China is a country with a great diversity of religious beliefs. The main religions are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism. Citizens of China may freely choose and express their religious beliefs, and make clear their religious affiliations. According to incomplete statistics, there are over 100 million followers of various religious faiths, more than 85,000 sites for religious activities, some 300,000 clergy and over 3,000 religious organizations throughout China. In addition, there are 74 religious schools and colleges run by religious organizations for training clerical personnel.
- Buddhism has a history of 2,000 years in China. Currently China has 13,000-some Buddhist temples and about 200,000 Buddhist monks and nuns. Among them are 120,000 lamas and nuns, more than 1,700 Living Buddhas, and 3,000-some temples of Tibetan Buddhism and nearly 10,000 Bhiksu and senior monks and more than 1,600 temples of Pali Buddhism.
- Taoism, native to China, has a history of more than 1,700 years. China now has over 1,500 Taoist temples and more than 25,000 Taoist priests and nuns.
- Islam was introduced into China in the seventh century. Nowadays in China there are ten national minorities, including the Hui and Uygur, with a total population of 18 million, whose faith is Islam. Their 30,000-odd mosques are served by 40,000 Imams and Akhunds.
- Catholicism was introduced into China intermittently in the seventh century, but it had not spread widely until after the Opium War in 1840. At present, China has four million Catholics, 4,000 clergy and more than 4,600 churches and meeting houses.
- Protestantism was first brought to China in the early 19th century and spread widely after the Opium War. There are about 10 million Protestants, more than 18,000 clergy, more than 12,000 churches and 25,000-some meeting places throughout China.
China has the following national religious organizations: Buddhist Association of China, Taoist Association of China, Islamic Association of China, Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, Chinese Catholic Bishops' College, Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee of the Protestant Churches of China, and China Christian Council.
Religious leaders and leading organs of the various religious bodies are selected and ordained in accordance with their own regulations.
Religious organizations in China run their own affairs independently and set up religious schools, publish religious classics and periodicals, and run social services according to their own needs. As in many other countries, China practices the principle of separating religion from education; religion is not a subject taught in schools of the popular education in China, although some institutions of higher learning and research institutes do teach or conduct research into religion. The various religious schools and institutes set up by the different religious organizations teach religious knowledge in line with their own needs. All normal clerical activities conducted by the clergy and all normal religious activities held either at sites for religious activities or in believers' own homes in accordance with usual religious practices, such as worshipping Buddha, reciting scriptures, going to church, praying, preaching, observing Mass, baptising, monkhood initiation, fasting, celebrating religious festivals, observing extreme unction, and holding memorial ceremonies, are protected by law as the affairs of religious bodies and believers themselves and may not be interfered with.
The "cultural revolution" (1966 to 1976) had a disastrous effect on all aspects of the society in China, including religion. But in the course of correcting the errors of the "cultural revolution" governments at all levels made great efforts to revive and implement the policy of freedom of religious belief, redressed the unjust, false or wrong cases imposed on religious personages, and reopened sites for religious activities. Since the 1980s, approximately 600 Protestant churches have been reopened or rebuilt each year in China. By the end of 1996 more than 18 million copies of the Bible had been printed, with special tax exemption treatment speeding their publication. In addition, more than eight million copies of a hymn book published by the China Christian Council in 1983 have been distributed. From 1958 to 1995, a total of 126 Catholic bishops were selected and ordained by the Chinese Catholic church itself. In the past dozen years more than 900 young Catholic priests have been trained or consecrated by Chinese Catholicism. More than 3,000 Protestants attend the Sunday service at Chongwenmen church in Beijing each week. The Beijing Nantang Catholic Cathedral observes Mass four times each week with an attendance of more than 2,000. Of these, one Mass is held in English specially for foreigners in Beijing.
In the course of the country's long history, the various religions in China have become part of the traditional Chinese thinking and culture. It is traditional for Chinese religious believers to love their country and religions. The Chinese government supports and encourages the religious circles to unite the religious believers to actively participate in the construction of the country. The various religions all advocate serving the society and promoting people's well-being, such as the Buddhists' "honoring the country and benefiting the people," the Catholics and Protestants' "glorifying God and benefiting the people," the Taoists' "being benevolent, peaceful and harmonious, saving the world and benefiting the people," and the Islam's "praying to allah to give great reward in this world and hereafter."
In China all religions have equal status and coexist in tranquillity. Religious disputes are unknown in China. Religious believers and non-believers respect each other, are united and have a harmonious relationship. This shows, on the one hand, the influence of traditional Chinese compatibility and tolerance, and, on the other, the fact that since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 the Chinese government has formulated and carried out the policy of freedom of religious belief and established a politico-religious relationship that conforms to China's national conditions.