That's a question I hear quite a bit whenever I speak on China. People want to know about the availability of Bibles in China. Unfortunately many people still believe that owning a Bible is illegal in China, something that hasn't been true for decades. But as with most things in China, the issue of Bible availability is complicated.
Let's look first at the Bible as a printed book.
The main reason for the limited availability and distribution of the Bible is that it does not have an ISBN number. Without an ISBN number a book cannot be published or distributed in China.
However, the lack of an ISBN number doesn't mean that Bibles published and sold in China are done so illegally. It just means they can't be distributed "on the market."
In addition to books that are legally published for the market, various sectors of society are allowed to publish materials and resources for "internal use" (neibu). A neibu book or magazine can only be sold internally; it cannot be sold in stores. In China Bibles are neibu; they are published by the China Christian Council, the government sanctioned Protestant organization. As such, they can only be sold in churches. They are all printed at the Amity Press in Nanjjing, which, according to Christianity Today, is now the world's biggest Bible publisher.
This means that if you want to purchase a print Bible in China, the only place you can (legally) do so is at a Three-Self church or seminary. There was a time when those buying Bibles had to register, but that hasn't been the case for 20 years or so. At least in the big cities, most Three-Self churches have small bookstores where Bibles can be purchased.
However, the explosion of e-commerce in China has (unofficially) changed all that because Bibles are now readily available from online sources such as Taobao, China's largest e-commerce site and Duoban, an e-commerce/social networking site.
And this being the digital age, the Bible is now produced and distributed through various electronic media.
One popular medium, especially among older believers who may have trouble reading, is an electronic audio Bible machine. This is an mp3 player that often looks like a pocket transistor radio. It comes loaded with not only the Bible, but also hymns and sermons, and can be purchased in Christian book stores and on Taobao.
There are online versions available as well. One popular site is O-Bible which has multiple Chinese translations as versions in both traditional and simplified characters.
WeDevote is a application from Chinese Christian Internet Mission to spread the Word of God through mobile applications.
The function includes: Bible Reading, Reading Bible schedules, daily devotional reading, notes, and Scripture sharing, dictionary, commentaries, prayer, feedbacks etc.
Here is a list of other Chinese Bible apps that are popular.
In other words, if someone wants to get ahold of the Bible in China (print or electronic) these days, it's not particularly difficult.
Feature Photo Credit: Chinese Bible by Wesley Fryer, on Flickr
Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio