Religion in China: research reveals surprising insights

religion in China

The Pew Research Center has released a groundbreaking 160-page report shedding light on the state of religion in China.

Faith in the world’s second most populous country has been under constant suppression for 74 years.

The report, which delves into the challenging task of collecting data in a nation known for tight media control and atheistic indoctrination, paints a striking picture.

China appears, on the surface, to be “the least religious country in the world,” according to Pew demographer Conrad Hackett.

Only 10% of Chinese identify with a religion, and merely 3% consider religion “very important” in their lives, starkly contrasting to 98% in Indonesia and 37% in the United States.

Pew faced government barriers in conducting field surveys, relying instead on data from government reports, Chinese universities, private polling firms and the Sweden-based World Values Survey.

The report acknowledges the complexities and limitations of these data sources, highlighting discrepancies such as the government’s claim of 34,000 registered Buddhist temples compared to experts’ count of 190,000.

Beneath the surface, Chinese society remains steeped in spiritual beliefs and superstitions. Rituals, incense-burning, fortune-telling, and belief in Buddha and Taoist deities persist, even among those not formally affiliated with a religion.

However, questions linger about whether believers are hesitant to discuss their faith under the ever-watchful eye of China’s government.

Targeted harassment

Religious persecution has intensified since 2017, coinciding with President Xi Jinping’s tenure.

Muslims in Xinjiang, Buddhists in Tibet, unregistered Protestants and Catholics, and the Falun Gong movement have faced targeted harassment. Despite this, China has experienced a significant Christian revival, largely attributed to unregistered Protestant “house churches.”

Pew reports that China now boasts 109.65 million evangelical Protestants, with 64% in unregistered groups and 20 million Catholics, divided between unregistered churches and the government-approved Catholic Patriotic Association.

While the Christian community has grown substantially since the 1980s, Pew notes a plateau in registered Protestant churches during Xi’s leadership, suggesting a potential underground surge. However, reliable data remains elusive due to recent repression.


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