Press may help church groups

UNOFFICIAL church groups could benefit when the mainland's first state-run religious printing press starts to produce Bibles.

Distribution until now has been closely controlled. The government-sanctioned China Christian Council and the Chinese Catholic Association produce Bibles, but they are restricted to internal circulation, and numbers do not meet demand.

But now the state-run Religious Culture Press - set up by the Religious Affairs Bureau under the State Council - is to produce Bibles, along with books on religious policies, research studies, theory and culture and other classical books.

The move could help underground church groups, who have struggled to obtain copies because they refuse to register with the government-sanctioned groups.

They rely on their own primitive and clandestine printing presses, or risk smuggling Bibles in. More than 500,000 Bibles are said to be smuggled into China every year from Hong Kong.

One church source in Hong Kong said the new printing press was to 'unify thinking and strengthen the Government's ideological control on religion.

'It will serve as the Government's organ and will very likely centralise the publication of religious books and magazines.' Acting General Secretary of the China Christian Council, Dr Han Wenzao, rejected suggestions the state-run press would take over religious publishing, according to Amity News Service. The news service is part of the Amity Foundation, which runs the council's printing press and publishes its newsletter.

He said the Government had not asked to take over the council's publishing work.

'I don't expect them to do so,' he said.

Acting editor-in-chief of the new press, Wang Zuoan, said negotiations on Bible printing were going on with the council.

While Bibles printed for the council were intended for the official churches, the new press would try to cater for public demand, including non-believers, Mr Wang said.

The Amity Foundation's Nanjing printing press publishes one million copies a year, which will rise to 1.5 million this year.

The Foundation's Claudia Oblau said the new press was still a vague project and it was too early to comment on its impact.

But she said it could be very positive because Bibles could be distributed in state-run bookstores and reach a wider audience with no connection to the official church.

However, 'it might turn into a money-making venture and might be competing with Amity', she said.

Mr Wang said the press would try to strike a balance between social and economic effectiveness.

'We will put out quality publications which serve to popularise as well as to upgrade religious literature. But we have to be self-sufficient [financially],' he said.