The number of people who describe
themselves as religious is a startling three times more than the official
estimate, according to the country's first major survey on religious beliefs.
Believers pray in a church in
Shanghai on the Christmas Eve in this December 24, 2006 photo. A survey
has found that the number of religious believers is three times bigger
than the official estimate. [newsphoto]
The poll of about 4,500 people, conducted by professors Tong Shijun and Liu
Zhongyu of Shanghai-based East China Normal University from 2005 till recently,
found that 31.4 percent of Chinese aged 16 and above or about 300 million are
This is in sharp contrast to the official figure of 100 million, which has
remained largely unchanged for years.
to the survey, Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Christianity and Islam are the
five major religions, accounting for 67.4 percent of believers.
A striking feature is the re-vitalization of traditional Chinese religions.
About 200 million people are Buddists, Taoists or worshippers of legendary
figures such as the Dragon King and God of Fortune, accounting for 66.1 per cent
of all believers.
Also significant is the big rise in followers of Christianity.
According to official figures, their number rose from less than 10 million in
the late 1990s to 16 million in 2005; but the survey finds 12 percent of all
believers, or 40 million, are Christians.
The survey also sheds light on reasons behind the religious revival.
Of the 1,361 people surveyed, 24.1 percent said religion "shows the true path
of life"; and 28 percent said it "helps cure illness, avoid disasters and ensure
that life is smooth".
"This kind of feeling is especially common in rural areas," Liu was quoted as
saying in the latest issue of Chinese-language Oriental Outlook magazine, which
published the survey.
However, Liu disagreed that religious passion is fanned by poverty. For
example, many new believers in recent years are from the economically-developed
Liu attributed the rising influence of religions to the religious freedom
enjoyed in the country and social problems confronting the Chinese in a time of
The survey also finds that more young people have joined the ranks of the
religious since 2000. "This is markedly different from the previous decade, when
most religious believers were in their 40s or older," said Liu.
Specifically, 62 percent of the 1,435 religious believers surveyed are in the
16-39 age group, while only 9.6 percent are 55 years old or older.
Also, the number of middle-aged believers saw a big surge in the late 1990s,
according to Liu.
"They were atheist in the 1950s, but they have turned to religion when they
About 72 percent of the religious said they are happier now than when they
were not believers.
At the first world Buddhism forum in East China's Zhejiang Province last
year, the Chinese government acknowledged the active role religion plays in
building a harmonious society.
"For example, religious beliefs have helped cut down crime to a large
extent," said Liu.