In a ChinaSource article posted in early April 2018, Joann Pittman wrote helpfully to define what is the actual position relating to the sale of Bibles in China. The following is a summary of her comments:
1. Following the February 1st new religious laws in China, there is obviously attention being given by foreign media to the state of Christianity in China. For that reason, Pittman feels, there were some exaggerated reports in secular media. It is therefore important to know what is the real situation relating to Bibles in China.
2. Pittman however asks the following question: “How can something that has technically never been legal be banned?” She added: “To understand what is going on, we need to remember that for publications to be legally distributed in China, they need to have a China-issued ISBN. To date, the Bible does not have one. Instead the Bible is (and always has been) classified as an ‘internal publication’ (内部), for internal distribution only. Bibles are published by the China Christian Council and are only for distribution within and by registered Christian churches. It has never actually been legal to sell them in the marketplace. In other words, the sale of Bibles outside of registered churches has always been illegal. In the past decade, however, enforcement of that regulation has become… lax, and numerous online retail outlets have offered the Bible for sale. They did this, not because it was suddenly legal to do so, but because the online space was a grey zone and there was little to no enforcement of the restrictions on Bible sales.”
“The proliferation of Bible sales through the Internet and through other non-church sources was always outside the law – they were never officially legal…. But the law is being rigorously applied now. Bibles may only be bought through Three Self Patriotic Church distributions.”
3. But though it is true to say that what was going on previously was never actually legal, there is a much more sinister purpose behind this new clampdown. Quoting Ian Johnson of the New York Times, Pittman writes: “The move aligns with a longstanding effort to limit the influence of Christianity in China. Among China’s major religions—which include Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and folk beliefs—Christianity is the only one whose major holy text cannot be sold through normal commercial channels… These restrictions do not apply to sacred texts of other religions… The closing of that loophole follows new government religious regulations that have effectively tightened rules on Christianity and Islam, while promoting Buddhism, Taoism and folk religion as part of President Xi Jinping’s efforts to promote traditional values.”
The final word on the subject is therefore this is not a legal issue, but a political issue which, along with other even stricter measures taking place at the same time, is designed to remove or seriously impede the influence of Christianity in China. Behind it all is a simple provocation – there are too many Christians in China, in the government’s view!
Pray for those who control the sale of Bibles through TSPM churches, that they would understand the huge need of God’s people in China to have access to His written word.
Pray for the government in China, that they would see the Bible’s teaching as a positive force in an ever-changing Chinese society.
Pray for other unofficial methods to distribute the Christian Scriptures in China, that they would prosper and succeed in delivering God’s Word to God’s people.