China (Includes Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Macau)
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.4 billion (July 2018 estimate). According to the State Council Information Office’s (SCIO) report on religious policies and practices, published in April, there are more than 200 million religious believers in the country. Many experts, however, believe official estimates understate the total number of religious adherents. The U.S. government estimated in 2010 that Buddhists comprise 18.2 percent of the population, Christians 5.1 percent, Muslims 1.8 percent, and followers of folk religion 21.9 percent. According to a February 2017 estimate by the international NGO Freedom House, there are more than 350 million religious believers in the country, including 185-250 million Chinese Buddhists, 60-80 million Protestants, 21-23 million Muslims, 7-20 million Falun Gong practitioners, 12 million Catholics, 6-8 million Tibetan Buddhists, and hundreds of millions who follow various folk traditions. According to 2017 data from the Jewish Virtual Library, the country’s Jewish population is 2,700.
SCIO’s report found the number of Protestants to be 38 million. Among these, there are 20 million Protestant Christians affiliated with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the state-sanctioned umbrella organization for all officially recognized Protestant churches, according to information on TSPM’s website in March 2017. According to a 2014 State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) statistic, more than 5.7 million Catholics worship in sites registered by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), the state-sanctioned organization for all officially recognized Catholic churches. The SCIO’s report states there are six million Catholics, although nongovernment estimates suggest there are 10-12 million Catholics, approximately half of whom practice in non-CCPA affiliated churches. Accurate estimates on the numbers of Catholics and Protestants as well as other faiths are difficult to calculate because many adherents practice exclusively at home or in churches that are not state sanctioned.
According to SCIO’s report, there are 10 ethnic minorities in which the majority practices Islam, and these 10 groups total more than 20 million persons. Other sources indicate almost all of the Muslims are Sunni. The two largest Muslim ethnic minorities are Hui and Uighur, with Hui Muslims concentrated primarily in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Qinghai, Gansu, and Yunnan Provinces. SARA estimates the Muslim Hui population at 10.6 million.
While there is no reliable government breakdown of the Buddhist population by branch, the vast majority of Buddhists are adherents of Mahayana Buddhism, according to the Pew Research Center.
Prior to the government’s 1999 ban on Falun Gong, the government estimated there were 70 million adherents. Falun Gong sources estimate that tens of millions continue to practice privately, and Freedom House estimates 7-20 million practitioners.
Some ethnic minorities retain traditional religions, such as Dongba among the Naxi people in Yunnan Province and Buluotuo among the Zhuang in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Media sources report Buddhism, particularly Tibetan Buddhism, is growing in popularity among the Han Chinese population.
Local and regional figures for the number of religious followers, even state-sanctioned legal religions, are unclear and purposely kept opaque by authorities. Local governments do not release these statistics, and even official religious organizations do not have accurate numbers. The Pew Research Center and other observers say many religious groups often are underreported.