- A booming Bible industry is turning the world’s biggest atheist nation into the world’s largest supplier of the Good Book.
- A new plant can turn out more than 12 million copies a year. Some are for export, but most are for domestic sale.
NANJING, CHINA -- The factory looks like it could be any plant in this export-driven nation. Hundreds of Chinese workers huddle over loud machines churning out large orders for customers at home and abroad.But what they're making might surprise you: Bibles.
As Tibetan monks grab headlines protesting the lack of religious freedom under Chinese rule, a booming Bible industry is on its way to turning the world's biggest atheist nation into the world's largest producer of the Good Book.Chairman Mao might have said, "Our God is none other than the masses of the Chinese people," but here at Nanjing Amity Printing Co., China's only state-sanctioned Bible printer, little time is wasted pondering the contradictions of a metaphysical mismatch."We are printers," said Li Chunnong, the general manager of the plant, which has about 500 employees. "As long as somebody legitimate sends us an order, we will print them."
This pragmatic mind-set has contributed to the company's staggering growth. Since its first Bible rolled off the presses two decades ago, Amity has printed more than 50 million copies in 75 languages and exported to more than 60 countries. With the help of a new hangar-sized facility, the company could well be the biggest Bible factory in the world, cranking out 12 million copies a year."
The Bible is probably the bestselling book in the world," Li said. "People need spiritual fulfillment. There is a huge demand for what we do. We have certainly benefited from that phenomenon and will not let the market slip from our hands." This kind of talk was almost unimaginable just a generation or two ago. During the radical years of the Cultural Revolution, from 1966 to 1976, just about the only reading material the Chinese people had was the Little Red Book of Mao Tse-tung's quotations -- certainly not a big black book of Jesus' parables. Demonized as spiritual pollution, copies of the holy text were confiscated and burned.
The dawn of market-oriented reforms in the late 1970s and early 1980s brought about a spiritual reawakening that led to bustling Buddhist and Taoist temples and the opening of the first state-sanctioned church in a nation where Christianity is a minority faith. An estimated 30 million Christians now worship in government-approved churches that fall under the control of religious "patriotic associations." Tens of millions more are said to pray in underground outlets.
All this seemed farfetched two decades ago when Amity opened its plant on farmland donated by the government. As part of the deal, the company had to find jobs for the 320 residents. None had any experience running a printing press or reading the Good Book, but some have since converted to Christianity.
"Before I came to work here, I had never heard of the Bible," said Yi Shuhong, 40, a 20-year employee. "No one in my family believes in God. But they are not against me for converting."
The Bible and the Olympics
Beijing Olympics organizers recommend that spiritually inclined international athletes coming in August bring only one copy of the Bible for their personal use if they are worried about getting into trouble. If they forget, one would be provided free, courtesy of Amity.
Amity is the printing press we use to print all our books. In this month of June alone we have placed an order for 125,000 bibles with Amity. Most of them are in Spanish, a new and edited version of La Biblia de Nuestro Pueblo. These bibles will soon reach all the Americas, from USA to Argentina, as we send them along with Diario Bíblico 2009, a book that is coming out of the press these days with a printing run of 77,000 copies.