Chinese Christians report that Bibles, already banned from physical bookstores, are now disappearing from online retailer websites. Amazon and JD.com say that they have been warned against the sale of Bibles as an “illegal publication”.
Local news sources report that, as of 1 April, single-word online searches for “Bible” have dropped to zero, raising concerns of a step up in repressive internet censorship targeting religious freedom.
These developments follow the release of a government White Paper on religion, rolling out policies aiming to reinterpret Christianity according to secular socialist views, in a process of “sinicisation” (i.e. making Chinese). A “five-year plan” outlines measures to enforce the selective interpretation of Scripture in such a way as to affirm and promote “the core values of socialism” within all Christian faith communities and forms of worship.
The printing and distribution of Bibles was allowed to resume in China in the early 1980s, following the end of the Cultural Revolution. They were approved for “internal distribution” and allowed to be purchased by anyone from state-registered churches. Although not officially approved for sale in non-church bookstores, over time, high street and online stores began to sell them. Authorities would occasionally stop high street stores from selling Bibles, but until now have not strictly regulated online retailers.
The new religion regulations imposed on Chinese Christians in February allow for religious organisations to compile and distribute religious publications, but not for “public distribution”. The latest crackdown appears to be an effort to enforce these restrictions across China.
The Communist government recognises only state-registered Protestant and Roman Catholic churches, officially admitting to the existence of around 22 million Christians, although there may be as many as 100 million Christians when figures for “underground” churches are included. It is predicted that, by 2030, there could be over 160 million Chinese Christians across all denominations.