Prior Restraints on Religious Publishing in China

Restrictions on Publishing | Restrictions on Printing | Restrictions on Distribution | The Cai Zhuohua Case

Although China's Constitution provides that all citizens enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religious belief, the Chinese government imposes prior restraints over all publishing in China, including strict prior restraints over the publication of religious materials and materials that deal with religious topics.

The Chinese government forbids private publishing of religious materials and restricts the production of religious publications to state-licensed enterprises, including religious publishing enterprises approved by the government.

National Publishing and Printing Regulations on Religious Materials

One of the primary ways the government controls the publication of religious materials is by regulating the printing of these materials. The 2001 Regulation on the Administration of Publishing, which imposes general prior restraints on publishing, does not specifically mention religious materials. The 2001 Regulation on the Administration of Printing Enterprises (hereinafter, Printing Regulation), however, includes not only general provisions imposing restraints on printing but also tighter restraints on the printing of religious materials. Examples in this regulation of general restraints and restraints on religious materials include:

  • Article 7 states that no one may engage in printing activities unless they have obtained a Printer Operating License from the government.
  • Article 15 prohibits printers from printing materials unless they have been published by a "publishing work unit." (Under the Regulation on the Administration of Publishing, all publishing work units must be government approved and sponsored.)
  • Article 31 prohibits individuals from printing materials for religious use (zongjiao yongpin).
  • Article 30 requires that printing enterprises entrusted with printing materials for religious use (zongjiao yongpin) must obtain approval from the provincial-level religious affairs bureau and the press and publication bureau.
  • Article 18 similarly requires approval from provincial-level religious and publishing authorities to print internal reference publications with religious content (zongjiao neirong de neibu ziliaoxing chubanwu). The printing of non-religious internal reference publications, however, is subjected to a lower standard of scrutiny, requiring permission from publishing authorities only at the county level or higher.

The Printing Regulation does not precisely define what "materials for religious use" and "internal reference publications with religious content" encompass, but a comparative analysis of the Printing Regulation and the wording in other regulations and guidance (see below for more information) suggests that these include materials used in religious practice or worship, as opposed to just materials that include mention of religious issues.

In addition to using general regulations on printing and publishing to control who may publish religious materials, the Chinese government also imposes publishing restrictions through regulations that govern religious practice. China's 2004 Regulation on Religious Affairs (RRA) includes restrictions on the printing of religious materials, as do many regional religious regulations. Relevant provisions within the RRA include:

  • Article 7 allows authorized religious bodies to compile and print reference publications for internal use (zongjiao neibu ziliaoxing chubanwu) "in accordance with the relevant provisions of the State," and requires that publications for public distribution be published "in accordance with the relevant provisions of the State on publishing administration." Article 7 also stipulates that publications with religious contents may not carry contents that threaten the harmony between religious citizens and non-religious citizens or harmony between or within religions, that insult or discriminate against religious or non-religious citizens, that spread religious extremism, or that violate the principles of religions' independence and self-governance.
  • Article 21 allows registered religious sites to compile and print reference publications for internal use "in accordance with the relevant provisions of the State."
  • Article 42 states that where publications with religious contents include contents prohibited in Article 7, authorities shall impose administrative penalties. If a crime has been committed, authorities will investigate criminal liability.

A special set of provisions exists for Bible materials. In 1994 the General Administration of Press and Publication, State Council Religious Affairs Bureau, and General Administration of Customs issued the Provisions Regarding the Administration of Contracts to Print Bible Texts (hereinafter, the Bible Printing Provisions). The Bible Printing Provisions regulate both Bible printing jobs from overseas and the printing of the domestic Chinese edition of Bible texts. The Provisions mention only the Nanjing Amity Printing Company as the printer for domestic Bibles, indicating that the edition under regulation is the authorized Protestant Bible. Although Amity reports it has printed a small number of texts for domestic Catholic organizations, China also designates other printing companies to print Catholic religious materials.

  • Article 1 assigns responsibility for the domestic printing of Bible texts (referred to as "shengjing yinjian," and defined to include materials such as Bible stories) to China's national religious organizations. Such printing jobs must be approved by the national religious affairs bureau, and the publications are to be distributed internally within churches.
  • Article 2 requires provincial-level approval for printing contracts with overseas clients, and the job must be reported to the national religious affairs bureau, General Administration of Customs, and General Administration of Press and Publication. The article stresses that the finished product should be transported outside of the borders. "None is allowed to remain in the borders to be disseminated or sold." (Article 19 of the Printing Regulation similarly requires provincial-level approval for all printing jobs from outside China and also requires that finished products not remain within the borders.)
  • Article 3 states that "in principle," Chinese-language and dual-language editions of the Bible that come from abroad may not be printed within China; if there is a "special need," it must be reported to the national religious affairs bureau for approval.
  • Article 4 specifies that the Nanjing Amity Printing Company prints Chinese-language Bible texts for national religious organizations. (The company maintains a Web site with information about its work and statistics on publishing activities.) Printing enterprises contracting for overseas jobs must be enterprises with national or provincial approval.
  • Article 7 states that violations of the provisions "shall be dealt with as the undertaking of illegal publishing activities. If criminal law is violated, the case will be referred to the judicial organs to investigate criminal responsibility."

Regulations and Guidance on Printing Materials that Touch on Religious Issues

In addition to regulations on the publishing of religious materials, regulations and guidance also regulate the publication of general materials that may mention or deal with religious issues. Examples include:

Restrictions on Distribution and the Cai Zhuohua Case

An aim of the Bible Printing Provisions is to control distribution and prevent unapproved religious texts from being disseminated in China. The Bible Printing Provisions, like the other aforementioned regulations, are administrative rules, pursuant to which the government may shut down publishers and confiscate publications. These restrictive regulations are but one aspect of government repression of religious publishing activities. When the threat seems serious enough, the government has resorted to even stronger measures to silence religious believers. The case of Cai Zhuohua illustrates this.

In 2005 authorities sent house pastor Cai Zhuohua and two of his family members to prison after they printed and distributed Bibles and other Christian texts. Public security officials detained Cai on September 11, 2004 and seized 233,776 editions of 51 different religious titles in a Beijing storeroom that Cai used. Officials accused Cai, his wife Xiao Yunfei, her brother Xiao Gaowen, and his wife Hu Jinyun of illegally printing Bibles and other Christian literature without government permission. The Beijing Haidian District People's Procuratorate formally arrested Cai in October 2004 and indicted him in December 2004. His trial was held on July 7, 2005, and on November 8, 2005, the Beijing Haidian District People's Court convicted Cai Zhuohua under Article 225 of China's Criminal Law, which punishes illegally operating a business in a way that "seriously disrupts market order." According to its November 8 opinion, the court found Cai and his family members guilty of causing disruption by printing and giving away books without a government license. The court sentenced Cai, Xiao Yunfei, and Xiao Gaowen to three years, two years, and one and a half years imprisonment, respectively, and fined them 150,000, 120,000, and 100,000 yuan (approximately $20,000, $15,000, and $10,000), respectively.