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Religious Demography1

Tibetan areas total 871,649 square miles. According to the 2000 census, the Tibetan population within the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) was 2.4 million out of a total permanently registered population of 2.8 million, while in the Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties in the provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan, the Tibetan population was 2.9 million. Most practiced Tibetan Buddhism, although a sizeable minority also practiced Bon, the related traditional Tibetan religion. This held true for many Tibetan government officials and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members, even though the CCP and the Government prohibited officials from practicing religion.

Other residents of Tibetan areas include ethnic Han Chinese, who practiced Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and traditional folk religions; Hui Muslims; ethnic Tibetan Muslims; and Christians. There are mosques in the TAR with approximately 4,000 to 5,000 Muslim adherents, as well as a Catholic church with 560 parishioners located in the traditionally Catholic community of Yanjing in the eastern TAR. Tsodruk, in Dechen TAP in Yunnan Province, is also home to a Tibetan Catholic congregation. There were a small number of Falun Gong adherents, as well as some unregistered Protestant churches, in the TAR.

The number of monks and nuns in the TAR continued to fluctuate significantly due in part to the "patriotic education" campaigns, which sometimes resulted in the expulsion from monasteries and nunneries of monks and nuns who were found to be "politically unqualified" or who refused to denounce the Dalai Lama. In 1996 official TAR government statistics estimated that there were 46,000 monks and nuns and 1,700 religious sites in the TAR, but this figure has likely varied over time due to government policy, politically motivated detentions, monastic secularization, and commercialization due to tourism. Furthermore, the government figure of 46,000 monks and nuns represented only the TAR, where the number of monks and nuns is strictly controlled. There are reportedly large numbers of unregistered monks both inside and outside the TAR, a factor that makes it difficult to produce reliable estimates. According to statistics collected by the China Center for Tibetan Studies, a government research institution, there are 1,535 monasteries in Tibetan areas outside the TAR. Informed observers estimate that 60,000 Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns live in Tibetan areas outside the TAR.


1.  The U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Report is submitted to Congress annually by the Department of State in compliance with Section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. This report supplements the most recent Human Rights Reports by providing additional detailed information with respect to matters involving international religious freedom. It includes individual country chapters on the status of religious freedom worldwide. A dataset with these and the other international measures highlighted on the country pages can be downloaded from this website. These State Department reports are open source.

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