Taiwan religious population statistics?

How many Buddhists, Taoists, etc. are there in Taiwan?

First of all, is there any way to answer this even in principle? I’m thinking particularly of the problem of estimating the number of followers of Buddhism or Chinese folk religion. (Some people may think they are Buddhist but worship Matsu, or think they are atheist but worship their ancestors, or maybe they have six religions at once.)

Then, do we have any way of knowing the answer? Like, estimates of church and temple participation, census information, poll results, etc.? I would assume the Christian population is easiest to estimate. I think there is some kind of government body which regulates religion, I saw a pamphlet from them.

The reason I ask is I recently learned about Yiguandao (One Unity Religion), which says they are the third largest religion in Taiwan, with over a million followers. This means one out of twenty people–but that doesn’t ring true. So, is there any concrete information?

Here is what the CIA fact book says “mixture of Buddhist, Confucian, and Taoist 93%, Christian 4.5%, other 2.5%”.


PS: Pretty cool that Taiwan is in the factbook. In the pull down menu they are last after Zimbabwe.

The Government Information Office gives some figures on religion in its Brief Introduction to the Republic of China (Taiwan).

Here are some of the numbers it gives for 2000:
4.55 million Taoists
3.67 million Buddhists
845,000 I-kuan Tao followers
593,000 Protestants
298,000 Catholics
54,000 Muslims

As noted already, there’s a lot of overlap and ambiguity in religious groups in Taiwan. especially among the top three groups. On the other hand, the page gives numbers of temples and clergy, which adds credibility to the figures.

Despite what seems to me to be a huge overlap, most people will tell you they’re Buddhist or Daoist. The Yi-Guan Dao guys might say Daoist and then if you ask say Yi Guan Dao, which is a bit strange since Yi-Guan Dao is supposed to take the teachings of the 5 greatest religious thinkers (Buddha, Confucious, Lao Zi, Jesus and Muhammed) and mix them. They are mostly vegetarian, and have some secret knowledge and rituals only told to members (Thre Three Secrets). How do I know all this? Well weirdly enough, because I’m a card-carrying member (literally, they gave me a card). It’s a stange story, but basically back in NZ my Tai Qi teacher invited me to a ‘seminar on the Dao’ and when I got there, there were all these people in uniforms and they asked me if I wanted to “receive the Dao” and I said “sure, sounds groovy” and then all these dudes in robes led by a master flown in from Taiwan came along and inducted me and these two Chinese girls into the cult. He opened my third portal (or maybe the seventh) which means I’ll go straight to heaven when I die (instead of being reincarnated), explained how it was fate that I was one of the chosen ones, taught me the ‘three secret treasures’, and brought in some lifelong vegetarian 16-year old virgins to tell our fortune. Nothing to do with me coming to Taiwan later btw.


What are the Three Secret Treasures, may I ask?

I went to their temple on Big Incense Mountain (Da Xiang Si), on a day that happened to be the birthday of their founder (or something). I stayed to watch lion dances and stuff. They opened a museum of Yiguandao, and when they saw me trying to figure stuff out, they went and got this Hong Kong guy who spoke English to try to get me to come with them upstairs to get initiated. I said thanks anyway, I’ve already got a religion, but they said their religion fulfills or completes it. They also told me to tell my priest! (They didn’t seem to perceive anything tedentious about their expectations either.) I’d describe them as kind of like Buddhist Mormons. They don’t really use Jesus or Muhammad in their iconography–the “three religions” (Buddhism Taoism Confucianism) are the main sources, plus some weird nineteenth century stuff I can’t quite figure out (some guy got revelations, I guess) and the fat Maitreya statue everywhere for that extra millennarian kick.

Well I’ll be…I guess they DO have a million followers. One out of twenty. As many as Christianity. Wow. Wonder what else is out there? Guess I’d better read the government handbook…

I can’t tell you the three secret treasures. They’re secret. But I can tell you there’s three of them, and they’re treasures. Anyway. I’ve forgot. All I remember is one is a secret phrase that will keep you safe if you’re in trouble and another is a secret hand signal. Can’t remember the third.


Hey Sir Don, sure it wasn’t the Masons you joined? :wink:

Oddly, I can only remember the exact same two but not the third as well… what the…