In 2014 I wrote a blog post titled “Where Can Someone Get a Bible in China?” Given that much has changed in China since that time I thought it would be good to revisit the question. As you can imagine, some things have changed, and some things haven’t.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the misunderstanding about the legality of the Bible that continues to persist. What I wrote in 2014 remains true today:
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.
What I wrote by way of background on the printed version of the Bible is also still applicable:
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 neibubook or magazine can only be sold internally; it cannot be sold in stores. In China Bibles are neibu. Amity Press in Nanjjing publishes and prints all of the Bibles sold in China and, according toChristianity Today, is now the world’s biggest Bible printer.
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 many years. At least in the big cities, Three-Self churches have small bookstores where Bibles can be purchased.
If you are in Shanghai, there is a large bookstore at the headquarters of the China Christian Council where a wide variety Bibles and Christian books are sold. It’s definitely worth a visit.
In 2014, despite the regulations limiting the sale of neibu books, Bibles were being sold on popular e-commerce sites such as Taobao and Duoban. However, this changed in the spring of 2018, when the government banned the sale of Bibles on these platforms. It was already technically illegal, but had been tolerated and the ban unenforced; the order now was to enforce the ban. Bibles disappeared from these sites, meaning that once again, the only legal distribution channel is through registered churches.
In 2014, Taobao was selling an electronic Bible player, something that is especially popular among older believers who may have trouble reading. These are essentially mp3 or mp4 players that look like pocket transistor radios. They come loaded with not only the Bible, but also hymns and sermons. A recent search on Taobao showed that these are still being sold. There are both Protestant and Catholic versions available.
Electronic versions of the Bible are also available. The website of the China Christian Council/Three-self Church provides access to the Bible in three formats: a downloadable version, a Bible app, and one that can be read online.
It’s important to note that there have been occasional access problems for WeDevote over the past year. As June Cheng wrote in a piece for World Magazine in September 2019, once the app reached the 10 million downloads milestone, internet censors got nervous and started restricting its availability. Since then, however, the proprietors of the app continue to play a cat and mouse game with the authorities and despite recent difficulties, it remains popular.
In sum, while getting Bibles has become more difficult since 2014, printed ones are still sold in registered churches and electronic versions remain available.
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 of Northwestern-St. Paul …View Full Bio
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