While recent research shows that the Chinese are demonstrating high rates of religious practice, a recent Gallup poll finds that almost half of China’s people—47 percent—are “convinced atheists.”
In the blog The Imminent Frame (posted October 10), sociologist Richard Madsen notes that surveys have found that as much as 85 percent of China’s population carry out such rituals as venerating their ancestors, seeking healing, and accumulating merit for a good afterlife. In explaining the conundrum of Chinese atheism and increasing religious practice, Madsen argues that Chinese religion is more about community and “belonging than believing.”
Despite Communist Party misgivings, these folk religious practices have long existed among peasants, but what is happening now is that more Chinese have become mobile workers spending their time in cities doing industrial labor. At the same time, under the restrictive household registry system, these workers cannot become urban residents and have to maintain connections to their local communities and natal families.
Madsen writes that in this situation, practicing elaborate rituals during weddings and funerals becomes a way of families competing and trying “to outdo one another…It is the same with the rebuilding of local temples. As the Party has lost control over much of local life, the public spaces in front of the local Party headquarters no longer mean as much. Deity temples once provided public spaces for community discussion, commerce, and entertainment and they are doing so once again. With increasing affluence, communities are now vying with one another to build bigger and better temples,” which also serve as a means for those with disposable incomes to honor their ancestors, Madsen concludes.