Religion in China: A Brief Overview


Thinking you can become a balanced investor in Chinese assets without a firm grasp on at the very least the basics with respect to culture would be misguided at best. And having a firm grasp on “all things culture” without including religion into the mix would be (severely) sub-optimal, so let us take a few moments and put China from the perspective of religion under the microscope.

If you are a loyal reader, you’ve probably realized by now that “it’s different in China” and variations thereof represent a go-to expression. Why? Simply because… well, things usually ARE different in China compared to the proverbial West and religion does not represent an exception.

As a Westerner who is for the most part unfamiliar with Chinese culture, you might expect the religions you are most accustomed to (Christianity and Islam) to be well-represented but that it just not the case. At this point than time, only around 2.5% of those who live in China are Christians, whereas slightly less than 0.5% adhere to Islam.

Furthermore, it is important to point out that religious homogeneity is most definitely something you will not come across in China. Almost 75% of China’s population is either non-religious or adheres to the various (with “various” being the operative word!) forms of Chinese folk religions. Folk religions have been around since the Shang/Zhou dynasties, possibly sooner, and revolves around allegiance to a wide range of “spirits” such as natural/environment deities, folk heroes/mythological figures and so on. Needless to say, various ramifications have evolved and depending on which geographic region you are analyzing, your findings will be different.

Before moving on, it is vital to provide some clarification with respect to the “non-religious” dimension, with there being two main aspects worth addressing:

  1. The Communist Party of China is an atheist entity, like most counterparts from other nations, and prohibits those in office from partaking in religious activities. At this point in time, religion is far more tolerated than during the Mao Zedong regime, especially the 1966 Cultural Revolution with its “out with the old, in with the new” perspective which included violent manifestations toward religious figures, religious landmarks and so on (for example, the destruction of attempted destruction of various Confucianism-related landmarks)
  2. Leaving the political dimension altogether, there is also the fact that for the most part, many Han Chinese do not consider themselves religious but do include various religion-related activities in their lives. In other words, they would declare themselves non-religious if they were to fill out a form but partake in religious activities such as lunar calendar-related festivities. As such, religion-related statistics should be taken with a grain of salt in light of how difficult it is to gather accurate data and interpret that data properly

Finally, as explained on several occasions here on, a significant philosophico-religious dimension is represented by the let’s call them three philosophical pillars of China: Daoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. To read about each pillar in particular, simply click on the three previously-mentioned links and to read an article through which they have been analyzed as a whole, simply click HERE.

There are of course all sorts of other movements such as salvationism but for the most part, the picture we have painted thus far represents enough in terms of knowledge that an investor should have. In the future, we might end up publishing another religion-related article or two but going into too much detail is not vital. Interesting? Yes. Fascinating? Definitely. But in light of the fact that is a finance-oriented resource and we understand that the time of our readers is valuable, we choose not to go into more detail than we have to.

Another tidbit worth adding is that officially-speaking, only five religions are currently recognized in China: Buddhism, Catholicism (with the Chinese Catholic Church not having a dependent relationship with the Catholic Church in Rome), Protestantism, Daoism (Taoism) and Islam. As mentioned previously, there was remarkably little flexibility in this respect a few decades ago (on the contrary, many missionaries were forced to leave the country and various organizations ended up being nationalized). This has changed in recent years, with steps being taken to also organize other religions formally, from Chinese folk religion to Confucianism.

At the end of the day, understanding the big picture religiously-speaking is a small piece of an extremely complex China puzzle. We congratulate you for taking the time to read up on more than just articles which cover financial data or (geo)political developments. While such articles deserve to account for the lion’s share of content here on, a little breather every now and then is both intellectually stimulating and practically useful.

In fact, perhaps our main selling point as consultants who specialize in this jurisdiction is precisely the fact that we’ve developed the habit of digging deeper than everyone else, taking a few steps back every now and then so as not to remain stuck in the same politico-economic narrative and, of course, thinking outside the box. Should you be interested in putting our expertise to good use, visit our Consulting section to find out what we can do for you. Or, of course, you can head over to the Contact page of to send us a message with your specific problems/requirements and we will do our best to get back to you in a timely manner.

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