In an intensifying crackdown on Christianity and religious freedom, the Chinese regime is now banning sales of the Bible, leading online retailers across China to pull it and other Christian books from their stores.
It was reported on April 3 that Chinese Christians had noticed that all the online bookstores accessible from within mainland China had removed the Bible from sales. These include Chinese e-commerce sites like Alibaba’s Taobao, JD.com, and DangDang.com, along with Amazon’s local site in China.
A number of online sellers on these sites told the BBC that earlier in March they received “instruction” from the Cyberspace Administration of China, the regime’s internet censorship bureau, to remove sale listings of the Bible and other Christian materials before March 30.
While censorship instruction usually does not come in the form of a legal order, failure to comply would mean only one thing. “If you can’t follow what such instruction wanted you to do, your [online] shop will be gone soon,” one online seller told the BBC.
On Weibo, China’s most popular Twitter-like microblogging site, the keyword search for “Bible” spiked on March 31, followed by a sharp decrease to zero on April 1, which raised suspicions that Weibo had censored the keyword on the regime’s order.
In China, physical bookstores have never sold the printed Bible, because the Bible itself has never been officially approved by the Chinese regime for publication. Instead, Chinese Christians have to purchase their holy book from state-sanctioned churches, which are institutionally controlled by the Chinese regime. Even there, the sale of the Bible in churches is strictly controlled and monitored and can be made unavailable from time to time according to the regime’s whim.
The ban came in the same week that the Chinese regime’s State Council issued a new white paper pledged to “respect and protect its citizens’ freedom of religious belief.” Few international observers take the regime’s promise of religious freedom seriously, and the new white paper provides grounds for this skepticism. It says that religious freedom is based on “national and religious conditions” and that religions should “adapt themselves to the socialist society.”
The ban also occurred while the Chinese regime and the Vatican are said to be close to reaching a deal on resuming diplomatic relations. A delegation of Chinese Catholic representatives controlled by the Chinese regime visited the Holy See the week of March 27 to discuss the deal, although the Vatican declined to confirm the visit.
The Vatican and the People’s Republic of China have had no diplomatic relations since 1951, as the Chinese regime has always insisted that all bishops in mainland China should be appointed by the Party. Unlike all previous popes, who had rejected such an arrangement, Pope Francis has caved to the Chinese regime and is reportedly ready to accept a deal on Beijing’s terms.
The Chinese regime’s persecution of Christians has dramatically intensified since 2014 amid official rhetoric on the threat of “Western” values and the need to “Sinicize” religions, according to a 2017 Freedom House report.
The Epoch Times reported in recent months on the Chinese police using explosives to demolish a major underground church and installing surveillance cameras at state-sanctioned churches to spy on Christians during Christmas celebrations.