Macartney, J. (2007). The book they used to burn now fires new revolution of faith in China. Times Online. December 8, 2007. Available online: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article3019026.ece.
Amity Printing, which has a monopoly on legal printing of the Bible in China, is expanding its facilities to keep up with increased purchases:
Demand for the Bible is soaring in China, at a time when meteoric economic growth is testing the countryâ€™s allegiance to Communist doctrine. Today the 50 millionth Bible will roll off the presses of Chinaâ€™s only authorised publisher, Amity Printing, amid public fanfare and celebration.
In the past, foreign visitors were discouraged from bringing Bibles into the country in case they received some heavy-handed treatment from zealous Customs officials.
Such is the demand in China for Bibles that Amity Printing can scarcely keep pace. Early next year it will move into a new, much larger factory on the edge of the eastern city of Nanjing to become the worldâ€™s single-biggest producer of Bibles.
Most Bibles are for the internal domestic marketing, and are printed both in Chinese characters and minority languages. The hottest selling bibles are small-print, and thus target young adults
New Zealander Peter Dean, of the United Bible Societies, bustles between the humming state-of-the-art presses. Mr Dean, who has been in China at Amity since 1991, said: â€œThis platform has been built as a blessing to the nation. It will print Bibles for China for as long as it takes to do it.â€ Authorities at the officially approved Protestant and Catholic churches put the size of Chinaâ€™s Christian population at about 30 million. But that does not include the tens of millions more who worship in private at underground churches loyal to the Vatican or to various Protestant churches.
Of the 50 million Bibles Amity has printed, 41 million were for the faithful in Chinese and eight minority languages. The rest have been for export to Russia and Africa. Sales surged from 505,000 in 1988 to a high of 6.5 million in 2005. Output last year was 3.5 million and is expected to rise in 2007.
One of Mr Deanâ€™s bestsellers is a pocket Bible, a version not suitable for the older generation to read and which may indicate a rapid expansion in the number of new, younger believers. He cited a surge in demand during the Sars crisis in 2003, but refrained from commenting. The enterprise has clearly flourished through its discretion and careful adherence to Chinaâ€™s laws that prohibit evangelizing.
Religious freedom is still lacking in China, and the rest of the article describes some of the obstacles Christians face in the country. Yet a paragrpah later in the article provides hope for the faith, too:
Then they are finding that they need to satisfy their spiritual needs, to look for happiness for the soul. In addition, they are seeing a breakdown in the moral order as money takes over. Thus, more and more people are turning to Christianity.â€
Christianity is old in China — one of the patriarchs of the Assyrian Church of the East (Mar Yaballaha III) was even a Beijinger. Yet for the first time, Chinese christians can easily communicate with the rest of the faith, and the Chinese people are no longer forced between emperor worship and local superstitions.
If the 21st century becomes a Christian Century, a big part of the reason why will be because of China.