LONDON – The U.K.-based Bible Society has reported a growing demand for copies of the Bible in China where an estimated 500,000 people convert to Christianity every year.
Although some four million Bibles were printed and distributed across China last year, the rapid growth of the church year on year means that demand for Bibles is now outstripping supply, according to the Bible Society.
The official number of Christians in China stands at 28.6 million, but it is believed the true figure could be as high as 90 million if the estimated number of worshippers at unofficial house churches is included.
The Bibles are printed at Amity Printing Company, the only government-approved Bible printing press in China. It has printed around 70 million Bibles since it was established in 1987. Around 50 million of them have gone to Chinese believers.
Religious freedom group China Aid Association has kept a critical eye on the publisher. The group has claimed that the company has made availability and accessibility of the Bible difficult for the growing Christian population.
The distribution of the Bibles has been limited to government sanctioned Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) bookstores and distribution points, making it difficult for Christians who live in rural areas to access them. Cost has also been an issue, as most churchgoers in China live in poverty.
To deflect the cost, the Bible Society subsidizes the cost of printing Bibles. Keeping the price low is vital for Christians living in China's rural heartland, where 70 percent of churchgoers are found and half the population live on less than $2 a day.
"As more and more people are joining the church they are asking for a Bible," said Bible Society's China Partnership coordinator Kua Wee Seng.
"Every year we have to raise funds for Bible subsidy. The reason is that in the rural areas where most Christians are found, they are living in relatively poor conditions. In order for them to have a copy of the Bible we have to provide paper so that a Bible is affordable for most of the Christians in China.
"This is a time of opportunity in China. Many of us feel that we mustn't miss this opportunity or people will turn to something else, other than Christianity."