An essential element of Chinese culture is Chinese religion. There are several religions that are practiced in China. Two of these are essentially Chinese religion, meaning they are of Chinese origin: Confucianism and Taoism. Buddhism found its way into China by way of India.
Confucianism was the most influential Chinese religion. It was founded by Confucius or Kung-fu-tzu. Confucianism was the state religion from the establishment of the Han Dynasty in 202 B.C. to the end of the imperial epoch in 1911. Confucian teachings were the subject of civil service examinations for more than 2,000 years. Confucianism maintains that people should embrace their station in life to preserve social harmony. It identifies five cardinal relationships between intrinsically superior and inferior beings. The inferior must avow complete loyalty and obedience to the superior and superior beings must be benevolent and compassionate toward the inferior. Filial piety was one of the most important qualities stressed by Confucius.
Taoism emerged in the 6th century B.C. and is believed to have been founded by a man named Lao-tzu. Initially, Taoism began as a structured system of philosophical thought that only a few people practiced. Only later did it become known as a communal religion. Its basic tenets adhere to the universal value of reward for good behavior and punishment for bad behavior in the afterlife. Taoism believes in several gods that dispense with justice and transmits sacred revelations.
Buddhism was introduced to China from India between A.D. 58-76 but only flourished in the 3rd century. It was founded by Siddharta Gautama, or Buddha, a contemporary of Confucius. Buddhism believes that desire is the source of all pain and pain can be overcome by suppressing desire through meditation. Zen Buddhism (or Ch’an Buddhism) teaches that enlightenment is attainable through the regular practice of meditation.