Chinese Folk Religion

Chinese folk religion comprises the religion practiced in much of China for thousands of years which included ancestor veneration and drew heavily upon concepts and beings within Chinese mythology. Chinese folk religion is sometimes seen as a constituent part of Chinese traditional religion, but more often, the two are regarded as synonymous. It is estimated that there are at least 800 million adherents to Chinese folk religion worldwide.

Overview

Chinese folk religion is composed of a combination of religious practices, including Confucianist ceremonies, ancestor veneration, Buddhism and Taoism. Chinese folk religion also retains traces of some of its ancestral neolithic belief systems which include the veneration of (and communication with) the sun, moon, earth, the heaven, and various stars, as well as communication with animals. It has been practiced alongside Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism by Chinese people throughout the world for thousands of years.

Ceremonies, veneration, legends, festivals and various devotions associated with different folk gods/deities and goddesses form an important part of Chinese culture even today. The veneration of secondary gods does not conflict with an individual's chosen religion, but is accepted as a complementary adjunct to Buddhism, Confucianism or Taoism. Some mythical figures in folk culture have even been integrated into Buddhism as in the case of Miao Shan who is generally thought of having evolved into the Buddhist bodhisattva Kuan Yin. Other folk deities may date back to pre-Buddhist eras of Chinese history. The Chinese dragon is one of the key religious icons in these beliefs.

Gods and goddesses

There are hundreds of gods and goddess as well as "saints," immortals and demigods. According to the Pantao Yen Log or The Feast of the Immortal Peaches (????) the residency of heaven is some 400 million strong, with the remaining 9.2 Billion souls Yuanling (??) either in hell or on earth. Historical figures noted for their bravery or virtue are also venerated and honored with their own festivals after they are apotheosized. The following list represents some commonly worshipped deities:

(Note: This list is incomplete and should not be considered a full representation)

Demographics

Many publications on religion in China do not include statistics on the number of adherents of traditional religion, with most adherents registered under the category of Taoist or Buddhist. However, despite the critical influence of those two belief-systems, Chinese traditional religion is not coterminous with them and, strictly speaking, marked distinctions exist. Nonetheless, such overlaps or blurring of distinctions are consistent with East Asian cultural understandings of religion and identity that do not require exclusive indentification as an adherent of solely one distinct tradition.