China, as part of President Xi Jinping’s effort to promote “traditional” values, has further restricted Christianity by banning online Bible sales.
Despite Christianity being one of China’s major religions, Bible sales had been restricted only to church bookstores; a restriction that applied only to Christianity. However, growing online sales had opened up a loophole for Bible sales.
This move is in line with other government efforts to restrict outside influences. Previous regulations, passed in 2016, had placed greater scrutiny on religious group’s finances and instituted heavy fines for landlords who rented or provided spaces to non-authorized churches. These regulations also limited access to foreign religious writings.
According to a report in the New York Times, some of this could be related to talks between the Vatican and Chinese government over healing the rift between the state sponsored Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the burgeoning underground church movement.
“The moves also come as China is engaged in negotiations with the Vatican to end the split between the underground and government-run Catholic church. This would end a nearly 70-year split between the Chinese government and the global church, which Beijing traces to the Vatican’s historically strong anti-Communist stance.
Observers said the new measures could be a sign of a broader crackdown. At a news conference on Tuesday outlining Beijing’s approach, a government spokesman said the Vatican would never be allowed control over the clergy in China. That came after a recent government reorganization in which a hard-line Communist Party department took over management of religious policy.
“It sounds like the opposition force within the Chinese authorities who oppose the Vatican-China relations have their voice,” said Yang Fenggang, head of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University. “It clearly shows that they worry or are concerned about Catholics as well as Protestants.””
The government also controls an official Protestant Church, the Three Self Church. There is also an underground Protestant church that seeks to distance itself from state control. Chinese churches have also been subject to a concerted effort to demolish their buildings and remove crosses and other public displays of the faith.
According to a 2014 report in the Financial Times, there are over 100 million Christians in china, which exceeds membership in the Communist Party by nearly 20 million. It is estimated that by 2030, China will have more Christians than any other nation.