In fact, across China religion is undergoing a defiant and extraordinary revival. Millions of Chinese are turning to familiar traditional faiths such as Buddhism and Taoism – a mystical belief with about 400 million adherents that is China’s only indigenous creed. Taoist believers, like Buddhists, visit temples across the country to burn incense, present offerings and request readings from fortune tellers. Others are finding comfort in Confucius, but it is Christianity that is leading the battle for China’s 1.3 billion souls.
Many regard religion as a new force, unaware that missionaries – Protestant for the most part but also Roman Catholics – tried to spread Christianity across China in the 19th century and met with fierce opposition during the anti-Western Boxer Rebellion in the early 1900s. But it was former leader Deng Xiaoping, who effectively endorsed freedom of worship, and gave Christianity the chance to take hold, with his sweeping market reforms in 1978.