Background: For centuries, the Chinese have practiced traditional folk religions. It is difficult to define these beliefs, but they often coexist with a person’s chosen religion. So, many people will officially say they are “Buddhist” or “Taoist,” but once they leave the temple, their lives reflect a much different belief system. The common religions in China are not exclusive, so mixing elements is common. Astrology is also a common theme in traditional religions. This is related to the gravitational pull of objects in space and how they all relate to one another. So, many people believe that the energy at work when a person is born can influence their whole life.
Sacred Book: Much has been written about folk religions, but those who practice traditional religions do not follow any sacred book. Chinese folk religion is wrapped up in their culture and is passed down from one generation to another. Traditional religion is just that: traditional. It cannot be classified as an “organized” religion, but follows a very loose organizational structure.
The Nature of God: The Chinese people worship hundreds of different gods. Sometimes famous historical figures or legends are also worshipped. Some people would acknowledge the existence of a “most high” god, but if he exists, he is far removed and impersonal.
Chinese culture follows a structured social hierarchy. As a reflection of this, the gods have a similar hierarchy. The gods with higher rank have more power, and those lower in the hierarchy have less. Often, the gods are named for certain places of activities. Examples of gods include the “kitchen god,” “door gods” and the gods of happiness, wealth and longevity. People will often pray to or worship a certain god depending on their specific needs.
Eternity: Traditional religion has a hard time defining the nature of eternity. However, how one acts in this world has a direct relationship with how comfortable they will be in the afterlife.
Ancestor worship is an integral part of their religion. There is much interaction between the dead and the living, and so dead family members are still honored by the living. People offer sacrifices and offerings to their dead ancestors to provide what they need for comfort in eternity. Without this worship, the ancestors might haunt those still on earth.
What is Salvation? There is no concrete definition of salvation, nor is there a sure way to attain salvation. Traditional religions emphasize doing the best you can to appease the gods and to live right. If you do enough good works and if you are honored by your family, perhaps you will secure a good place in the afterlife.
How is a person saved? Since there is no real definition of salvation, there is no clear path to salvation either. However, emphasis is put on ancestor worship. Through honoring their dead ancestors, many people believe they will appease their ancestors and ensure a good afterlife for themselves as well. Emphasis is put on “good deeds” and it is believed that good deeds will be rewarded and bad behavior will be punished.
Notes: Some of the gods of the Chinese Folk religions come from the stories of ancient heroes. Kuan Kung is one of these gods. In the 3rd century, he was a military hero against the Han dynasty. He is known as a model of patriotism, civic, and family virtue. Matzu is another heroine who is worshiped in China. During a terrible storm, she set her house on fire, so that the fisherman would have light to guide their way home. Other fishermen tell stories of Matzu appearing in the clouds to help them. There are many temples set up to her in South Eastern china and the city of Macao was named after this god. There are deities to family life, prosperity, protection, heaven and hell, agriculture, trade, healing, and many more. People will go to the temple to ask for something related to any of gods. If a woman wants a child, she will bring an offering and burn joss sticks to send out her request.