300 Million Religious Adherents in China

February 15, 2007 Updated: February 15, 2007

A recent poll from East China Normal University found that the number of people practicing religion in China is over 300 million. The Chinese Communist Party's official newspaper China Daily said that these statistics are drawn from 4,500 polls conducted by professors at the East China Normal University. The results of the polls show that 31.4 percent of Chinese people over the age of 16 identify themselves as having religious beliefs. This translates to a total of around 300 million people, which is three times higher than official statistics.

Another official publication, Outlook Weekly, has also recently published an article saying that in the economically undeveloped Shaani-Gansu-Ninxia region of China, farmers actively participate in religious activities. The article mentioned that in some rural areas, it's almost as if “there are temples in every village. People pray as soon as they see a statue.” This has resulted in a flurry of new temple building, which further widens the influence of religious believers.

The Outlook Weekly article admits that people's control over their own culture and ideology is becoming stronger. Experts point out that religious pursuits are a manifestation of human nature – which is hard to contain. Righteous religions and beliefs are actually beneficial to society's stability and development. Consequently, the government should not suppress these ideas, or tell the general public what they can or cannot believe.

China's Religious Practitioners Total Three Times the Official Number

The poll conducted by East China Normal University in Shanghai indicated that of the 300 million religious believers, 200 million are adherents of Buddhism, Taoism or the Dragon King, and the rest are worshippers of the God of Wealth and other folklore.

China Daily mentioned that 40 million people from the poll are Christians. This is equivalent to 12 percent of all religious believers in China. The communist regime admitted in 2005 that China has 16 million Christians.

To date, the atheist communist regime only recognizes state-approved churches, temples and mosques. Citizens are only allowed to participate in ceremonies at government-controlled churches, temples and mosques. The international community has always criticized this approach.

Religious Believers Growing Quickly in the Countryside; Urban Centers the Same

Among Chinese religious believers, many of them are farmers. The article in Outlook Weekly reported that there is a rising number of religious beliefs in the Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia region .

This article used Shaanxi region of Jingbian as an example. Excluding the smaller temples, there are 297 temples in the 22 counties in this region. Farmers in the region earn relatively little pay, however together they still manage to donate generously.

According to a Voice of America report, Chinese Christian and independent commentator Yu Jie thinks that China's religious revival is of equal fervor in both urban and rural areas. However, due to the extreme poverty of farmers in western China, the absence of a pension, medical insurance, or other social security, and under the impression that they have no hope or future, Chinese peasants have a stronger need for religious beliefs than urban residents.

Away From Politics, Belief in Religion Instead of the Communist Party

The Outlook Weekly article cites the reason for the increased development of religion in rural areas is that farmers don't believe in the Communist Party and lack confidence in its leadership. Some people think that the Communist Party has caused unemployment, under-education, and other social problems. In addition, the grassroots party cadres are often reported to be corrupt.

Radio Free Asia reported that Thomas Jefferson University Hospital psychiatric expert Dr. Yang Jingrui in Philadelphia made the following conclusion: “The rise of religious beliefs is actually the inevitable result of people's disbelief in communism.”

Yang said, “Right now there are two big problems in China: one is that people no longer believe in communism. Even high-ranking Communist Party leaders do not believe in it. The second is that the CCP attacks orthodox belief systems, belief in Gods, or valuing people and cherishing life. This fosters an environment for various emerging schools of thought, including religious beliefs.

Using the “Cult” Label to Persecute

The article in Outlook Weekly is based on an interview with followers from an underground church called “The Real God.” The report said that local governments lack effective measures to crackdown or regulate the underground religious activities. As a result, these underground religions gradually grow stronger. Eventually, they start to infiltrate the cities.

In the past, the Chinese Communist Party has branded family churches that are not under its control as “cults,” a practice that has drawn widespread criticism.

Yu Jie pointed out that China has encountered many so-called “heretical cult” groups, which supposedly deviate from society's norms. However, this is the natural result of the heavy-handed policy on religions that the government has adopted. These groups are forced to go underground. The government should therefore take full responsibility.

Yu Jie said that secularism is the fundamental principle of a modern society. Therefore, the government's religion administration agencies such as “Three-Self Patriotic Committee” should be dissolved. Also, in order to allow mainstream orthodox religions to develop rapidly, the government should open public spaces and let each religious group develop freely.

The Pursuit of Faith is Part of Human Nature

Voice of America reported that Fan Yafeng, assistant researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, believes that for people to pursue religious beliefs is an irrepressible part of human nature.

Fan said: “It is a natural tendency for the human race to pursue spirituality and belief. This tendency will continue unabated. It is human nature to pursue religious freedom.”