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Population, Religion

Buddhist sects, Daoism, Chinese Communist Party, schools of Buddhism, Confucianism

The traditional religions of China were Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. People often practiced and adhered to traditions of all three religions as well as incorporating a variety of local beliefs into their religious practice. Islam and Christianity were among the more formal and organized religions practiced in China, but these faiths had fewer followers.

After gaining control in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party officially eliminated organized religion. The CCP’s move received little resistance because Confucianism is largely secular and because most Chinese adhered to aspects of all three major faiths; thus they lacked strong allegiance to any single religion. Most temples, churches, and schools of Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, and Christianity were converted to secular purposes. Only with the constitution of 1978 was official support again given for the promulgation of formal religion in China. The constitution also stated that the Chinese people had the right to hold no religious beliefs and “to propagate atheism.” The constitution of 1982, the most recent constitution, allows citizens freedom of religious belief and protects legitimate religious activities as defined by the state.

Since 1982 many temples, churches, and mosques in China have reopened. Also, officially sanctioned Christian groups in the cities and Buddhist sects in the cities and the countryside have become more active. An underground Christian movement has also emerged. However, as these Christian groups lie outside the official sanction of legitimate religious activities, they are seen as illegal and thus have been prosecuted by the government. Practicing Christians in China include Roman Catholics and members of various Protestant groups.

Even before the constitutional changes, ethnic Chinese Muslims, or Hui, as well as other Muslim minority peoples such as the Uygur, Kazakh, and Kirgiz, continued their faith in Islam. Although Muslims now may practice their religion more openly, the government is suspicious of their religious activities because Islam is associated with ethnic minorities who have resisted Han control, such as the Uygurs of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. In Tibet, the Chinese government has restricted the practice of Tibetan Buddhism, for instance by limiting the number of clergy and religious buildings in the region.

In the early 1990s a man named Hongzhi Li organized a quasi-religious movement called Falun Gong. Falun Gong is based on concepts from traditional Chinese breathing and exercise therapy combined with ideas from Daoism and Buddhism. The movement, which has been remarkably popular in China, disclaims any political goals. It sees itself as simply a loosely organized group of individuals interested in promoting good health and individual powers through exercise and exemplary personal habits. In April 1999 more than 10,000 of Falun Gong’s members gathered in Beijing. The gathering so alarmed China’s Communist Party leadership that the movement was outlawed. Since then, members of Falun Gong have been arrested and prosecuted.

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