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Chinese Religion

Chinese religion is not an organized, unified system of beliefs and practices. It has no leadership, no headquarters, no founder, and no denominations. Instead, "Chinese religion" is a general term used to describe the complex interaction of different religious and philosophical traditions that have been especially influential in China.

What were the main religions in China?

In China, Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism are the three main religious beliefs, with other beliefs as supplementary. Confucianism is a patriarchal religion that reveres heaven and ancestors. Its philosophy is Confucianism. Compared with a traditional patriarchal religion which usually has a religious belief but no philosophy, Confucianism does not have actual religious belief but a philosophy. Buddhism is both a religion and a philosophy. Daoism is both a religion and a school of thought.

Wu Tai Mountain

To classify the traditional Chinese religions, Confucianism is a philosophy with a patriarchal religious style. Daoism is akin to the patriarchal, clericalist power, with disciples pursuing individual religious goals. Buddhism gives support to the masses to live quietly under the combined rule of the patriarchal, state power and religious power. Either of them provides but the external form of the patriarchal religion.

Traditionally Taoism and Confucianism provided ethical guides to the proper behavior of individuals and officials. Both of these systems originated in China during the Spring and Autumn Period, so-called Golden Age of Chinese thought. Taoism sought to promote the inner peace of individuals and harmony with their surroundings. Confucianism, based on the teachings and writings of the philosopher Confucius, is an ethical system that sought to teach the proper way for all people to behave in society. Each relationship, husband-wife, parents-children, ruler-subjects, involved a set of obligations which, if upheld, would lead to a just and harmonious society. Following his teachings would also promote a stable, lasting government.

What were the characteristics of Chinese religion?

Tai Ji

Chinese are not deeply religious and show a comparative indifference to metaphysical speculation. Chinese culture was perhaps the first to develop an intellectual skepticism concerning the gods. “All land under heaven belongs to the emperor; all people on the land are subjects of the emperor”. This used to be the conception of the imperial power in traditional Chinese culture. As everything depends on and serves the imperial power, so does every religion. Religion as an ideological system must gain the recognition of the monarch. This has been the first criterion of religions. The more an ideological system was recognize, supported and praised by the monarch, the more this ideological system became a religion.

Attempts to manipulate the forces which shape the human and natural worlds have been a key element in all Chinese religious traditions. This is manifested in a complex mix of religious, superstitious and magical beliefs and practices. The religious outlook of most Chinese people consists of some combination of beliefs and practices from different religions. It is very rare for only one to be practiced to the exclusion of the others.
Chinese people have shown themselves to be concerned primarily with the human person and society. They are also more ancestors worshiping than god veneration. In a predominantly rural country, this has manifested itself in a concern for the land and its prosperity. Thus religious practice has been closely linked with the question of the ownership of the land. The various folk traditions in the religion of the rural masses have a comparable preoccupation with these worldly concerns, expressed in earthbound beliefs in the gods of the family and the soil.

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