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Chinese Religion

Religion in China has been characterized by pluralism since the beginning of Chinese history. Chinese religions are family-oriented and do not demand the exclusive adherence of members.

Buddhism remains a main popular religion in China since its introduction in the 1st century from India. The largest group of religious traditions is however that of Chinese folk religion or "Shenism". It encompasses Taoism, and the worship of the shens, a collection of various local ethnic deities, heroes and ancestors, and figures from Chinese mythology, among which the most popular ones in recent years have been Mazu (goddess of the seas, patron of Southern China), Huangdi (divine patriarch of all the Chinese, "Volksgeist" of the Chinese nation), the Black Dragon, Caishen (god of prosperity and richness) and others.

Christianity was in presence in China since the 7th century, while being reintroduced in the 16th century by Jesuit missionaries. In the 18th and 19th centuries, with the widespread influx of European ideology into China, Western religions gained a foothold. After the "opening up" of the 1980s, more religious freedoms were granted and traditional beliefs like Taoism and Buddhism were supported as an integral part of the Chinese culture.

Nowadays Shenism-Taoism and Buddhism are the largest religions in China with respectively over 30% of the population adhering to them. Almost 10% of Chinese population is composed of those regarded as minorities who following their traditional tribal religions. Christians are 3%–4% of Chinese population according to various detailed surveys, while Muslims are 1%–2%. However, the biggest part of the population, ranging between 60% and 70%, is mostly agnostic or non-religious, purely atheists.

Confucianism

Confucianism, or the "Religion of the Scholars", "Religion of Confucius", is an ethical and philosophical system developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius ("Master Kong", 551–478 BC). As a relatively new and still numerically small phenomenon, Confucianism has been limited to the Chinese intelligentsia. Nevertheless, being well embedded in the Chinese academia, in recent years it has become very influential.

Confucianism originated as an "ethical-sociopolitical teaching" during the Spring and Autumn Period, but later developed metaphysical and cosmological elements in the Han Dynasty. Following the abandonment of Legalism in China after the Qin Dynasty, Confucianism became the official state ideology of China. During the Song dynasty, the philosopher Zhu Xi made an extremely ambitious and ultimately influential synthesis of philosophy that supported the basic stance of Confucius and Mencius. That interpretation became the requisite basis for preparation for examinations for official positions in later dynasties, and only lost its status as orthodox thought with the end of the imperial period. In the Ming dynasty, the philosophy Wang Yangming made his own contributions to the understanding of Confucianism. Though his contributions differed from those of Zhu Xi, they also served to defend the position of Confucianism as the most orthodox school of thought and the de facto basis of explications of what Chinese society is and should be.

Kong Qiu, or Confucius as we call him, has long been regarded as the fount of all the knowledge and wisdom. He vowed to support the institutions and the way of life that had brought China union and peace for three centuries. He said of himself that he was only a transmitter of culture, not a creator of any new way of life. His supreme virtue was that he observed and singled out for the attention of the ages those features of the Zhou Dynasty way of life were of the greatest benefit to all members in the kingdom. The guiding principle of the early Zhou Dynasty rulers was that the kings of China were appointed by the heaven to rule - only for so long as they continued to work as the loyal stewards of heaven - and always work for the benefit of the common people. Rulers had the Mandate of Heaven to rule, but they could lose it by failing to do what Heaven demanded of them.

Confucius captivated the loyalty of many disciples who mourned his passing and tried to pass along his message, but he did not have a truly effective successor until over a generation later when the man we know as "Master Meng" or "Mencius" whose Chinese name was Meng Ke picked up the threads of the Zhou Dynasty social and political system that Confucius had highlighted and gave them a systematic ethological and philosophical exegesis.

The core of Confucianism is humanism, the belief that human beings are teachable, improvable and perfectible through personal and communal endeavor especially including self-cultivation and self-creation. The key social virtues of Confucianism agree Ren (benevolence), Yi (sense of duty), Li (sense of propriety) as well as Zhi (sense of social justice and wisdom). Ren is an obligation of altruism and humaneness for other individuals within a community. Yi is the upholding of righteousness and the moral disposition to do good things. Li is a system of norms and propriety that determines how a person should properly act within a community. Zhi shows one owns worldly wisdom. Confucianism holds that one should give up one's life, if necessary, either passively or actively, for the sake of upholding the cardinal moral values of Ren and Yi. Although Confucius may have been a believer in Chinese folk religion, Confucianism as an ideology is humanistic and non-theistic, and does not involve a belief in the supernatural or in a personal god.

Due to the conditions of its origins, and to the preference of its founder not to discuss things that go beyond the human realm, the philosophy of Confucius and Mencius stood at a competitive disadvantage with Taoism, which had strong epistemological and metaphysical sides. As a result, books such as Da Xue (the Great Learning), Zhong Yong (the Doctrine of the Nean), and also metaphysical interpretations of Yi Jing (the Book of Changes), became important to this tradition.

Taoism, or Daoism, refers to a variety of related philosophical and religious traditions and concepts born in China itself in the 6th century BC. It's traditionally traced to the composition of the Tao Te Ching attributed to the sage Laozi, a person who subsequently came to be venerated by Taoist as Daode Tianjun in the Three Pure Ones. Taoist thought focuses on health, longevity, immortality, Wu Wei (non-action) and spontaneity. These traditions have influenced China for over two thousand years and some have spread internationally.

Taoism was established as a religion in the late Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220). During the Northern and Southern Dynasty (386–589), Neo-Taoism adopted concepts and methods from its rival, the Buddhism. Some emperors supported it for political reasons while many educated men and women were attracted by its beauty and power. Taoism experienced its silver age from the Tang Dynasty (618–907) to the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127). Many sects arose during this period. Taoist temples and Taoist masters spread throughout China. After the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), Taoism divided into two main sects: Quanzhen Dao and Zhengyi Dao.

Taoism gradually developed with the support of the rulers. However, during Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), national conflicts sapped the energy and support for Taoism. In Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), Manchu rulers adopted Tibetan Buddhism and lost interest in Taoism. In the year of 1956, a national organization, the Chinese Taoist Association (with chapters in every province and city) was set up to administer Taoist activities.

Blang, also spelled Bulong, is a Chinese ethnic group which lived in the Lancang river valley during ancient times. It is believed that these people were one branch of a number of peoples that were collectively known to the ancient Chinese as the “Baipu”, literally the "Hundred Pu".

Traditionally, Blang people considered teeth blackened by chewing betel nuts a beauty characteristic. The people of this minority are mostly animists, in addition to ancestor worship. They also combine their native beliefs with Theravada Buddhism.

Shenism, which includes Taoism, is estimated to be the largest religion in China with 20–30% of the total population worshiping Shenist ethnic deities or adhering to Taoist institutions.

Taoism refers to a philosophical or religious tradition in which the basic concept is to establish harmony with the Tao, which is the mechanism of everything that exists. The word "Tao" (or "Dao", depending on the romanization scheme) in Chinese is usually translated as "way", "path" or "principle", although the word literally means "nature" as in the nature of all things as well as the natural world. Taoism had not only a profound influence on the culture of China, but also on neighboring countries. Taoist philosophy is deeply rooted in contemporary China, and is an unavoidable part of modern Chinese life. Taoist propriety and ethics emphasize the Three Jewels of the Tao: compassion, moderation, and humility, while Taoist thought generally focuses on nature, the relationship between humanity and the cosmos, health and longevity and Wu Wei (action through inaction). Harmony with the Universe, or the source thereof (Tao), is the intended result of many Taoist rules and practices.

Reverence for nature and ancestor spirits is common in popular Taoism. Organized Taoism distinguishes its ritual activity from that of the folk religion, which some professional Taoists (Daoshi) view as debased. Chinese alchemy, astrology, cuisine, several Chinese martial arts, Chinese traditional medicine, fengshui, and many styles of Qigong breath training disciplines are intertwined with Taoism throughout the  history.

The Taoist Five Great Mountains are assigned according to the five cardinal directions of Chinese geomancy, which includes the center as a direction.

East Great Mountain: Mt.Taishan, or the "Tranquil Mountain", is a mountain of historical and cultural significance located north of the city of Tai'an in Shandong province. Its tallest peak is the Jade Emperor Peak, which is about 1545 meters in height.

Taishan is associated with sunrise, birth as well as renewal, and is often regarded as the foremost one of the five. Mt.Tai has been a place of worship for at least 3,000 years and served as one of the most important ceremonial centers of ancient China. The Temple of the God of Mount Tai, known as the Dai Temple, is the largest and most complete ancient building complex in the area. Surrounded by the 2,100 year-old Han Dynasty cypresses, Dai Temple is located at the foot of Mount Tai in the city of Tai'an and covers an area of 96,000 square meters. The Azure Clouds Temple, near the top of Mt.Tai, is another grand building complex with a special combination of metal components, wood, and bricks and stone structures. From the red gate at the foot of the mountain to the South Heaven Gate at the top are some 7,000 stone steps, which wind their way up the mountain slopes, each step offering a different view.

West Great Mountain: Mount Hua or Hua Shan, also called the “Splendid Mountain”, is located in Shaanxi Province, about 120 kilometers east of Xi'an. Originally classified as having three peaks, in modern times the mountain is classified as five main peaks, of which the highest is the South Peak at 2154.9 meters. It has a long history of religious significance.

As early as the 2nd century BC, there was a Taoist temple known as the Shrine of the Western Peak located at its base. Taoists believed that in the mountain lives a god of the underworld. The temple at the foot of the mountain was often used for spirits mediums to contact the god and his underlings. Unlike Mount Tai, which became a popular place of pilgrimage, because of its inaccessibility to the summit, Mount Hua only received Imperial and local pilgrims, and was not well visited by pilgrims from the rest of China. Huashan was also an important place for immortality seekers, as many herbal Chinese medicines are grown and powerful drugs were reputed to be found there.

South Great Mountain: Mount Heng or Heng Shan, also known as the "Balancing Mountain", is located in Hunan Province. Mount Heng is a mountain ranging 150 kilometers long with 72 peaks. The Huiyan Peak is the south end of the peaks while Yuelu Mountain in Changsha City is its north end. Zhurong Peak is the highest at 1,300.2 meters above sea level.

At the foot of the mountain stands the largest temple in southern China, the Grand Temple of Mount Heng (Nanyue Damiao), which is the largest group of ancient buildings in Hunan Province.

North Great Mountain: Mount Heng, or the "Permanent Mountain" in Shanxi Province, is one of the Five Sacred Mountains of Taoism. With the peak at 2,017 meters above sea level, it is one of the five tallest peaks in China Proper. Heng Shan in Shanxi Province is sometimes known as the Northern Heng Shan, and the one in Hunan Province as Southern Heng Shan.

Like the other four sacred Taoist mountains in China, Heng Shan has been considered a sacred mountain since the Zhou Dynasty. During the Han Dynasty, a temple called the Shrine of the Northern Peak (Beiyue Miao), dedicated to the mountain god was built on Hengshan's slopes. While periodically destroyed and rebuilt, this temple has an uninterrupted history from Han times to the present day. During times of occupation by non-Han Chinese people, worship to Hengshan was done at the Beiyue Temple in Quyang.

Hanging Monastery on Mount Heng in Datong, Shanxi Province

Center Great Mountain: Mount Song or Song Shan, also described as the "Lofty Mountain", is located in Henan province on the south bank of the Yellow River in China. Songshan is made up of several mountains in the Dengfeng district of Henan province. It has 36 peaks and stretches 60 kilometers, composed of Taishi Mountain and Shaoshi Mountain. Its highest peak is 1494 meters above sea level. The seven peaks of Song Shan stretch for 64km between the cities of Luoyang and Zhengzhou. The slopes rise steeply from the valley and are thickly clad with trees, giving them an impressive appearance, but the highest peak reaches only 1500 meters in altitude. Zhongyue Temple, one of the earliest Taoist temples in the country, is also located here. Songyang Academy nearby was one of the four great academies of ancient China. The mountain is one of the sacred Taoist mountains of China, and contains important Taoist temples such as the Zhongyue Temple.

Martial art student in Shaolin Temple, Mount Song, Henan Province

Wudang Mountains, also known as Wu Tang Shan or simply Wudang, are a small mountain range in the northwestern part of Hubei Province, just to the south of the city of Shiyan. According to legend, Zhang Sanfeng, the TaiChi Master, is the originator of Wudang Boxing (Wudang Quan) generally and Shadow Boxing (TaiChi Quan) specifically. He was said to be inspired by a fight he witnessed between a pied magpie (also said to be a white crane) and a viper.

Taijiquan, Xingyiquan and Baguazhang have been considered Wudang styles. Following this classification the national martial arts tournament of the Central Guoshu Institute held in 1928 separated the participants into "Shaolin" and "Wudang".

Mount Longhu, literally "Dragon Tiger Mountain", is located in Jiangxi Province. It is famous for being one of the birthplaces of Taoism, with many Taoist temples built upon the mountainside. It is particularly important to the Zhengyi Dao as the Shangqing Temple and the Mansion of the Taoist Master are located here. Two of the temples of Immortal City and Zheng Yi, were founded by Zhang Daoling, the Han Dynasty founder of Taoism. There are more Taoist temples in nearby Shangqing Town. Mount Longhu also has cultural significance has a historical burial site of the Guyue people, who placed their dead in hanging coffins on the mountains cliff faces.

In August 2010, UNESCO inscribed Mount Longhu on the World Heritage List as part of the complex of six sites that make up the China Danxia landform.

Mount Qiyun, literally " the Mountain as High as the Clouds", is a mountain located in Qingyang County of Anhui Province. As a National Park, it lies some 33 kilometers to the west of Huangshan City and is sacred to Taoists. The mountain is also called "Landform of the Rosy Clouds" due to the red conglomerate and sandstone of the area. Noted for its numerous inscriptions and tablets as well as monasteries and temples, the highest point of the mountain rises to 585 meters (1,919 ft).

 

Mount Qingcheng, famous for "the most secluded place in China", is a mountain in Dujiangyan City of Sichuan Province. It is among the most important centers of Taoism in China. In Taoism mythology, it was the site of the Yellow Emperor's studies with Ning Fengzhi. As a centre of the Taoist religion it became host to many temples. The mountain has 36 peaks and is a popular day trip destination from nearby Chengdu. It suffered extensive damage and loss of life as a result of the 2008 big earthquake but much reconstruction has already been completed.

 

Others Famous Taoist Mountains in China including Mount Laoshan in Qingdao City, Shandong Province and Mount Sanqing in Jiangxi Province.

Chinese Buddhism

Chinese Buddhism was introduced from India during the Han Dynasty, traditionally in the 1st century. It became very popular among Chinese of all walks of life, admired by commoners, and sponsored by emperors in certain dynasties. It is estimated that by the 9th century Buddhist institutions had become the most powerful of China, surpassing the Taoist ones and challenging the authority of the government. This led to the so called Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution, which saw Buddhism repressed. Although the persecution was heavy, Buddhism survived and reflourished in the following centuries. It experienced important developments at the time of some dynasties, such as Southern and Northern Dynasties, Sui Dynasty, Tang Dynasty, Song Dynasty and others. Buddhism is deeply embedded in the culture of China, Chinese philosophy, and still in Chinese pop culture today.

The entry of Buddhism into China was marked by interaction and syncretism with Taoism in particular. Originally seen as a kind of "foreign Taoism", Buddhism's scriptures were translated into Chinese using the Taoist vocabulary. Zen Buddhism was particularly shaped by Taoism, integrating distrust of scripture, text and even language, as well as the Taoist views of embracing "this life", dedicated practice and the "every-moment". In the Tang Dynasty, Taoism incorporated such Buddhist elements as monasteries, vegetarianism, prohibition of alcohol, the doctrine of emptiness, and collecting scripture into tripartite organization. Meanwhile, Chan Buddhism grew to become the largest sect in Chinese Buddhism.

In recent times, Buddhism has recovered popularity and it is returned to be the largest organized faith in the country. Today the most popular form of Buddhism in China is a mix of the Pure Land and Zen schools.

Four Sacred Mountains of Chinese Buddhism

Four Sacred Mountains of Chinese Buddhism are viewed as the abode or place of practice of one of the four great bodhisattvas.

 

Mount Wutai, literally "Five Plateau Mountain", also known as Wutai Mountain, is located in Shanxi Province. Wutai Shan takes its name from its unusual topography, consisting of five rounded peaks (North, South, East, West, Central), of which the North peak, called Beitai Ding or Yedou Feng, is the highest, and indeed the highest point in northern China.

Mount Wutai was the first of the four mountains to be identified and is often referred to as "first among the four great Buddhist Mountains." In Avatamsaka Sutra, Manjusri is said to reside on a "clear cold mountain" in the northeast. This served as charter for the mountain's identity and its alternate name "Clear Cool Mountain" (Qingliang Shan). Wutai is the home of the Bodhisattva of wisdom, Manjusri or Wenshu in Chinese. The bodhisattva is believed to frequently appear on the mountain, taking the form of ordinary pilgrims, monks, or most often unusual five-colored clouds.

Mount Wutai is home to some of the oldest existent wooden buildings in China that have survived since the era of the Tang Dynasty (618–907), and they were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009. This includes the main hall of Nanchan Temple and the East Hall of Foguang Temple, built in 782 and 857 respectively. They were discovered in 1937 and 1938 by a team of architectural historians including the prominent early 20th century historian Liang Sicheng.

Mount Emei, whose name means "lofty brow mountain" in Chinese, sits at the western rim of the Sichuan Basin. The patron bodhisattva of Emei is Samantabhadra, known in Chinese as Puxian who stands for Buddhism behaviors. With its peak at 3,099 meters above sea level, Mt. Emei is the highest of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China.

This is the location of the first Buddhist temple built in China in the 1st century. The site has seventy-six Buddhist monasteries of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, most of them located near the mountaintop. The monasteries demonstrate a flexible architectural style that adapts to the landscape. Some, such as the halls of Baoguo Monastery, were built on terraces of varying levels. While others, including the structures of Leiyin Temple, are on raised stilts. Here the fixed plans of Buddhist monasteries of earlier periods were modified or ignored in order to make full use of the natural scenery. The buildings of Qingyin Pavillion are laid out in an irregular plot on the narrow piece of land between the Black Dragon River and the White Dragon River. The site is large and the winding foot path is 50km, taking several days to walk. Administratively, Mt. Emei was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site together with Leshan Giant Buddha in 1996.

Mount Jiuhua, located in Qingyang County in Anhui province, is famous for its rich landscape and ancient temples. Meaning "Nine Glories Mountain", Mount Jiuhua was called Mount Lingyang in Han Dynasty. It was called Mount Jiuzi in Liang and Chen Dynasties of South Dynasties. A legend says that the great poet Li Bai of Tang Dynasty traveled here and wrote down a poem "Magic is divided to two branches, sacred mountain generates nine glories."Thus it was named Mount Jiuhua. There are 99 peaks in the area, among them Shiwang Peak, Lotus Peak, and others.

Many of the mountain's shrines and temples are dedicated to Ksitigarbha which known in Chinese as Dizang, who is a bodhisattva and protector of beings in hell realms according to Mahayana Buddhist tradition. Pious Buddhists often visit Anhui to climb to Greater Tiantai peak, which is regarded as Jiuhuashan's most important peak, although it is not the tallest. During the golden periods of the Ming and Qing dynasties, there were as many as 360 temples and 4,000 to 5,000 monks and nuns. Some renowned temples located at Mount Jiuhua are Huacheng Temple, Guoqing Temple, Dabeilou Temple and Baisuigong Temple.  

Mount Putuo, literally "Mount Potalaka", is an island southeast of Shanghai in Zhoushan prefecture of Zhejiang province. It is considered as the bodhimanda of Avalokitesvara (Guanyin in Chinese), a Bodhisattva of compassion. As Mount Putuo lies on Eastern Sea of China, it displays the beauty between sea and mountain. The area is about 12.5 square kilometers and has lots of famous and sacred temples. Every year on February nineteenth, June nineteenth, September nineteenth of the lunar calendar, it welcomes millions of people for the celebration of the birth of Guanyin. Mount Putuo is covered with many temples and monasteries, both large and small. Many monks and nuns from home and abroad go to great lengths to live and practice there. Famous monasteries on Mount Putuo include Puji Temple as well as Fayu Temple. In addition to these monasteries, there is a large Institute of Buddhism, one of the largest Buddhist academic institutes in China.

Mogao Caves or Mogao Grottoes, also known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddha, form a system of 492 temples 25 km southeast of the center of Dunhuang, an oasis strategically located at a religious and cultural crossroads on the Silk Road in Gansu province. The caves may also be known as the Dunhuang Caves, however, this term also include other Buddhist cave sites in the Dunhuang area, such as the Western Thousand Buddha Caves, and the Yulin Caves farther away. The caves contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art spanning a period of 1,000 years. The first caves were dug out 366 AD as places of Buddhist meditation and worship. The Mogao Caves are the best known of the Chinese Buddhist grottoes and, along with Longmen Grottoes and Yungang Grottoes, are one of the three famous ancient Buddhist sculptural sites of China.

Longmen Grottoes or Longmen Caves, literally Dragon's Gate Grottoes, are one of the finest examples of Chinese Buddhist art. Housing tens of thousands of statues of Buddha and his disciples, they are located 12 kilometers south of present day Luoyang in Henan province. The images, many once painted, were carved into caves excavated from the limestone cliffs of the Xiangshan and Longmenshan mountains, running east and west. Yi River flows northward between them and the area used to be called Yique ("The Gate of the Yi River").

There are as many as 100,000 statues within the 1,400 caves, ranging from a 1 inch to 57 feet in height. The area also contains nearly 2,500 stelae and inscriptions, whence the name “Forest of Ancient Stele", as well as over sixty Buddhist pagodas. Situated in a scenic natural environment, the caves were dug from a 1 kilometer stretch of cliff running along both banks of the river. 30% date from the Northern Wei Dynasty and 60% from the Tang, caves from other periods accounting for less than 10% of the total. Starting with the Northern Wei Dynasty in 493 AD, patrons and donors included emperors, Wu Zetian of the Tang dynasty, members of the royal family, other rich families, generals, and religious groups.

In 2000 the site was inscribed upon the UNESCO World Heritage List as “an outstanding manifestation of human artistic creativity,” for its perfection of an art form and encapsulation of the cultural sophistication of Tang Dynasty.

Yungang Grottoes are ancient Chinese Buddhist temple grottoes near the city of Datong in the province of Shanxi. It was called Wuzhoushan Grottoes in ancient time. They are excellent examples of rock-cut architecture and one of the three most famous ancient Buddhist sculptural sites of China. The site is located about 16 km south-west of Datong, in the valley of the Shi Li River at the base of the Wuzhou Shan Mountains. Yungang Grottoes are an outstanding example of the Chinese stone carvings from the 5th and 6th centuries. All together the site is composed of 252 grottoes with more than 51,000 Buddha statues and statuettes. In 2001, Yungang Grottoes were made a World Heritage Site, considered by UNESCO a "masterpiece of early Chinese Buddhist cave art which represents the successful fusion of Buddhist religious symbolic art from south and central Asia with Chinese cultural traditions under Imperial auspices."

Maijishan Grottoes are a series of 194 caves cut in the side of the hill of Majishan in Tianshui, Gansu Province, northwest China. This example of rock cut architecture contains over 7,200 Buddhist sculptures and over 1,000 square meters of murals. Having been constructed from the Later Qin era (384-417 CE), they were first properly explored in 1952-53 by a team of Chinese archeologists from Beijing, who devised the numbering system still in use today. Caves No.1-50 are on the western cliff face while caves No.51-191 are on the eastern cliff face. The name Maijishan consists of three Chinese words that literally translate as “Wheat Stack Mountain”. The mountain is formed of purplish red sandstone.

Dazu Rock Carvings are a series of Chinese religious sculptures and carvings, dating back as far as the 7th century AD, depicting and influenced by Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist beliefs. Listed as a World Heritage Site, Dazu Rock Carvings are made up of 75 protected sites containing some 50,000 statues, with over 100,000 Chinese characters forming inscriptions and epigraphs. The sites are located in Chongqing Municipality within the steep hillsides throughout Dazu County, located about 60 kilometers west of Chongqing urban area. The highlights of the rock grotto are found on Mount Baoding and Mount Beishan.

Dazu Rock Carvings were listed as a World Heritage Site in 1999, citing that "the aesthetic quality, rich diversity of subject matter, both secular and religious, and the light that they shed on everyday life in China. Dazu Rock Carvings provide outstanding evidence of the harmonious synthesis of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism."

Leshan Giant Buddha was built during the Tang Dynasty (618–907AD). It is carved out of a cliff face that lies at the confluence of the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers in the city of Leshan, Sichuan province. The stone sculpture faces Mount Emei, with the rivers flowing below his feet. It is the largest carved stone Buddha in the world and it is by far the tallest pre-modern statue in the world.

Tibetan Buddhism is the body of Buddhist religious doctrine and institutions characteristic of Tibet. It is also practiced in Northeast China such as certain regions of Inner Mongolia, Gansu and Qinghai Provinces. Texts recognized as scripture and commentary is contained in the Tibetan Buddhist canon, such that Tibetan is a spiritual language of these areas.

Tuguan zongpai yuanliu was a classic history of the different schools written by Turken. Tibetan Buddhism has four main traditions as follows.

 

Nyingma (pa), Red Sect. In Tibetan it means “the Ancient Ones”. This is the oldest and the original order founded by Padmasambhāva and Śāntarakṣita. Whereas other schools categorize their teachings into the three vehicles: The Foundation Vehicle, Mahayana and Vajrayana, the Nyingma tradition classifies its into nine vehicles, among the highest of which is that known as Atiyoga or Dzogchen (“Great Perfection”). Hidden treasures (terma) are of particular significance to this tradition.

 

Kagyu (pa), Black Sect, is an oral tradition which is very much concerned with the experiential dimension of meditation. Meaning “Lineage of the (Buddha's) Word”, its most famous exponent was Milarepa, an 11th century mystic. It contains one major and one minor subsect. The first, the Dagpo Kagyu, encompasses those Kagyu schools that trace back to the Indian master Naropa via Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa. There are a further eight minor sub-sects, all of which trace their root to Pagtru Kagyu and the most notable of which are the Drikung Kagyu and the Drukpa Kagyu.

 

Sakya (pa), which means “Grey Earth” in Tibetan, is also called the Colorful Sect. This school very much represents the scholarly tradition. Headed by the Sakya Trizin, this tradition was founded by Khon Konchog Gyalpo, a disciple of the great translator Drokmi Lotsawa and traces its lineage to the Indian master Virupa. A renowned exponent, Sakya Pandita 1182–1251CE was the great grandson of Khon Konchog Gyalpo.

 

Gelug (pa), Yellow Sect. Meaning “Way of Virtue”, it is originally a reformist movement. This tradition is particularly known for its emphasis on logic and debate. The order was founded in the 14th to 15th century by Je Tsongkhapa, renowned for both his scholasticism and his virtue.

Tibetan Buddhism

There were over 6,000 Tibetan Buddhism monasteries. Some of the important ones are as follows.

 

Samye Monastery or Samye Gompa, is the first Buddhist monastery built in Tibet. The monastery is located in Dranang, Shannan Prefecture. It was most probably first constructed between 775 and 779 CE under the patronage of King Trisong Detsen of Tibet who sought to revitalize Buddhism, which had declined since its introduction by King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century. It was supposedly modeled on the design of Odantapuri monastery in what is now Bihar, India.

Tsurphu Monastery, also called Tolung Tsurpu, is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery which served as the traditional seat of the Karmapa. It is located in Gurum Town of Doilungdeqen County in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, 70 km from Lhasa City. The monastery is about 14,000 feet above sea level, built in the middle of the valley facing south with high mountains surrounding the monastery complex.

Tsurphu is a 300-square-meter complex with walls up to 4 meters thick. The monastery or "gompa", the traditional seat of the Karmapa lamas, is about 28 km up the Dowo Lung Valley, on the north side of the river. The original walls of the main building were up to 4 meters thick and 300 meters square.

Ganden Monastery, also known as Gaden or Gandain, is one of the “great three” Gelukpa university monasteries of Tibet, together with Deprung Monastery as well as Sera Monastery. It is located at the top of Wangbur Mountain, Tagtse County, which is 36 kilometers from the Potala Palace in Lhasa, at an altitude of 4,300m. Ganden Monastery is regarded as the seat of the Ganden Tripa. Its full name is Ganden Namgyal Ling In it, Ganden means "joyful" and is the Tibetan name for Tusita, the heaven where the bodhisattva Maitreya is said to reside. And Namgyal Ling means "victorious temple".

Drepung Monastery is literally the “Rice Heap” monastery. It is the largest of all Tibetan monasteries and is located on the Gambo Utse Mountain, which is five kilometers from the western suburb of Lhasa. The Ganden-Phodrang-Palace situated at Drepung Monastery was constructed by the 2nd Dalai Lama in 1518 and declared it as his chief residence and governmental palace until the inauguration of Potala Palace by the 5th Dalai Lama.

According to some records, Drepung was at a time the largest monastery in the world, and housed 7,700 monks, "but sometimes as many as 10,000 monks." Drepung is now divided into what are known as the seven great colleges: Gomang, Loseling, Deyang, Shagkor, Gyelwa or Tosamling, Dulwa and Ngagpa. It can be a somewhat useful analogy to think of Drepung as a university along the lines of Oxford or the Sorbonne in the Middle Ages, the various colleges having different emphases, teaching lineages, or traditional geographical affiliations.

Sera Monastery is located 2.01 km north of Lhasa. As a complex of structures with the Great Assembly Hall and three colleges, Sera Monastery was founded in 1419 by Jamchen Chojey of Sakya Yeshe of Zel Gungtang (1355–1435), a disciple of Tsongkhapa. The origin of the name “Sera” is attributed to a fact that the site where the monastery was built was surrounded by wild roses (what “se ra” in Tibetan language means) in bloom. The original Sera Monastery is located in Lhasa, Tibet, about 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) north of the Jokang and is responsible for some 19 hermitages, including four nunneries, which are all located in the foot hills north of Lhasa.

Sera Monastery is the best locations to witness the “Monk Debates” on the teachings of Buddha and the philosophy of Buddhism. Sera Monastery developed over the centuries as a renowned place of scholarly learning, training hundreds of scholars, many of whom have attained fame in the Buddhist nations.

Tashilhunpo Monastery, founded in 1447 by Gendun Drup, the First Dalai Lama, this monastery a historic and culturally important monastery next to Shigatse, the second-largest city in Tibet. Located on a hill in the center of the city, the monastery has a name in Tibetan meaning "all fortune and happiness gathered here" or "heap of glory". The monastery is the traditional seat of successive Panchen Lamas, the second highest ranking tulku lineage in the Gelukpa tradition. The "Tashi" or Panchen Lama had temporal power over three small districts, though not over the town of Shigatse itself, which was administered by a dzongpon (prefect) appointed from Lhasa.

Labrang Monastery is one of the six great monasteries of the Geluk (Yellow Hat) school of Tibetan Buddhism. Its formal name is: Gandan Shaydrup Dargay Tashi Gyaysu Khyilway Ling, commonly known as Labrang Tashi Khyil, or simply Labrang. Labrang is located in Xiahe County in Gansu province, in the traditional Tibetan area of Amdo. Labrang Monastery is home to the largest number of monks outside of Tibet Autonomous Region. In the early part of the 20th century, Labrang was by far the largest and most influential monastery in Amdo area. It is located on the Sangchu or Xiahe River a tributary of the Yellow River.

Kumbum Jampaling Monastery, or simply Kumbum, also known as the Ta'er Monastery, is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Qinghai province. Kumbum was founded in 1583 in a narrow valley close to the village of Lusar in the Tibetan cultural region of Amdo. Its superior monastery is Drepung, immediately to the west of Lhasa. It was ranked in importance as second only to Lhasa. Before 1958, Kumbum had 3,600 monks. At present, there are 400 of whom 300 are at the Debate College and the rest are distributed evenly among the other three colleges. Traditionally, the majority of the Kumbum monks have been Tibetans from Amdo, as at Labrang Monastery. The rest have been Mongolian Mongols, Inner Mongolian Mongols, Upper Mongols from the Amdo region east of Kumbum and Yellow Yugurs from Gansu.

Till now, Kumbum keeps itself a major pilgrimage for Tantric believers and scholars, visited by many thousands of people a year. The Arjia Rinpoches are traditionally given the position of abbot of Kumbum. Kumbum Monastery is still very much a repository of Tibetan culture and art, including various sculptures, statues and religious artifacts.

Jorkhang Temple, also called the Qokang Monastery, Jokang, Jokhang Monastery or Zuglagkang, is located on Barkhor Square in Lhasa. It is said to have been built by King Songtsen Gampo in 647AD as a major pilgrimage site. According to tradition, the temple was built for the two brides of the king, Princess Wencheng of the Chinese Tang Dynasty and Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal. Both wives are said to have brought important Buddhist statues and images from China and Nepal to Tibet as part of their dowries. Thus Jokhang's architectural style is a mixture of Indian vihara design, Chinese Tang Dynasty design, and Nepalese design. For most Tibetans, Jokhang Temple is the most sacred and important temple in Tibet. It is in some regards pan-sectarian, but is presently controlled by the Gelug School. Along with the Potala Palace, it is probably the most popular tourist attraction in Lhasa. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace," and a spiritual centre of Lhasa.

Islam dates to a mission in 651, only eighteen years after Prophet Muhammad's death, by an envoy led by Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas, the uncle of Muhammad himself. Emperor Gaozong of Tang Dynasty showed esteem for Islam and established the Huaisheng Mosque, or Memorial Mosque, in memory of the Prophet.

Muslims went to China to trade, virtually dominated the import and export industry by the time of the Song Dynasty, while the office of Director General of Shipping was consistently held by a Muslim. Larger immigration began when hundreds of thousands of Muslims were relocated to help administer China during the Yuan Dynasty. A Muslim, Yeheidie'erding led the construction of the Yuan capital of Khanbaliq, in present-day Beijing. During the Ming Dynasty, Muslims continued their influence on government. Six of the founders of Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang's most trusted generals, were all Muslim, including Lan Yu who led a decisive victory over the Mongols, effectively ending the Mongol dream to re-conquer China. Emperor Yongle also of Song Dynasty hired Zheng He, China's foremost explorer, to lead seven expeditions to the Indian Ocean. Muslims who were descended from earlier immigration began to assimilate by speaking Chinese dialects and adopting Chinese names. This era, considered the Golden Age of Islam in China, also saw Nanjing become an important center of Islamic study.

The rise of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) saw numerous rebellions. The Muslim revolt in the northwest occurred due to violent and bloody infighting between Muslim sects, the Gedimu, Khafiya, and Jahariyya, while the rebellion in Yunnan occurred because of repression by Qing officials.

After the fall of the Qing Dynasty, Sun Yat Sen, proclaimed that the country belonged equally to the Han, Manchu, Mongol, Tibetan and Hui people. In the 1920's the provinces of Qinhai, Gansu and Ningxia came under the control of Muslim Governors known as the Ma clique.

Today Islam is experiencing a revival. There is an upsurge in Islamic expression and many nation-wide Islamic associations have organized to co-ordinate inter-ethnic activities among Muslims. Muslims are found in every province in China. Of China's 55 officially recognized minorities, ten groups are predominately Muslim.

 

There are many ancient and famous mosques in China, being both spiritual palace for Muslims and also tourist sites.

Id Kah mosque is a mosque located in Kashgar of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Prefecture. It is the largest mosque in China. The mosque was built by Saqsiz Mirza and covers 16,800 square meters. Every Friday, it houses nearly 10,000 worshippers and may accommodate up to 20,000.

Dongguan Mosque is a mosque in Xining City of Qinghai province. Restored recently, it was built in the 14th century and has colorful white arches along the outside of the wide building. It has a green and white dome and two tall minarets.

Great Mosque of Xi'an, located near the Drum Tower on Huajue Lane of Xi'an, Shaanxi province, is the oldest and one of the most renowned mosques in the country founded in 742. It was built and renovated in later periods (especially during the reign of Emperor Hongwu of Ming Dynasty). It remains a popular tourist site of Xi'an, and is still used by Chinese Muslims (mainly the Hui people) today as a place of worship. Unlike most mosques in Middle Eastern or Arab countries, the Great Mosque of Xi'an is completely Chinese in its construction and architectural style, except for some Arabic lettering and decorations, for the mosque has neither domes nor traditional-style minarets.

 

Four Great Mosques along China coast line are Huaisheng Mosque in Guangzhou of Guangdong Province, Phoenix Mosque in Hangzhou of Zhejiang Province, Shengyou Mosque in Quanzhou of Fujian Province as well as Crane Mosque in Yangzhou of Jiangsu Province.

Christianity in China

Christianity in China comprises Protestants, literally "New Religion", Catholics, the "Religion of the Lord of Heaven" and a small number of Orthodox Christians. Christianity has been a growing minority religion for over 200 years.

Christianity had existed in China as early as in the 7th century AD, having multiple cycles of strong presence for hundreds of years at a time, disappearing for hundreds of years, and then being re-introduced. The arrival of the Persian missionary Alopen in 635, during the early part of the Tang Dynasty, is considered by some to be the first entry of the Christian religion into China. What Westerners referred to as Nestorian Christianity flourished for hundreds of years, until Emperor Wuzong of the Tang Dynasty adopted anti-religious measures in 845, expelling Buddhism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism and confiscating their considerable assets. Christianity again came to China in the 13th century during the Mongol-established Yuan dynasty, when the Mongols brought Nestorianism back to the region, and contacts began with the Papacy, such as Franciscan missionaries in 1294. When the native Chinese Ming Dynasty overthrew the Yuan dynasty in the 14th century, Christians were again expelled from China. At the end of the Ming Dynasty in the 16th century, Jesuits arrived in Beijing via Guangzhou. The most famous of the Jesuit missionaries was Matteo Ricci, an Italian mathematician who came to China in 1588 and lived in Beijing in 1600. Ricci was welcomed at the imperial court and introduced Western learning into China. The Jesuits followed a policy of accommodation to the traditional Chinese practice of ancestor worship, but this doctrine was eventually condemned by the Pope. Roman Catholic missions struggled in obscurity for decades afterwards. Christianity began to take root in a significant way in the Chinese Empire during the Qing Dynasty, and although it has remained a minority religion in China, it has had significant recent historical impact. Further waves of missionaries came to China in the Qing Dynasty as a result of contact with foreign powers. Russian Orthodoxy was introduced in 1715 and Protestants began entering China in 1807. The pace of missionary activity increased considerably after the First Opium War in 1842. Christian missionaries and their schools, under the protection of the Western powers, went on to play a major role in the Westernization of China in the 19th and 20th centuries.

St.Sophia Cathedral in Ha'erbin, northeast China

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