Like many other cultures around the world, the Chinese believe in different gods, and in this article, we’ll tell you all about the gods and the Chinese folk religion, more specifically, where the gods are believed to have come from and what they did. So, let’s dive into this and everything you need to know about the Chinese folk religion.
What Does Chinese Folk Religion Mean?
What you need to know about the Chinese folk religion is the fact that this religion has everything to do with the underlying belief systems that more than a billion Chinese people have lived by, and when you go into any of the Chinese homes, restaurants, and even offices, you will almost certainly notice statues, alters, and even some paper good luck figurines and images. Even the Chinese communities around you and in different parts of the world will have temples or the earth God shrines that have been dedicated to different gods that they believe in. All these bring forth many questions, but the most common one has got to be, what exactly do the Chinese pray to or believe in? And what of the religions make the most sense in terms of their expressions and even their belief systems? Also, which of the Chinese beliefs are the most popular or connected to the different popular beliefs like Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism?
While the religious elements of the Chinese societies play a role in how the society is set up, understanding Chinese folk religion might be an important thing for you if you are interested in learning more about the Chinese cultures/ religions.
For a long time, the Chinese folk religions were mistaken for the other belief systems like Taoism, Confucianism, and even Buddhism. But it is now clear that the folk religion is an entirely separate belief system and practice than the other three. And it’s interesting to note that a huge chunk of the Chinese people claim, albeit self-consciously, that they are adherent to the Chinese Folk religion. This religion is the new and the most popular religion for the Chinese.
The main reason for its popularity has to do with the fact that an increasing number of Chinese people believe in and follow this big collection of beliefs that is largely ingrained in the rich Chinese culture, hence the name – traditional Chinese folk religion. This means that the Chinese religion is pretty much this diverse mix of beliefs, including Buddhism, Daoism, as well as the religious aspects of Confucianism. Combined together, all these beliefs form the crucial backbone for the Chinese religion.
Note, however, that unlike the western religions that are primarily henotheistic, which means that they call for exclusive adherence, the Chinese folk religion and the rest of the eastern religions aren’t exclusionary, and they often incorporate more than a single belief system. Then there’s also the fact that the Chinese folk religion is syncretic, which means that it allows for much easier incorporation of specific practices and belief systems. With all these taken into consideration, you will also notice that if you are not sure about the religion, you wouldn’t have to drop the Chinese religion in support of the beliefs and practices of the indigenous people – the folk religion is all-encompassing.
What this means is that the Chinese folk religion involves the worship of the local deities like the Taoist and Buddhist figures, astrology, ancestor worship, as well as the worship of different animal totems.
In the course of the development of this religion, the Chinese folk religion has been largely and deeply influenced by several schools of thought, especially Confucianism and Taoism. It’s quite interesting to note that Taoism actually has its roots in the earliest form of Chinese folk religion, and it still holds onto some of the mysticism aspects of folk religion. So, for some people, Chinese folk religion is pretty much folk Taoism.
When Did Chinese Folk Religion Start
The Chinese folk religion has been around for a really long time, but it’s worth noting that it is not a stand-alone religion, and it’s encompassing a number of other religions that are important to the Chinese, for example, Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism.
The Chinese folk religion focuses on the worship that is devoted to the immortals and the gods that can include deities, natural phenomena, or even human behavior. These stories of the gods are largely connected to Chinese mythology, and they all date back to the Sung dynasty between 960-1279. The Chinese folk religion’s practices and beliefs have all been blended together with the Taoist teachings and the Buddhist doctrines, resulting in one of the most popular religious belief systems that have lasted for centuries to date.
These religious beliefs are today tolerated by the governments of modern-day Taiwan and Mainland China because the religions encourage social stability. And the
Who Founded Chinese Folk Religion?
The Han Dynasty founded the ancient Chinese (folk) religion, and it was mostly made up of groups organized into the shè Chines that worshipped the godly principle. In this belief system, the Lord of the shè was considered the god of the entire earth and was also deified by some as a virtuous person.
The religion spread a bit from the 3rd century on the Northern Wei, which was accompanied by the spread of the Buddhist religion across China, bring in the strong influences from the Indian belief systems.
Does Chinese Folk Religion Have A God?
Well, the Chinese folk religion doesn’t believe in a specific god but more in a doctrine or a dogma that is influenced significantly by different Chinese mythologies, along with the other religions like Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism.
As mentioned above, the Chinese folk religion is more or less grounded in the traditional worship of the local deities, including the same gods or figures that the Taoists and the Buddhists believe in. They also believe in and worship different animal totems, astrology, and ancient beliefs, not to mention spirit mediumship, ancestor worship, and they also set up different temples to worship different gods and for festivals or ceremonies.
Note that the practice and religious exchanges between the Chinese folk religion and Taoism have led to the assimilation of the different religious elements, including cults and the local deities, into the different domains of Taoism. But these two religions remain separate belief systems.
From the time of the Sung Dynasty when this belief system started, the Chinese folk religion features elements that can be traced from prehistoric times, including shamanism, ancestor worship, belief in ghosts, divination, as well as sacrificial rituals performed to appease the spirits.
But at the center of all beliefs, the Chinese folk religion is focused on family above all else, and they believe that the family is where the ethical and moral status of the society as a whole starts from. So, throughout ancient history, believers of the Chinese folk religion held in high regard the ancestors, who were both respected and worshipped. To this end, this religious form features specific methods of communication with the deities as well as the ancestors. In other words, the folk religion is constantly concerned with the need to satisfy the needs of the departed and the ancestors.
How Is Chinese Folk Religion Different From The Five Major Religions?
Like ancient Hinduism, for example, the Chinese folk religion is primarily centered on the different forces of nature, as well as the dualistic nature of things, think yin and yang, and also on the folk deities. There is also a belief that leading a good life and even an afterlife will be attained through different rituals and the honor of the ancestors. Honoring and paying respect to the ancestors is believed to be a huge thing because it would mean that the living could receive guidance and even power from the ancestors.
There is also a difference in terms of prayers. And for Chinese folk religion, prayer is all about seeking health and wealth and more of a petition. This religion also supports and encourages symbolic giving, and it collectively promotes the spiritual meaning of unity and loyalty to the group of believers.
In other words, Chinese folk religion is seen as a big celebration of the ongoing life, where the ancestors worshipped the descendants, and the descendants pray to the ancestors in turn.
Note that a religion like Confucianism is all about the philosophical view of things in which everyone needed to fulfill their obligations and roles while showing respect and undying kindness to each other to be able to build a stronger and more stable community/ state. This belief has nothing to do with spiritual elements like the gods/ goddesses, mysticism, or the afterlife. So, Confucianism is more of a philosophical way of life rather than a religious one.
Taoism, on the other hand, came in after Confucianism, and it has to do with everything related to the spiritual elements of life and the nature of the universe. It focuses on The Way, which has to do with the harmony in the natural order, arising between the world and humans.
Buddhism focuses on the attainment of deep knowledge and personal development, with Buddhists seeking enlightenment through spiritual learning, meditation, and religious practice. They also believe in reincarnation.
Hinduism comes in close, and it is guided by core elements like the universal laws of cause and effect or karma, as well as the doctrines of the samsara that are all about the continuity of life and death, as well as reincarnation. Their philosophy holds that all living things have souls, and they are all a part of the supreme soul.
All these differ from the folk religion, especially in what the religions believe in. But they all focus on building a state that believes in something beyond what is known/ seen.