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China's communist government may be constricting freedom of worship in some places, such as Beijing's Shouwang house church, but Chinese consumers are gaining access like never before to legally published books by best-selling American evangelical authors.

Since early April, the 1,000-member-strong Shouwang church has held services outdoors rain or shine, and eight of its pastors are under house arrest. The government, citing the church's lack of registration, pressured the church's landlord to cancel Shouwang's lease.

At the same time, there has been a surge across China in the availability of popular Christian titles by authors Rick Warren, Gary Chapman, and Beth Moore, as well as classic titles by C. S. Lewis and others. Statistics on Christian book sales are unreliable in China. But figures on Bible publishing provide one reliable snapshot of the phenomenal growth. Amity, the official publisher of Bibles inside China, increased Bible printing each year from 1998 (2.8 million) to 2008 (10 million). Other than Bibles, top sellers are Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life, with more than 100,000 in print, and the Francine Rivers novel Redeeming Love.

A big reason for this growth is the 2008 debut of the online-only retailer Baojiayin (GoodNewsinChina.com). For decades, the government heavily limited the retail sales of Christian literature. But all that changed with Baojiayin.

For instance, Paul Douglas, an Australian medical doctor living in China, uses Baojiayin to send about $140 worth of books to local churches, creating an instant lending library. Douglas can donate sets of theological commentaries, marital advice books, and biographies of Christian leaders.

In addition, Douglas, ordering through another faith-and-values ...

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January 2012

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