Beginning April 2018, the Chinese government banned the sale of Bibles and other religious materials that are not sanctioned by the regime and started closing down stores that sell them. Since then, people of faith can purchase religious texts only from state-run organizations, while censorship measures are tightened on religious texts as part of the nationwide campaign to “eradicate pornography and illegal publications.”
Religious books from abroad, magazines and hymn books published by printing houses that are not approved by the state, even gospel leaflets have been included on the list of materials to be confiscated, people banned from having them under the threat of punishment.
In October, a “house church” preacher was investigated by the police for having purchased online a Christian book published by a US publishing house three years ago. He was treated as a criminal: “police officers took photos of him and collected his fingerprints.” Not only his book was confiscated, but data on his cell phone was inspected as well. The preacher was warned not to buy religious materials that are not approved by the state.
“The police tracked him down by investigating his activities online. Such monitoring of citizens’ purchases on the internet is widespread in China,” a government source explained.
A couple from the prefecture-level city of Taizhou in the eastern province of Zhejiang were arrested by the local police in September, accused of selling religious literature imported from Hong Kong, Taiwan, the United States, and other countries.
According to a government insider, after the arrest, public security officers tracked down each buyer throughout the country the couple had sold religious materials to. They confiscated all books and talked to every buyer to collect information for further investigations. Even people who live in other provinces, like Henan, and purchased books from the couple two years ago were brought in for interrogation.
“These were regular books on religion, published by publishing houses or organizations abroad, for example, A Kernel of Wheat Christian Ministries in the United States. But they are the cause of investigations and are confiscated. Since last year, the regime has been intensifying its control over people’s faith, banning non-government-approved publications of various religions, including Christianity, Islam, and others. They are even revising the Bible. No books will soon be able to reach mainland China,” a house church preacher said worriedly.
Under the CCP’s high-pressure policy, religious periodicals are also struggling to survive. An editor of a religious magazine who required anonymity said that launching a religious publication is now considered a serious crime in China. “Only those censored by the government are allowed. Even then, many issues are banned from their pages, like cases of removal of crosses from churches. Since Xi Jinping took power, the government’s control over this field has intensified colossally,” the editor added.
Pressured by the government, many publications have been discontinued. The Spring Rain News, a newspaper founded by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in October 2014, was targeted during a nationwide campaign last year that resulted in its closure and arrests of subscribers.
The Catholic newspaper “Breeze”, published by the Ningjin Diocese in the northern province of Hebei, was forced to cease publication in October 2018. Primarily distributed among members of congregations in the diocese, each issue had a circulation of around 10,000 copies.
“The Ark” was founded in 1994 by a Three-Self church in Nanping, a city in the southeastern province of Fujian. Initially, the newspaper was distributed in the Yanping district of Nanping, with a circulation of about 1,000 copies. Later on, the readership increased to over 100,000 copies, and it was disseminated in over 20 provinces and cities.
The newspaper was issued all necessary government permits. Regardless, in 2015, the authorities ordered the newspaper to be discontinued, claiming that it was “an illegal publication” and “its circulation too high.” Officials even threatened to arrest the pastoral staff if their orders were ignored.