Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Word on the Chinese Bible

According to a recent article on, a publishing company specializing in printing Chinese Bibles has produced 41 million copies in the last 20 years, and the total is growing every year as the number of Christians grows in China.

Amity Printing, which prints at a factory outside of the old Chinese Nationalist Party capital of Nanjing, is set to produce 3 million Bibles in the coming year, and the company is planning to expand into a 515,000-square-foot facility, according to the report.

Austin Ramzy, the author of the article and a contributor to Time's China Blog, which I follow, asks a variety of experts to estimate the number of Christians in China, a task that's next to impossible given the government restrictions on churches.

One thing they did all agree on is that the numbers, however difficult to calculate accurately, are getting larger.

An interesting nugget that Ramzy doesn't mention is which translation of the Bible Amity is producing. The standard, government-approved version is called the Chinese Union Version, a rigid, high-brow translation published in 1909, which some say even most university students have a hard time understanding. Since Ramzy mentions that Amity's operations are entirely legal, meaning that they're distributed through government-sanctioned three-self churches, I have to assume that the Union Version (known as the he he ben) is what's being churned out.

Although there are other translations in the works that I've never heard about, I've come in contact with the New Chinese Version, the xin yi ben, on trips to China. I don't think it's quite as colloquial as "The Message," but university students have responded to much better to it than the CUV in my experience. Click here for a more extensive description of Chinese Bible translations.

As with everything else in China, a strange paradox is that the Chinese factory can produce and export Bibles (Amity has the sole license, according to some reports), but people can't bring more than just their own into the country. Word on the street is that a new rule is in place to combat Bible trafficking leading up to the Olympics. Tourists coming into China can only carry one Bible for personal use, not backpacks-full for "distribution or propaganda."

On the official site of the Olympics, the travel page "recommends" that foreigners bring no more than one Bible into the country, and officials galore have made comments expressing the idea that they won't be suppressing any foreigners' religious freedom during the games.

On the other side, Christian soldiers from all over the world are gearing up for what they see as a 16-day evangelical siege on the Chinese capital. Web sites touting plans to reach China during the Games are making missionaries all over the Middle Country cringe. If they struggle to reach their communities while living there, what good will haphazard Americans do on a two-week tract-bombing mission? Newcomers shouldn't think that the Chinese government won't be prepared. They read the Internet (Hello, Big Brother!) and they won't be playing nice. But then again, your biggest risk is probably a light beating or deportation, and if you're looking to make a splash, that's one way to do it.

In all this chaos, one thing is for sure: Next year, people will actually watch the Olympics for once. Let the games begin.

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