BEIJING - The number of Christians in China now stands at more than 23 million, after an increase which a government think tank attributed to the country's economic growth, state media reported Thursday.
Chinese Christians are most highly concentrated in the country's prosperous and densely populated areas along the eastern coast and the Yangtze River, China Daily said, citing the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"These statistics clearly indicate that the 30-year period of reform and opening up has been a period of rapid development for both Chinese society and the Chinese church," Fu Xianwei, who heads the body that ensures churches follow state interests, was quoted as saying.
The report did not give a figure for the extent of the increase or the number of Christians in China in 1980.
More than 50 million copies of the Bible had been printed in China by the end of last year, according to Fu, who is chairman of China's National Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee.
The number of Catholics in China has reached 5.7 million, according to the survey by the academy's Institute of World Religions.
An influx of young people, intellectuals, and professionals from various fields into the church has changed the demographics of China's Christians, the report said.
Women now account for 70 percent of the total number of Christians.
To accommodate the growing numbers, the number of churches across the country has increased to more than 55,000 - ranging from very small structures to complexes capable of seating 8,000 worshippers, the newspaper said.
China officially provides freedom of religion but in practice, the ruling Communist Party restricts independent worship by forcing groups to register with the government.
In addition to those officially recognised, there are believed to be millions more worshipping in "underground" or "family" churches which refuse to submit to government regulation.