Nanjing, China, becomes Bible printing capital of the world

Thirty years ago the Bible was banned there, but now China has one of the biggest Bible factories in the world.

A new, expanded printing facility is soon to make China's ancient capital, Nanjing, the Bible centre of the world.

The Amity Printing Company - a joint venture with the Bible Societies - will be producing 23 Bibles every minute to keep up with growing demand for the Bible in China.

The new press will greatly increase the number of Bibles Amity can produce each year. In 2007 it printed six million Bibles. When the new press opens on 19 May that will leap to a potential 12 million - most of which will be distributed throughout China.

It's a major step in the history of the printing centre. The People's Liberation Army printed some of the first Bibles in China after the Cultural Revolution, including three million that were printed on presses of the Red Army. Amity Press - now one of the world's largest Bible printers - began production in 1987. Last December its 50 millionth Bible was produced.

About 55,000 churches distribute the Bibles that come off Amity's production lines. The new press was needed to help keep up with demand in a country where, until 30 years ago, Christianity was banned and Bibles were confiscated.

"We got to the point where the volume of work was so great we hadn't got enough room to store the books in stages of binding and all the paper," said Peter Dean, the Bible Societies' consultant in Nanjing. "It was everywhere."

According to Peter, there is "a really increasing interest in Christianity" in a country where an estimated seven per cent of the one billion population are believers.

"There are differing views on how many Christians there are," he admitted. "But everyone agrees there is a great interest and a lot of growth in the Christian Church.

"What excites me is our aim is to serve the Church in China. All of this new production capability is available 'first call' for the mainland Chinese Church. If they want to print 12 million Bibles a year, they've got it."

Since its inception in the 80s, Amity Press has printed 54 million Bibles - 43 million of which have gone to the churches in China. Some are free and all are made affordable. A pocket edition of the Bible costs about 68p and Chinese Christians can receive the full-size Bible at a subsidised cost of £1.16.

Bible Society plays a key role. "We feel really supported by faithful people who've raised funds to buy paper here," Peter explained. "If you want to help place a Bible in China, then giving money to buy paper is the best thing to do."

This is making it possible for the Church to distribute Bibles into rural areas and to provide them for people on low incomes. Amity Press prints in eight Chinese minority languages - as well as Braille Bible. With the move to a bigger press, it will be able to expand its range of books and Bibles.

"Young people need more than just the traditional printed Bible," said Rev Deng Fu Cun, a senior leader in the China Christian Council/Three Self Patriotic Movement, publishers of the Bibles. "So we're planning to produce the Bible in various digital formats."

They aim to produce the Bible as downloadable audio books - so young people can listen to it on their MP3 players. "And we're also focusing on the quality and variety of Bibles available. We need both large and small Bibles, Braille Bibles and luxury Bibles that can be given as gifts," he added.

Now with their new 48,000 sq m home, the Amity team can confidently take on large projects like producing Bibles for the Olympics in Beijing. Thanks to their new press, such initiatives won't be a marathon task.