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[BEIJING] The Chinese public's faith in traditional beliefs has declined in recent years following a campaign by the government to increase public appreciation of scientific knowledge and to quash 'pseudoscience', according to a new survey.

However the survey also found that a substantial proportion of the Chinese public still holds strong beliefs in superstitions. For example, one quarter of the public still believes in fortune telling.

More than 10,000 individuals were interviewed for the survey, whose results were released last week in Beijing at a conference challenging superstitions and 'pseudoscience'. The survey was carried out by the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST), the country’s main body responsible for raising public understanding of science.

It shows that, compared to the last time such a survey was conducted in 1998, the percentage of Chinese who believe in fengshui – the art of deciding the best position and design of objects in order to bring good luck – has decreased from just over a half to 39 per cent. And belief in samsara, or the return of life, has declined from 18 to 11.5 per cent.

CAST representatives say the survey suggests that the campaign to popularise scientific knowledge and to fight superstition has made significant progress since the crackdown on the Falungong spiritual movement, which the Chinese government banned in 1999. Since then, government efforts to spread scientific knowledge at the grass-roots level have increased significantly. But much remains to be done, they say.

According to Fang Zhouzi, a US-based biologist and expert in science popularisation, the research confirms that since many traditional superstitious and 'pseudoscientific' ideas are deeply rooted in China, popularising science remains a lengthy and challenging process.

Gong Yuzhi, a professor of sociology and former senior information official of the Chinese Communist Party, says that journalists and other writers must help spread scientific knowledge among the public and should "resist supernatural propaganda".

"Authors are entitled to hold private beliefs in superstitious ideas," he says. "But if they instruct the public to believe these ideas, they should be reproached."