One of the more intriguing and seemingly contradictory notions we’ve heard lately is the idea that President Donald Trump’s proposed tariffs on imports from China could result in a shortage of Bibles in America.
The Associated Press has reported that at least 150 million Bibles are printed each year in China, whose government is decidedly non-Christian, if not downright anti-Christian.
Why then does the communist Chinese government, which officially is atheist, condone the printing of a book that is (at least in the second half of it) decidedly Christian?
China does it for the same reason it condones the manufacture of American flags and flag pins:
It makes money.
The Chinese constitution says citizens have freedom of religious beliefs and bans religious-based discrimination. It further forbids the compulsion of citizens to believe or not believe in any certain religion.
In this, it is similar to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which says “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
That’s where any resemblance ends.
What is the state of religion in China ... any religion?
Some sources say the practice of religion in China is growing, and China is home to many religions, including Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Confucianism, Christianity in the form of Protestantism and Chinese Catholicism (which is independent of the Roman Catholic Church) and what’s called Chinese folk religion, which can include Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism.
Last year, China banned the sales of Bibles by online retailers. Even so, the Bible Society says Christianity is growing rapidly and many Chinese own Bibles. (The society is a nonprofit, usually nondenominational organization that operates in several countries and works to distribute the Bible.)
One estimate is that there are about 31 million Christians in China out of a total population of 1.4 billion. Another estimate says there are more than 100 million.
Reports published over the past few years say there is an ongoing crackdown on Christians in China, if not an outright persecution.
China Aid, a Christian human rights organization, has said that more than 100,000 Christians were arrested in 2018, compared to 3,700 the year before — including several Catholic priests. (China Aid is a nonprofit, usually nondenominational organization that operates in several countries and works to distribute the Bible.
It said most of the arrests were of short duration and involved members of so-called “underground churches” that aren’t registered with the government, thousands of which have been shut down.
Other reports say persecution of Christians and other religious groups is higher now than it has been since Chairman Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution cracked down on all faiths in the 1960s and 1970s..
China has the world’s oldest continuous civilization — at least 4,000 years — in large part because its leadership has always done what it believed necessary to further its interests.
That includes the practice of a curious, but successful (and repressive) mixture of capitalism and communism, rather than the somewhat purer brand of communism that has failed in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere, including North Korea — which has nuclear weapons, but not enough food to feed its people.
China now has the world’s second-largest economy, second only to that of the United States. It apparently intends to become No. 1 and seemingly will stop at nothing to achieve that.
America and American businesses are helping it to achieve that goal. Many products that once were made in the United States are now made in China and sold in the United States for prices that are far cheaper than they would be if these items were manufactured domestically.
That includes Bibles, more than half of which, according to The Associated Press, are now produced in China.
AP said America’s two largest Bible publishers, Zondervan and Thomas Nelson, are owned by HarperCollins, and they incur close to 75% of their Bible manufacturing expenses in China. Together, they command 38% of the American Bible market.
HarperCollins Christian Publishing President and CEO Mark Schoenwald said “U.S. printers moved their Bible printing facilities abroad decades ago, leaving no substantial domestic manufacturing alternatives.”
Why did they do that? For the same reason televisions, automobiles and the tires they run on, hockey pucks, military hats and other gear, electric guitars and many items that Americans buy once were made in America and nowhere else — even toothpaste — are now in large part imported.
It is cheaper to manufacture these items elsewhere, which means the profit margin is higher. Plenty of goods are still Made In USA, but for how long? The number keeps dwindling.
If this sort of thing keeps up, America may run short of Schoenwald’s domestic manufacturing alternatives.