For a long time after 1949, religion was banned in China, and churches, mosques and temples closed – many of them were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. While this is still an officially atheist state, there is considerably more scope for personal and public worship now. Minority peoples such as the Hui and Uyghurs have been Muslim for centuries, Tibetans are, of course, Buddhist and Christianity in particular is seeing a renaissance among the majority Han, as young Chinese people perceive it as imparting a healthier message and lifestyle than the selfish consumerism that has taken hold in recent decades.
There are five officially recognised religions in China: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism. Judaism and other religions are not banned and can also be observed.
The Chinese religious tradition has always entailed a mix-and-match approach, with Buddhism arriving from India 1,500 years ago (taking on its own special form in Tibet) and adding certain aspects of Daoism as time went on. Animism and ancestor worship have been important for millennia, and continue to be. Just witness the huge traffic jams on Qingmingjie, an official holiday during which families sweep the tombs of their ancestors and burn fake money (and these days, intricate paper mobile phones or cars) as gifts for the departed in the next world.
Islam originally made its way to China through Arab merchants in the south, but made most progress along the Silk Road in northwest China. The Uyghurs in Xinjiang are predominantly Muslim, and the Chinese Hui minority numbers about 10 million, practising a flexible form of Islam that, for instance, does not ban alcohol. Mosques in Shanghai cater to them as well as the foreign community.
Christianity found some purchase in China during the Ming Dynasty, but only had a serious impact with the advent of the Concession era and the spread of missionaries. This left Christianity with a serious image problem, as an aspect of the “Century of Humiliation” taught in history books here. However, by now it’s generally associated with the admired aspects of Western culture and is increasingly popular among the sophisticated young looking for a different approach to spirituality.
See listings below for places of worship that serve the foreign community here, or places that offer historical background or more information about observing your faith in Beijing. Service times can change, so call to check. Note that in many cases, in accordance with PRC law only foreign passport-holders can attend services.
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (Nantang)
English service 10am, 4pm Sun
141 Qianmen Xidajie, Xicheng
Congregation of the Good Shepherd
English service 10am Sun
3/F, Capital Mansions Athletic Center, 6 Xinyuan Nan Lu, Chaoyang
Beijing International Christian Fellowship
English service 9am, 11am, 6pm Sun
B/1, Tower C, Raycom Infotech Park, 2 Kexueyuan Nan Lu, Zhongguancun, Haidian
English service 9:30am, 11:30am, 6pm Sun
21st Century Auditorium, 40 Liangmaqiao Lu, Chaoyang
Capital Community Church
English service 10:45am Sun
B/F, Yosemite Clubhouse, 4 Yuyang Lu, Houshayu, Shunyi
Chabad Lubavitch of Beijing
See website for services
Chabad House and Community Center
Fangyuan Xi Lu, next to the south gate of Si De Park
Rohr Family Chabad Community Center
262 J, Grand Hills, Jingshun Lu, Chaoyang
Chabad of Downtown
Room 23, Building 3, Jianguomen Diplomatic Building, 1 Xiushui Xijie, Chaoyang
135 2201 6427
88 Niujie, Xuanwu
13 Dongsi Nandajie, Dongcheng