China Prints 80 Millionth Bible; Demands Not Met

The only authorized Bible-printing company in China marked the printing of its eighty-millionth Bible on Monday, the government's official press agency announced.

Amity Printing Co., located in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing, says it now prints 1 million copies of the Scripture a month. Since its founding in 1988, the printing company has grown to be one of the largest Bible publishers in the world.

"The production of 80 million Bible copies can be attributed to the world of China's Christians, and, more importantly, the country's reform and opening-up policy," said Zhonghui Qiu, chairman of the board of Amity Printing Co., according to Xinhua news agency.

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Similarly, David Thorne, the Asia secretary of the United Bible Societies – which is Amity's partner in Bible printing – credited the Chinese government's support for the fast rate of Bible publishing in the country.

About a quarter of the Bibles printed in the world today are made in China, noted Xiaohong Xu, secretary-general of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), which oversees Protestant churches.

In China, Protestant churches must register with the TSPM and China Christian Council in order to operate legally. The TSPM/CCC, however, is a government body that places submission to state's authority at the same level (if not above) submission to Christ's authority. Therefore, many house churches refuse to be part of the TSPM/CCC because they argue that Christ is the head of the church, not the government.

In addition to Bibles in Chinese, Amity also publishes Scripture in English, French, Spanish, and Braille. It has exported more than 26 million Bibles to over 60 countries, or nearly a third of its total publication, noted Qiu.

While the Xinhua report on the eighty-millionth Bible printed in China lauded the company's and government's achievements, it failed to accurately portray the demand for Scripture in China. The report said there are only 16 million Christians in China when in fact there are more than 100 million believers, including house church Christians, according to religious freedom groups.

Christians that do not belong to TSPM/CCC churches, which make up the majority of believers in China, and those that live in rural areas have a difficult time obtaining a Bible. Moreover, even with the rapid pace of Bible printing in China these days, tens of millions of Chinese Christians do not have a Bible because of shortage of supply or distribution restrictions.

"One important fact to remember about Bibles and China is that China is still a restricted nation. The Communist government seeks to control Christian activities, including Bible distribution," wrote Todd Nettleton, director of media development for the Voice of the Martyrs USA, in a column titled, "Smuggle Bibles into China? It's Still Necessary," published on the Christianity Today website in August.

Nettleton pointed out the case of Christian bookstore owner Shi Weihan, who is serving a three-year sentence in jail for printing and distributing Bibles without government permission, as example of the restriction on Bible distribution in China. The VOM spokesman also noted that out of the five approved religions in China, only Christianity's holy book cannot be sold at all public bookstores.

Still, Nettleton added, "I am thankful for every Bible legally printed and distributed in China. I hope someday the government will allow enough Bible printing to meet the needs of the growing Chinese church."

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