Get access

Mapping Chinese Folk Religion in Mainland China and Taiwan


  • Acknowledgments: The research was made possible in part by the Chinese Spirituality and Society Program: A Research and Training Initiative, which was generously funded by the John Templeton Foundation. We thank Shengbai Chen, R. J. Leamaster, Miao Li, Jun Lu, Stephen Teiser, Alice Wang, Dingan Wang, Zhenyu Tang, and the anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier drafts of the article. We are grateful to Dr. Yen-zen Tsai for the permission to use the data from the Religious Experience Survey of Taiwan.

Fenggang Yang, Department of Sociology, Purdue University, 700 West State Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907. E-mail:


The revival of folk (popular) religion in China in the last three decades has been noted in many publications and documented in ethnographic studies. However, until now there has been no quantitative study that provides an overall picture of Chinese folk-religion practices. This article is a first attempt to draw the contours of Chinese folk religion based on three recent surveys conducted in mainland China and Taiwan. Three types of folk religion are conceptualized: communal, sectarian, and individual. Different types of folk religion may have different social functions and divergent trajectories of change in the modernization process. At present, in spite of the dramatic social, political, and cultural changes in modern times, the adherents of folk religion still substantially outnumber the believers of institutional religions in Chinese societies.