Religion in Taiwan

Taiwan’s religious environment is one of tremendous diversity and tolerance. Although there may be some degree competition between various sects, there is little friction. Some observers have likened the mix of religions in Taiwan to threads that together create a beautiful cultural tapestry. All religions  operate freely in Taiwan, and Taiwan is said to be one of the most religiously tolerant places in the world.

Buddhism is the dominant religion in Taiwan today. Buddhism first appeared in China around 2200 years ago, and was brought to Taiwan in the 1600s by the earliest waves of Han Chinese settlers. In the past two or decades, Buddhism has been Taiwan’s fastest growing major religion, and attracts a significant number of young, well-educated people. Aspects of Buddhism – mindfulness of speech, thought and action; right livelihood, helping others and reverence for Guanyin, the Goddess of Compassion – have been embraced by many Buddhists. In recent years, Buddhist groups have become strong advocates of vegetarianism, animal rights and environmental protection. Several have become large international charities, including Tzu Chi Gongdehui (Compassionate Relief Merit Society), Fo Guang Shan (Buddha Light Mountain) and Fagushan (Dharma Drum Mountain). Many Taiwanese have embraced Tibetan Buddhism. The 14th Dalai Lama first visited Taiwan in 1997, despite loud protests from the Chinese government. There are more than 4000 Buddhist temples throughout Taiwan. Many have distinctive Taiwanese architecture, and their roofs are often ordained with colorful dragons and other mythical beasts.

 Buddhist Temple.
Photo by Nathaniel Altman.

Taoism was founded by Lao-Tse during the sixth century CE. It emphasizes living in harmony with Tao (“The Way”) and focuses on simplicity, balance, and living a moral, ethical life. According to a recent census, approximately one-third of all Taiwanese practice some form of Taoism. By 2015, there were 9485 registered Taoist temples in Taiwan, ranging from large, elaborate houses of worship in major cities, to small roadside shrines in the countryside. Taoism has been described as a folk religion in Taiwan, and Taoists worship a multitude of gods and goddesses, with individual temples connected to each. Many Taoists in Taiwan worship Mazu, the supreme Taoist Mother Goddess and Protectress. She is connected to the sea, and is  worshipped especially by sailors and fishermen. Other important Taoist deities include Hu-Yi, the Tiger God; Tu-di Gong, the Earth God; and Guan-Ying, the Buddhist Goddess of Compassion. Many Taoists also worship at Buddhist temples, and many Buddhists in Taiwan often visit Taoist temples and shrines. Like many Buddhist temples, Taoist temples often feature similar architecture. Some are dedicated pilgrimage sites for those who seek improved health, a high grade on a school exam, or financial success. The Xiahai City God Temple in Taipei’s Ximending district (photo below) is a popular destination for singles who pray to someday meet their life partner.

Xiahai City God Temple, Ximending, Taipei.
Photo by Nathaniel Altman.

Confucianism is more of a philosophy than a religion in Taiwan, and takes the form of  associations, temples and shrines for the worship of Confucius and various sages. In 2005, 0.7 percent of the population of Taiwan were believed to adhere to Xuanyuanism, a Confucian-based religion worshipping Huangi ("The Yellow Emperor") as the symbol of God. He was one of the three mythological emperors of China, said to be born in 2704 BCE.


Taichung Confucian Temple.
Photo by Nathaniel Altman.

Shintō was brought to Taiwan with Japanese occupation in 1895, and Shintō shrines soon began to appear throughout Taiwan. The first Shintō shrine was the Kaizan Shrine in Tainan in 1897, with the largest being the Taiwan Shrine in Taihoku (Taipei) built in 1901. As in Japan, Buddhism was tolerated by the Japanese government in Taiwan, although there were efforts to impose Japanese Buddhist traditions on Taiwanese congregations. The Shintō religion declined drastically after the Japanese were expelled from Taiwan in 1945, and nearly all Shintō shrines were either destroyed or abandoned. Taipei’s five-star Grand Hotel, originally financed by the family of Soong Mei-ling, was built on the site containing the ruins of the Taiwan Shrine in 1952.

Taiwan Shrine (from an old Japanese postcard).

Christianity was first brought to Taiwan in 1624 by the Dutch, although only an estimated one in twelve Taiwanese adheres to either Protestantism or Catholicism. The proportion of indigenous Taiwanese who are Christian is said to be much higher, numbering some 90 percent. Several political leaders in Taiwan have been Christian. On the urging of his mother-in-law (his third wife, Soong Mei-ling, was Methodist), Chiang Kai-shek became a Methodist, as did his son Chiang Ching-kuo, first elected President by the National Assembly in 1978. Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan’s first native-born President, was a Presbyterian, and Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan’s third democratically-elected President, was baptized Catholic.

Other religious traditions are practiced in Taiwan, including Yiguan Dao (I-Kuan Tao - “Way of Unity”), which was founded in China in the 1930s. It seeks to reconcile Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Falun Dafa (Falun Gong) is a more recent religious movement combining Qigong and meditation with the cultivation of virtue. Considered “heretical” by the Communist Party, Falun Dafa is outlawed in China.

There are also small Jewish and several large Muslim communities in Taiwan, as well as many small Christian sects. During my visits to Taiwan, I have often encountered missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seeking converts.




“Religions in Taiwan,”
“Daoism in Taiwan,”
“Shinto in Taiwan,”
Encyclopædia Britannica, Languages#/media/1/580902/20647210.


© 2022 by Nathaniel Altman

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