Bahá'í Faith in China

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The Bahá'í Faith was first introduced in China during the lifetime of its Founder, Bahá'u'lláh (1817–1892).

China has long been considered by the Bahá'í Faith as a country with great future, but also spiritually, having the capacity to be "a bright candle of the world of humanity" "promot[ing] the principles of divine civilization."[1] Also `Abdu'l-Bahá made reference in 1917 to making arrangements to travel himself to Kashgar in western China to teach the Chinese people and had obtained a passport but was prevented from going by the Ottoman authorities.[2] The Association of Religion Data Archives (relying mostly on the World Christian Encyclopedia) estimated some 6000 Bahá'ís in 2005.[3]

Introduction of the Bahá'í Faith to China

The first record of a Bahá'í living in China is of a Persian, Hájí Mírzá Muhammad-'Alí, who lived in Shanghai from 1862 to 1868. He moved to Hong Kong in 1870, was joined by his brother and they established a trading company there. They stayed until 1897. In the period of 1881-1882 a nephew of the wife of the Báb resided in Hong Kong.

Miza Abdu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani a notable Islamic and Bahá'í scholar, in frequent contact with `Abdu'l-Bahá, is reported to have visited Kashgar in 1891.[4]

Other Bahá'ís established residence in Shanghai in the early 1900s, one staying until his death in 1924.

The Bahá'í Writings acknowledge that Bahá'í "pioneers" reached China early.[5]

Numerous foreign Bahá'ís traveled to China during the non-war years. Some stayed for short periods to meet with residents and others or to give presentations to those interested. Others made long term visits, visiting many cities, giving press interviews, and meeting with notable Chinese personages.

Chief among this latter group was Martha Root who made three trips to China (1923-1924, 1930, 1937) - the first trip lasting for almost a year. She traveled extensively in China, lectured at many universities, had dozens of press interviews (e.g. The North China Standard, Tuesday, September 25, 1923; The Peking Daily News, October 4, 1923), buoyed the spirits of Chinese Bahá'ís, and had meetings with persons notable in the history of China (e.g. Sun Yat-sen the first President of the Republic of China 1912-14; Dr. Cao Yun Xiang (also transliterated as Dr. Y.S. Tsao or Cao Qinwu) who was President of Tsinghua University from 1922 to 1928 and who became a Bahá'í in 1924.[4]

Another source of the spread of the Bahá'í Faith to China was the travel of Chinese citizens abroad for study or work. From 1920 to 1940, China sent many scholars overseas. Some of them became Bahá'ís. Chen Hai An (also transliterated as T.J. Chwang or Harold A. Chen), who is regarded as the first Chinese to accept the Bahá'í Faith, attended Bahá'í meetings in Chicago and returned to Shanghai in 1916.

Another early adherent, Mr. Liao Chongzhen (also transliterated as Chan Sung Liu), heard of the Bahá'í Faith while studying at Cornell University about 1921. He returned to Guangzhou (Canton) to become a professor at Sun Yat-sen University and a Head of the department of sericulture in the Chinese government. His article, "A Chinese view of the Bahá'í Cause", appeared in the Bahá'í World 1932-1934.[6]

Dr. Cao Yun Xiang translated many Bahá'í books including Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era published in 1931, Paris Talks and major parts of Some Answered Questions. Dr. Cao wrote in 1930:

"To a real Bahá'í believer, the sight of human sufferings, ignorance and poverty will redouble his efforts to work for their improvement. Vainglory, pride and selfish gains will naturally be banished from one's thoughts. China decidedly needs such men and everybody knows it and feels it keenly. If the Bahá'í Cause can supply such men, China will accept this Cause willingly and eagerly." [7]

Growth, expansion and maturity

The Baha'i community began to be more firmly established in Shanghai with the arrival of several pioneers. In 1921, the first publication in Chinese, was printed by the Bahá'ís in Shanghai. In 1928 the first Local Spiritual Assembly in China was formed there. Other smaller communities had emerged by that time in Beijing, Guangzhou and Harbin.

During World War II, despite the difficulties in communication, some correspondence between Shoghi Effendi, then head of the Bahá'í Faith, and the mainland Chinese Bahá'ís continued.

After the Second World War, all but one of the foreign Bahá'ís, Husayn Usquli, had to leave China but growth still occurred among native Chinese and in surrounding communities.

Starting in the 1950s new virgin territories were opened to the Bahá'í Faith: Macao in 1953 and Hainan Island in 1959.

In 1957 the first National Spiritual Assembly of North East Asia was elected with an area of jurisdiction embracing Japan, Korea, Taiwan (Formosa), Macao, Hong Kong, Hainan Island and Sakhalin Island.

In 1967 the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Taiwan was established. In 1974 the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Hong Kong was established. In 1989 the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Macao was established.

As China expanded her efforts of reform and increased its interactions with the worldwide community more Bahá'ís moved to China.

Administration and membership

There is no formal Bahá'í administrative system established in mainland China, though there is such a system formally established in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao (where the Bahá'í community is one of the five major religious communities in that Special Administrative Region).[8]

The formal administrative structure used by the Bahá'í Faith in many parts of the world is strongly linked to the teachings given by Bahá'u'lláh. Within a country, this structure consists of Local Spiritual Assemblies (at the community level) and a National Spiritual Assembly with subsidiary Committees, Boards or Councils. Both Spiritual Assemblies are elected annually and made up of nine persons resident in that community or that country, respectively.

Only formally registered Bahá'ís may contribute to the Bahá'í Funds. No external funds are accepted for activities that are strictly religious in character or for other endeavors that relate to the internal development of the Bahá'í community.

As a result of the lack of formal registration and structure, it is difficult to ascertain with some degree of certainty, the number of Bahá'ís in China. The number of active followers of Bahá'u'lláh's Teachings in China has spread beyond the scope of knowledge of the existing administrative structures. Certainly there are active followers of the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh in all of the major cities of China and in many regional centers and rural areas. China also has a substantial community of interest that see in the Bahá'í Writings guidance on how to live better lives, build a stronger family, be better parents, help their neighborhoods, communities and country by practicing all or part of the Bahá'í Teachings.[9]

In recent years the foreign Bahá'ís living in China, in consultation with the relevant local authorities, have formed Foreign Bahá'í Associations. Currently there are Foreign Bahá'í Associations in five cities (Beijing, Dalian, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Shenzhen). They gather, with the knowledge of local authorities, in certain designated public places for spiritual gatherings, the observance of Bahá'í Holy Days and activities related to the spiritual education of their children and junior youth. These groups also aim to demonstrate the sincerity and the desire of foreign Bahá'ís to contribute to the advancement of China and its peoples.

The Association of Religion Data Archives (relying mostly on the World Christian Encyclopedia) estimated some 6000 Bahá'ís in 2005.[3]

Cooperation with government and academia

To be loyal to the government and serve society is a firm foundation of Bahá'í belief,

"In the same way that Bahá'u'lláh assured the monarchs of His day that 'It is not Our wish to lay hands on your kingdoms', so the Bahá'í community has no political agenda, abstains from all involvement in partisan activity, and accepts unreservedly the authority of civil government in public affairs."

— The Universal House of Justice, Century of Light[10]

Government, scholars and non-governmental agencies in China, independently or in cooperation with the Spiritual Assemblies of the Bahá'ís of Macao and Hong Kong and other Bahá'í organizations, have investigated Bahá'í principles, ideas and approaches as a means for advancing knowledge through discourse and for making social and economic development more effective. In recent years this has resulted in a significant number of cooperative activities. For example, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Shandong University, and Peking University have each established, on their own initiative, a Center of Bahá'í Studies.

In the fall of 1995, some 500 Baha'is from more than 50 countries journeyed to China to contribute to two gatherings called by the United Nations: the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing 4–15 September 1995 and the Nongovernmental Organization (NGO) Forum on Women held in Huairou, 30 August to 8 September 1995. The NGO Forum had approximately 30,000 women and men attending. Baha'is sponsored, coordinated, or organized more than 30 workshops at the Forum. The Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing had some 17,000 people registered. Seven Bahá'í delegations were accredited to the main conference and, in addition, two organizations founded by Baha'is sent delegations.[11]

Good working relationships have been developed with China's State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA). In 1993, SARA invited a delegation of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Macao to visit various government agencies in Beijing. This was the first time a Bahá'í institution carried out a formal exchange with the Chinese government in recent history. Subsequent delegations have visited Beijing, Shanghai, and the provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu. Directors General of SARA have led delegations to visit the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Macao and later to Israel including a visit to the Bahá'í World Centre. The Chairman of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Macao was invited, together with leading figures of the major religious groups in Macao, to attend the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The following year, the Chairman of the Spiritual Assembly was invited to the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

Acceptance of the Bahá'í Faith by the Chinese people

There are many aspects of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings that match well with traditional Chinese religious and philosophical beliefs such as : 1) the Great Unity (world peace); 2) unity of the human family; 3) service to others; 4) moral education; 5) extended family values; 6) the investigation of truth; 7) the Highest Reality (God); 8) the common foundation of religions; 9) harmony in Nature; 10) the purpose of tests and suffering; and 11) moderation in all things.[12]

While the Bahá'í Faith is one of the most widely dispersed religions in the world [13] it operates at the local level with the citizens of each country applying its principles and approaches to their unique situations.

In a little over 172 years since the Declaration of the Báb in 1844—which marks the beginning of the Bahá'í calendar—the Bahá'í Faith in China has achieved a scope and level of activity that indicates it has an important place in helping China to be a leader in promoting "the principles of divine civilization."[14]

See also


  1. quotes are attributed to `Abdu'l-Bahá by Ahmad Sohrab. Quoted in Star of the West, Volume VIII, April 28, 1917
  2. Garis, M.R. (1983). Martha Root: Lioness at the Threshold. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Most Baha'i Nations (2005)". QuickLists > Compare Nations > Religions >. The Association of Religion Data Archives. 2005. Retrieved 2012-09-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 Hassell, Graham. ( ) --"China in the Bahá'í Writings". Web Published: 2001
  5. Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Baha’u’llah, p.84
  6. Reproduced and filed at:
  7. Cao Yunxiang, "The Bahá'í Cause in China", Bahá'í World 1930-1932 (under the name Dr. Tsao) Reproduced and filed at
  8. Macao Yearbook 2009. Government Information Bureau of the Macao Special Administrative Region, December 2009
  9. Non-Baha'is have made rough estimates or commented on this: e.g. Cai Degui, Director of the Institute for Bahá'í Studies at Shandong University: 'There is no official demographic data available about Chinese worshippers. There might be over 20,000 Chinese Bahá'í followers in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Zhuhai, Shenzhen, Shenyang, Yinchuan and Changchun'; Wu Yungui: Director of the Center for Bahá'í Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, 'The figures are hard to obtain as the faith has such an informal, flexible style of worship' quoted in "Religious chic" by Zuo Xuan
  10. The Universal House of Justice. Century of Light. p. 94.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. The Bahá'í World 1995-96: An International Record, pages 145 to 158. The volume was published by the Bahá'í World Centre in Haifa.
  12. Cheung, Albert. "Common Teachings from Chinese Culture and the Baha'i Faith: From Material Civilization to Spiritual Civilization" Published in Lights of Irfan, Book 1, pages 37-52 Wilmette, IL: Irfan Colloquia, Web Published (2000);
  13. The Bahá'í religion was listed in The Britannica Book of the Year (1992–present) as the second most widespread of the world's independent religions in terms of the number of countries represented. Britannica claims that it is established in 247 countries and territories; represents over 2,100 ethnic, racial, and tribal groups; has scriptures translated into over 800 languages; and has seven million adherents worldwide [2005]. Encyclopædia Britannica (2002). "Worldwide Adherents of All Religions by Six Continental Areas, Mid-2002". Retrieved 2006-05-31.
  14. For example: The number of Bahá'í followers in China has grown rapidly since about 1990: Chinese visitors to accounted for 10 percent of total page views last year, second only to the US and Egypt, according to Web data company Alexa. Quoted in "Religious chic" by Zuo Xuan

Further reading

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External links