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Remembering where many Bibles come from

Despite restrictions, China is the world's biggest Bible printer

  • Xiao Cao, Hong Kong
  • China
  • November 20, 2012
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For Christians outside of China, would anyone think about where the Bible was printed when reading it?

Recent news reports have shed light on just how much of a monopoly China has on Bible production.

For instance, Greg Clarke of the Bible Society of Australia told a visiting delegation of the Chinese State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) that most Australian copies come from China.

And while the Communist Party began its National Congress in Beijing on November 8, Amity Printing Company, the sole Bible printer in China, celebrated printing copy number 100 million in Nanjing, the provincial capital of eastern Jiangsu, on the same day.

It reached this phenomenal milestone in July.

“Printed copies could go around the Earth 55 times,” Qiu Zhonghui, chairman of Amity, told about 100 Chinese and foreign guests at the celebration ceremony.

The Nanjing based Protestant-run printer is now the world’s largest Bible printing house.

Given these huge numbers, it is very possible that the Bible you read comes from this atheist, Communist nation.

Amity Printing Company is a joint venture established by the Amity Foundation and the United Bible Societies (UBS) in 1988. The former is an independent voluntary organization founded in 1985 by Chinese Protestants to promote social services in China, while UBS is made up of 146 national Bible Societies operating in over 200 countries and territories.

Of the 100 million Bibles that Amity has printed, 60 million – including nine editions in ethnic minority languages – went to the China Christian Council and the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China.

The latter, an equivalent to the government-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), advocates an independent Church.

Amity also prints the Bible for the Catholic Church in China, meaning many copies do stay in the country.

“In the past decade, three million copies of the Chinese Catholic Bible were printed by Amity with the UBS providing the capital and the paper,” said Joseph Liu Yuanlong, vice-chair of the CCPA.

That means roughly 37 million Bibles produced by Amity have gone overseas to more than 70 countries in 93 language editions.

It also points to a big disparity between the Protestants and Catholics in China. Some people too easily explain this huge difference to the split between the “open.” state-backed Catholic Church in China and “unregistered,” underground Catholicism, reasoning that the split between the two communities has stalled evangelization and caused this “Bible gap.”

I have reservations about such an explanation. We should not forget that the Protestant Church in China is also made up of government-sanctioned Church bodies and unregistered house churches.

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in a white paper projected there are 23 million Protestants in China, while Catholic Church research sources estimate the population of Catholics at between six and 12 million. There are therefore more complicated reasons behind this Bible gap.

In a Bible-related seminar in China, also this month, SARA vice-director Jiang Jianyong said the Chinese Protestant Church has staged several Biblical exhibitions overseas in recent years.

His remark was designed to overturn common criticisms outside of the country that China has no freedom of religious faith, smuggling Bibles to China is required and that the Chinese Bible is not a complete version.

I have no objection to dispelling the latter two myths about faith in China but find it ironic that the Bible we read may come from a country where there is persecution of dissident Christians as well as clergy who have refused to join the state-sanctioned organization that controls faith.

I am not calling for a boycott of China-printed Bibles as this would be unrealistic and immature. But I do hope that when we read the words of God, we also pray to Him to bring a change in China.

Xiao Cao is the pseudonym of a China Church worker

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