Just moments after the Chinese government pledged to protect religious freedom, Christians in China discovered they could no longer purchase Bibles online.
Searches on China’s largest book purchasing websites, Taobao, JingDong, Amazon China and DangDang bring no results when users search for the Bible. Other religious texts, such as the Quran, are still available on all those sites except JingDong.
Social media users in China alerted the world to the disappearing Bibles on Tuesday, April 3, 2018, the same day the government published a white paper on religious freedom. The white paper, titled “China’s Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief,” bolstered the movements the government has taken under President Xi Jinping to crack down on the spread of Christianity in China.
The move is typical of China’s two-faced approach to religious freedom. The government has a history of claiming to protect the religious freedom of its people as long as that freedom falls in line with the communist party’s agenda. Essentially, the white paper instructs religious observers to “adhere to the direction of localising the religion, practice the core values of socialism, develop and expand the fine Chinese tradition and actively explore the religious thought which accords with China’s national circumstances,” according to abc.net.
The official statement from the government identifies China’s main religions as Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Christianity. The government estimates 38 million of its 200 million citizens are Christian and 6 million are Catholic. However, abc.net says “non-government estimates have suggested that China actually has closer to 100 million Christians, making it one of the biggest Christian countries in the world.” The discrepancy is due to the fact that the government only counts those who worship in the state-sponsored Patriotic Church while non-government estimates count the large and prolific underground church.
As to why the Bible was pulled from online retailers, there doesn’t seem to be a clear reason. Shop owners are telling customers they were ordered to take it down. Some speculate it is due to the Bible not having an official issuance number and it not being officially approved by the government for publication.
Others believe a document released by China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs might explain the situation. The Principle for Promoting the Chinese Christianity in China for the Next Five Years speaks of re-interpreting and re-translating the Bible in order to enhance “Chinese-style Christianity and theology.”
New rules came into effect February 2, 2018, to tighten control on religious groups in China. As Reuters reports, the new rules:
“Place new oversight on online discussion of religious matters, on religious gatherings, the financing of religious groups and the construction of religious buildings, among others. They increase existing restrictions on unregistered religious groups to include explicit bans on teaching about religion or going abroad to take part in training or meetings.”
Additionally, religious groups are forbidden from receiving donations from foreign groups or individuals.
The Bibles being pulled from online shelves are just the latest in the government’s attempt to stifle the growth of Christianity in China. However, despite their efforts, the distribution of the gospel does not seem to be deterred.