On Aug. 8, 2008 – the eighth day of the eighth month of the year ’08 – at exactly 08:08:08 p.m., the Summer Olympics are scheduled to begin in Beijing. The day and hour for the start of the opening ceremony of the Olympics was chosen for its good fortune – a widely held belief in Confucianism and Chinese folk religions. And, in fact, the Summer Olympics could be the first international forum where the growing presence and ambitions of religious groups in China are exposed to a watching world.
According to a 2006 survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, 31% of the Chinese public considers religion to be very or somewhat important in their lives, compared with only 11% who say religion is not at all important. When asked a somewhat different question in a 2005 Pew poll, an even greater percentage of the Chinese public (56%) considered religion to be very or somewhat important in their lives.
Other survey data, as well as Chinese government reports, have also shown that relatively large numbers of the Chinese public consider religion to be important in their lives. This is somewhat surprising given that China has strictly adhered to a secular and even atheistic national philosophy for nearly six decades. As events unfold leading up to and following the Olympics, many people inside and outside China will be interested to see whether Chinese communism will adjust to religious market forces just as it has to economic market forces.
Read the full analysis Religion in China on the Eve of the 2008 Beijing Olympics on the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Web site.