Religion In China Grows Among Young People, Islam Most Popular Among Followers Under 30: Report

Religion has a robust following among China’s younger generation despite the country's rule by the officially atheist Communist Party. A report released Tuesday found religion followers in China are younger, with Islam having the most followers among the under-30 set.

China recognizes only five religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam. Islam has the largest proportion of young followers, with 22.4 percent of those queried for the annual China Religion Survey, which was conducted by the National Survey Research Center at Beijing’s Renmin University.

"Islam tends to have a younger demographic,” Wei Dedong, a professor of Buddhist studies at the School of Philosophy at Renmin who had a hand in the research, told the state-run Global Times. “Most believers of Islam belong to ethnic minority groups and it is common for a woman to give birth to several children. The children would also become Muslims while it is very rare to have an adult converting to Islam.”

Catholicism was the second-most-practiced religion among those under 30, following Islam closely at 22 percent.

Unsurprisingly, religions traditionally practiced by Chinese like Buddhism and Taosim, still remained popular among religious worshippers at least 60 years of age. In general, the survey found Buddhism has the highest number of followers of the five religions.

Wei said the research also found a increased interest from the government to maintain relations with local leaders and religious communities. The Administration for Religious Affairs visited places of worship 3.8 times a year, which Wei said is a sign the government is taking the initiative when it comes to the growth of religion in China. However, these steps toward freedom to practice religion are hampered by recent restrictions imposed by the government.

Local government bodies in far western Xinjiang province, home to a predominantly Muslim population, announced limits on Ramadan, restricting children, government employees and teachers from fasting during the holy month, in addition to other associated traditions.

Additionally, the Vatican has struggled to maintain relations with its Chinese followers after the government-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association was introduced as the main Catholic authority in the country, going as far as appointing local bishops, a task normally only performed by the Holy See.