A U.S.-based Christian persecution monitor said that more Bibles would be needed for China, in light of the China Bible Exhibition tour in the United States.
The China Bible Exhibition, sponsored by government-sanctioned churches, opened April 27, at the Crystal Cathedral in Los Angeles.
A press handout issued at the opening night claimed that China since 1980 has produced 39.46 Bibles through the Amity Printing Press, the only government-approved printing press.
"(Christian) Americans should pack more Bibles in their suitcases when bringing Bibles to China," Todd Nettleton told Gospel Herald, when asked what he felt about the China Bible exhibit.
China’s official Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), claiming to have a membership of about 10 million Christians, continually maintains that there is enough Bibles.
Nettleton remained unconvinced; stating that he believes China has the unconfirmed count of 100 million, and thus not enough Bibles.
His criticism was echoed by critics of Beijing’s policy on the printing of Bible in China.
"In terms of Bible printing and publication, you cannot find any Bible in any of the bookstores in China, you probably cannot just buy Bibles from bookstores," said Wujie, an internationally renowned rights-activist from China, who also says he is Christian.
Wu added that house churches often needed to print their own materials to supplement for the lack of reading material.
"To print and publish literatures related to religion is very difficult," he told Gospel Herald. "When the house churches need some spiritual books, we can only print them secretly."
This statement comes in contrast to earlier statements by the China’s religious officials that smuggling and printing Bibles secretly is not necessary given the nation’s existing supply of spiritual reading materials.
Cao Shen Jie, president of China Christian Council (CCC) – an organization affiliated with the government’s TSPM – defended China’s claim that domestically-produced Bible is in sufficient supply, and criticized those who smuggle Bible from overseas.
"People smuggle drugs, but how can the Bible go into the same category?" Cao asked at an interview with Gospel Herald at the L.A. China Bible Exhibition. "Some people have really good heart, but they must come here and understand our situation."
Bob Fu, president of The China Aid Association, a critic of the Chinese government’s religious policy said that house churches had many people and would need at least "twenty, thirty, forty Bible from these official churches, but can’t get them because there are restrictions."
China’s official religious officials maintain that limitations on Bible purchases are only meant to prevent individuals from buying and reselling the Bibles at a much inflated price.
Many Christians, who worship in underground house churches, have opted to print their own religious reference material, instead, rather than going to government-run bookstores.
In 2004, house church leader Cai Zhuohua was arrested for printing 200,000 Bibles. Authorities accused him of trying to make a profit from selling religious material though Cai’s congregation maintained the Bibles were meant for internal-usage only and would not be sold. A court later sentenced Cai to 3 years in prison.
"It is such an ironical thing to see this propaganda-thing in the U.S., where a pastor was sentenced for three years just for printing Bibles with his own money," Fu said about the China Bible Exhibition in the United States.
It is difficult to know the exact number of Bibles smuggled into China by foreign evangelical Christians due to the often secretive-nature of their activities.
The most spectacular smuggling operation to date involved the 1981 by-sea-smuggling of over one million Bibles into China in what became Project Pearl – a joint effort between house churches and Open Doors, the world’s oldest persecution monitor agency.
The China Bible Exhibition at the Crystal Cathedral in Los Angeles ends Thursday, and will move to Atlanta, GA May 19-24, and New York June 5-12.