Various articles in the media and news over the last week have reported that the Bible has been withdrawn from sale or banned in China. It’s understandable that we would be alarmed at this news and wonder what this might mean for our friends in China. Thriving Turtles thought it would be good to give a summary of the situation as we understand it, and make some comments and suggestions:
- We should start by pointing out that since the reopening of churches in the late 1970s, the Bible has never been legally available for free sale and distribution in China. The Bible does not have a Chinese ISBN number and is only available for distribution and sale through the government sanctioned Three-Self Church bookshops. It is officially listed as an “internal publication”. In 1987, the Amity foundation started legally printing Bibles in China and to date has printed and distributed around 150 million copies through these official channels[i]. It has always been illegal to sell or distribute Bibles in any other way[ii].
- In recent years, online shopping has become very popular in China and sales have increased faster than the government has been able to find ways to regulate. Online stores provide all kinds of products and many of them are not legal, or not fully legal. For example, many online stores sell fake or pirated goods that are clearly illegal but difficult for the government to control. The Bible is only one of these less than legal products that have been freely sold through online bookstores. Christians and seekers all over China have been able to easily purchase copies for their own use, or to give or sell to others. This open market was of course greatly appreciated and made the Bible very easy to obtain, but it was never legal and simply a grey area of rules that were not enforced.
- The current events (crackdown) are a case of the government now applying existing laws to bring practice into line with official policy. These are not new laws or policies but ones that have existed since the Churches reopened in 1978. The government wants to again restrict sales to only the official church bookstores so they can monitor and control the sales.
- The good news is that the Bible is still available from Three-Self bookstores[iii]and to the best of our knowledge, these have stock and do not require registration in order to purchase a Bible (although this could change in the future). If you have friends in China who want to purchase a paper Bible then we suggest they go to a Three-Self Church and purchase one there.
- At this time there are many Bible apps available inside and outside China (it is possible that this may change in the future). Because young people use technology so easily we strongly recommend that they get a Bible on their phone which they can take with them and use anywhere. If you have friends in China, or returning to China, we suggest recommending a Bible app for them. For information on Chinese Bible apps see this article: http://thrivingturtles.org/2016/06/20/chinese-bible-apps/
The news of access to God’s word being restricted is never welcome, but we should give thanks that the Bible is still available in China. We should continue to pray that people will have the opportunity to meet God through reading his Word and that God will protect and use the Bible for the building of his kingdom.
[iii]Paul Wu, ‘China’s Ban on Online Bible Sales May Result from Regulation of Bookselling Online, Not Religious Persecution’, China Christianity Daily(blog), 13 April 2018, http://chinachristiandaily.com/news/Society/2018-04-10/china-s-ban-on-online-bible-sales-may-result-from-regulation-of-bookselling-online–not-religious-persecution-_6993.