A study conducted by researchers in Shanghai on behalf of the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China concludes that 31.4 percent of Chinese aged 16 and above describe themselves as believers, reports the Chinese magazine Oriental Outlook, quoted in Eglises d’Asie (Feb. 16). This figure is three times higher than the official one. The results are part of a study on contemporary cultural life in China, initiated in 2004. Interviews were conducted with a representative sample of 4,500 Chinese citizens. Regarding religion, they were only asked if they describe themselves as believers. No questions were asked about actual religious practice.
Traditional Chinese religions (i.e. Buddhism, Daoism, ancestors’ worship and folk beliefs) are mentioned by 66.1 percent of believers; 15.5 percent of the believers say they are Muslims, and 12 percent claim to be Christians. This would mean around 40 million Christians in China: about twice the number of Christians reported by officially recognized Churches, but less than the figures suggested in some evangelical circles in the West. The survey did not differentiate between different forms of Christianity.
In rural areas especially, more than one quarter of the respondents claim that they adhere to a religion because “it helps to cure sicknesses…prevent disasters, and ensures a peaceful life.“ But the scholars who conducted the research remark that, beside poor people, more and more educated Chinese are drawn to religion, as an answer to questions about their life in a rapidly changing society. Despite the fact that teaching religion to people below 18 is still not legal in China, the survey shows that 62 percent of the believers are found in the 16-39 age range.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
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