When one thinks of China, Christianity and the Bible are likely two of the furthest things that come to mind. "Communism," "forced abortions," one-child policy" and other terms are, more generally, what's the nation is known for. But now, a shocking new development has come to the forefront: China, a country that makes many products consumed in the U.S. and abroad, is now also the world's largest Bible producer.
Amity Printing Company is the only outfit in China that is permitted to produce Christian Bibles. While the Chinese government doesn't have the most stellar record when it comes to religious freedom, Amity Printing has been fast at work, with the company's chairman, Qiu Zhonghui, announcing that the business published its 100 millionth Bible in July.
According to a report by Christian Today, the Amity has printed 60 million Bibles, including nine ethnic minority editions in various languages. Additionally, 40 million copies were printed in more than 90 languages and sent to about 70 nations and regions across the globe. The outlet goes on to describe the Christian population in China and the expansion that has led to the nation's new designation as top Bible producer:
China has more than 16 million Christians today, the Xinhuanet report states, as well as 1,800 seminarians in 18 Bible schools. It also has 55,000 churches and gathering venues, 100,000 church volunteers and 36,000 missionaries.
But some believe the number of Christians in China is actually much higher than the country's government has said due to the large number of Christians who worship separately from churches run by the government. An article that appeared in the May 2011 issue of First Things magazine, and was written by social sciences professors, combines a number of different surveys to suggest that there may have been about 70 million Christians living in China in 2011.
In 2010, the UK-based Bible Society reported that the growth of the church in China was too rapid for the Bible publisher to keep up with. Christians living in rural areas, or those who don't belong to CCC/TSPM churches, are often forced to live their faith without the book.
Considering that the printing venture, a joint effort on the part of United Bible Societies and the Amity Foundation, started in 1988, this accomplishment is fascinating.
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Christianity Today (different from "Christian Today") notes that the Chinese government is welcoming this development, with spokesperson Guo Wei recently claiming that officials both respect and protect religious freedom. Wei also went on to say that the government "will continue to support printing and publishing Bibles in China."
The irony here is that Christian missionaries regularly smuggle Bibles into the nation -- an act that some experts claim is dangerous for both the individuals doing it and for locals. Considering author David Aikman's claim in an interview with Christianity Today that heavy government restrictions have been placed on Bibles (they are only available at government-registered church bookstores), it's understandable why some have tried to work around the system.
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Experts like Christina Graham, director of operations for East Gates International, a group that works to help with Bible distribution locally in China, say that working legally through the system is more effective. There are 70 sales outlets through which the Amity Bibles are available in the country -- outlets that Graham helps coordinate.
"We've found that working legally in China is far more effective in the long run," Graham told Christianity Today. "We've developed incredible relationships with both governmental officials and house-church believers because we choose to respect the religious policies in their country."
Amity Printing is based in Nanjing, China.