Surging China: a Waffle, Not a Pancake

Posted: Mar 29, 2007 12:01 AM

The most important development for the future of the world has been one of the least reported.

By the end of this century China is likely to be the world's leading economic and military power, a perilous situation for the United States if China is hostile to us. But if the enormous but little-reported surge of Christianity in China continues -- one Beijing official recently estimated the number of Chinese Christians is now 125 million -- then the two superpowers will probably have friendly relations.

So what's happening on the other side of the world?

First, Chinese communists are trying to stop a charging water buffalo with a peashooter. Government officials arrested 600 Christians last year, according to the U.S.-based China Aid Society. They'd have to arrest 6 million to slow down Christianity's wildfire spread.

Second, it's hard to generalize about overall Chinese government policy, since it varies enormously from region to region and from city to city. Chinese Christians say "China is a waffle, not a pancake," and a swimming pool of syrup in one square does not keep officials in the next from throwing Christians into prison.

Third, the availability of Bibles continues to be a crucial issue. Some Chinese church leaders report that they are able to get plenty of Bibles from the one legal publisher within China, Amity Press, but a month ago officials imprisoned Pastor Wang Zaiqing on a charge of printing and distributing Bibles. China is a waffle.

Here are some of the nuances, according to Bible distributors and Chinese Christians:

-- The only churches with firm legal status are those of the government-established Three-Self Patriotic Movement. Those churches have long been compromised, and yet in some situations TSPM pastors have made bulk purchases of Bibles from Amity and quietly supplied them to unregistered churches.

-- Amity Press has printed 40 million copies of the Bible since the organization's founding in 1987, but Amity's current production is based on the number of believers in TSPM churches, and that number is much lower than the number of believers in unregistered churches. Publishing more Bibles would be an admission that the governmental attempt to limit the number of Christians through its process of monitoring and control has failed.

-- Amity apparently does not always actually print as many Bibles as it reports, and it might not distribute all that it prints. One of my Chinese sources reports seeing a warehouse with thousands of copies of legal but confiscated Amity Bibles. Translations for minorities are also needed, and whether they can have any Bibles depends, once again, on local enforcement.

-- Chinese Christians leaders are also concerned about the unavailability of study Bible editions for pastors and of children's editions. Those are, in essence, legally unavailable in any quantity, even though they are very much in demand. Church leaders sometimes turn to covert supplies. Overall, the Amity translation receives good marks for readability, although some rural Chinese Christians are still loyal to the old, "Union" version.

-- The cost of a Bible is generally the Chinese equivalent of about $1.50. All except the poorest urban Chinese can afford one, but many of the rural poor do not have access to any -- although the bigger issue is when a purchaser wants to buy many more than one. The stories again vary widely: One Chinese source told of the police following a person who made a quantity purchase and torturing him to get information about church leaders.

One governmental defense of such torture is that Christian leaders are actually Western agents, since Christianity is purportedly a Western implant. But a new book by Chan Kei Thong that's now published in English undermines that bias. "Faith of Our Fathers" ( shows how for thousands of years Chinese worshipped and offered sacrifices to Shang Di, a supreme being with characteristics similar to those of the God of the Bible. Americans who want to understand China should pick up a copy.