Irreligion in China

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The Chinese government is officially atheist;[1] however, there are a wide variety of religious practices among the Chinese population.[2] The Chinese government's attitude to religion is one of skepticism.[3][4][5][6] According to a 2012 Gallup poll, 47% of Chinese people were confirmed atheists.[7] Article 36 of the 1978 Constitution provides for religious freedom: “No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens because they do, or do not believe in religion.”[8] The Chinese state officially recognizes five religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism. In order to be a member of the Communist Party of China an individual must not have religious affiliation.[9]


Irreligion has a long history in China dating back millennia. The Zhou Dynasty Classic of Poetry contains several catechistic poems in the Decade of Dang questioning the authority or existence of Shangdi. Later philosophers such as Xun Zi, Fan Zhen, Han Fei, Zhang Zai, Wang Tingxiang, Wang Fuzhi, Xiong Bolong, Wang Qingren also criticized the religious practices prevalent during their times. Confucianism as a state-instituted philosophy has flourished in China since the Han Dynasty, and the opportunities it offered was another fundamental origin of atheism in China.

China is considered a nation with a long history of humanism, secularism, and this-worldly thought since the time of Confucius,[10][note 1] who stressed shisu (世俗 "being in the world"). Hu Shih stated in the 1920s that "China is a country without religion and the Chinese are a people who are not bound by religious superstitions."[12]


  1. ^ Some scholars consider Confucianism as humanist and secularist. Rather, Herbert Fingarette has described it as a religion that "sacralises the secular".[11]


  1. ^ Briggs, David (2011-01-22). "Study: Rising Religious Tide in China Overwhelms Atheist Doctrine". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2012-11-28. 
  2. ^ French, Howard (2007-03-03). "Religious surge in once-atheist China surprises leaders". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  3. ^ French, Howard (2007-03-03). "Religious surge in once-atheist China surprises leaders". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  4. ^ "A surprising map of where the world’s atheists live". Washington Post. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  5. ^ "Party's secret directives on how to eradicate religion and ensure the victory of atheism". Asian News. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  6. ^ "China announces "civilizing" atheism drive in Tibet". BBC. 1999-01-12. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  7. ^ "Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism". Gallup. Retrieved 2012-11-28. 
  8. ^ "New 'atheist map' of the world dominated by China where half the country's population describes themselves as non-believers". London: Daily Mail. 2013-05-24. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  9. ^ "Religion still has no role to play in communist politics". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 2013-07-16. 
  10. ^ Mark Juergensmeyer. Religion in Global Civil Society. Oxford University Press, 2005. p. 70, quote: «[...] humanist philosophies such as Confucianism, which do not share a belief in divine law and do not exalt faithfulness to a higher law as a manifestation of divine will [...]».
  11. ^ Herbert Fingarette. Confucius: The Secular As Sacred. Waveland, 1998. ISBN 1577660102
  12. ^ Yong Chen, 2012. p. 127