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The side chamber of a typical folk temple in Taiwan. (SC)  <img src='http://www.guidegecko.com/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click for full image
Travel Guide > Asia > Taiwan > People & Culture

Taiwan's Major Religions

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The most popular creed in Taiwan is the blend of Taoism, Buddhism and folk religion followed, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, by around three quarters of the population. Ancestor worship is still very widely practiced by non-Christians.

Very few Taiwanese are fanatical, but religious activity is widespread and obvious, especially in the island's older towns, where places of worship can be found on almost every street. The number of people who don't take part in any religious activities whatsoever is also very small. “It may do some good, and it could be dangerous to ignore those gods and spirits, so I might as well go to the temple and pray sometimes,” is how many Taiwanese people explain their regular but halfhearted participation in religious rites. In addition to praying and making offerings at temples, many people worship their ancestors at shrines inside their own or relatives' homes. Nankunshen Daitian Temple is one of Taiwan's busiest folk shrines, while Dalongdong Baoan Temple in Taipei is among the most beautiful.

Taoism 道敎

Taoism was apparently founded by the Chinese philosopher Laozi (老子), who lived sometime in the 4th or 6th century BC. Laozi is now one of the religion’s many deities. The literal meaning of Tao (道, dao in Mandarin) means "path" or "direction," but in a religious context it’s better translated as "the flow of the universe." Taoism stresses going with that flow, living with circumstances, not fighting to change the world. There is an emphasis on kindness, frugality and humble behavior. The main Taoist text is the Tao Te Ching (道德經), said to have been authored by Laozi. Guan Gong, the Jade Emperor and the Eight Immortals are among Taoism's most eminent deities.

Buddhism 佛敎

Chinese Buddhism, an import from India, arrived in Taiwan with early Han settlers. For 300 years, "pure" Buddhism was very much a minority pursuit, but in the past four decades, organized Buddhism has enjoyed tremendous growth in Taiwan, with the Pure Land and Chan (禪, often called "Zen" in the West) versions becoming especially prominent. Foguangshan is one of Taiwan's leading Buddhist movements; Chung Tai Shan, which runs the Chung Tai Chan Monastery, is another. Japanese and Tibetan Tantric Buddhism have small but dedicated followings in Taiwan.

I-Kuan Tao 一貫道

Little known outside the Chinese-speaking world, the syncretic religion called I-Kuan Tao was outlawed throughout the post-war period until 1987 because of its secretive character. (It's still proscribed in the People's Republic of China). The sect was not subject to heavy repression, however; it began to flourish in the 1970s and now claims close to a million followers in Taiwan. Founded in China in the 1930s, I-Kuan Tao adopted ideas from Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Adherents should not smoke, drink alcohol or eat meat. Because I-Kuan Tao sees Christianity and Islam as valid religions, Jesus and Muhammad sometimes feature in the decoration of I-Kuan Tao shrines, alongside the Maitreya Buddha and Guan Gong. Holy Glory Temple is Taiwan's most memorable I-Kuan Tao landmark.


Dutch and Spanish missionaries gained converts in the 1620s, but it wasn't until the 1860s that Christianity made significant inroads, when missionaries including George L. Mackay, Thomas Barclay and James L. Maxwell arrived. Now around seven percent of the population is Christian, with Protestants (who include Presbyterians and many other sects) outnumbered by Roman Catholics. Churches can be found throughout the island, but it's only in aboriginal districts that churchgoers are a majority. Perhaps the most important Christian place of worship is Holy Rosary Cathedral in Kaohsiung. Wanjin Basilica is slightly older, however. Hospitals and schools founded by British, American and Canadian missionaries continue to play an important role in the fields of medicine and education.

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Location: Taiwan

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