The Religion and Beliefs of Ancient China


This video discusses the various religions and beliefs of ancient China.

Ancient Chinese Culture (1600–221 BC) — Development and Features

Ancient Chinese characters were pictographic and more rounded than they are today: for example 日 (‘sun’) once was a circle with a dot in the middle.

Ancient Chinese culture, before the imperial era (from 221 BC), has obscure beginnings. Later invasions and contact with foreign cultures has colored Chinese culture, but the underlying forms established during the Shang and Zhou eras still appear in modern Chinese culture in everything from religion, to traditions, to dress, to writing in characters.

The Shang people (c.1600–1046 BC) developed cultural forms such as pictographic writing, typical foods and clothes, and emphasizing large-scale construction projects. These traditions were emulated afterwards in the Zhou era (1046–221 BC) when Confucian philosophies developed, the imperial dynasties, and modern China.

Chinese Culture, Tradition, and Customs

Present day Chinese culture is an amalgamation of old world traditions and a westernized lifestyle. The two co-exist like the traditional Yin Yang formula of balance. This can be seen in the juxtaposition of towering skyscrapers with heritage buildings, the contrast of western fashion with the traditional Chinese Qipao dress, the people's paradoxical affinity for both dim sums and McDonald's.

Ancient Chinese Culture is older than 5000 years. Chinese cultural history has enormous diversity and variety. The sophisticated Chinese civilization was rich in the Arts and Sciences, elaborate Painting and Printing techniques and delicate pottery and sculpture. Chinese architectural traditions were much respected all over the world. Chinese language and literature, philosophy and politics are still reckoned as a strong influence. Chinese culture managed to retain its unique identity till the advent of Western culture in the mid-19th century.

Chinese Religion, Philosophy and Politics: Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism have left a collective and lasting impression on Chinese culture and tradition. Confucianism propagated “Ren” (Love) and “Li” (rituals), signifying respect for society and social hierarchy. Taoism advocated the controversial philosophy of inaction. Buddhism emphasized on the need to attain self- emancipation through good deeds.

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Ethnic Groups

China, a large united multi-national state, is composed of 56 ethnic groups. Han Chinese account for 91.59% of the overall Chinese population, and the other 55 groups make up the remaining 8.41%, according to the Fifth National Population Census of 2000.

These numerous ethnic groups share China's vast lands but at the same time many live in their individual communities. The relationships between the different ethnic groups have been formed over many years.

Distinct Language

While hundreds of Chinese dialects are spoken across China, a minority language is not simply a dialect. Rather, it is a language with distinct grammatical and phonological differences from Chinese. Language families include Sino-Tibetan, Altaic, Indo-European, Austro-Asiatic, and Austronesian. Twenty-one ethnic minority groups have unique writing systems.

Chinese Religion

Buddhism in China

Buddhism is the most important religion in China. It is generally believed that it was spread to China in 67 AD during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220) from Hotan in Xinjiang to Central China. During its development in China, it has a profound influence on traditional Chinese culture and thoughts, and has become one of the most important religions in China at that time.

Three different forms of this religion evolved as it reached the centers of population at varying times and by different routes. The social and ethnic background in each location also affected the way in which each of these forms developed and eventually they became known as Han, Tibetan and Southern Buddhism.

Over its long history, Buddhism has left an indelible impact on Chinese civilization. Many words and phrases have root in a Buddhist origin. Take a colloquial phrase as an example, 'to hold the foot of Buddha at the moment" means "to make a last minute effort". This reveals in a sense the true attitude of the Chinese toward the utilitarian aspects of belief. Many people kowtow to whatever gods they encounter and will burn incense in any temple.

In literature traces of Buddhism and Zen are obvious. Quite a few famous poets in Tang Dynasty like Bai Juyi were lay Buddhists but this did not prevent them from indulging in a little from time to time. Just as today's white collar classes go to bars, the Tang scholars went to restaurants to drink and flirt with the almahs.

In today's China, Buddhist temples, Buddhist caves and grottoes and Buddhist Holy Mountains, especially the ones listed in the national or provincial historical and cultural relics, have become the hot spots for tourism. It is not uncommon for the income of a temple to cover the expenses of a whole county or district.

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Taoism in China

In the Chinese language the word tao means "way," indicating a way of thought or life. There have been several such ways in China's long history, including Confucianism and Buddhism. In about the 6th century BC, under the influence of ideas credited to a man named Lao-tzu, Taoism became "the way". like Confucianism, it has influenced every aspect of Chinese culture.

Taoism began as a complex system of philosophical thought that could be indulged in by only a few individuals. In later centuries it emerged, perhaps under the influence of Buddhism, as a communal religion. It later evolved as a popular folk religion.

Philosophical Taoism speaks of a permanent Tao in the way that some Western religions speak of God. The Tao is considered unnamed and unknowable, the essential unifying element of all that is. Everything is basically one despite the appearance of differences. Because all is one, matters of good and evil and of true or false, as well as differing opinions, can only arise when people lose sight of the oneness and think that their private beliefs are absolutely true. This can be likened to a person looking out a small window and thinking he sees the whole world, when all he sees is one small portion of it. Because all is one, life and death merge into each other as do the seasons of the year. They are not in opposition to one another but are only two aspects of a single reality. The life of the individual comes from the one and goes back into it.

The goal of life for a Taoist is to cultivate a mystical relationship to the Tao. Adherents therefore avoid dispersing their energies through the pursuit of wealth, power, or knowledge. By shunning every earthly distraction, the Taoist is able to concentrate on life itself. The longer the adherent's life, the more saintly the person is presumed to have become. Eventually the hope is to become immortal.

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Confucianism in China

Confucius was China’s most famous Philosopher. He lived in Ancient China during the Zhou Dynasty. Confucius was a government official, and during his lifetime (he lived from 551 to 479 B.C. ) he saw growing disorder and chaos in the system. Perhaps due to the turmoil and injustices he saw, he set himself to develop a new moral code based on respect, honesty, education, kindness and strong family bonds. His teachings later became the basis for religious and moral life throughout China.

The Five Virtues of Confucius

Confucius believed that a good government was the basis for a peaceful and happy society. And the basis for a good government was good officials. In order to become a “good official” a person had to master the following Five Virtues:

Li for ritual etiquette, manners, gravity

"Men's natures are alike, it is their habits that carry them far apart."

Ren stands for Kindness to the fellow man

“Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses."

Xin stands for truthfulness, faithfulness and sincerity

“The superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions”

Yi for righteousness or honesty, generosity of soul

“When we see men of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves”

Xiao for filial piety, for strong family values

“The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home”

Chinese food

Beijing Roast Duck

It is often said that if you are in Beijing, there are essentially two things that you must do one is to climb the Great Wall of China, and the other is to eat Peking Duck. Once confined to the kitchens of the palace, the legendary Peking Duck is now served at thousands of restaurants around Beijing, as well as around the world.

The origin of the Peking Duck dates back to the Ming Dynasty, about 600 years ago. Cooks from all over China travelled to the capital Beijing to cook for the Emperor. It was a prestigious occupation as only the best chefs could enter the palace kitchens. A top cook was even able to reach the rank of a minister!

It was in these kitchens where dishes of exceptional quality such as the Peking Duck were first created and crafted to perfection by palace chefs. However, many of the recipes for such "foods of the Emperor" were later smuggled out of the kitchen and onto the streets of Beijing. With the eventual fall of the Ching dynasty in 1911, court chefs who left the Forbidden City set up restaurants around Beijing and brought Peking Duck and other delicious dishes to the masses.

In the winter season, when chilly temperatures and frigid winds prevail over the land, people like to eat food that instantly warms their bodies and lifts their spirits. For that, the hot pot is a delicious and hearty choice. Families or groups of friends sit around a table and eat from a steaming pot in the middle, cooking and drinking and chatting. Eating hot pot is not a passive activity: diners must select morsels of prepared raw food from plates scattered around the table, place them in the pot, wait for them to cook, fish them out of the soup, dip them in the preferred sauce, and then eat them hot, fresh, and tender. They can also ladle up the broth from the pot and drink it.

The high temperature in the hot pot is symbolic of the warmth of tender feeling that those people sitting around it have for each other, while the round shape of the apparatus is a hint at the lack or complete absence of irregularities in the man-to-man relationship. Undoubtedly, this way of eating is not only a figurative embodiment but a visual indication of the willingness to eat from the same pot and to share the same lot. This is the most highly prized merit of group consciousness.

The hot pot is not only a cooking method it also provides a way of eating. It is not only a dietary mode it is also a cultural mode. As a dietary mode, the hot pot can be used by many people dining together, or by one person eating alone. Yet how few are those solitary diners to be found in a restaurant! In a hot pot restaurant it's really hard to meet with a customer dining by him/herself. This is not because the diner wants to economize, but because dining by oneself in front of a hot pot is devoid of interest and joy.

What is religion in China? A brief history

The complex and ever-changing relationship between the Chinese state and the nation’s religions stretches back thousands of years. While the state never truly struggled with religious leaders for power, it governed an embedded religiosity in the population, one best described as diffused, non-exclusive, and pluralistic. As a companion to The Immanent Frame‘s newly launched series of essays on the state of religion in China, this piece embarks on a brief historical survey, outlining the wide variety of beliefs and practices that religion in China encapsulates, and paying particular attention to the events and philosophies that have shaped the policies of the atheist People’s Republic of China.

Early history

Shamanic religions were among the earliest recorded religious traditions in China, dating back at least to the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC–1050 BC). Elements of these early traditions continue to form a major part of what is now called Chinese folk (or traditional) religion—an elastic term that refers collectively to the numerous local beliefs, cults, and practices that have evolved since then. Important components of Chinese religious thought emerged during this period, such as the concept of otherworldly realms, the elevated status of ancestors, the use of divination and spirit mediums, sky/heaven worship, and the offering of food as sacrifices.

The Spring and Autumn/Warring States period (771 BC–221 BC), while fraught with chaos and war, also saw a blossoming of intellectual activity known as the Hundred Schools of Thought. These hundred schools included, among others, Daoism, based on the works of the legendary sage Laozi, as well as the teachings of the philosopher Confucius, which would later form the basis for the official ideology of the Chinese imperial state. Buddhism was introduced from the Indian subcontinent via the Silk Road during the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) the first documented reference was recorded under the reign of Emperor Ming (58–75). Through mutual influence and interaction, these three traditions—Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism—formed the basis for the sanjiao (三教, “three teachings”), an influential model that views the three alternately as complementary or as fundamentally similar, but in either case as elements of one harmonious aggregate. Although each tradition had its own canon and leaders, none were self-contained or exclusive most Chinese engaged with the deities, liturgies, people, and rituals of all of the sanjiao.

Besides Buddhism, other foreign religions would eventually make their way into China, such as Zoroastrianism, which entered China through Central Asian merchants. The Tang Dynasty (617-907), like the Han Dynasty before it, possessed tremendous power and territory, allowing for extensive contact with foreign cultures, and thus fostered an era of cosmopolitanism. Both Manichaeism and Islam were introduced during this time Cao’an, in Fujian, is one of the few surviving Manichaean temples today, and the Huaisheng Mosque in Guangdong is one of the oldest mosques in the world. The presence of Christianity in China, in the form of the Church of the East (or the Nestorian Church), was first documented in the Nestorian Stele. Written in Chinese and Syriac and erected in 781 in Xi’an, the Stele relates the early history of Christianity in China and its official recognition by the emperor.

As China continued to import, interpret, and practice different religions, the state sought to manage them, as well as occasionally to promote or to purge certain traditions. For example, the early Han Emperor Wu (141 BC–87 BC) officially sponsored Confucianism in education and government, established imperial rites and sacrifices, and embraced mystics and spirit mediums at his court. Conversely, the reign of the late Tang Emperor Wuzong (840–846) witnessed massive religious persecution against foreign religions a devout Daoist, Wuzong would single out Christianity, Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism, and, above all, Buddhism for their corrupting economic and social influence on Chinese society. The extent and influence of these different religious traditions would wax and wane throughout different dynasties and emperors and as they evolved and adapted to Chinese culture. For instance, while Christianity, Islam, and Tibetan Buddhism became major influences among the ruling elites under the cosmopolitan Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), the more isolationist Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) saw a return to nativist sanjiao primacy.

European encroachment

Interaction with European religious traditions began during the later Ming Dynasty with the arrival of Catholic orders, mostly notably the Society of Jesus. Generally tolerated and occasionally favored throughout the Ming Dynasty as well as the early Qing Dynasty (1644–1912), the Jesuits were at the center of the “Rites Controversy,” a fierce debate among Catholics over whether ancestral worship and the veneration of Confucius was acceptable for Catholic converts. Pope Clement XI’s decree in 1704 ruled against the more accommodating policy of the Jesuits, which in turn led to the banishment of Christianity by the Chinese emperor. This controversy, combined with the discussion over the correct term for “God” in Chinese, marks one of many attempts to define and understand Chinese religiosity through a Western framework.

The Opium Wars (1839-1842 1856-1860) opened China anew to the incursions of European powers, which brought with them not only Protestantism, but also Western concepts that would both complicate and shape understandings of Chinese religiosity. The terms zongjiao (宗教, “religion”) and mixin (迷信, “superstition”), terms that had not really existed in Chinese discourse prior to interaction with Europeans, first appeared during this era, as well as their connotations of exclusivity, organization, and scripture. The terms were likely imported from Japan, which was dealing with similar problems in reclassifying the relationship among polity, religion, and society in the aftermath of European contact. Conversely, the word Confucianism, meaning the “religion” of Confucius, dates to this time, though it continues to be a somewhat problematic term, with no direct equivalent in Chinese. With the Qing imperial state in rapid decline, due in part to aggressive religious elements (such as the Taiping and Boxer Rebellions), these new Western notions helped shape the radical reforms of the late nineteenth century that aimed to modernize the nation. For example, Kang Youwei, one of the leaders of the Hundred Days’ Reform movement (1898), dramatically rejected traditional Chinese beliefs as backward, targeted temples and other religious buildings for appropriation, and proposed to establish Confucian ideology as a national religion.

Chaos and upheaval

Anti-traditional and anti-religious thought did not abate with the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, as the intellectual leaders of the May Fourth and New Culture Movements rallied against traditional beliefs and Confucian culture as well as foreign religious influences (such as Christianity) in their efforts to create a modern Chinese society. The religion/superstition dichotomy in particular had a great influence on the policies of this period. The Nationalist government (1928–1949) recognized five religions—Buddhism, Catholicism, Daoism, Islam, and Protestantism—but deemed most other beliefs and traditions to be superstition (Confucianism, viewed as an ethical and philosophical system, was not part of this categorization). For example, Chinese folk religion, which was neither organized nor grounded in theological texts, was subject to repression, though efforts to eradicate it largely failed due to the general turmoil of the era.

The People’s Republic of China was established in 1949, and its early policy towards religion can be seen as a partial continuation of Nationalist thought. Despite communist contempt for all religion, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) recognized the same five religions as the Nationalists had and helped to create patriotic representative associations for each of them during the 1950s. The State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) was established to engage with religion at the institutional level, while the United Front Department, a legacy of both the Second Sino-Japanese War and Chinese Civil War, dealt with religious leaders. Persecution of Chinese folk religion, however, only intensified regarded as “feudal superstition,” halls, shrines, statues, and temples across China were either dismantled or repurposed as part of the CCP’s efforts to radically reorganize Chinese society.

Mao Zedong’s call for a renewed class struggle in 1966 ignited the Cultural Revolution, beginning one of the most thorough efforts to destroy religious and traditional life in China. Both the State Administration for Religious Affairs and the United Front Department were condemned, patriotic associations were disbanded, religious leaders and practitioners were persecuted, and all forms of religious expression were forbidden. As part of the Destroy Four Olds campaign, innumerable historical and religious artifacts, buildings, and texts were demolished and desecrated by the Red Guards, including the looting and vandalizing of the cemetery of Confucius.

Recent history

With the death of Mao and the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, Deng Xiaoping became the paramount leader of China by 1978. Deng would initiate significant economic and social reforms, and religion, effectively banned during the Cultural Revolution, slowly returned as regulations were lifted SARA was reactivated, as were the five patriotic associations. The sanjiao, in particular, saw support from the state, as destroyed or damaged places of worship were rebuilt, but Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism, and Chinese folk religion grew considerably as well.

In 1982—the same year in which the current constitution was adopted—the CCP formulated its current guiding philosophy on religion in what is known as Document Number 19. Taking the traditional Marxist view of religion, the CCP considers religion a negative force, and CCP members must be atheists working towards a time when “the vast majority of our citizens will be able to deal with the world and our fellowmen from a conscious scientific viewpoint, and no longer have any need for recourse to an illusory world of gods to seek spiritual solace.” Nonetheless, the document acknowledges that in the short term religion will remain a part of society, and as such should be properly managed different sections detail the need to restore places of worship, the relationship between religion and ethnic minorities, the importance of the five patriotic associations, and the state’s protection of the freedom of religious belief.

Recent years have seen religiosity on the rise at home across all religious traditions, coinciding with politico-religious unrest in places such as Xinjiang and Tibet, as well as issues with superstitious xiejiao (邪教, “evil cults”) such as Falun Gong. This has not gone unnoticed by Chinese leaders like Hu Jintao (former General Secretary/President of China) and Wang Zuoan (current director of SARA), who recognize the role that religion plays in building a “prosperous society” but also its potential for “unrest and antagonism.” With massive domestic socioeconomic changes taking place, as well as China’s growing influence on the global stage, the pressure is on the state—whose policies on religion are arguably still reminiscent of those a hundred years ago—to engage with religion in new and constructive ways.

Many thanks to Buzzy Teiser and Vincent Goossaert for their comments and suggestions on an earlier draft of this piece.

Religion and Worldview

The country of China encompasses a diversity of religious beliefs and systems among its people. A large majority of the nation identifies as having no religious denomination, or possessing an atheistic belief. As a Communist society, China is not affiliated with any kind of religion. However, a substantial percentage of the population practices traditional Asian religions, namely Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism.

The analects, or writings, of Confucius.

Confucianism is a religion which has grown since at least the sixth century B.C. in many Asian cultures. The set of doctrines which make up Confucianism were created by Master Kong, or Confucius, yet many followers of the religion believe there were even earlier and more ancient believers of what we now know to be Confucianism. The main values of Confucianism involve answering certain questions about life: What is wrong with humans? What ideal state should we seek? How should we achieve this enlightenment from imperfect to ideal? Followers of the religion stress the importance of respecting elders and serving the community. Because of this, a large number of Chinese citizens are not individualistic, and their priorities instead lie in living and working as a small part of a larger group.

In the past century or so, Confucianism has undergone somewhat of a reform, as many are opposed to the misogynistic and oppressive values against women that they believe the traditional doctrine advocates.

The yin-yang symbol illustrates the concept of balance and change in the universe.

Taoism, on the other hand, has no concrete set of doctrines, and there are no universal rules or beliefs which followers of the religion must accept. The religion is a traditional part of Chinese culture and has been in practice at least since the third century B.C. Taoists generally strive for the transformation of the self and harmony and integration with unseen forces in the universe. The yin-yang symbol and its two swirling colors is used in Taoism to illustrate that change is the only constant factor in the universe.

The Leshan Giant Buddha, built during the Tang Dynasty, is located in Sichuan, China.

Buddhism is one of the largest belief systems in Asia, and is a prominent religion in China. It is one the most ancient religions, dating back the 5 th century B.C., when Buddhist founder, Siddhartha Guatama was born in India. Much of Buddhism involves the contemplation of existence, and thus a major practice of most Buddhists is meditation. Buddhists believe in the concept of samsara, or the cycle of reincarnation. Buddhists believe they are doomed to repeat an endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth until they achieve nirvana, or eternal freedom. Guatama is not only the founder of the religion, but the ideal example of what Buddhists should achieve. It is said that through religious practice, Guatama achieved nirvana and thus, became a Buddha, or “enlightened one”. It is the Buddhist’s goal to follow Guatama’s spiritual journey.

The maneki-neko (“beckoning cat”), a good luck talisman of Japanese origin, is also very popular in China.

Much of the Chinese population adhere to a pluralistic system of religion. The three major religions in China (Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism) “are not mutually exclusive, and many people practice elements of all three in addition to worshiping various gods and goddesses, each of which is responsible for a different profession or other aspect of life” (World Encyclopedia). The force of luck is also a widely held belief in China, often spanning across a variety of different religions. Funerals are considered by most of the Chinese to be a significant, important symbol of the deceased’s passage into the next world, and thus are elaborate affairs. Many Chinese citizens partake in ancestor worship, and may even devote shrines to deceased relatives.

Traditional Communication:

In analyzing the Chinese culture they can be viewed in Hofstede’s model as having a high power distance, high uncertainty avoidance, collectivist, and high-context type culture.

They are a high power distance culture because of the structures of their society where there are distinct levels of leadership.

They fall under high on uncertainty avoidant because of their propensity of sticking to the norms, where there is less risk of failure and the outcome is more predictable.

China has a collectivist type culture because they act on behalf of the group, and not just the individual.

It is a high-context culture, because they internalize many of their emotions, and express them by facial expressions and body language. In china they call this the concept of face. They follow Confucian type ideas where they focus on human harmony. This is where a relationship can be built upon by human feelings. In doing this they tend to be non- confrontational, they feel that verbal communication can sometimes be too direct (especially in face-to-face interactions).

This can be viewed as a negative way of communicating because they are consistently not trying to ‘lose face’ to the people around them they tend to lose sight of themselves by constantly trying to please others by being seen in a positive manner. They believe that this is the way that one should live their lives emotionally, morally, and harmoniously.

The Link Between Cultures:

Although there are some similarities between Chinese and modern western cultures there are many differences as well. With growing western investment and businesses in the urban areas around China, it is becoming more acceptable especially among the younger generations to adopt some of the western habits, foods, and clothing. This is because of growing standard of living and a growth of the middle-class.

American television, and movies has also greatly affected the way that the younger generation of Chinese are communicating, by adapting the way that they communicate to the ways that they see from their favorite American television shows, and movies.

While many of the traditional Chinese norms for communication are still widely used among their culture, a rising in the popularity in the western style of communication is growing. Does this mean that the traditional ways of communication are dead? No, it just means that there is a growing acceptance of western culture and the way that they communicate with one another.

Religion Ancient China for Kids

The ancient Chinese honored their many gods and personal ancestors every day. They believed in magical dragons and monsters. They had many superstitions and held many festivals to honor their beliefs. They even held an annual birthday party for ghosts, so ghosts would be honored and remembered too.

Ancient Chinese Gods & Goddesses: For thousands of years, the ancient Chinese believed in many gods and goddesses. They had important gods and little tiny gods. Gods had personalities. For example, the ancient Chinese kitchen god was a tattletale. Each year, right before the new year, the kitchen god reported all behavior of the household to his boss, the Jade Emperor. The ancient Chinese believed if you left sweets as offerings for the kitchen god on the kitchen hearth right before he gave his report, his report would be glowing! The Jade Emperor would reward the family's good behavior with good luck. Since the kitchen god could not eat these treats, the family could eat them after they were offered to the kitchen god.

Ancestor Worship: The ancient Chinese believed their ancestors watched over them, and would protect them, provided they prayed in the right way. Kings and queens used oracle bones to allow their ancestors to answer their questions.

Ancient Chinese Festivals: They held many festivals to honor their gods and ancestors. Chinese New Year started many thousands of years ago. It was a festival for remembering ancestors, for feasting, and for giving gifts of "red envelopes" of lucky money. Another popular festival was the lantern festival. (Both of these festivals are still observed and enjoyed today!)

Good Dragons: The ancient Chinese believed in magical dragons. They believed dragons were caring and looked after things provided they received proper attention, prayer, and thanks. There were different dragons to guard the wind, the rain, the rivers, and precious metals. That is why dragons were so often painted on pottery. The ancient Chinese wanted to give the pot good luck, but they also wanted to honor their dragons.

Bad Monsters: The Legend of Nian. The ancient Chinese also believed in monsters. Sometimes they prayed that the monster would go away, but that rarely worked. Ancient Chinese monsters were notorious for ignoring prayers. But the villagers had to do something. You could not let a monster hang around causing trouble. To solve this problem and others, people would visit the village wise woman for advice.

Loawna, the Wise Woman: Long ago, in Xia times, each village had a "wise woman". You could go to the village wise woman with your questions and problems, and she could possibly get an answer for you. Sometimes, she knew the answer already because village wise women were very, well, wise.

Ancient Chinese Superstitions: The ancient Chinese did many things to protect themselves from evil and to make sure they would have a happy life. They believed in the power of prayer, but they also believed in the power of placement. For example, they believed their front door had to face south if they wanted a happy life.

Both Confucianism and Taoism are very old ancient Chinese beliefs. They are not religions but are instead ways of behaving and ways of thinking about things.

It was not until T'ang times, during the Imperial Age of China, that Buddhism was added to the mix. Buddhism is a religion. Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism became known as the Three Doctrines or the "Three Teachings". In Tang times, a man might honor his ancestors by following the rigid rules of social behavior as dictated by Confucianism, attend a Buddhist pageant, and practice Taoist breathing exercises, all in the same day. These three doctrines were an important part of daily life.

But religion, during the Ancient Age of China, was focused every day on honoring the many gods and goddesses of ancient China combined with ancestor worship.

Buddhist teachers point out that despite the images’ importance, Buddhists do not worship them. “There is a misunderstanding that Buddhists try to worship idols,” said Guoyuan Fashi, abbot at the Chan Meditation Center in New York City. “The main thing is that we respect the Buddha because we understand his teachings.”

“We are open to all other religions,” Nguyen said. “Buddha taught that we have to respect other religions.” However, he said, it is not common for Buddhists to practice Christian rituals or to pray to one god.

Ancient China Religion

Priests were highly specialized and were treated as mediators between God and human beings. The concept of priesthood was very well developed in Ancient China.

The Concepts of Taoism and Confucianism developed in China and spread all over. These concepts are highly philosophical and intellectual in nature though they also have spiritual shades in them. Buddhism which had originated in India had gradually spread all over China. Confucius was a politician and a philosopher and had studied the culture and government in Ancient China very well.

Though he had no intention to establish an Ancient China Religion, however the guidelines he framed came to be followed by people from a religious perspective.

Taoism developed in the initial stages of development of religion in China and it used to be considered a source of all things. In literary meaning Tao means Path. Lao-tzu was the one who composed Taoism which talks of force in nature.

It asks people to follow Tao which means don’t force the nature to do something it was not meant to do. The good nature of humanity should not be denied. Lao-tzu was asked to frame his wisdom when he entered the Chinese territory. Later original form of Taoism was changed by those who started practicing it and was turned more into magic and alchemy.

Buddhism which originated in India spread widely in China and today is the major religion in China. Buddhism came to China along with the Silk Route and was during the Hans dynasty. It was earlier considered a part of Taoism, however, the Buddhist monks were successful in propagating it as a separate concept. Nirvana of Buddhism became very popular in the later stages.

All the three religions had an equal amount of influencing power and people many times followed all three, however, each of them had its own unique value and importance.

Christianity in Present China

Nowadays, Christianity prevails in China especially the eastern and central provinces including Anhui, Zhejiang, Fujian, Henan, Hebei, Shanghai and Jiangsu. Its three main sects all have numerous followers. In the country, Christian is usually referred to Protestant, which has been the most popular group. There are over 23 million Protestants and about 50,000 adherents from family churches. The followers of Roman Catholicism reach 6 million. On Sundays, Christians get together in a home or a church to sing songs of praise, read the Bible, hear sermons, share thoughts, reflect on Scripture, pray, and other community activities. There would be special activities on major Christian festivals, such as Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day and Halloween.

There are 15 Christian theological colleges in the big cities of China. In addition, there are a number of Bible schools and Bible training center in some small cities.

Buddhism in Ancient China, History of

The kingdoms of China were located to the north of India. Buddhism, which began during the sixth century BC, reached these lands during the rule of the Han Dynasty. The Silk Road was the primary overland trade route that connected many regions within central Asia, the Middle East, and southern Europe. The Buddhist monks in India began to slowly make their way across the Silk Road into China. Chinese monks also visited the land of India via the Silk Road. Many Chinese and Indian monks also lived side by side. Quite a few Chinese monks had learned about Buddhism through these holy men. Scholars and historians like to emphasise that the Mahayan form of Buddhism is the type that took root in China. The Theravada branch formed in eastern and southeastern Asia and Sri Lanka. Buddhism finally started to appear in China around 65 B.C. which is where this event appears on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History.

Buddhism and Daoism Compete in Early China

Once Buddhism spread to China it had to compete with a religious belief called Daoism (Taoism) which motivated its followers to live according to “The Way” or the truth. Buddhism and Daoism beliefs were separate. Buddhism emphasized suffering while Daoism stressed order and morality. Eventually, both systems began to mix with one another. Most of the commoners did not accept Buddhism right away and it wasn’t until the Age or Era of Disunity that the locals started to embrace this belief system. The Age of Disunity was a time period of civil war that occurred after the collapse of the Han Dynasty. There was a lot of suffering for many local peasants and they finally made a connection between the concept of suffering that is found in Buddhism and the turmoil they were experiencing during the civil wars. This resulted in Buddhism playing a more prominent role in their lives.

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Buddhism is Widely Accepted by the Chinese

Buddhism eventually became the state religion of China and different leaders both domestic and foreign used Buddhism as a means to unify the people. They also used it to control the people as well. Buddhist temples and monasteries began to spring up all over China after Buddhism was first introduced. This took place over time too as people began to learn more about this newfound religion. The changes that Buddhism brought upon China were not immediate or apparent. In time the Chinese people embraced Buddhism and this religion began to flourish. Chinese Buddhism eventually became so widespread that it has influenced million of peoples all over the world.

Watch the video: Ancient China - Religions (January 2022).