China's strongholds of faith

BUDDHISM The number of Buddhist believers is difficult to estimate, but there are probably several tens of millions. There are more than 30,000 Buddhist monks and nuns, including 6,600 in Tibet. This compares with 500,000 before 1949. About 4,600 temples have been reopened since 1979, compared with several tens of thousands that were open before the communists came to power. About 700 students are studying to become monks or nuns in 10 state-approved Buddhist academies established since 1980.


The least organized of the recognized religions and the last to be rehabilitated, Taoism as a popular faith has been in decline for several hundred years, and the number of followers are few. Some 220 temples have been reopened, with 23 under central government control. Officials claim there are 5,000 monks, but some temples have no monks in residence. About 100 students are enrolled in three informal Taoist schools. ISLAM

Followers of the faith are estimated at 14 million, though there are unofficial estimates of more than twice that number. There are about 20,000 mosques, including 14,000 in Xinjiang, a predominantly Muslim region, with large communities in Ningxia, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan. And some Muslims are found in almost every major city and town throughout the country.


Roman Catholics. Officially there are some 3 million Chinese Catholics, the same number as in 1949. Unofficially, sources in Hong Kong estimate there are 6 to 9 million. There is a ``silent church'' of unknown size which has remained loyal to the Vatican after the Patriotic Catholic Church was formed in 1957. There are 800 to 900 churches registered with the state-controlled Patriotic Catholic Association.

Protestants. Church officials say there are now 4 million Protestants, compared with 700,000 church members in 1949. One evangelical church group in Hong Kong says the number of ``probable'' Protestant Christians is up to 10 times that number, but there are no reliable estimates. There are more than 4,000 churches and many more ``house churches'' and ``meeting points'' for small groups.

``We have tens of thousands of meetings in other places, mostly in homes,'' according to a senior church official.

About 600 students are enrolled in 11 seminaries, though foreign visitors say that only the seminary in Nanking has a fully qualified staff and a broadly based curriculum.

``The others are more like Bible schools,'' says an American theologian. Officials say that more than 3 million Bibles have been printed in Chinese since 1981.


Some 200 Chinese Jews still live in the city of Kaifeng, compared with 2,000 to 3,000 before 1949.

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