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.