I recently bought a new Bible at my local Christian book store. I wanted to have something less bulky than my old study Bibles — something convenient in size for taking to church. Plus, the version I had been using was different from the version usually read in church, so looked for something in the right size, right translation, and hopefully in the right price range.
What I found fit all my requirements. Or so I thought at the time. It came in a sealed paper and plastic package that prevented me from leafing through it before I purchased it, but the outside of the package showed a sample of the actual print size, and it looked fine to me.
After opening it, my first use of it was to look up Scripture verses in church. During my daily Bible reading I had been reading through the Complete Jewish Bible by David H. Stern. But when I finished Revelation I decided to start my next read-through at Genesis in my new Bible. That’s when I decided to read the stuff that precedes “In the beginning” — you know, the table of contents, the preface, etc.
That’s when I saw it… “Printed in China”. I was stunned. At first I was exasperated at the very idea that almost everything we buy nowadays is made in China. Then I thought about it some more. “Wait,” I thought. “Isn’t it illegal to print Bibles in China?”
I did a search for “bibles printed in China” and found articles like this one which I found eye-opening:
First off, China is the world’s largest producer of Bibles. That in itself isn’t earth-shattering. After all, China’s population is the largest in the world, and the last I heard, China was responsible for half of all manufacturing in the world. But most of the Bibles China prints is for distribution outside China. Now, that’s interesting.
Another interesting factoid is that the only place where Bibles may be legally sold in China is at the officially approved churches. But Christians in rural areas are unable to buy Bibles. Outside those approved churches, Bibles are not otherwise made available to the general public. And under the repressive Communist regime, bulk purchases for groups of believers are not done. The government wants all Christians “registered”. So, in China, Bible ownership is kind of like gun ownership is in the U.S. Most Chinese Christians belong to unregistered churches and are unable to obtain Bibles, short of a small number smuggled into the country.
Something else that might make you go “Hmmm…” is the fact that only one publisher is legally approved to print and distribute Bibles in all of China — Amity Press. So, what’s up with my new Bible? It wasn’t published by Amity. It was published by Crossway, whose address is in Wheaton, Illinois. Does Crossway have a sweetheart deal with Amity? Or does China allow other printers to print Bibles in China as long as those Bibles are only intended for distribution outside China?
This situation is a moral outrage on two levels. First of all, that the Chinese enterprise of printing Bibles — the largest in the world — is specifically designed to keep Bibles out of the hands of some Christians, and secondly, that unwitting Christians all over the world — mostly in America — are underwriting this injustice. Not only people like me who are buying these Bibles, but bookstores, distributors and especially the publishers themselves are culpable for their financial support of China’s repressive system.
Is this just business as usual? Is this just a blip on the screen in the otherwise rosy picture of the global economy? I for one don’t think so. I don’t like it, and I don’t think Christians anywhere should put up with it. Before I read “Printed in China”, I simply wasn’t aware. But now, I want to see where my Bible or Christian book is printed before I buy it. The next time you’re shopping for a Bible or any Christian printed material, check to see where it was printed. If it says, “Printed in China” don’t buy it. If you’re shopping on line and can’t look yourself, ask the vender before you shell out your money.
If “Printed in China” is a moral outrage to you, then please join the Bible boycott. Contact the venders and publishers you deal with and let them know that since you’re free to buy a Bible, all the people in China should be free to do the same. A government that restricts Bible distribution does not deserve any financial support of its economy from Christians. Until China changes its church registration and Bible sales laws, boycott their Bibles!