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Unit 2: How Trade and Travel Changed the World

Lesson D: The Chinese Continent

Opening: Historical Background on Chinese Religion

Various religions have been practiced throughout the history of China. Folk religions made up of local beliefs and practices existed along with better-known faiths such as Buddhism, Daoism, and Islam.

Foreign interaction and trade also helped spread Hinduism, Christianity, and Judaism into East Asia. Confucianism is often considered a religion because of its practices and beliefs on spiritual existence, but it is actually more of a philosophy that guides daily life and politics.

Support for religions in China changed over time. Some dynasties tolerated newer faiths along with existing ones and traditional ancestor worship. This religious pluralism is clearly shown in this image from the Tang Dynasty, entitled "Three Laughing Men by the Tiger Stream." Three men representing Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism are shown laughing after crossing a stream full of tigers, reflecting the toleration of each other's faiths.

Picture from Three Laughing Men by the Tiger Stream
Three Laughing Men by the Tiger Stream [1]

Notebook Icon

Written Activity - Notebook

In your notebook, respond to the following questions.

  • What forces helped spread religion in China throughout history?
  • How did religious pluralism create challenges for Chinese society?


Page Notes:

[1] Source: This image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Huxisanxiaotu.jpg is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.