Article 36 of the Chinese constitution says that citizens "enjoy freedom of religious belief." It bans discrimination based on religion and it forbids state organs, public organizations, or individuals from compelling citizens to believe in--or not believe in--any particular faith. The State Council, the government's administrative authority, passed new regulations on religious affairs, which took effect in February 2018, to allow state-registered religious organizations to possess property, publish literature, train and approve clergy, and collect donations. Yet alongside these rights come heightened government controls. The revised rules include restrictions on religious schooling and the times and locations of religious celebrations, as well as monitoring of online religious activity and reporting donations that exceed 100,000 yuan (around $15,900).
The FCR quoted Human Rights Watch's China director, Sophie Richardson, as saying that while religious belief in China is protected by the constitution, the measures "do not guarantee the right to practice or worship." Religious practices are limited to "normal religious activities," though "normal" is left undefined and can be broadly interpreted. The state recognizes five religions--Buddhism, Catholicism, Daoism, Islam, and Protestantism. The practice of any other faith is formally prohibited, although often tolerated, especially in the case of traditional Chinese beliefs. Religious organizations must register with one of five state-sanctioned patriotic religious associations, which are supervised by the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA).
The government's tally of registered religious believers is around one hundred million (less than 10 percent of the population), according to several sources including the United Nations Human Rights Council's 2013 Universal Periodic Review. Yet some independent reports suggest the number of religious adherents in China is far larger and is steadily increasing. The research and advocacy group Freedom House estimates there are more than 350 million religious believers in China, primarily made up of Chinese Buddhists, followed by Protestants, Muslims, Falun Gong practitioners, Catholics, and Tibetan Buddhists. Many believers do not follow organized religion and are said to practice traditional folk religion. These practitioners, along with members of underground house churches and banned religious groups, account for many of the country's unregistered believers. One of the higher estimates comes from the U.S. State Department's 2016 International Religious Freedom Report, which says there are about 650 million Chinese religious believers.