Religion in China
religions like Daoism,5 and especially Confucianism6 are oen taken
as basically privatized by enveloping every aspect of the private lives of
adherents without crossing over into public, political life.7 At the same
time, news of China’s persecution of members of Falun Gong8 and the
animosity between China and the Dalai Lama over Tibet,9 support the
persistent Western image of the Cultural Revolution stretching into
modern times where religion poses an existential threat to the Chinese
government. Survey studies contort Western perception even more,
determining (perhaps unpropitiously10) that China is the least religious
country in the world with 90 percent of Chinese considering themselves
to be a convinced “atheist” or, at the very least, “not religious.”11 To the
Western mind, only in China is it possible to have a society where the
religions are private, the government is religiously repressive and the
people are irreligious, all at the same time.
However, China’s relationship with religion has been a complicated
one, moving from a period of heavy repression during the Mao
Zedong-era to a more accommodating position in recent years.
5. Taoism, BBC (2014), http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/taoism/.
6. Judith A. Berling, Confucianism, A S, http://asiasociety.org/
7. Historically, however, politics played a role in the relationship between Chinese
religions. One notable example is in 842 when the Tang Emperor Wuzong,
who was personally attached to religious Daoism, launched a persecution
against Buddhism as well as other “foreign” religion in China. See Richard J.
Smith, Buddhism and the ‘Great Persecution’ in China in C M
R H (Kenneth Keulman ed. 1993).
8. John Li & the International Herald Tribune, China vs. Falun Gong: Aer four
years of repression, it’s time to let go, N. Y. T, July 22, 2003, http://www.
9. Tibet prole, BBC (Aug. 16, 2017), http://w ww.bbc.com/news/world-asia-
10. Ian Johnson, Chinese Atheists? What the Pew Survey Gets Wrong, N. Y. R.
B (Mar. 24, 2015), http://www.ny books.com/daily/2014/03/24/chinese-
11. Rick Noack, Map: ese are the world’s least religious countries, Wash.
Post (Apr. 14, 2015), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/