In China, the Bible is treated as a publication “for internal distribution” by government-sanctioned bodies. Business but especially political considerations are behind the move, namely the Bible’s growing appeal and the expanding size of China’s Christian population. According to some sociologists, China will have the most Christians in the world.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – Since 30 March, many Chinese online sales sites have stopped selling Bibles.
This has generated complaints against online retailers like JD.com, Taobao, Amazon.cn and Dang Dang for removing the Scriptures from their catalogue. Many blame the Chinese government of trying to restrict its distribution.
Chinese authorities have long categorised the Bible as a publication “for internal distribution”, i.e. to be sold only by government-sanctioned bodies to Catholics and Protestants.
However, the Bible has been a bestseller for years, perhaps because many Chinese are on their own spiritual quest. This has favoured the circulation of authorised as well as unauthorised copies.
"We can't sell [. . .] spiritual books ... without an ISBN* code," a seller explained. That “can only be issued by the General Administration for Press and Publications (GAPP) under the State Council.”
A few days ago, the authorities released a white paper on religion that said that more than 160 million copies of the Bible had been printed in more than 100 languages for over 100 countries and regions, including 80 million copies printed in Chinese, 11 ethnic minority languages as well as braille.
Online people have been trying to make sense of the new restrictions on Bible sales.
Some see them as a commercial move, to eliminate competition from private sites and force people to buy Bibles from government-sanctioned bodies.
Others see it as an attempt by the government to limit the circulation of the Scriptures, in perhaps a desperate response to the growth of Christianity in the country.
According to some Chinese sociologists like Fenggang Yang, the various Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church are growing so much that by 2030 China will have the largest number of Christians in the world.
There is one problem though, namely most of the new Christians will belong to unregistered groups.
* ISBN: International Standard Book Number.