350
CE, their Cossack ancestors were captured as POW during wars between their tribe
and the imperial army under the Qing Emperor, Kang Xi. They later on settled down
in present-day Inner Mongolia and Xin Jiang and preserved their religious believes
Since Eastern Orthodox Christianity is not a registered or officially recognized religion
in China, its development is restricted. It has been reported that many of the
adherents have never been to the church, have limited knowledge about their religion,
and do not even know how to pray. There is currently no functional Orthodox church
or formal clergy in this community. The few Orthodox churches in Harbin, the capital
city of Heilongjiang Province in northeast China, and Shanghai are serving as either
merely tourist sites or else. However, many people are seeing some positive signs of
the development of this religion in China along with the increasingly friendly Sino-
Russia relationship. The Chinese government has approved some Orthodox priests
to carry out religious activities in China and more than a dozen Chinese were sent to
Russia theological colleges for training.
Judaism is not a recognized religion and Jewish community is not an admitted
ethnicity in China. However, both have a long history in China. Over a thousand years
ago, many Jewish merchants travelled along the Silk Road from the Middle East and
arrived in Kaifeng, the capital city of the Song Dynasty, along the Silk Road. They
stayed in China and had inter-racial marriage with their Han neighbors. Judaism was
also once called Tiao Jin Jiao (i.e. religion of removing the sinew) by the Chinese due
to the Jewish custom of removing the sinew from beef or lamb before cooking.
Nowadays most Kaifeng Jewish descendants scatter around the country and do not
have clear tie with their heritage. The only evident of their family lineage is their family
names such as Li, Shi (meaning ―stone‖ in mandarin), and Jin (meaning ―gold‖ in
Mandarin), which are the mandarin versions of their original Jewish forebears, Levi
(or Levy), Stein, and Gold.
When Shanghai started to become the ―adventurers’ paradise‖ for foreigners in the
early 20th century, the center of Jewish community shifted from Kaifeng to Shanghai.
These Jewish foreigners included businessmen, refugees from the Holocaust and
religious suppression in former Soviet Union. Some Jews stayed in China after the
establishment of the PRC and even joined the CCP.
In recent years, along with the rapid economic development and more open and lax
religious policies in China, many Jewish descendants began to pay more attention to
their cultural heritage and religious root.
Left: Huangshan Jewish Cemetery in Harbin, China
Right: Tourists visiting Saint Sophia Church in Harbin, CHina
NOTE: Slide 23 - Student Check
Q: Which religion deals primarily with communicating with the spirit world?
SECTION IV. SUMMARY
Method of Instruction: Conference / Discussion
Instructor to Student Ratio is: 1:20
Time of Instruction: 5 mins
Check on Determine if the students have learned the material presented by soliciting student
Learning questions and explanations. Ask the students questions and correct
Today we discussed the basic knowledge on religion in China and the main factors
Lesson that shape them, and we next complete a written evaluation.
SECTION V. STUDENT EVALUATION
Testing NOTE: Describe how the student must demonstrate accomplishment of the TLO. Refer
Requirements student to the Student Evaluation Plan.
Feedback NOTE: Feedback is essential to effective learning. Schedule and provide feedback on the
Requirements evaluation and any information to help answer students' questions about the test. Provide
remedial training as needed.
Appendix A - Viewgraph Masters (N/A)
Appendix B - Test(s) and Test Solution(s) (N/A)
Appendix C - Practical Exercises and Solutions (N/A)
Appendix D - Student Handouts (N/A)