The Chinese Religion and Culture


The Chinese Religion and Culture

China is a nation that is known to be the most populous nation in the world and therefore has a rich history as well as diversity when it comes to the religions and the cultures in the land. In fact, some of the religions are so much linked to the close ties of kinship and family and may not really demand that people be strict followers of them. It follows then that people can be in more than one religion at the same time. Interestingly, most of the learned people and scholars who are knowledgeable on the religions of Chinese prefer to refer to some religions as philosophies or cultural practices such as Buddhism and Taoism. Chinese are also known for the worship of a large number of ethnic gods and also ancestors and heroes (Jochim 52).

Long before the communists took direct charge of the Republic of China and the communist revolution there were many systems of religion or the so-called philosophical systems. In the Chinese tradition, there are religions that were taken to give the outline of the beliefs, value systems, and practices of the Chinese people. These religions helped to define the positions of people in society. Taoism and Confucianism were such religions. Both of these were in existence long before Christianity came to China, several centuries before to be precise.

Amongst the most popular religions in China presently are Taoism and Buddhism. Taoism, in summary, is a religion that sought to teach and consistently train the people to obtain and maintain inner peace and how they would live their lives in harmony with their surrounding environment (Oliver 27). On the other hand, Buddhism is not as old as Taoism and came with Buddha in the first century.


Taoism basically means a way of life or a way of thought and it is because it is derived from the Chinese word Tao which means was founded and advanced by a man known as Lao-Tzu in the 6th century BC and it was then referred to as ‘the way’ (Legge 34). It is interesting to note that Taoism has deeply influenced the cultures of the Chinese just like Confucianism. When considered philosophically, Tao is seen and placed on the level of a deity and it is considered that Tao is barely knowable neither can it be confidently named. The Chinese considered Tao to be a very essential unifying element and that all the people and everything is considered to be one regardless of its physical appearance.

Due to the nature of oneness of everything according to Tao, every other matter of disparity such as good and evil or right and wrong, or true and false as well as people holding different opinions is only because of the selfish character that arises in people when they lose sight of their oneness with one another and with nature.  Taoism believes that nothing is in opposition one of another for example life and death, but that they are merely two aspects of one single reality (Legge 79). It follows then that the Taoist should endeavor to create a relationship with the Tao and shun all other earthly pleasures to concentrate on life. This is with the aim of living long, becoming more saintly with the hope of eventually attaining immortality.


This religion entered China from India in the first century but its popularity surfaced in the 3rd century. It is interesting to note the circumstances under which religion became popular in China. During the period of war and unrest and the barbarian invasions, Buddhism became popular in that it offered personal salvation to the Chinese who were looking for peace for the fear of losing their lives.

Buddhism was initially founded by Siddhartha Gautama who was referred to as the Buddha. He was motivated by the desire to alleviate the suffering he observed amongst humanity. He was meditating under a Bo tree when he became enlightened that desires are the main causes of pain. He, therefore, taught that if the desires would be done away with the pain would be easily eliminated. He then started advocating for meditation and following a path known as the eightfold path. The main aim of so doing is to attain the condition of Nirvana (Overmyer 44). This is a condition of tranquility of the spirit, where the pain is totally overcome and there is an unending harmony merging with the spirit of a person.

‘Shen’ and ‘guei’

In Chinese religion, there are two types of spirits that are popularly known especially because one is the opposite of the other. These two types of spirits are shen and guei. Shen in Chinese means ‘spirit’ or ‘divinity’. It is normally distinguished from guei in that it is a beneficiary spirit of the dead meaning that it does not bring evil but rather brings good. The same word then is used to refer to people such as heroes who have been deified to gods. The shen is normally identified with the higher spiritual constituent of the human soul and associated with the ‘yang’, that is the bright phase of the cosmos.

On the other hand, ‘guei’ means a demon or a ghost. It is believed to be a spirit that just roams the world causing illness and misfortune and even death. It is normally believed that after a person’s death, the soul may eventually become one of two spirits. If the rituals of burial are done well it becomes ashen. When the burial is done unsatisfactorily, the soul fails to ascend into the spirit world and remains in the grave. It then returns to seek revenge and is referred to as a guest or a ghost (Von 79).

The legacy of Confucian tradition holds that human beings have two souls that is the upper and the lower soul. The upper soul is the intellectual soul called ‘hun’ and the lower soul is called ‘pop’. The ‘hun’ becomes a spirit upon the death of the person, whereas the part that becomes the ghost in case of poor burial rituals is the ‘po’ (Legge 134).

Spirit Mediums

In Chinese, a spirit medium is known as a ‘Tongji’ or a ‘jitong’ and is most popular amongst Taoism. The medium is also known as an oracle or a ‘shaman’. The Shen or spirit seeks expression and therefore chooses a medium through which it can find divine expression (Von 62). This medium is what is referred to as a Tongji. He or she appears to be completely under the control of powers in the spirit world.

Feng- Shui

This is a form of geomancy that is practiced by the Chinese and it is basically believed that it can improve the lives of individuals by helping them receive positive energy or positive forces to improve himself. The reception of the positive energy referred to as ‘qi’ is dependent on the utilization of the laws of heaven and earth. Geomancy is usually a common form of divination that involves the practice of interpretations of marks made on the ground or by looking at patterns formed when rocks or sand is tossed on the ground and interpreting. Feng shui is literally translated to be ‘wind-water’ in English and is normally used to orient buildings and burial places in an auspicious manner.


This literally means the way of power. It is mainly concerned with restoring harmony in the place of disorder and also the maintenance of a state of tranquility. In many articles of cosmology, it is said that the Dao gives birth to one, and there the chain begins where one gives birth to two, two to three and three gives birth to innumerable of things altogether. This is presented to show nonaction constituent of daodejing wherein the state of complete passivity, everything is done. In doing nothing every form of disorder ceases to be because the Dao is allowed to flow uninterruptedly.

As initially pointed out the Chinese also have a culture of worshiping deities as part of their religious practices. When considering this from Daoism and Confucianism, Lord Heaven ‘Tian’ and the ‘Jade Emperor’ are worshipped though not very often but during festivals that could either be annual or public festivals. The worship of the ‘Stove god’ also known as the ‘Stove master’ was widely practiced in throughout China land from the 8th century BC (Overmyer 157).

This was done by burning sticks of incense, three of the morning and in the evening in the kitchen. The privy goddess was also worshipped and the earth god both of whom served protective roles. The privy god served to clear all forms of negativities such as sickness and death whereas the earth god protected the people from the ghosts that are wandering the earth. It is interesting to note that there are hierarchies in the spirit world and different levels of authority where information can be passed from the superiors to the subordinates and vice versa.

The Three in One Sect

This refers to the harmonious teachings of three distinct religions brought together, that are the teachings of Confucian, Buddha and the Taoists. This is based on the teachings value ability of the teachings for self-cultivation. It is used to refer to a syncretic sect that was founded by a man known as Lin Zhaoen during the Ming dynasty and it attracted people from all the three religions. It was however prohibited under the dynasty but it was having tremendous progress in the neighborhood of Taiwan (Oliver 48). It majorly focused on becoming a sage, a very wise man by careful cultivation of the mind of a person so as to attain a state where they can easily find solutions to the many problems that face humanity. It only picked on the teachings from the three religions that complement one another rather than those that oppose one another.


Works Cited

Jochim, Christian. Chinese Religions: A Cultural Perspective. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall, 2006. Print.

Legge, James. The Religions of China: Confucianism and Tâoism Described and Compared with Christianity. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2004. Print.

Oliver, Scott L. Religion in China Today. Cambridge [England: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.

Overmyer, Daniel L. Religions of China: The World As a Living System. Prospect Heights, Ill: Waveland Press, 1998. Print.

Von, Glahn R. The Sinister Way: The Divine and the Demonic in Chinese Religious Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.


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