You can still buy a Bible in China
Revealed: What really restricts Bible sales in the People’s Republic – and how you can help
Bibles are still on sale throughout China. From Shanghai to Zengzhou, to remote villages, a Bible supply chain is still in place. And Amity press in Nanjing in central China is still printing Bibles with millions aimed at the local market.
This week, Australia’s ABC was one of the first media outlets to report that retailers in China, both bookshops and online, have removed the Bible from their shelves and online stores.
That reporting is largely accurate, but the assumption that some readers may have made that the Bible was out of circulation is false.
Eternity turned to a team of experts to explain these latest moves in Bible distribution in China.
The United Bible Societies (UBS) China Partnership team explains: “After the end of the Cultural Revolution and in the early 1980s, the Chinese authorities allowed the Church in China to resume printing and distribution of the Bibles to meet the huge and growing needs of the Chinese believers. The Bibles were approved for ‘internal distribution’: the Bibles were published by the Church in China for sale and distribution by the legally registered churches. Anyone could buy a copy of the Bible from the churches.
“Bibles are still being sold in churches in China.”
“As the Bibles were approved for ‘internal distribution’, they were not approved for sale by non-church bookstores. Over the years, some non-church bookstores began to sell Bibles and online stores also began to sell Bibles online. The authorities have, from time to time, stopped some non-church bookstores from selling Bibles, but they have not strictly enforced this regulation on online stores.
“On September 7, 2017, China’s State Council (Cabinet) released a revised version of the Religious Affairs Regulations, which took effect on February 1, 2018. Article 45 of the Regulations stipulates: ‘Religious groups, religious schools, and churches and temples may, in accordance with the relevant national provisions, compile and distribute internal religious informational publications. Religious publications for public distribution are to be handled in accordance with the relevant national provisions on the administration of publications.’
“We believe the move to remove Bibles from the online stores (and from non-church bookstores) is part of the authorities’ efforts to enforce the regulations, which distinguish between internal religious publications and public distribution. According to the regulations in mainland China, Bibles are internal religious publication.
“As far as we aware, Bibles are still being sold in churches in China and one could purchase Bibles from these churches.”
“In recent years, Bible paper funding has declined.”
The UBS China Partnership team points to another factor that definitely has reduced the supply of Bibles to China’s Christians. Bible sales in China have been subsidised by Christians throughout the world providing Bible paper to the Amity printing plant (which has printed more Bibles than any other press in the world). “In recent years, Bible paper funding has declined year after year, and this has affected the ability of the Church to print more Bibles for the millions of Chinese Christians who need the word for their faith and nurture, and also for the billion-plus Chinese who need the gospel for their faith and salvation,” he says. (Disclosure: Amity Press is a joint venture with the Bible Society movement, and Eternity is published by Bible Society Australia.)
The provision of paper is a way to boost Bible supply in China, entirely legally.
“The vast majority of Chinese people are not buying up Australian real estate – they are rural or new urban poor. And they cannot afford to buy a Bible,” comments Bible Society Australia CEO Greg Clarke.
“That’s why we continue to raise money for Bible printing in China to help subsidise the Church there as they seek the same access to Scripture that Australians enjoy.”
Bible Society Australia is running an appeal to supply Bible paper and subsidised Bibles to boost the supply of Bibles in China especially for those who find it hard to afford one.