The core value of Chinese traditional culture is the concept of harmony (Hexie, 和谐). Harmony is, in fact, a complete ideological system that consists of not only values but also a philosophy with its own world outlook. To be more specific, harmony includes principles such as the Tai Chi (Taiji, 太极) philosophy and the yin-yang dialectics that help people understand the origins of human beings and the evolution of society. Based on these principles, ancient Chinese sages and philosophers established this ideological system that sought to attain a harmonious equilibrium in the world.
With harmony at their core, traditional Chinese values posit that there is a dynamic inherent in the universe that converts imbalance into balance, incoordination to coordination, and disequilibrium into equilibrium. This dynamic manifests itself through the interaction of opposites as they cooperate and struggle against one another.
Traditional Chinese culture consists of a wide range of values and principles, primarily based in Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. Out of these three, Confucianism has been established as the orthodox philosophy of the Chinese state (guo xue, 国学) since the reign of Emperor Wu during the Han dynasty and has often been advocated by the ruling class. The state has also at times officially supported Buddhism, while Taoism has slowly spread into Chinese culture over time. The Chinese cultural legacy also consists of the Legalist (fa jia, 法家) and Mohist schools of thought (mo jia, 墨家), among others, and Sun Tsu's Art of War (sun zi bing fa, 孙子兵法).
In modern Chinese society, classes on ancient Chinese classics, especially Confucian and Taoist works, are becoming increasingly popular. This reflects the spiritual hunger of Chinese people in today’s market economy.
Traditional Chinese values such as harmony, benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom, and honesty are into process of integration with contemporary values such as freedom, democracy, human rights, rule of law, and equality. This fusion of traditional and contemporary modern Chinese tries to combine with the Marxist values that China follows—namely, the realization of development, freedom, and liberation of human beings and the establishment of more advanced values.
Since the Chinese economy became market oriented, Chinese values and beliefs have been negatively altered. Materialism, money worship, arrogance, and scams are now common among the Chinese. In this kind of society, traditional Chinese beliefs play a positive role, especially in addressing money worship and arrogance.
Traditional Chinese beliefs are quite different from the concepts that define Western values. Western values such as freedom, democracy, rule of law, human rights, equality, and justice are based on the belief that human nature is inherently evil. The Western lens focuses on human nature’s imperfections, like selfishness and greed, and has based its values and political institutions upon this outlook. For example, democratic elections, checks and balances, and freedom of speech were established to prevent the abuse of power. Western values stress human rights and civil rights, mutual respect, and self-esteem. But the West also encourages competition and struggle, which differs from the Chinese concept of harmony. Although Chinese tradition says to stay away from those who are vile and mean, the Chinese traditionally consider human nature as inherently good.
In order to find an adequate explanation of the practical character of Chinese beliefs, we must understand the Chinese concept of truth. First of all, truth is not understood as something revealed from above or as an abstract principle, however logically consistent, but as a discoverable and demonstrable principle in human affairs. In other words, the real test of truth is in human history. Since truth can be discovered and tested only in events and that means chiefly human events it follows that the records of truth are found in historical documents.
Whereas Christianity and Islam are both viewed by most Chinese as foreign religions and in many ways "anti-China" or at least "un-Chinese," Buddhism is viewed by Chinese people as a traditional Chinese religion. Buddhism is clearly not native to China, as it originated in India and did not enter China until the 1st century A.D. The original writings of this religion were transcribed in the Indian language of Sanskrit, a language very foreign to Chinese. Yet despite these facts, the Chinese still view Buddhism as being their own.
The major reason for this view is Buddhism's adoption of Chinese culture and philosophy after entering China. China's culture and philosophy are distinct and self-centric, easily and often clashing with foreign cultures and philosophies. Rather than attempting to impose the local culture and philosophy of origin in India, Buddhism adjusted itself to Chinese culture and philosophy. After entering China Buddhism allowed for the worship of deities from China's numerous local indigenous religions as well as China's one actual official native religion-Daoism. Aside from adopting some of the same deities, Buddhism adopted some of the same religious terms often using Daoist terms and concepts to express Buddhist ideas, ceremonies, and practices as Daoism and local indigenous religions. In fact, today these two religions are often intermingled and confused with practitioners themselves unable to separate the two.
Buddhism was able to absorb many of these Taoist and local deities and combine many of them with Buddhist deities. Thus, embracing Buddhism had great appeal to many Chinese who already believed in Daoism or local religion. Not only could they keep their own deities and the perceived benefits received from them, but at the same time gain Buddhist deities and their blessings as well. A mono-theistic religion, however, would not have such an appeal as it would require a complete separation from one's former religion and deities.
Both of these religions focus on how man can overcome evil and improve himself through cultivation, meditation, and the performance of certain rituals and ceremonies. On the other hand Christianity and Islam both teach that man is naturally bad and that only through divine help can he overcome evil.
While not officially promoting or endorsing any religions, aside from recognizing five religions as legal, the Chinese government in practice does just the opposite. While never announced publicly, in practice there seems to be a special exception to this rule made for those who believe in Buddhism. While party members are not allowed to embrace Christianity or Islam in any public way, party members who embrace Buddhism are often left untouched.
One of the most obvious signs of government endorsement of Buddhism can be seen by examining government supported tourism in China. Many Buddhists holy sights, particularly temples and mountains, are major tourist destinations in China. Some of these sights are financially sponsored by Chinese government agencies. These locations are not only marketed by government controlled media but also highly funded by the government. As a result of being viewed as being a truly traditional Chinese religion, receiving beneficial treatment from the government, as well as its connection to most of China's most famous landmarks; Buddhism has become vastly popular in China, claiming more than 100 million adherents, making it the number one religion in China.
Christianity is rumored to have been first introduced to China by St. Thomas in the 1st century AD; however the first authenticated introduction of some form of Christianity came in the 7th century by the Nestorians. Over the next thousand years various groups of Christians and Catholics entered China, but the number of Chinese Christians remained very small until the arrival of Protestant missionaries in the early 1800s. The number steadily grew over the next century and continued to grow until the establishment of the current Communist government in 1949.
The relationship between Christianity and the Chinese government is most antagonistic and the largest source of international criticism of Chinese government human right abuses. Also in contrast to Buddhism, Christianity is a highly organized religion in which believers are organized into a local church which has weekly meetings, a hierarchy of leadership, and most importantly a strong philosophy which commands loyalty and often has political implications. As Christianity was introduced to China mostly by Western missionaries, the Chinese continue to associate this religion with the West, despite its actual origins in the Middle East.
Whereas Buddhism is viewed by most Chinese people as a traditional Chinese religion and Christianity is viewed as being an imperialistic foreign religion, Islam is in a category of its own. In China Islam is mostly confined to a geographical region of China, the northwestern province of Xinjiang, and to ethnic minority groups. Thus, most Chinese do not necessarily view Islam as a foreign religion, but as being a religion for ethnic minorities. Islam first entered China in the 7th century with Arabic traders traveling along the Silk Road. Today the population of ten ethnic groups associated with Islam numbers over 20 million; yet, the estimation for the number of Chinese Muslims is the same as few Chinese people outside of these ethnic groups embrace Islam. While Islam is often sighted as the fasting growing religion in the world, this growth comes from birth and intermarriage rather than from proselytization and conversion. The growth of Islam in China has followed this trend closely. Thus, Islam in China has become strongly associated with ethnicity and heritage.
In China Muslims have an identity very distinct from other Chinese. Majority of Chinese Muslims are not Han Chinese who constitute 92% of the Chinese population, but rather ethnic minorities. These minorities have their own languages mostly being Turkic dialects, customs, holidays, and physical characteristics all separate from other Chinese. A second factor distinguishing them from the majority of the Chinese population is obviously their religion. This factor is quite significant when considering the previously discussed social, economic, and political implications of Islamic philosophy. The third major factor of the Chinese Muslim identity is geography. More than 10 million of China's 20 million Muslims are concentrated in Xinjiang province which is historically inhabited by non-Han Chinese populations.
In conclusion: Religion in China has proven over time to be all but impossible to complete wipe-out. Organized religion in China has survived centuries of repression and monitoring by imperial dynasties and even survived the all-out frontal attack from the current regime during Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution. The ideology of Marxism leaves Chinese citizens with a spiritual and social vacuum. This ideology offers no explanation for those issues left unexplained by science, particularly issues regarding the afterlife. Marxism also fails to set out any moral code or standard of ethics. Furthermore, Marxism fails to provide citizens with a non-political sphere of social goods and services. Organized religions on the other hand, provide for all of these shortcomings of Marxism. Thus, allowing for the existence of organized religious groups helps compensate for some of the shortfalls of Marxism and meet the needs of the people. Meanwhile, closely controlling and monitoring organized religion allows the Chinese Communist Party to keep the influence and power of this potential rival in check, while at the same time providing the benefits of religion to its citizens and avoiding the costs required of directly controlling religion.