From airplanes to cow brains to part-time boyfriends, you can buy pretty much anything online in China.
China cracks down on online Bible selling
But the world’s best-selling book no longer makes the cut.
The Bible is no longer available on China’s two biggest e-commerce sites, Taobao and JD.com. Taobao is owned by Alibaba, which also owns Inkstone.
Bibles also do not appear on Dang Dang and Amazon.cn, two more popular e-commerce sites.
For now, online shoppers can still buy other Christian books, including story books and Bible study books.
“This probably started from March 30,” a source at a Chinese publishing house tells Inkstone. “Some shops on Taobao [selling Christian books] were permanently banned.”
Both Taobao and JD.com have not responded to requests for comment.
The source told Inkstone that Christian bookstores are subject to regular inspections from the Ministry of Culture. But one Christian bookstore in Beijing was inspected on Tuesday and officials warned that “foreign” books – Christian books published outside of China – could no longer be sold.
The Chinese state makes a clear distinction between Protestantism and Catholicism, and these latest moves appear to be targeting the former.
Meanwhile, Beijing and the Vatican are said to be close to sealing an agreement which may pave the way to normalizing relations that have been frozen for nearly seven decades.
The publication and distribution of the Bible is tightly controlled by the Chinese government.
The Bible is only available at points of sale under the China Christian Council (CCC) and the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches (TSPM), the two government-sanctioned bodies overseeing Protestant churches in the country.
For Catholics, the Studium Biblicum Chinese-language translation of the Bible is used. It is published and distributed by the Beijing-recognized Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China.
The Bible has long been categorized as “for internal distribution,” meaning that it cannot be widely sold.
But for years, the authorities appear to have looked the other way, and Bibles were easily bought online.
“[The ban on online sale] was not enforced strictly before,” says Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the Divinity School of Chung Chi College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
According to Ying, only the China Christian Council is authorized to publish Bibles in mainland China.
Other Christian books, including those published by the CCC and TSPM, are also classified as “for internal distribution.”
Religion and the internet
Ying believes the tightened controls over the online sale of Christian books are part of a state strategy to tackle the quick spread of Christianity through the internet.
In April 2016, during a top-level conference on religion in China, President Xi Jinping talked about the need to manage the internet in order to regulate religions in the country.
“We have to attach great importance to the problem of ‘internet religion’. We have to promote the religious theories and policies of the Party on the internet,” Xi said.
There are about 38 million Protestants in China, according to the latest official data: the number has risen by about 65 percent from eight years ago.
Academic estimates place the number of Protestants at up to 100 million in 2018. There are about 10 million Catholics in the country.
Even though freedom of religious belief is enshrined in the Chinese constitution, organized faiths are strictly controlled by the state.
The Chinese government eyes the rise of Christianity with suspicion, as it believes that Christianity could be a vehicle to spread subversive “Western values.”
The state has been cracking down on the religion in recent years.
The campaign, which started in 2014, has been most noticeable in the southeastern province of Zhejiang.
Up to early 2016, government officials removed around 1,800 crosses from Protestant churches in Zhejiang, according to Christian advocacy group China Aid.