Further restrictions on online Bible sales as Chinese government cracks down on independent merchants

5 February 2021

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The Chinese government is continuing its crackdown on the sale of Bibles, a Barnabas contact reports, with further restrictions limiting the availability of Bibles and other Christian books from online retailers and bookshops.

Since early in 2021, Christians in China have noticed that it has become almost impossible to buy Bibles and Christian books via Taobao.com, China’s largest online retailer.

A copy of an English-Chinese Bible: New Revised Standard Version and Chinese Union Version

The Chinese government first began blocking the online sales of Bibles in April 2018 and the majority of Bibles and Christian literature were removed from sale on Amazon and JD.com. However, independent merchants using the popular Taobao.com platform are now also being forced to withdraw all Christian books from sale.

“Now it is extremely dangerous for both buyers and sellers to get involved in this business, so you barely find these [Christian] books on Taobao,” said the contact.

In physical bookshops still selling Bibles, the contact reports that customers are now required to provide their names and contact details in order to purchase a Bible, while in others Bibles have completely vanished from bookshelves.

A group of Christians in south-west China were interrogated by government officials in January this year after purchasing a number of Bibles from a bookshop. Also in January, the Christian owner of a bookshop in northern China was similarly questioned for stocking Christian books that were published in Hong Kong.

Buying Bibles viewed as “suspicious behaviour”

The contact explained that authorities view taking an interest in the Bible, and especially buying more than one, as “suspicious behaviour”. This is because the government and most Chinese people “perceive Christianity as a foreign religion”, and see limiting access to Bibles as a way to “wipe out Western influence”.

“A Christian is allowed to keep only one Bible. However, religious study scholars are allowed to have several different versions of the Bible. But they need to show their staff ID cards to buy them,” added the contact.

In December 2020, five Christians were prosecuted by Chinese authorities in Shenzhen for selling audio versions of the Bible as part of the Chinese government’s ongoing policy to eradicate “illegal publications”. The clampdown on online Bible sales on Amazon and JD.com in 2018 followed soon after a government White Paper on religion launched policies aiming to reinterpret Christianity according to "the core values ​​of socialism”, in a process of “sinicisation” (i.e. making Chinese) within all Christian faith communities and forms of worship.

From Barnabas Fund contacts

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