Chinese courtrooms this month were the scene of two trials prosecuting Christian businessmen for selling audio versions of the Bible, a new crackdown that is part of a government campaign to “eradicate pornography and illegal publications.”
Lai Jinqiang, a Christian businessman whose company sells an audio Bible player — an MP3-like device that allows users to share passages from the Bible — was tried in a district court in China’s coastal city Shenzhen on December 7 for selling the electronic devices.
On December 9, four Christians, Fu Xuanjuan, Deng Tianyong, Han Li and Feng Qunhao, were tried by the same court for “illegal business operations.” They all worked for Life Tree Culture Communication Co., Ltd, whose main business is selling audio Bible players. The prosecutor recommended that the court sentence Fu, the owner of the company to five years in prison. The other three sentences ranged from 18 months to three years.
China for years has allowed sales of the Bible through official channels only. Currently, among China’s major religions, which include Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and folk beliefs, Christianity is the only one whose major holy text cannot be sold through normal commercial channels. The Bible is printed in China but legally available only at church bookstores approved by Beijing. Roughly two years ago, the Chinese government banned online Bible sales.
Audio Bible players, nevertheless, have become popular with people of faith in China because of their ease of use. Apart from Bible verses, these electronic players are also equipped with sermons, hymns and other religious content. They were widely available on China’s largest online commercial site Taobao.
Christianity has been growing in China during the past two decades. According to a 2018 report by China’s State Council, from 1997 to 2018, Catholicism grew to 6 million worshipers from 4 million, while Protestantism increased to 38 million worshippers from 10 million.
As part of a longstanding effort to limit the influence of Christianity in China, central government authorities last year indicated that they would publish an “official translation” of the Bible for Chinese worshippers.