Faithology, The. "Chinese Folk Religion Overview." Faithology.com. Faithology, 6 March 2013. Web. 18 May 2013.
Staff, T.F.E. (2013, Mar 6). Chinese Folk Religion Overview. Faithology.
Staff, The, et. al. "Chinese Folk Religion Overview" Faithology, LLC. Last modified March 6, 2013.
Faithology, LLC, 2012. (Accessed May 18, 2013).. Chinese Folk Religion Overview.
- Last Updated: March 6, 2013
- Originally Published: July 18, 2012
Chinese folk religion is an unsystematic and ritualistic system of deityand ancestor reverence. It draws on traditional belief systems and ideologies of China and varies widely from one location to another.
Much of what is today considered Chinese folk religion has evolved from aspects of traditional Chinese religion, Daoism, and East Asian forms of Buddhism. The main element of Chinese folk religion is ancestral reverence, which has been a part of all Chinese religions since the sixth century BCE, or possibly earlier, when the Chinese performed rituals for and venerated the spirits of their ancestors. Adherents of Chinese folk religion believe that such reverence will influence these spirits to aid their living descendants.
Chinese folk religion tends to focus on the worship of deities known as. Styles and methods of shen worship are not systematized and thus often vary greatly from location to location. Deities worshiped in this manner are often collected from Chinese mythology and popular legends. On occasion, they are also derived from deities popularly revered in Daoist or Buddhist religious traditions. Although texts relating to Chinese folk religion exist, they are not systematized and there is no main scriptural collection to which all devotees adhere.
Chinese Folk Religion Beliefs
- Inclusiveness: Unlike many other religions, Chinese folk religion places no emphasis on or on doctrine. Due to the lack of exclusivity, practitioners of Chinese folk religion may easily practice other religions such as Daoism or Buddhism.
- Ancestral : Ancestors are venerated and rituals are performed on their behalf so that ancestral spirits might be persuaded to equally aid their living descendants on earth.
- Deities: Deities that are worshiped in Chinese folk religion, such as Tudi Gong, are often related to wealth, fortune, or destiny. They may also be related to more common aspects of nature, such as the sun, the moon, or the land. Geographical features, such as mountains, are also worshiped. Deities are often thought to reside in such places. Temples are erected for these deities around sacred places and in cities.
- Sacrifices: Sacrifices to ancestors or deities are still often performed. Generally speaking, living beasts are no longer sacrificed. Instead, bamboo paper replicas—especially of money —are burned in order to send these sacrifices to deities, spirits, and ancestors.
- Rituals: Talismans inscribed on paper have a ritual efficacy and may be used for a variety of ritual purposes. They may be used to designate sacred space or to otherwise spiritually empower other ritual objects.
Chinese Folk Religion Timeline
- Chinese folk religion began at least three thousand years ago with the use of . Some estimate that these practices date back five to seven thousand years.
Today, Chinese folk religion retains some influence from the original animistic and shamanisticrituals practiced by the early Chinese peoples.
The Evolution of Traditional Chinese Religion
The earliest records of traditional Chinese religion date to around 1250 BCE. Ancient Chinese would inscribe questions on turtle shells or deer scapulae and heat the so-called "oracle bones" until they cracked. The patterns made by the cracks were supposed to indicate the divine response to the questions. These oracle bones also described a system of ritual sacrifices performed annually by the Chinese state. Evolving many times over Chinese history, divinationtechniques and sacrificial systems directly contributed to the ritual nature of Chinese folk religion.
Around the same time as the oracle bones were being composed, rulers and officials were being buried with grave goods.This practice quickly expanded to include common burials as well, eventually evolving into the that humans had to bury useful goods with their deceased so that their spirits could survive in the afterlife. During the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), this practice gradually developed alongside a vast number of local systems of worship. These systems worshiped various deities whom they believed to be in control of aspects of the afterlife. Occasionally, these deities were thought to protect the spirits of the dead, or alternately, enslave them in the underworld. Several gods, such as Tàiyǐ , were popular enough to be brought into the state pantheon of China and were later absorbed into Daoism. However, other local belief systems were branded " " and the gods worshiped by these cults were never adopted by the Chinese state.