Under stiffening laws, printing houses are threatened with fines for publishing anything religion-related. Mailing or buying religious books is prohibited, too.
by Gu Qi
Religious materials banned as pornography
A house church preacher from the southeastern province of Fujian found himself in a difficult situation recently when he came to a print shop to order 170 commemorative albums for an anniversary of his church. Planned as a gift to fellow believers in the church community, the publication was not intended for wide distribution. The person in charge at the shop told him that he could not process his order because the album’s religious content was too obvious. To print it, he had to change its religious-themed cover and remove all images of the cross and references to the Bible in the album’s text.
The man at the shop told the preacher to go to the local Bureau of Culture to apply for a permit to have his album printed. But he knew very well that under the current religious policies, obtaining such approval was merely wishful thinking. He also mentioned that government officials have been conducting frequent inspections of printing companies, publishing houses, newspapers, and magazines to warn them not to print any religion-related materials; if someone asks them to, they must report each instance to the local Religious Affairs Bureau.
After the preacher was turned down by multiple print shops, he had no choice but to remove all religious content from the commemorative album to have it printed.
The control of printed materials has intensified significantly since the beginning of the year when provinces throughout China started implementing CCP’s campaign to “eradicate pornography and illegal publications.” The drive is aimed at suppressing all “publications and information that weaken, distort, or negate the Party’s leadership or China’s Socialist system.” The measures are implemented through the control of printing and copying services, online sales platforms, wholesale markets for publications, postal and logistics services, and alike.
Documents revealed by Bitter Winter confirm that the authorities are using the pretext of “eradicating pornography and illegal publications” to censor information, including religion-related materials.
“When policies call for strict measures over religion, every aspect is tightly controlled. This is occurring nationwide. It is the same for Buddhism and Taoism,” the preacher commented on CCP’s censorship campaign. “In fact, it has always been like this. Even if we plan to do something small and simple, the government will first ask whose plan was this and then will try to find out if somebody ‘behind the scenes’ is financing it. They will also want to know if more than 100 people participate, suspecting that they have other aims. The government will think of many obstacles because it is afraid that we will practice our faith.”
Sales of Bibles and other religious texts strictly controlled
Last December, the person in charge of a house church in the southeastern province of Jiangxi ordered 20 Bibles by mail from a place of worship in another province. Shortly afterward, authorities tracked down the believer who has shipped the Bibles and confiscated all of them.
“We received news that the government is revising the Bible, so we’ve tried to do everything possible to collect and store the original version,” the person in charge of the church said. He worries that believers will be led astray after the CCP alters the Bible.
A Three-Self believer from the central province of Hunan who wished to remain anonymous told Bitter Winter that she was questioned by government officials last December after going online twice to purchase religious books for her church.
“The officials said the quantity that I purchased was too large and questioned me about whether I was in contact with foreign countries. They also said that I would become a key target of surveillance,” the believer said, still not understanding why she was investigated merely for buying some ordinary religious books.
Religious books disappear from public places
On July 9, a Three-Self Gospel Church in Fujian Province’s Nanping city received an advance administrative penalty notice penalizing its library for violating the Regulations on the Administration of Publications because the church didn’t have a “publication business license.” Fifteen publications were confiscated, and a 10,000 RMB (around $ 1,400) fine was imposed. It turned out that the penalty was rendered because the church bought Bibles from an online store in February.
In October last year, the China Buddhist Association chapter in Youxi county, under the jurisdiction of Fujian’s Sanming city, ordered to make sure that Buddhist books are not brought to China from abroad. Inspection teams are to perform random, unannounced checks of public places to look for Buddhist materials without official publication registration numbers and impose disciplinary penalties if any are found.
An official from the local Bureau of Culture and Broadcasting told Bitter Winter that religious books are controlled very strictly now, and each government department conducts frequent inspections of public venues, including bookstores and hotels. “As soon as illegal publications of political nature are discovered, punishment will be imposed,” he said.
In January, Bureau’s officials confiscated Buddhist books that were displayed in the lobby of a Youxi county hotel because the books were “non-formally published.” Afraid of being fined, a Buddhist temple in the area removed most of the religious books from public display, leaving fewer than ten texts on its bookshelf.
A Three-Self Church pastor form Youxi county revealed that since August last year, personnel from the city- and county-level United Front Work Department, Religious Affairs Bureau, and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference have come to inspect his church seven or eight times.