China (Includes Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Macau)

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.4 billion (midyear 2021).  According to the State Council Information Office (SCIO) report Seeking Happiness for People:  70 Years of Progress on Human Rights in China, published in September 2019, there are more than 200 million religious adherents in the country.  An SCIO April 2018 white paper on religion in the country states there are approximately 5,500 religious groups.

Local and regional figures for the number of religious followers, including those belonging to the five officially recognized religions, are unclear.  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 the numbers of adherents of many religious groups often are underreported.  The U.S. government estimates that Buddhists comprise 18.2 percent of the country’s total population, Christians 5.1 percent, Muslims 1.8 percent, followers of folk religions 21.9 percent, and atheists or unaffiliated persons 52.2 percent, with Hindus, Jews, and Taoists comprising less than 1 percent.  According to a February 2017 estimate by the U.S.-based NGO Freedom House, there are more than 350 million religious adherents in the country, including 185 to 250 million Buddhists, 60 to 80 million Protestants, 21 to 23 million Muslims, seven to 20 million Falun Gong practitioners, 12 million Roman Catholics, six to eight million Tibetan Buddhists, and hundreds of millions who follow various folk traditions.  According to Boston University’s 2020 World Religion Database, there are 499 million folk and ethnic religionists (34 percent), 474 million agnostics (33 percent), 228 million Buddhists (16 percent), 106 million Christians (7.4 percent), 100 million atheists (7 percent), 23.7 million Muslims (1.7 percent), and other religions adherents who together constitute less than 1 percent of the population, including 5.9 million Taoists, 1.8 million Confucians, 20,500 Sikhs, and 2,900 Jews.  According to the Christian advocacy NGO Open Doors USA’s World Watch List 2022 report, there are 96.7 million Christians.  According to 2015 data from the World Jewish Congress, the country’s Jewish population is 2,500, concentrated in Beijing, Shanghai, and Kaifeng.

The SCIO’s April 2018 white paper found the number of Protestants to be 38 million.  Among these, there are 20 million Protestants 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.  The SCIO report states there are six million Catholics, although media and international NGO estimates suggest there are 10-12 million, approximately half of whom practice in churches not affiliated with the CCPA.  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 the 2018 SCIO white paper, there are 10 ethnic minority groups totaling more than 20 million persons for whom Islam is the majority religion.  Other sources indicate almost all Muslims are Sunni.  The two largest Muslim ethnic minorities are Hui and Uyghur, with Hui Muslims concentrated primarily in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and in Qinghai, Gansu, and Yunnan Provinces.  The SARA, also referred to as the National Religious Affairs Administration, estimates the Muslim Hui population at 10.6 million.  A June report on the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang) issued by the Department of Population and Employment Statistics of the PRC’s National Bureau of Statistics estimates the total population in Xinjiang is 26 million.  The report states Uyghurs, along with ethnic Kazakh, Hui, Kyrgyz, and members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups, number approximately 15 million residents, or 58 percent of the total population there.

While there is no reliable government breakdown of the Buddhist population by school, the vast majority of Buddhists are adherents of Mahayana Buddhism, according to the Pew Research Center.  Most ethnic Tibetans practice Tibetan Buddhism, although a sizeable minority practices Bon, a pre-Buddhist indigenous religion.

Prior to the government’s 1999 ban on Falun Gong, the government estimated there were 70 million adherents.  Falun Gong sources estimate tens of millions continue to practice privately, and Freedom House estimates there are seven to 20 million practitioners.

Some ethnic minorities follow traditional religions, such as Dongba among the Naxi people in Yunnan Province and Buluotuo among the Zhuang in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.  The central government classifies worship of Mazu, a folk deity with Taoist roots, as an expression of “cultural heritage” rather than a religious practice.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because the government and individuals closely link religion, culture, and ethnicity, it was difficult to categorize many incidents of societal discrimination as being solely based on religious identity.

Despite labor law provisions against discrimination in hiring based on religious belief, some employers continued to discriminate against religious believers.  Religious minorities continued to report employers terminated their employment due to their current or prior religious activities.

In 2020, the Economist reported employment discrimination against ethnic minorities was pervasive, citing a study that found that Hui job seekers had to send twice as many applications as Han applicants and that Uyghurs had on average to send nearly four times as many applications just to hear back from potential employers.  The study found the gap was greater for highly educated workers, with Uyghur candidates who were in the top 1 percent academically having to send six times as many applications as their Han counterparts.  According to the Economist, the application gap was “similar in both smaller cities and in the provincial-level regions of Guangdong, Beijing and Shanghai.  State-owned enterprises, which have an official mandate to hire more minority workers, appeared at least as biased as other firms.”

Discrimination against potential or current tenants based on their religious beliefs reportedly continued.  Since 2017 and 2018, when articles in the 2005 Public Security Administration Punishment Law related to “suspicious activity” began to be enforced in earnest, Falun Gong practitioners reported ongoing difficulty in finding landlords who would rent them apartments.  Sources stated government enforcement of this law continued to move the country further away from informal discriminatory practices by individual landlords towards a more formalized enforcement of codified discriminatory legislation.

In June, the Diplomat reported growing anti-Muslim sentiment in society as a result of the government’s Sinicization campaign, which the Diplomat said could lead to violence.  Sources said government propaganda portraying Uyghurs as radicals, extremists, and terrorists had created societal hostility toward that group.  Anti-Muslim speech in social media reportedly remained widespread.

There were reports that Uyghur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and other religious minorities continued to face difficulties in finding accommodation when they traveled.

In January, media reported messages on social media blamed local Catholics from Shijiazhuang City and “several priests from Europe and the United States” for the spread of COVID-19 in Hebei Province that resulted in a lockdown on January 6.  Local priests denounced the posts, saying there had been no religious activities, masses, or meetings since December 24, 2020.

Hong Kong

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 7.3 million (midyear 2021).  According to SAR government statistics, there are more than one million followers of Taoism and approximately one million followers of Buddhism; 800,000 Protestants; 404,000 Catholics; 300,000 Muslims; 100,000 Hindus; and 12,000 Sikhs.  The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, which recognizes the Pope and maintains links to the Vatican, reported approximately 621,000 followers (404,000 local residents and 217,000 residents with other nationalities).  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reported it has approximately 25,100 members.  According to the World Jewish Congress, there are approximately 2,500 Jews, primarily expatriates.  Small communities of Baha’is and Zoroastrians also reside in the SAR.  Confucianism is widespread, and in some cases, elements of Confucianism are practiced in conjunction with other belief systems.  The Falun Dafa Association estimates there are approximately 500 Falun Gong practitioners.

There are numerous Protestant denominations, including Baptist, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican, the Church of Christ in China, Seventh-day Adventist, and Pentecostal.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In June, an unknown group hung banners around each of the seven Catholic churches that were planning to hold a memorial Mass for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing.  The banners contained photographs of Cardinal Joseph Zen, an outspoken critic of the CCP, with the word “devil,” as well as slogans, including “A Cult Has Invaded the Faith” and “Incitement in the Name of Worship.”

Media reported that on May 17, Pope Francis named Reverend Stephen Chow Sau-Yan as the new Bishop of Hong Kong.  Chow, head of Hong Kong’s Jesuit order, replaced Cardinal John Tong, who had served as interim bishop since 2019.  According to one senior cleric, “The security law has made the job a lot more tricky and the pressure is intense.”  The Holy See and the PRC do not have formal diplomatic relations, but the 2018 Sino-Vatican agreement reportedly gives both Chinese authorities and the Holy See a role in the process of appointing bishops in mainland China.  According to Reuters, Vatican officials said the agreement did not apply to Hong Kong; however, some senior clergy stated the PRC was seeking to extend its control over the Diocese of Hong Kong.  The Vatican-affiliated outlet AsiaNews stated Chow was a “balanced” choice between prodemocracy and pro-Beijing camps.  On May 18, Chow told media, “Religious freedom is our basic right.  We want to really talk to the government not to forget that.  It is important to allow religious freedom, matters of faith – not just Catholic – but any religion should be free.”

Observers reported Christian churches in Hong Kong continued to provide underground churches in mainland China with spiritual and monetary support, including Bibles and Christian literature and visits from church members.  Some Hong Kong churches reported that they were able to conduct cross-border online services, while others, including the Catholic Church, reported PRC authorities prohibited individuals in mainland China from attending their online services.

Macau

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 630,000 (midyear 2021).  According to a 2015 estimate by the research group Association of Religion Data Archives, 48.1 percent of the population are folk religionists, 17.3 percent Buddhist, 11 percent Taoist, 4.5 percent Catholic, 2.5 percent other Christian, 1.2 percent other religious groups (including Hindus, Muslims, and Jews), and 15.4 percent nonreligious.  The SAR Government Information Bureau 2021 yearbook states the majority of the population practices Buddhism or Chinese folk religions.  The yearbook does not provide an estimate for Buddhists, but it states they are numerous and individuals often practice a mixture of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Chinese folk religions.  The SAR Government Information Bureau estimates 4.5 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, of whom almost half are foreign domestic workers and other expatriates, and 2.5 percent of the population is Protestant.  Protestant denominations include the Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian Churches.  Evangelical Christian and independent local nondenominational churches, some of which are affiliated with officially recognized mainland churches, are also present.  Various reports estimate the Muslim population at 5,000 to 10,000.  Smaller religious groups include Baha’is, who estimate their membership at more than 2,000, and Falun Gong practitioners, who estimate their numbers at 20 to 50 persons.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In May, a video went viral on social media showing more than 100 primary school students from the Catholic Pui Ching Middle School singing “We Are the Successors of Communism” in front of the Ruins of St. Paul’s, the site of a former Catholic Church, as part of events commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.  The event sparked discussion online among Macau residents about whether religious schools could preserve their religious values and implement their educational mission while conforming to government ideology.  Some educators stated they believed that politics should not be brought onto campus, and that patriotism did not equate to loving the Communist Party.

The Catholic Church in Macau, in communion with the Holy See, continued to recognize the Pope as its head.  The Vatican appointed the bishop for the diocese.

The Catholic Diocese of Macau continued to run many educational institutions.

Falun Gong practitioners reported they continued to be able to discuss their beliefs openly with Macau residents.

Tibet

Section I. Religious Demography

According to official data from the 2020 estimate of the National Bureau of Statistics of China, the total population of the TAR is approximately 3,648,000, of which Tibetans make up approximately 90 percent.  Han Chinese make up approximately 8 percent.  Other ethnicities comprise the remainder.  Some experts, however, believe the number of Han Chinese and other non-Tibetans living there is significantly underreported.  The majority of ethnic Tibetans in the PRC live in the TAR, in Tibetan autonomous prefectures (TAPs), and in counties in Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, and Yunnan Provinces.  Official census data show Tibetans constitute approximately 24.4 percent of the total population in Qinghai Province, 2.1 percent in Sichuan Province, 1.8 percent in Gansu Province, and 0.3 percent in Yunnan Province, although the percentage of Tibetans is much higher within prefectures and counties of these provinces designated as autonomous for Tibetans.

Most ethnic Tibetans practice Tibetan Buddhism, although a sizeable minority practices Bon, a pre-Buddhist indigenous religion.  Small minorities practice Islam, Catholicism, or Protestantism.  Some scholars estimate there are as many as 400,000 Bon followers across the Tibetan Plateau, most of whom also follow the Dalai Lama and consider themselves to be Tibetan Buddhists.  Scholars estimate there are up to 5,000 Tibetan Muslims and 700 Tibetan Catholics in the TAR.  Other residents of traditionally Tibetan areas include Han Chinese, many of whom practice Buddhism (including Tibetan Buddhism), Taoism, Confucianism, or traditional folk religions, or profess atheism, as well as Hui Muslims and non-Tibetan Catholics and Protestants.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Tibetans, particularly those who wore traditional and religious attire, regularly reported being denied hotel rooms, refused service by taxi drivers, and discriminated against in employment and in business transactions.

Many Han Buddhists continued to demonstrate interest in Tibetan Buddhism and donated money to Tibetan monasteries and nunneries, according to local sources in such monasteries and nunneries.  Tibetan Buddhist monks frequently visited Chinese cities to provide religious instruction to Han Buddhists.  In addition, a growing number of Han Buddhists visited Tibetan monasteries, although officials sometimes imposed restrictions that made it difficult for Han Buddhists to conduct long-term study at many monasteries in Tibetan areas.  State propaganda reported on these activities.

Media and NGOs reported that monasteries collected donations to purchase and distribute personal protective equipment to local residents and populations in other parts of China during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Xinjiang

Section I. Religious Demography

A June report on the XUAR issued by the Department of Population and Employment Statistics of the National Bureau of Statistics estimates the total population is 26 million.  The report states Uyghurs, along with Kazakh, Hui, Kyrgyz, and members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups constitute approximately 15 million residents in Xinjiang, or approximately 58 percent of the total population.  According to the report, of these, 12 million are Uyghurs.  The largest segment of the remaining population is Han Chinese (11 million, approximately 42 percent), with additional groups including Mongols, Tibetans, and others constituting less than 1 percent.  Uyghurs are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims.  The Globe and Mail reported in September 2019 that according to sources in the region, Uyghur and Han Chinese Christians likely number in the thousands.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because the government and individuals closely linked religion, culture, and ethnicity, it was difficult to categorize many incidents of societal discrimination as being solely based on religious identity.  Local sources stated unequal treatment of Uyghurs and Han Chinese continued in parallel with official suppression of Uyghur language, culture, and religion, and promotion of the Han majority in political, economic, and cultural life.  Muslims in Xinjiang faced discrimination in hiring and in retaining their positions, and in pursuing other business opportunities.  Local sources stated it was difficult for Uyghurs to book hotel reservations for travel.

According to an AP journalist who visited the region in October, although Han Chinese and Uyghurs lived side by side, there was “an unspoken but palpable gulf between them.”  While the Uyghur language was widely spoken, public signage in some urban neighborhoods was only in Mandarin.  Han Chinese enjoyed freedom of movement not available to Uyghurs.  In bookstores, Uyghur language materials were available but labeled “ethnic minority language books.”  Manifestations of Uyghur culture, such as song, dance, and clothing, were packaged as tourist items for visiting Han Chinese in what one Western scholar referred to as the “museumification” of Uyghur culture.  The journalist saw signs in Mandarin promoting Lunar New Year, a holiday Uyghur Muslims did not traditionally celebrate.

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