Think of China and many images come to mind – the Great Wall snaking into the distance; vast cities; misty mountains; ancient temples. What you don’t associate with the land of the dragon are churches and mosques. Yet tucked away and certainly worth a visit are several buildings that hint at the variety of religious beliefs found in China today.
Great Mosque of Xian
Xian, home to the Terracotta Warriors, boasts the Great Mosque of Xian which was founded in the 8th century. The mosque is a far cry from those found elsewhere in the world: it is built completely in the Chinese style with not a minaret or a dome in sight. Some calligraphy and Arabic decoration are all that betrays its purpose. The mosque is at the centre of a thriving Muslim quarter, testament to Xian’s origins as the start of the Great Silk Road.
Further from the tourist trail is a Catholic Church in the town of Dali, in China’s Yunnan province. At first glance it looks like a traditional Daoist or Buddhist temple, built in the classical Chinese style. It’s only the crosses on top of the building that mark it in the neighbourhood. Built by French missionaries in the 1930’s, mass is said every day, and a congregation of around 60 attend Sunday service. When we visited the church was tended to by a nun in her 90s.
People often think of China as a homogeneous, uniform kind of place, but dig a little deeper and there’s a plurality of religions, ethnicity, landscapes and culture. There are limitless options for visitors and something to suit everyone.