After an online Christian bookstore owner was arrested, buyers were traced and investigated all over China as part of CCP’s drive against “illegal publications.”
by Sun Kairui
As reported by ChinaAid, on September 1, 2019, the owner of Wheat Bookstore, an online Christian bookseller, was taken into custody for selling religious publications from Taiwan, the United States, and other countries that were not approved by the state. Following the arrest, a nationwide investigation was launched to track down the people who had bought these publications.
A Christian who requested anonymity told Bitter Winter that believers from as far as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the northwest and Liaoning Province in the northeast of the country were interrogated for purchasing books on Wheat Bookstore. All the books, the majority published by A Kernel of Wheat Christian Ministries in the United States, were confiscated. “A believer in Liaoning has been summoned by the local Public Security Bureau three times, and police officers told him that Wheat Bookstore is ‘an anti-China force,’” the Christian said.
Christians from Shandong, Henan, and Zhejiang provinces reported to Bitter Winter that the police searched their homes and inspected the content of their phones because they had purchased religious materials from Wheat Bookstore, even if it happened two years ago.
“I told them I could deliver the books to the police station, but they insisted on coming to my house and searching it,” one of the sources recalled. All his religious books that have not been approved by the government were taken away.
The majority of believers we talked to said that the police were especially interested to know how they had come to know Wheat Bookstore and why they purchased the books and if they had lent them to others. Officers were also eager to learn more about their faith and that of their family members.
“The government rigorously investigates this matter,” a public security insider told Bitter Winter. “It’s better not to admit that you have shown the books to others. The government might think that you are doing missionary work, and you will be treated as a person involved in ‘infiltration activities.’ It will become very serious then.”
Throughout last year, the CCP continued intensifying efforts to track down and eliminate printing and distribution networks of religious materials that are not sanctioned by the state. All foreign religious publications and those that are not approved by relevant government institutions are banned and are investigated as part of the nationwide campaign to “eradicate pornography and illegal publications.”
A Christian from Henan Province said that she likes to read religious books from abroad because they are not censored by the government and present a different view from the publications prepared or adapted by the CCP. She feels sad that it won’t be possible to access religious books from abroad anymore.
“The persecution is getting more and more severe after the Wheat Bookstore incident,” a house church co-worker told Bitter Winter. “Our pastors and church elders have disposed of their non-approved religious books, afraid that the government will accuse them of smuggling or being a xie jiao member. One can be imprisoned for this.”
In October 2019, the police came to arrest a house church co-worker, who has purchased some religious books, to a gathering in Liaoning’s Shenyang city. Fearing that the authorities will further persecute them, the congregation decided to change their meeting venue. They were still tracked down, and the police searched a pastor’s house the next month and found some religious books that were not approved by the government. The pastor was listed as a target of the campaign to “eradicate pornography and illegal publications.”
“If you buy one or two copies, the authorities might be lenient. But if you buy more, you’ll be in trouble. China is regressing to the times of the Cultural Revolution,” a co-worker in a Zhejiang house church commented on China’s war against religious publications.
A Christian from the same province explained that ever since the state investigated him for purchasing religious books, he has become extremely cautious. Fearing that his phone is monitored, he has deleted all mobile applications and contacts related to religion and withdrew from Christian social networking groups.