China has historically followed ancient religions like Buddhism and Taoism for about 2,000 years, according to China’s State Council. But a a recent map published by Reuters shows that the country’s belief systems have become increasingly diverse.
The map, based on information from Professor Fanggang Yang, the director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University, shows that China’s monotheistic religions, including Islam and Christianity, are beginning to occupy a considerable amount of the country. Though Buddhism continues to occupy the majority of the south and south west regions, Protestant and Catholic followers have begun to occupy China’s eastern regions, while western regions like Xinjiang and Gansu are predominately Muslim.
“Protestant Christianity has been the fastest growing religion in China,” Yang writes in his essay, When Will China Become The World’s Largest Christian Country? Though the estimates are varied, The Economist puts 100 million Christians in China as of last year.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, that number could reach 160 million as early as 2025.
Despite anti-church sentiments, Yang expects growth as well.
“If the growth continues at the rate of 7 per cent,” Yang wrote, “Christians could be 32.5 per cent of the Chinese population by 2040, and 66.7 per cent by 2050.”
This increase in Christianity has also lead to increased tension between Christians and Chinese Communist Party, Yang said.
According to the map, Chinese authorities in Huzhou removed a cross from a church despite the month long protesting efforts to protect their religious symbol. This is only one of the 1,200 crosses that have been removed in China “for the sake of safety and beauty” since late 2013, The Guardian reported.
Catholic leaders protested the removals, reported The Guardian, by disseminating an open letter to China’s Christian population in late July.
Officials however believe that the major consensus favours the cross removal. “Generally speaking, the church staff and people are very supportive [of the removals]” an official from Zhejiang’s ethnic and religious affairs bureau told Global Times — China’s state-run newspaper.
The Uighurs, a mostly Muslim indigenous population in China, has also faced tension in Xinjiang. According to the BBC, the Uighurs and China’s officials have had a long history of violence and restrictions. Last year, the Xinjiang government placed a ban on fasting during Ramadan, a holy month for practicing Muslims.