The Confucian church (Chinese: ; pinyin: or pinyin: ) is a Confucian religious and social institution of the congregational type. It was first proposed by Kang Youwei (1858-1927) in the last years of the 19th century, as a state religion of Qing China on the model of Europe.
The "Confucian church" model was later continued amongst overseas Chinese communities, who established independent Confucian churches active on the local level, especially in Indonesia and the United States.
In contemporary China, since 2000, there has been a revival of Confucianism with the proliferation of Confucian academies (Chinese: ; pinyin: ), the opening and reopening of temples of Confucius, the new phenomenon of grassroots Confucian communities or congregations (Chinese: ?; pinyin: ) and renewed talks about a national "Confucian church". A national Holy Confucian Church (Chinese: ; pinyin: ) was established with the participation of many Confucian leaders on November 1, 2015; the current spiritual leader is Jiang Qing.
The idea of a "Confucian Church" as the state religion of China was proposed in detail by Kang Youwei as part of an early New Confucian search for a regeneration of the social relevance of Confucianism, at a time when it was de-institutionalised with the collapse of the Qing dynasty and the Chinese empire. Kang modeled his ideal "Confucian Church" after European national Christian churches, as a hierarchical and centralised institution, closely bound to the state, with local church branches, Sunday prayers and choirs, missions, journals, and even baptism sometimes, devoted to the worship and the spread of the teachings of Confucius.
The large community of Confucian literati who were left bereft of a ritual and organisational outlet for their values and identity after the dissolution of state Confucianism, supported such projects. Similar models were also followed by various newly created Confucian folk religious sects, such as the Xixinshe, the Daode Xueshe, and the Wanguo Daodehui.
The Confucian Church was founded by a disciple of Kang, Chen Huanzhang, in 1912, and within a few years it established 132 branches countrywise. From 1913 to 1916, an important debate took place whether Confucianism should become the state religion (guo jiao) and as such inscribed in the constitution of China. This finally didn't occur, and anti-religious campaigns mounting in the 1920s led to a dissolution of the Confucian church.
While Kang's idea was not realised in China, it was carried forward in Hong Kong and amongst overseas Chinese peoples. The Hong Kong branch of Kang's movement took the name of "Confucian Academy" (Chinese: ?), while the Indonesian branch became the Supreme Council for the Confucian Religion in Indonesia. Members believe in Tian with Confucius as the prophet (Indonesian nabi). Chinese people in the United States established independent, local Confucian churches such as the Confucius Church of Sacramento or the Confucius Church of Salinas.
In contemporary China, the Confucian revival has developed into different, yet interwoven, directions: the proliferation of Confucian academies, the resurgence of Confucian rites, and the birth of new forms of Confucian activity on the popular level, such as the Confucian communities. Some scholars also consider the reconstruction of Chinese lineage associations and their ancestral shrines, as well as cults and temples of natural and national gods within broader Chinese traditional religion, as part of the revival of Confucianism.
Other forms of revival are folk religious or salvationist religious groups with a Confucian focus or Confucian churches, for example the Yidan xuetang (?) based in Beijing, the Mengmutang () of Shanghai, the Way of the Gods according to the Confucian Tradition or Phoenix Churches, the Confucian Fellowship (? Rújiào Dàotán) in northern Fujian which has spread rapidly over the years after its foundation, and ancestral shrines of the Kong family operating as well as Confucian-teaching churches.
Also, the Hong Kong Confucian Academy has expanded its activities to the mainland, with the construction of statues of Confucius, Confucian hospitals, restoration of temples and sponsorship of other activities. In 2009 Zhou Beichen founded another institution that inherits the idea of Kang Youwei's Confucian Church, the Holy Hall of Confucius ( K?ngshèngtáng) in Shenzhen affiliated with the Federation of Confucian Culture of Qufu, the first of a nationwide movement of congregations and civil organisations that was unified in 2015 by the Holy Confucian Church ( K?ngshènghuì).
Chinese folk religion's temples and kinship ancestral shrines on special occasion may choose Confucian liturgy (that is called ? rú, or sometimes zhèngt?ng, meaning "orthoprax ritual style") led by Confucian ritual masters ( l?sh?ng) to worship the gods enshrined, instead of Taoist or popular ritual. "Confucian businessmen" (rushang, also "learned businessman"), is a recently recovered term to identify people of the entrepreneurial or economic elite who recognise their social responsibility and therefore apply Confucian culture to their business.
Contemporary New Confucian scholars Jiang Qing and Kang Xiaoguang are amongst the most influential supporters of institutionalising the Confucian revival as a national "Confucian Church". Jiang Qing is the current spiritual leader of the Holy Confucian Church.