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A search on China’s online retail giant Taobao can help you find items you didn’t think you needed. You can find a snack bowl with grooves to hold your iPhone, a rain poncho that covers two people and a scooter, or a laser-beam taillight for your bike that projects emojis onto the road.
One thing you can no longer find on Taobao: the Bible, the holy Word of God.
Starting in late March, major online retailers including JD.com, Dangdang, and Amazon.cn stopped offering Bibles for sale, although children’s Bibles, theological books, and Bible concordances remained. Technically, Bibles in China are allowed to be sold only in government-sanctioned churches, yet the authorities never enforced that rule strictly, and Bibles could easily be found online as well as in Christian bookstores.
In the first week of April, though, a government official inspected a Beijing Christian bookstore and informed the owner that books with foreign ISBN numbers could no longer be sold, according to Hong Kong’s Inkstone news website. Many Christian books are translated into Chinese in Hong Kong and Taiwan and sold in Christian bookstores in mainland China. Some Chinese Christians speculate that the government may target Bible apps next, which would make the Biblical text even more difficult to obtain.
As news of the Bible sales ban emerged, China’s government released a white paper claiming the Chinese Communist Party exercises authority over religion in order to keep “Western” religions like Christianity from being “controlled and utilized by colonialists and imperialists.” It also claimed that 200 million people in China practice religion, with 38 million Protestants. (Church leaders believe the actual number of Christians to be much greater, since many worship in unregistered house churches.)
President Xi Jinping insists on the “Sinicization of Christianity,” an effort to transform Christianity into a belief system that “aligns with the core values of socialism and so-called Chinese characteristics,” according to U.S.-based ChinaAid.
In a recent web post on that subject, Chengdu pastor Wang Yi argued that Buddhism (originating in India) was able to transform from a foreign religion to a “Chinese” religion by mixing with traditional Confucianism and Taoism. In order for Christianity to become “Chinese,” it too would have to mix with traditional religions, contradicting the exclusivity of the gospel.
Drawing from the Biblical book of Acts, Wang noted that the early church faced both outward threats from Rome and the inward threat of mixing Christianity with Jewish culture, such as by requiring circumcision for Gentile believers. “This is why Paul continually urged that Christ’s death and resurrection was the sole foundation of the church,” Wang wrote. Throughout history, believers have had to take care not to mix Christianity with local cultural beliefs.
The Communist government’s urge to mix Christianity with Chinese culture is a threat to the church, Wang concluded: “Only when the gospel dies to and is resurrected from the bondage and limitations of culture can Christianity truly be established in that culture.”