Religion in China

I have been back from China for about a month now. My experience was incredible, if not life-changing. Today I would like to talk to you all about Religion in China. Myself being quite a religious person (and because everyone is somewhat religious (please refer to anthropology) I don’t despite this title for myself), I really wanted to know about religion in China.

“You know–China has no religion,” one Chinese girl told me. I have heard many things about China and religion there. First of all, in some areas, religion is oppressed. It is my assumption that the primary area of oppression of religion is in Western China and Tibet. This is only what I learned first hand about religion in China.

In China I visited a Mosque, a Synagogue, 4 Buddhist temples, 1 Taoist temple, and 2 Christian churches (one sanctioned and one unsanctioned). According to Voice of the Martyrs, PRC (People’s Republic of China) recognizes 5 religious groups: Buddhism, Islam, Daoism, Protestantism, and Catholicism. Churches are supposed to register with the government. Non-government churches are illegal in China.

Buddhism and Daoism are two of the primary Chinese religions, they are ancient to China and have combined with folk religions and superstitions. My first encounter with Buddhism in China was a friend of mine in the United States was talking to me about God. My friend was from China and told me that China’s religion was Buddhism. Her thoughts about God were probing and profound and she grappled with how God could care about her, since she was from China.

Buddhism began in China during the Qin dynasty around 220-210 BC. Since then Chinese Buddhism has developed many branches and sects of Buddhism. The religion celebrates the enlightenment of its devoted followers. My first morning in China I saw an older woman counting her prayer beads. Counting the prayer beads in Buddhist tradition is an important task.

In China I visited the Jade Budda Temple and Long Hua temple in Shanghai, a temple on tiger hill in Suzhou, and a temple over-looking the forbidden city. Many of these temples were recently reconstructed, as many of them were used as refuges or forts during the Second Sino-Japanese war and WWII.

Most of the people who came to pray in the temple were older. But not all of them were.

This is a photo of the temple overlooking the Forbidden City (in which the Emperor was treated as a god).

Even though most of the people in the temples were either tourists like us or the older generation, some young couples brought their children. This young girl was following the lead of her parents in praying to the gods.

These are some people praying to gods and goddesses of Buddhism.

These are some cauldrons for incense, which many people burn as they pray.

Such as this woman who is bowing to each corner of the world with he burning incense.


The Temple of Heaven is regarded as a Daoist temple, but it was possibly built before Daoism became a religion in China and it is also regarded as Chinese Heaven Worship (I looked all of this up on Wikipedia… soo….)

The emperor is known to have worshiped there.

Interestingly enough Valerie and I went with our professor (Luo Laoshi) to a Jewish museum in Shanghai. Judaism has been in China for many years. Jews migrated to China as early as 7th century AD. They blended with the Chinese to become a dual culture. Later in the 1940s Jews from Europe sought refuge in the only country that would take them, and they lived in an area of Shanghai. The first group of Jews are known as the Kaifeng and they are an ethnic minority in China, hardly recognized by the government. They experienced persecution in the Tang dynasty. Now they are nearly impossible to distinguish from the Han Chinese (the primary people group of China) or the Hui (the Muslim Chinese people group).

During the 1940s Jewish refugees were met by the Kaifeng Jews in Shanghai and the refugees lived in this area of Shanghai.

This photo is a glass engraving of the first chapter of the Torah (or Genesis 1) written in traditional Chinese.

The Museum is located in this synagogue which is used for ceremonies such as weddings to this day, but according the the curator Jews no longer practice their religion in China. She did not either know, or would not give me a reason for this, but I suspect it is because they are not a recognized religion by the government. Therefore, they can practice cultural ceremonies like the wedding that happened the day before I was there, but they cannot hold services. The curator told me those two things were quite different.


While Islam is regarded as an Middle-Eastern religion, it has flourished in China nearly since its birth. The Chinese Muslims, the Hui people, live in communities all over China. In Beijing I visited an ancient mosque from the 12th century AD called the Niu Jie Mosque. Like all religion, Islam was suppressed during the Cultural Revolution. During this time Muslims were not permitted to go on a Hajj which is the journey to Mecca. But in 2001 the China Islamic Association was started by the government. This works to allow certain rights to the Muslim communities such as marriage performed by an Imam.

Here is a picture of a Chinese Muslim woman studying the Qu’ran in the Mosque.


Christianity is now a recognized religion in China. Christians experienced extreme persecution during the Cultural Revolution, but soon, the government realized that the more they persecuted the Church the stronger it became.

Persecution still occurs in many areas of China, and especially in Western China.

Churches in China are supposed to register with the government. I went to two churches in China, one home church (unregistered) and one international church (registered).

The home church was in a 7th story apartment. We sang hymns in Chinese and studied the Bible. There were maybe 20 Chinese there for the service. The church has been in existence for some ten years. My friend there told me that it is not that dangerous as long as they don’t bother the neighbors or preach in the streets. In other areas of China, it can be very dangerous to be in a house church, and Americans or any non-Chinese would be unable to go to the church because they would risk its exposure to the government.

The international church is set up to be for only international peoples. The church was registered by the government and pastored by my pastor’s brother in law. Unlike the Chinese service, the church service was in English. People from all over the world (including some Chinese (or possibly Taiwanese)) attended the Church. The church meets in a building they rent from the government. And while you may have heard that they were unable to preach the full gospel, I found the church the be genuine and preach the gospel. Chinese people are not supposed to attend a church which is pastored by a non-Chinese per government regulation.


Religion is not often talked about in China, yet the Chinese are eager to know about religion and Christianity. Christianity is spreading rapidly in China and has been for many years (despite the government oppression, even during the Cultural Revolution). I had the opportunity to share the gospel with two Chinese girls from my campus and they were fascinated and interested… they were captivated by the idea that God would love them even though they lived in China.

God’s passion is for us all of us, regardless of our ethnicity, political views, or religion. A fire is spreading in China. And God is consuming the attention of people all over the PRC.


Distant God

(I’m well-aware of my promised posts. This is not one of them. The promised posts will come.)

I think we have this idea in the world that the supreme being, creator, maker, master: GOD has set the world in motion and then steps back thinking very little else of us. If nothing happens when we pray it is because we have not prayed hard enough, have not believed deeply enough, have not set ourselves right with heaven, have not kept all of the laws, aren’t being geniune, have messed up too many times, or maybe the gods or God just doesn’t care at all.

And the fact is– I think most of us think in this way to at least some extent. It’s an ancient idea, that we would have to grovel before heaven, that we would plead our case. From the ancient worship of Baal to modern Indian religion, the practice of inflicting pain on the body was popular to gain the attention of the gods. In 1 Kings 18 Elijah devises this great contest between the prophets of Baal and their god and himself and the his God (YHWH). THe prophets plead, they sing and dance, they cut themselves with swords in order for Baal to light their alter with fire from heaven.

Elijah does none of these things. In fact, the only thing he really does is soak the alter in water. Then fire of heaven consumed not only the sacrifice, but the entire altar and the ground underneath it.

I recently heard a quote from Reinhard Bonnke who says: “When I stand up to preach the gospel I often preach to people who have no idea who God is because they worship idols, very terrible idols. They spread the table for their gods, and I tell them that the Christian God does it the other way around. He spreads the table for His children. And the other religions, the people always seek God; in the Christian faith, God seeks man.”

In our story about Elijah he taunts the prophets of Baal, saying “Oh well, scream louder, maybe your god is sleeping, or travelling, or eating, or busy with some other thing.”

But we know, that the most powerful– the only TRUE God, YHWH, is all-powerful. It is us, we are the ones who are travelling, sleeping, eating, working, too BUSY for God. The fact is that God has never been distant from us, we are distant from God.

God has outlaid for us an entire earth, woven together our lives, poured out every sacrifice for us, and he has not turned his face from us, but we have lowered our heads to him–not in reverence so much as ignorance. God has not forgotten us, we have forgotten him. Because it’s not that we have to sacrifice everything, he’s given us everything, we have NOTHING to bring to the table. That’s why he spreads the table for us. He has opened his heart and his arms to us and we struggle with vulnerability.

He gave so much to people who have nothing to return except our love. And our love is so insignificant when compared with his.

My mom and I have this favorite movie: “The Proposal” with Sandra Bullock. She plays a single woman, Margaret, she’s a bitch, all she has is her book publishing company in New York, and to avoid deportation she forces her assistant into an engagement with her, she’s seemingly in charge of her assistant’s fate. I think sometimes this is how we think of God. He’s the one, who if we do everything he wants, we can get “promoted,” and that some how he needs us, that some how he’s pushing us around. But isn’t that how we think? It’s not really how God thinks. God doesn’t need us. He wants us. He doesn’t go playing with our emotions. Everything is already on the table. He’s already made his sacrifice.

Margaret is us. She realizes she has nothing to offer, she runs, because she’s fallen for him, and him for her. And he chases after her because even though she has nothing to offer, he loves her. That’s conditionless love. It’s UN-conditional.

If someone cooks you dinner, prepares you a feast, they have sacrificed their time, maybe their finances, and their effort for you to eat. And we think that following God is our sacrifice, but how is it a sacrifice for us to eat food that was not prepared by our own hands, but by someone else’s.

We’re the servants of God, but he is the one who prepared the table for us. He sacrificed first. He loved us first. We’re just struggling to love him back. He’s the husband we never deserved. He offered us an engagement knowing that some of us wouldn’t accept. And yet he didn’t only offer it to those who would accept. He’s not afraid of rejection but he loved us too much not to offer everything.

God doesn’t have our limitations. Our fears. Our ways. We think when someone loves us it is because of what we can give, how we give it, who we are, but God loves us unconditionally. He needs nothing from us and he doesn’t love us for how we prepare our table for him– He prepared the table for us.  The host has not forgotten any of us in the guest-list. We don’t have to beg for the scraps at his table, we only have to accept the invitation.

Let’s not get so wrapped up in our daily lives, in working too hard, so much so, that we would decide that some how we don’t have time to dine with God, or that we forget we’ve been invited to this feast. How absurd of us to say God is distant when he is waiting for us at the feast prepared for our homecoming?