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The term “religion” originates from the Latin word “religio” which means the thing that connects. The Romans used this word before the time of Jesus Christ to point out the devotion to demons (Noss & Grangaard, 2011). Then Christians started using this term. However, later its usage gradually spread to any other form demonstrating the connection with supernatural or a sacred being. Religion refers to an organized set of cultural systems, beliefs, feelings, dogmas, and practices that determine the relationship between mortal beings and sacred or supernatural beings. The latter are gods and God (Noss & Grangaard, 2011). China has been a multi-religion country since the prehistoric times. Most of the people practice traditional religions. Nevertheless, there are also other religions such as Islam and Christianity. The most widely practiced religions in China are the indigenous religions which include Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. The other main religions in China are Christianity, which is divided into Protestantism and Catholicism, and Islam (Yao & Zhao, 2010).
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It is a spiritual development and a path of practice that lead to an insight into the exact nature of the reality. The founder of Buddhism was Buddha Shakyamuni, who lived in India more than 2500 years ago. He explained that human suffering depended on the negative state of mind. To acquire an everlasting peace one has to overcome the negative state of mind that is caused by such things as jealousy, ignorance, and anger and build a positive mind of wisdom, compassion, and love. Buddhism was introduced into China during the Han Dynasty period. It steadily spread from India to China and ended up becoming the most prominent religion. Since its introduction, it has had an intense influence on the culture of the Chinese. In China, it is divided into three groups — Tibetan, Pali, and Chinese Buddhism. Currently, China has more than 50 types of publications of Buddhism and over 13 thousand temples of Buddhism (Edkins, 2013).
Taoism is a religion that emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao. The word “Tao” refers to a path or a way. As a religion, Taoism was established some 1800 years ago during the Eastern Han Dynasty. The exact initiator of Taoism is in doubt, but some of the researchers agree that Laozi was the initiator of Taoism (Edkins, 2013). Some elements of the prehistoric folk’s religion of China are found in Taoism. It advocates for the worship of natural things and ancestors. With time, Taoism became more organized and developed into two major branches — Quanzhen and Zhengyi. However, unlike Buddhism, which was influential among many people in China, Taoism was not very prominent. Nevertheless, it had some influence, especially on traditional literature and medicine. There is a lack of regulations concerning the practice of Taoism and ceremonies. Therefore, it is hard to calculate the number of people practicing Taoism in China. Currently, there are more than 300 temples of Taoist with roughly 30,000 Taoists living there. Also, there are about five Taoist schools in China that teach the two branches of Taoism (Edkins, 2013).
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Based on the culture of the Xia, Shang, and Zhou Dynasties, Confucius created its own ideological system called Confucianism. It is not a real religion. It is just a system of philosophical and ethical teachings that was later treated as a kind of belief. Confucianism gained stability under the reign of Emperor Wu of Han Dynasty. It focuses on the one’s awareness of the Tian or heaven and the respect given to Shen such that gods through rituals. It also put an emphasis on the significance of the family and social harmony. In Confucianism, everything revolves around the pursuit of the unity of self and Tian. The Tian’s principle is the order of the creation. Through contemplation of this order, one can achieve his or her humanity and become a unity with Tian (Edkins, 2013).
Christianity consists of three main branches — Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Eastern Orthodoxy. In China, this religion was introduced during the Tang Dynasty. At the end of the Tang Dynasty, Christianity was prohibited by Emperor Wuzong. It came back into China during the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th century. The Ming Dynasty overthrew the Yuan Dynasty, and Christians were expelled from the country. The new wave of Christianity began during the Qing Dynasty. Most of the people who practice this religion are the representatives of the southern part of China (Goossaert & Palmer, 2012).
Islam was introduced into China in the 7th century during the dynasty of Tang. Currently, there are over thirty thousand mosques in China. Most of the Muslims live in the areas of Xinjiang, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, and Gansu Province (Goossaert & Palmer, 2012).
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Comparison of Chinese religions
In both religions, there is only one God, and that is Allah for the Muslims and God for the Christians. In Islam, there is the belief of the existence of a messenger known as Muhammad while Christian beliefs in the existence of the Son of God know as Jesus Christ. Both Islam and Christianity are guided by scriptures where the Christians use the Bible and the Muslims — the Qur’an. The Confucianism and Taoism have close ties with Chinese folk tales. Therefore, one can choose the best of the practices. Both Buddhism and Taoism possess complex philosophical teachings.
In conclusion, China is a multi-religion country with several important religions which include Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Buddhism traces its origin from India where it started some 2500 year ago while Confucianism and Taoism are indigenous. Christianity and Islam are also not common to China as they were introduced later. Christianity had been introduced and expelled several times due to different dynasties being in power.
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