China will open the largest Bible production factory in the world early next year, according to a leading U.K. newspaper.
Amity Printing, China's only authorized Christian publisher, plans to open the new plant on the edge of the eastern city of Nanjing to meet the country's heavy demands for Bibles, reported The Times of London. The new factory will be the world's single-biggest producer of Bibles with the capacity to print 1 million Bibles a month – increasing the current output by a third.
"This platform has been built as a blessing to the nation," said New Zealander Peter Dean of the United Bible Societies, according to The Times. The United Bible Societies, a Protestant organization, works with Chinese Christian charity to print Bibles under Amity Printing.
"It will print Bibles for China for as long as it takes to do it," added Dean, who has been at Amity in China since 1991.
Last year, Amity printed 3.5 million Bibles and expects the number to rise for 2007. In total, China's Amity Printing has produced over 50 million Bibles since 1986.
Demand for Bibles is increasing in officially-atheist China and some contend the high demand is tied to the country's recent economic boom.
"Rising wealth means that more and more people have been able to meet their material needs, the need for food and clothing," said Li Baiguang, a prominent human rights lawyer and Christian activist. Li was one of three Chinese house church leaders who were invited for the first time to the White House and met with President George W. Bush last year.
"Then they are finding that they need to satisfy their spiritual needs, to look for happiness for the soul," he said. "In addition, they are seeing a breakdown in the moral order as money takes over. Thus, more and more people are turning to Christianity."
Authorities in China say the official number of Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, is about 30 million. But the figure does not include house churches or the so-called "underground" churches that function outside of government jurisdiction. The number of Christians worshipping in unregistered churches is as high as 100 million, in some estimates.
Many Chinese Christians choose to worship in unregistered churches – an act which is illegal – because they argue that Jesus Christ, and not the government, is the head of the church.
Registered churches are under close supervision by the communist government, which regularly intervenes in church affairs such as appointing bishops not approved by the Vatican to head registered Roman Catholic churches.
The Chinese government also strictly regulates the sales and distribution of Bibles in China. Bibles are sold through certain vendors managed by the official church. Mainstream Chinese bookshops are not allowed to carry Bibles.
Chinese Christians have been arrested and imprisoned for printing Bibles and religious literature. Prominent house church pastor Cai Zhuohua was released in September after serving a three-year prison sentence for printing religious materials.
Authorities had confiscated more than 200,000 copies of Christian literatures, including Bibles, from his house in 2004. The Chinese court also gave a prison sentence to his wife and his brother for helping Cai print the Christian materials.
Cai reportedly was ordered by government officials upon his release to not speak about his ordeal, according to China Aid Association (CAA), a Chinese Christian rights group.
While Cai was freed in September, another house church leader, Zhou Heng, was arrested in the same month in the southwest autonomous region of Xinjiang for receiving 3 tons of Bibles, which were printed in another Chinese city, according to CAA.
Overseas evangelical groups have often pointed out that access to religious material remains difficult in China despite the Chinese government's claim that it prints a sufficient number of Bibles. Government regulated Bibles are distributed only at a limited number of authorized bookstores and state-owned churches, making it difficult for rural Christians to attain a copy.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan body responsible for monitoring religious freedom in the world, recommended that China be included in the list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC). The list, designated by the U.S. Secretary of State, identifies the world's worst religious freedom violators.