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Rituals and Worship

Sacred Time

The earliest ideas of sacred time in China gave primacy to the past, whether to mythic great dynasties or to utopian ideas of an ancient, primitive egalitarian society. The cycles of nature have also long been regarded as sacred.

Sacred Space

Mythic sacred spaces include the realms of the immortals, such as Penglai or Kunlun; the heavenly realms where deceased ancestors reside; and the Buddhist heavens. Also central to Chinese religion is the theme of ordinary space as sacred.

Rites and Ceremonies

Many early religious rites were connected with the ruling clans. Later, Buddhist and Taoist rituals became important to many, and folk or popular religions developed their own rites. Festivals and ceremonies from a variety of sources are included on the Chinese ritual calendar.

Worship and Devotion in Daily Life

The typical Chinese individual is not affiliated with any one religion, but is strongly influenced by the matrix encompassing Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and folk and popular traditions. Devotional activities range widely—from self-cultivation exercises like meditation or qigong, to worship of deities or ancestors, to conscious efforts to serve as a valued member of human society.


Symbolism in China is extraordinarily complex and diverse. Among the most popular symbols are the dragon, symbolizing imperial authority and China itself; the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac; and the Chinese characters representing health, wealth, happiness, and longevity.