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Listen to this audio essay:

History of Religion in China and Chinatown

By Jesse Sturge, Tess Fields, Amy Moore

Religion has always been a sensitive subject in China. Since the early days of Confucianism, around 500 B.C., other religions, such as Buddhism and Taoism, which focused on being calm and going with the flow, were shunned by the Chinese elite. Then, almost 2500 years later, in October of 1949, China became atheist along with the formation of the People's Republic of China. Because of that, Buddhist monks started living secular lives and religion was almost eradicated. About ten years earlier, Chinese communities all over the United States, called Chinatowns, were becoming more religious. The Chinatown in Philadelphia, which was small but prevalent, became westernized through the creation of churches.

In the early 1930's, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia realized that Chinatown had no catholic church or school. They sent a missionary to the area and built catholic church and school, named Holy Redeemer, which was completed in 1941. "The Cardinal did something pretty remarkable," Reverend Thomas Betz, the priest at Holy Redeemer said. "He actually built a church and school for a community that had a few Catholics."

In the newly formed People's Republic of China, Catholic organizations were established, but the church did not follow the guidelines of the Vatican authorities. About fifteen years later, during the Cultural Revolution, temples and other places of worship were destroyed, and the government defined limits as to how public practices of religion could precede. Also, after 1987, missionaries were no longer allowed into China, and some people fled China in search of religious freedom.

"Our church reaches out at some level to the people of ... the whole community" Betz said. The practicing of religion in china is oppressive and dangerous, but now, Chinatowns all over are becoming more religious for those who wish to practice without the severe consequences that are expressed in China.