Statistics on Religions and Churches in the People’s Republic of China – Update for the Year 2022

Katharina Wenzel-Teuber
Translated by Sr. Jacqueline Mulberge SSpS

In our annual statistical updates, we usually bring figures of China’s five major state-recognized religions: Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism. This year, however, we first focus on traditional folk beliefs which are not officially counted as religion but are now partly tolerated and sometimes even encouraged by the authorities. With new data from the China Family Panel Studies, Chinese researchers endeavored to find the proportion of folk religion adherents in the population. They also wanted to know which combinations of beliefs are particularly frequent in this syncretic system. For Buddhism, there are findings from a survey of Buddhist students on the compatibility of faith and “real” life, for Islam there are figures on “Muslim cultural heritage.” Since new data are not available for each religion every year, we fall back partly on figures from previous years to complete the picture. The figures given in the following text refer to the religions in Mainland China.

1. News from the China Family Panel Studies: How Widely Distributed is Traditional Folk Religion in China?
According to many anthropologists, traditional folk religion is widespread among the Chinese population, but in surveys on religion it is either not taken into account at all or only achieves vanishingly small percentages. According to Chinese researchers Zhang Chunni, Lu Yunfeng and Sheng He, this is due to the methods applied to measure Chinese religion.Using new data from the 2018 survey of the China Family Panel Studies (Zhongguo jiating zhuizong diaocha 中国家庭追踪调查, CFPS for short), they tried to get to the bottom of the phenomenon. The researchers wanted to know not only how widespread folk religion is among the people, but also how the different beliefs are combined in the religious life of the Chinese. They further asked how different types of folk religion adherents differ in terms of commitment.According to their research, 70% of all Chinese are followers of folk religion, almost 50% adhere to two or more religious beliefs and only 25.2% have no religious belief at all. The methods of analysis they used to arrive at these figures and further results of their study will be presented below.

“Denomination-based” scheme versus “deity-based” scheme and the renewed question module on religion of CFPS 2018. The China Family Panel Studies, which have already been discussed several times in the RCTC annual statistics, have become a preferred data base for ever new questions, also in the field of sociology of religion. It is an annual longitudinal survey funded by the Chinese government through Peking University. Since 2012, the study participants have also been surveyed on the topic of religion every two years. The study designers experiment with different questions in order to capture the phenomenon of religiosity in the Chinese context as well as possible. The 2012 and 2016 CFPS surveys (CFPS 2012 and CFPS 2016 for short) used a “denomination-based” scheme: “Which religion do you belong to?” CFPS 2014 applied a “deity-based” scheme: “What do you believe in?” When this “deity-based” form of question was used, the proportion of those who stated a religious belief increased.


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