Chinese Spirituality: Understanding the Many Beliefs of China

China has diverse religions, each with roots of influence and history. China is also known for rich culture and practices interwoven with religion and philosophy. While some religions have gained popularity and became guiding ideology, others have been converted or reformed to carry Chinese aspects.

For the Chinese people, spiritual beliefs play a vital role in the society, that’s why religious activities are protected by the government constitution.

China is considered a multireligious nation, but there are only four major religions that prevailed a greater influence in their spirituality, religious traditions, and practices. Here are the four religions that have become key elements to China’s rich history and culture.

shaolin temple in dengfeng of henan province, china
Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng of Henan Province, China

Buddhism

Quick Facts:

  • Most scholars view Buddhism as a “way of life,” not as a “spiritual belief.”
  • Buddha is not recognized as a god, but as an extraordinary teacher.
  • Buddhism focuses on achieving spiritual enlightenment (Nirvana) to achieve a state of inner peace and wisdom.
  • Their religious practices include mantras, meditation, and devotion to deities.
  • Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, a Nepali Prince.

Buddhism originally rooted in northern India during the 5th century B.C.E. It was introduced in China around 1st century A.D. and was divided into three different languages, namely, Tibetan Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism, and Pali Buddhism.

Buddhism has the largest group of communities in China, mostly from the Tibetan, Lhoba, Moinba, Tuija, and Mongolian. Their teachings are observed in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, a way to end the endless cycle of suffering and rebirth.

 

confucius temple, beijing, china
Confucius Temple, Beijing, China

Confucianism

Quick Facts:

  • Confucianism is more acknowledged as a philosophical system.
  • There are Five Virtues in Confucianism: Ren (humaneness), Yi (righteousness), Li (proper usage of rites), Zhi (knowledge), and Xin (integrity).
  • There are also five sacred books of Confucianism: The Book of History, The Book of Poetry, The Book of Changes, The Book of Rites, and the Spring and Autumn Annals.
  • Confucianism was made as the State Religion of China.
  • There are only two holidays in Confucianism—Chinese New Year and Confucius’ birthday.

Confucianism began from the teachings of Confucius around 552 B.C.E. to 479 B.C.E. He was a great teacher during his time, and even started a small group of disciples to educate common people.

He pushed forward the best way to build order and harmony in the society. Throughout the centuries, the Confucian principles and teachings played an important role in shaping Chinese moral thought.

temple of heaven, beijing, china
Temple of Heaven, Beijing, China

Taoism

Quick Facts:

  • Taoism is based on the teachings of the Tao Te Ching (a Chinese classic text), written by Lao Tzu.
  • Taoism focuses on simplicity and living in complete peace and harmony with nature.
  • It is derived from the Chinese word Tao, which means “The Way.”
  • Taoism is considered as a mystical philosophy with ethical principles for everyday living.
  • Taoist tradition follows astrology and divination.

Taoism became a popular belief during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220) A.D. For more than eighteen hundred years, it was regarded as the traditional religion in China. Today there are fifteen hundred Taoist temples in China with twenty-five hundred followers. Taoism was also an influential religion among the Han people.

It emphasized on living in harmony with the tao, or also known as the “way. As can be observed in most Chinese medicine and the teachings of Taoism, spiritual healing can be achieved through inner harmony within the body (the yin and yang), in order to be physically and mentally healthy.

st. joseph's church in beijing, china
St. Joseph’s Church in Beijing, China

Christianity

Quick Facts:

  • Christian belief focuses around the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
  • The cross is the main symbol of Christianity.
  • Christianity is the world’s largest religion, with more than two billion Christian followers around the world.
  • Christianity follows the teachings and wisdoms of Holy Bible, including prophets, disciples, and Jesus’s teachings.
  • Christians believe in the Second Coming, which states that the Son of God will return to earth again.

Christianity was introduced in China during the 7th century, and was recognized in the 19th century as Christian missionaries visited to baptize and rebuilt the Church communities.

There is an estimated 5 percent of Chinese who are Christians, and until now is significantly growing.

Traditional Folk Beliefs

Other than with these religions, an estimated 22 percent of Chinese follow traditional folk beliefs. From feng shui theory to Cai Shen, there are those who believe in ancient worship and astrology. They take part in fortune telling and other traditional folk traditions and worships.