Islam and Catholicism Rising in Popularity Among China's Youth, New Survey Reveals

( [email protected] ) Jul 09, 2015 09:16 PM EDT
China has the largest number of Muslims under 30 years old, new research has found, despite the rapid growth of Christianity in the region.
Worshipers pray during a mass at the Liuhe Catholic Church in Liuhe village on the outskirts of Qingxu county, northern China. Reuters

Islam and Catholicism are the two fastest rising religions among Chinese citizens under 30 years old, new research has found.

The China Religion Survey 2015, released by the National Survey Research Center at Renmin University of China, found that 22.4 per cent of Muslims in China are under 30. Catholicism follows closely behind, with 22 per cent aged 30 or under.

The survey involved interviews from over 4,000 religious sites between 2013 and 2015. It also found that while Buddhism and Taoism are more popular with the older generations, Protestantism has the most places of worship.

"Islam tends to have a younger demographic," Wei Dedong, a professor of Buddhist studies at the School of Philosophy at Renmin who had a hand in the research, told the state-run Global Times. "Most believers of Islam belong to ethnic minority groups and it is common for a woman to give birth to several children. The children would also become Muslims while it is very rare to have an adult converting to Islam."

The Global Times notes that the survey also found that about 60 percent of the people working at places of worship said they think that government regulations are "fair." Despite these statistics, the latest report from the Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) found an "alarming increase in systematic, egregious, and ongoing abuses" regarding religious liberty within the country in 2014.

Last year in particular, however,"the Chinese government took steps to consolidate further its authoritarian monopoly of over all aspects of its citizens lives," the report states, Christian Today noted. "People of faith continue to face arrests, fines, denials of justice, lengthy prison sentences, and in some cases, the closing or bulldozing of places of worship."

In Xinjiang, the westernmost province of China, officials have forced Communist Party members to refrain from public fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and have forced stores to sell alcohol and cigarettes, both banned by the Koran, Breitbart reports. Additionally, a 2014 ordinance officially banned the practice of religion by those involved in government work.

While Islam has grown in western China, Christianity has also experienced rapid growth. One study conducted in 2014 found that more people in China identified as Christians than as members of the Chinese Communist Party when taking into consideration both converts to Catholicism and new members of Protestant churches.

However, as Christianity continues to grow, the Communist government increasingly resists public displays of faith. It has banned foreign missionary work, refused to acknowledge any appointment by foreign religious entities such as the Vatican, and declared any unregistered religious groups, such as underground churches, illegal.

At least 400 churches are believed to have been torn down or had their crosses forcibly removed in the last year.  According to UCA news, five Catholic churches in Taizhou and Hangzhou dioceses had their crosses removed and demolished on July 2

Many of last year's demolitions and cross removals took place in Wenzhou, a major coastal city often referred to as  the "Jerusalem of the East" because of its large Christian population.

"They were unable to speak reasonably with us, or say why they were taking down our cross," said a church member in Zhejiang this week describing the process of removal. "We felt that the government's intention was to attack this church, gradually stepping up the pressure on it, step by step," the church's attorney stated, noting that he would work to condemn the "illegal action" by the government.