Religion in China

During my stay in mainland China I managed to visit a number of religious venues, including a catholic church in Beijing, a Daoist temple in Wuhan, and a Buddhist Temple in Guanzhou. We are accustomed to believe that all religious worship is banned in China, however, this was not consistent with what I saw. I found it somewhat surprising that in these public venues we found people openly worshipping. In the attached pictures there is an image of burning incense sticks in the Daoist temple, as well as a picture of a decorated statue of what I believe is Lao Tsu. In the Buddhist Temple we saw people worshipping the Buddha, and giving offerings to the Goddess of Mercy. At the Catholic church, people were taking their wedding pictures. So on the surface, at least, it appears as though religion is tolerated.


The reality is more nuanced, of course. I had a discussion with a member of the faculty about whether a communist party member could be religious, and he said that this depended on how you defined "being religious." If you are not a party member, it seems that you are free to hold whatever beliefs you want. If you are a party member, it is more difficult. Although the party does not prevent people from following the philosophy of a particular faith, I deduced that openly following a particular faith would not be consistent with party doctrine. How this distinction is made in practice is not entirely clear to me. At the end of the day, it seems as if the government has some limited tolerance for traditional faiths. For example, Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's son, was in China while I was here. He visited church leaders in China as CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. (His organization later donated $285,000 to help victims of the earthquake) Obviously, he had to have permission from the government to do this. However, on the flip side, it is my understanding that the Chinese government and the Catholic church in China have been slow to agree on the appointment of bishops. As reported in China Daily, "The mainland has 5 million Catholics in 97 dioceses, of which 40 do not have bishops."