In the latter part of the first millennium B.C.E., religion grew more independent of the ruling clans. Great thinkers debated the qualities that best characterized an ideal ruler; they also posited ways, or paths, an individual might follow, and considered moral questions.
Schisms and Sects
In the early centuries of the first millennium C.E., influenced by the introduction of Buddhism from India, China's "three religions"—Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism—took shape as separate traditions.
Missions and Expansion
Each of the "three religions" evolved, co-existing and shaping one another, throughout the Common Era. A vibrant folk tradition also persisted, weaving in and out of the matrix of the "three religions." Confucian thought centered on education, civil service, and morality, while Taoism and Buddhism grew as religious establishments.
Exploration and Conquest
The dominance of particular traditions shifted according to dynasty and region throughout the Common Era. At times Taoism and Buddhism were allied with the government. At other times, particularly on the local level, they nurtured resistance movements.
The modern age brought marked shifts in the religious climate of China. Two thousand years of dynastic rule gave way to nationalist, and then communist governments. Under the latter, especially in the 1950s and '60s, religious organizations were persecuted and many temples and works of art were destroyed.