Catholic Publishing in the People's Republic of China at the Turn of the Millennium

Resources »Eapr »East Asian Pastoral Review 2001 »2001 4 »Catholic Publishing In The Peoples Republic Of China At The Turn Of The Millennium

Roderick O’brien

Authors note:
The editors of the East Asian Pastoral Review kindly published my article about Catholic publishing in the People's Republic of China in the first issue for 1993. Since then, there have been many interesting developments, and the editors have now kindly consented to publish this article. Although some of the content might be repeated, this article is intended to up-date the earlier article. Readers may wish to consult the 1993 article.


From small beginnings in the 1980s, Catholic publishing in the People's Republic of China has now expanded. These publications are largely aimed at meeting local needs, but a small proportion of the publications are intended for international consumption. A large amount of the material published comes from Hong Kong, Taiwan, or abroad. Publication continues both within the boundaries set by the government, and unofficially outside those boundaries.

The Scriptures
The number of Bibles published in China continues to increase, although not at the level achieved by Protestant publishers. The key publication has been the ScotusBible. This publication, prepared over many years by the Franciscan Studium Biblicum, now based in Hong Kong, has been republished in the mainland of China. The publisher is the Episcopal Conference of China. Officially, the publication record is for 15,000 complete bibles, plus 5,000 Old Testaments, and 5,000 editions of the Gospels plus the Book of Proverbs. This number is clearly insufficient to meet the needs of the millions of Catholics in China, but at least it provides a scholarly translation, with commentaries, for the use of clergy and religious, and in seminaries and houses of formation. Nevertheless, the official number may be rather less than the number actually published. Fr John B Zhang of the Faith Press estimates the number at about 250,000.

The Printing House of the Shanghai Diocese continues to publish an edition of the New Testament in Chinese. Late in 2000, the diocese reported that over 300,000 copies had been printed. The Scotus Bible is a translation into Chinese from the original sources, while this edition is based on the French Bible de Jerusalem. The translation has been prepared by the staff of Sheshan seminary under the direction of Bishop Jin Luxian.

Faith Press in Hebei Province also publishes Bibles.

For most Catholics, encounter with the Scriptures comes through the selection provided in the lectionaries for Mass. Accordingly, it is perhaps appropriate to record here that the Shanghai Diocese has also published over 300,000 copies of the three-volume Sunday Missal, including all the readings. This Sunday Missal is also published by the Faith Press.

The Beijing-based Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China continue to publish Catholic Church in China. Until 1986, this appeared intermittently, and then became a quarterly, and bi-monthly since 1994. It now has about 10,000 subscribers in China and abroad.

With an eye to international relations, an English language bulletin under the titleCatholic Church in China is now being published. It has already reached some ten issues. Fr. John B Zhang describes its publisher as "the Coalition Committee of the China Church." This may be a joint committee of the "two huis", the Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China, and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

The Guangqi Research Center of the Catholic Church in Shanghai continues its publishing work, since its re-establishment in 1984. The Center has now published more than 400 issues of one of its publications, the bi-weekly Overseas Catholic Church -Information, and sixty issues of the bimonthly theological review Catholic Research and Studies Collection. These more scholarly periodicals have subscription lists of about 1,000 to 2,000.

In 1993, 1 introduced readers to "a newcomer in newspaper format, the Faith Monthly, published by the Hebei Faith Press". The inaugural issue was published in 1991, and it had an initial print number of 7,000 copies. Now it has increased the frequency of publication, and has changed its name to Faith. The print run is now over 50,000 copies per issue, and it is distributed all over China. In 2000, the staff celebrated the publication of the 100th issue, and look forward to the continued expansion of the newspaper. The success of Faith newspaper is a tribute to the work of its committed editorial staff, and a sign of the vibrancy of the Catholic communities in China.

A remarkable initiative has come about through the publication of Faith. The newspaper, since 1993, has carried information about social and individual distress in China, and this in turn has evoked a charitable response from Catholics in China.Faith has thus become the vehicle for collecting charitable funds. Now, two or more cases are put before readers in each issue, and funds raised are distributed to the needy, or to local churches. In 1999, 41 cases if emergency aid were assisted through local collections via Faith. The contributions also helped make 38 small grants to churches for minor activities such as repairs: in total about 60,000rmb.

What began as an informal collection through the newspaper has led to the establishment in May 1997 of a separate organization, the Beifang Jinde Catholic Social Service Center. This organization now also collects funds from abroad for larger projects. Beifang Jinde shares its premises with Faith Press, the publisher ofFaith newspaper.

Faith is published in Hebei province, which is home to about a quarter of China's Catholics. But other newspapers have been issued. In Shanghai, there is a bimonthly diocesan bulletin Love. Some dioceses publish a newspaper on a monthly basis, or on special occasions such as Christmas and Easter.

Liturgical Books
Since 1993, there has been a welcome expansion in the range of liturgical books available. I have already mentioned the Sunday Missal, published in three volumes for popular use. In my experience, these remain in the churches for use by those attending Mass, but some may also be taken home by individuals for prayer and reflection.

The Divine Office has been reprinted for the mainland, although the copies which I have seen retain the traditional characters used in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. In addition, the pocket edition with morning and evening prayer has been reprinted in simplified characters, and Faith Press is now providing its second edition. There seems to be an increasing demand for the Divine Office, which may reflect the increasing number of clergy, seminarians, and religious women in China.

Catholics who have shared in the liturgies of the Catholic Church in China will have experienced the choral and congregational singing which is a part of the liturgical life of the Catholic community. For this reason, a number of hymnbooks have been published. One from Taiyuan diocese has been in use for some years. Another hymnbook was compiled for the Jubilee year. Other books have been prepared by individual dioceses, including Guangzhou. It seems that it is sometimes easier to re-publish materials locally rather than rely on importation from other provinces.

Other liturgical works have been published by Guangqi Research Center in Shanghai and by Faith Press in Shijiazhuang. These include commentaries on the Sunday readings, and ritual books for the celebration of the Sacraments. Some dioceses have also published small booklets with the proper of the Mass, to assist the faithful in making the responses. Colorful liturgical calendars for popular use are now produced by a number of dioceses. During the Jubilee Year, these carried the Jubilee Year logo, and information about the nature and celebration of the jubilee. In this way, the calendars (and other jubilee souvenirs) served as a link with the wider church.

Other Books and Publications
Shanghai's Guangqi Press continues to lead in the publication of religious materials, reporting over 200 titles in biblical study, theology, spirituality, and liturgy. Hebei’s Faith Press has also published more than 120 titles. These range from a scholarly Theological Dictionary to small pamphlets with lives of the saints and devotional materials.

Other publications continue to include postcards of churches and Catholic life, poster size pictures of the Lord and of the saints, holy cards, and Christmas cards with a religious theme.

Other media
For the immediate future, the print medium is likely to remain the preferred medium for China's Catholics. Most Catholics live in the countryside, and have varying degrees of literacy. Faith newspaper is unable to move to a weekly or even fortnightly publication, because the increased subscription cost would put it beyond the reach of many Catholics. Yet there is still room for some materials using other, more expensive, media.

Faith newspaper operates its own web-site, and the newspaper’s content may be viewed from there. The address is

The Beijing Diocese has recently released two video compact discs of hymns, one for Christmas, and the other for Marian devotion. The discs use the karaoke format, which is readily available in China, as karaoke singing is very popular.

As computers become more widespread in China, it is reasonable to expect that a variety of religious material available on disc format or through the internet will increase. At present, computers and the internet are available only to a limited educated segment of China's population, but that segment includes millions of young people.

Government Regulation
China's government seeks to maintain a very tight control over publications in China. Materials published by the government-permitted presses must be approved by government officials before it can be printed. In practice, the degree of control may vary from time to time. This may mean that changes are required to publications republished from abroad. Thus the Scotus Bible was republished with the omission of one of the textual notes - but without amendment to the biblical text. The one-volume Catholic Catechism published in 2000 by the Hebei Faith Press includes a table showing the changes made for this permitted edition. This at least gives the reader a clear indication of what is "reliable".

Besides the censorship of content, there are also difficulties in distribution. To be legally distributed in China, publications must be allocated an ISBN or ISSN number. But Catholic publications are not given such a number. Instead, they can only be distributed at churches or other approved sites, and may not be sold in the open market. For those Catholics who do not wish to go to churches permitted by the government, this can be a great difficulty.

The penalties for illegal publishing are severe: UCAN reports that one priest of Wenzhou diocese, Fr Paul Jiang Sunian, was sentenced in April 2000 to six years in prison for illegal publishing. Yet such publishing continues, because of the real needs of the Catholic people in China.

This unfortunate situation has created a demand for Catholic publications from Hong Kong and Taiwan:

(a) The traditional characters are taken by readers to be a sign that the publication is authentic, and has not been tampered with by the censors.

(b) Some purchasers cannot or will not purchase publications from churches approved by the government. There is another reason for demand for Catholic publications from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Because of many years during which seminaries were closed by the government, and thus religious formation was restricted, the number of people 'in China capable of translating religious texts is very small. Catholics generally come from the villages, and have only recently been able to participate in higher education. Thus publications from Hong Kong and Taiwan are seen as being of better-quality translations.

It is important to say that the Catholics are not singled out in the matter of control of publications. Indeed, the government seeks to strictly control all manner of publications, and its policies apply across the board, Catholics in China are not so numerous, and are not politically important. The ordinary Catholic has to live in a situation over which he has neither control nor influence.

One improvement is that Catholics from Hong Kong and Taiwan or from abroad have been permitted to assist in the work of publishing in China. Not only have Catholic friends been able to provide machinery and training for printing, but also help in funding and in the work of translation. This represents a concession by the government. Nevertheless, the government does face criticism because of its religious policies, and such concessions help to counter these criticisms.

The future
Catholics abroad can rejoice in the wonderful increase in the range and volume of Catholic publications available in the People's Republic of China. Despite many difficulties, the three centers: in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shijiazhuang have continued to provide a variety of publications to the Catholic community. We can expect that these three centers will continue to be "powerhouses" for publication in China. Those Catholics in China who labor in the field of publication indeed merit praise.

At the same time, there will continue to be a need for publications from abroad. Catholics have a wide range of needs, and (for example) in some scholarly areas there is simply too small a market to warrant local production. Moreover, strict government regulation will mean that some publications will still be appropriately sourced from outside the mainland.

Although a wide variety of new technologies is available in China, which could support different methods of publication, printed books and periodicals are likely to be the principal methods for communication for many years. Most of the Catholics in China are villagers, with only very limited access to new technologies. Nevertheless, there will be a growing place for media such as CDs, and for web-based publication.



Regulations Regarding the Management of Places of Religious Activity 1994, article 7 (translation by Peter Barry *in Tripod 1994, vol 14, no 79, pp. 48-5 1)

Rules for Implementation of the Provisions on the Administration of Religious Activities of Aliens within the Territory of the People's Republic of China 2000, articles 12 and 17 (translation in China Daily,Beijing, 27 September, 2000)

Charbonnier, Jean:
1989 Guide to the Catholic Church in China 1989. Singapore: China Catholic Communications, pp. 348-9 (This section, a listing of Chinese books on the Church in China, was not continued in the 1993 and 2000 editions of the Guide.)..

Diocese of Shanghai
2000 Catholic Church in Shanghai Today. Shanghai: Guangqi Press.

O'Brien, Roderick
2000 "Beifaff g Jiffde Catholic Social Service Center " Tripod (Hong Kong) , vol 20, no 118, pp 5 7-64.

1993 "Catholic Publishing in the People's Republic of China." East Asian Pastoral Review 1993, pp. 72-81.

2001 "Catholics Defiant After Church is Tom Down." Sunday Examiner (Hong Kong) 6h May, p. 1.

Zhang, John B
1999 "Catholic Press in Contemporary China" in Print Media: the Media of the Future. Geneva: Union Catholic Internationale de la Presse.

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