Common Questions About Christianity in China

Religion in China, and especially Christianity in China is one of the topics I am asked about most frequently when I return to the States. People ask if there are Bibles here, or if I worry about my safety because I work for a Christian organization, or if it is even legal to believe in God.

The confusion is understandable, China was an enemy of the US for about 30 years, during a time of considerable propaganda efforts and fear mongering. So today we are going to begin a series on Christianity in China, and then look at religion in general as it exists in modern China.

Are there Bibles in China?

Believe it or not, China has plenty of Bibles. The Amity Printing Press handles all of the orders placed by the China Christian Council (CCC). The press was established in 1985 and to date has printed over 80 million Bibles. These are distributed to the provincial offices, and are then passed on to local churches. The Bibles are complete and accurate translations, but the language used is similar to the King James version of the Bible (it’s a little difficult for new Christians to understand). I have been using an Amity Bible for the past 4 years, and have never found any of the scripture to have been changed or deleted (nor are there extra verses extolling the wonders of the Communist Party). These Bibles are sold cheaply to Chinese Christians because the paper is subsidized by the United Bible Society (around $1).

This rumor that there are no Bibles in China has been propagated mostly by evangelical Christian groups that do not co-operate with the CCC. Since they do not trust the Amity copies of the Bible, they often smuggle Bibles in from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Because these groups are operating outside of the legal framework the Bibles are considered illegal. Underground churches who accept these Bibles in large quantities have had some problems with the police, but I have not heard of any individuals punished for accepting a single copy.

Is it legal to believe in God?

Yes. There are several regulations about which churches you can attend, and what practices you can be involved in, but there are no laws requiring that you denounce religion and embrace the state ideology of atheism, unless you want to join the Party.

There is though an important distinction between freedom of belief, and freedom of religion (meaning the freedom to practice it publicly).

Are Christians safe in china?

Yes*. As a foreigner working for a registered Christian charity, there is very little risk that anything will happen to me if I am following the laws (we’ll look at those tomorrow). For foreigners who don’t follow the laws, they lose their visas, and that’s about it.

*Assuming that the church the person belongs to is registered with the CCC.

That happens to be a very important asterisk. Up to April 2011 I would have told you that for the most part house churches/underground churches (these terms are used for any unregistered church) are tolerated in China, even though they are operating outside of the system. This changed though when there were whispers of revolution inspired by the events in the Middle East. One of the largest of these unregistered churches was the Shouwang church in Beijing, that was shut down shortly before Easter this year.

Tomorrow we’ll be continuing our look at religion in China.

25 responses to “Common Questions About Christianity in China”

  1. Tim says:

    Good topic. As always, I’m paying attention, but this one’s near and dear to my heart.

    • Tom says:

      Thanks Tim. I have a feeling this’ll be a popular one. There are always so many questions about religion in China, and it’s not an easy topic.

  2. Sharon says:

    I appreciate this information. I have always wondered if I was hearing the “real” story about religion in China. Thanks for your blog…I am enjoying it and the comments.

  3. Joel says:

    I’m following this one, too. It’s so hard to answer questions about this topic, because the authorities are so drastically inconsistent. People always ask, “Does X happen in China?” The answer is almost always, “Yes, in some places, at some times. And no, in other places, at the same time.” As we were told during our orientation: there are many chinas.

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    This story was submitted to Hao Hao Report – a collection of China’s best stories and blog posts. If you like this story, be sure to go vote for it….

  5. Chassit says:

    It might be worth of a mention that Christianity is not quite the same as it is elsewhere. My feeling is that it’s been quite heavily affected by the pragmatism from the mixture of Taoism (the religion) and left-over of some folklore belief. There’s a heavy tendency of “do this, this, this to get this favor from the God in return” among Chinese believers. Actually believing in the God and attending sermons are rendered merely a tool to get the divine favor, which curiously in China is not supposed to be only happening “after life”. The similar problem is also plaguing Buddhism, which is in probably far worse shape than Christianity is.
    Islamic religion currently is kept in relatively “pure” form thanks to the closed society and ethnic factors. The problem of this, however, is that the religion is super hard to spread.

    • Tom says:

      I would agree somewhat with what you are saying. There are some churches in China that have mixed somewhat with local traditions. The majority though remain more or less stuck in the state they were in when the missionaries left China in the 1950’s. I would argue that the concern for most Chinese Christians is trying to get it right (which I’ll talk more about in a later post).

  6. Mike G says:

    Awesome post! I’ll pass it around so some of my friends back home can see the reality.

  7. I think there is a mistake in your article. A state can’t really believe in atheism since atheism is an absence of belief.

  8. Darryl Snow says:

    I think it could also be said that many Christians in China may not be as fanatical as those in other countries as there is definitely an element of “Western Fashion” to it… in the same way that many Eastern religions become trendy in the West. I’ve met quite a few Chinese people who claim to be Christians but couldn’t tell me any of the tales or legends about jesus or why they chose to believe they were real.

    • Tom says:

      I’ve also met thousands of devout Chinese Christians in areas where no foreigners live…so in some of the cities, sure a few college students are doing it to be cool, but it would be a tiny percentage of the total.

  9. […] Read the original here: Common Questions… […]

  10. Michael Hsieh says:

    Thank you Tom, I hope your work is bearing lots of fruit, God is doing wonderful things in China!

  11. Harland says:

    What’s wrong with promoting atheism? A rational, science-based government sounds great, compared to the fundie tools in America.

  12. […] week we looked at many of the misunderstandings about Christianity in China (1, 2,3, 4), so today I thought we would wrap up by looking at mission in China just before the fall […]

  13. Kyle F says:

    You were in ZG Briefs again? Way to go Tom!

  14. […] Common questions about Christianity in China […]

  15. Tina Marie says:

    Do you know anything specific that China has done since April 2011 that shows China is not tolerating unregestered Christian Churches?

  16. […] of Religious Affairs. After spending an hour or so listening to a presentation about how harmonious and free the religious peoples of China are, we were led to a nearby restaurant. This restaurant happened to be the former resident of a Qing […]

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