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Religion in China China Study Tour,2004 Susan Daly Communism & Religion

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religion in china
Religion in China

China Study Tour,2004

Susan Daly

communism religion
Communism & Religion
  • All of our local guides told us that religion was not acceptable for communist party members who want to advance but that anyone else could feel free to practice their religious beliefs openly. The only exception is Falun Gong.
  • In our three weeks traveling across 9 cities from north to western and southern China we visited many active temples full of people. One of my fellow teachers commented, “ For a communist country, there sure are an awful lot of worshipers”

Buddhism came to China along the Silk Roads from India where it was started in the 5th century BCE by Siddhartha Gautama.It brought with it several symbols shown in many Buddhist images. The most familiar is the lotus flower, a symbol of purity, renunciation and divinity. Buddha is often shown sitting on a lotus.


Another important symbol is the Golden Wheel. The wheel represents motion, continuity and change, forever moving onwards like the wheel of heaven.The eight spokes point in the eight directions and symbolize Buddha’s Eightfold Path: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

Buddhist monk, Xuangzang leaving X’ian on pilgrimage to India and the sacred places of Buddhism.His travels took him over 25,000 miles.

Since the Taliban blew up the 2 Buddha’s at Bamyan, Afghanistan, Leshan is the largest carved statue of Buddha in the world. It is mainly visible from the river because it was carved where 3 rivers converge to stop the many drownings which took place there and quiet the water. It did stop the rapids.There are stairs which circle the statue to allow you to get several views of it as you climb around it.

buddhist pilgrimage in western china

Buddhist Pilgrimage in western China

Mt. Emei – a sacred Buddhist mountain


Mt. Emei is over 10,000 feet tall. The act of climbing it, is also an act of worship. There are five different Buddhist monasteries at different levels of the mountain. At each stage, pilgrims can stop, pray, and rest. There are four mountains sacred to Buddha in China.


Pilgrims offer incense at this stop along their journey up Mt. Emei. There were several large racks like this one to hold the burning bundles of incense. The smell was incredible but it was also smoky.


To reach the next level of Mt. Emei, we took a cable car but most pilgrims walk up the mountain as part of the pilgrimage. It was a cloudy, overcast day with lots of mist so our trip up the mountainside was lovely but not spectacular as a sunny day would have been.

wannian monastery
Wannian Monastery
  • Wannian monastery was a beautiful, peaceful place to contemplate and study Buddhism. It had incredible butterflies and wild monkeys which we never saw. The monks here were as intrigued by us as we were by them.
  • This place was the first time, I truly felt like a curiosity since few westerns go here.

While we visited Wannian, there was a ceremony which involved a large group of pilgrims chanting. It was an incredible sound but all of us felt it would be wrong to photograph them in a religious ceremony.


In every Buddhist temple we visited, there was a line of prayer wheels. As people would walk through the temple grounds, they would give the wheels a turn so there was always this gentle sound coming from the row of wheels. Children loved to get all of the wheels spinning at one time.


As we toured the 2 Buddhist monasteries on Mt.Emei, we were a curiosity for many of the pilgrims we saw along our travels. It was the most foreign I felt in all of China. One blonde teacher had people ask if they could have their picture taken with her because she was so different.


John waited a long time to try on his monks robe. The shop would not sell him an actual robe but one made for tourists. Once he posed for us with it on, one of the monks came out and asked us to take his picture with John. Without a word of Chinese we communicated with him and took his camera for the photo.


Mt.Emei is a beautiful natural environment with 5 monasteries leading up to its peak. We saw 2 and along the way saw gorgeous scenery and many types of butterflies. We did not see the monkeys who also live on its slopes. Since they are quite wild, our group was relieved not to have seen the monkeys.

  • We visited several Taoist temples in China. They were not as brightly colored as Buddhist temples but were also well attended by worshipers.
  • Daoism is native to China and was developed during the late Zhou and Warring States period when much of China was engulfed in wars.

Laozi is the person associated with Daoism and his main work is the ,Classic of the Way. In Daoism, humans have separated themselves from the Way ( Tao) by plotting, planning, organizing when they should instead be accepting and surrendering to events. Daoists were critical of Confucian activism. They focused their energy on reflection so they could learn to live in harmony with the natural world.

islam in x ian

Islam in X’ian

Islam came to China across the Silk Roads which ended in X’ian. There is still a small Muslim community in X’ian today. There are approximately 8,000 Muslims active in X’ian’s mosques.

islam in china
Islam in China
  • Islam came across the Silk Roads to X’ian. It stayed and today there is a community of 8,000 Muslims in X’ian. The Mosque we visited looked exactly like a Chinese temple except the writing was done in Arabic script. We heard the call to prayer for Friday evening services being sung by at this mosque.

The Chinese government has left Muslims alone in the X’ian area but has persecuted Muslims in far western China because of fears over rising Islamic Fundamentalism in that area. We saw no signs that the worshippers were at all worried about practicing their faith in public.

confucian traditions
Confucian Traditions
  • Kong Fuzi,551-479 BCE, looked at social order and political problems of his era. His followers knew him as “ Master Philosopher Kong” but the west knows him as Confucius. He was born in Lu in northern China and tried for many years for a government post at the Lu court. He was not always easy to get along with.

The most famous work of Kong Fuzi was , The Analects.In this book, Confucius detailed how political and social harmony in society came from the proper ordering of human relationships. He advocated placing people into government positions based on their being well educated and very conscientious. The need for a strong sense of moral integrity was a key part of any officials character for Confucius.

our guide is explaining how the son carrying his elderly parents is an example of filial piety
Our guide is explaining how the son carrying his elderly parents is an example of Filial Piety.