Date of this Version
January 29, 2009 in The China Beat http://www.thechinabeat.org/
A few weeks ago my mother learned at her Greenwich, Conn., church that, beyond church grounds, Bibles cannot be purchased in the People’s Republic. Her informant was a man from the Bible Society of Singapore who gave an evening talk on the state of Christianity in China at my parents’ mainstream Protestant parish. My mother soon asked her son in Beijing, me, about this fact over the phone and I couldn’t say either way: a Chinese-language Bible was not something I’d been actively looking for yet I could have sworn I’d spotted one in a shop a while back when living in China’s Northwest. Then again, that was a long decade ago. I am clearly no expert on the subject.
Then on a recent morning in a basement bookstore in the National Library in Beijing a volume with a black binding and gold lettering caught my eye. I pulled it off the shelf. In no shape to identify the Chinese word for “Genesis” or for “Psalms”, I checked the volume’s opening passage: “Shen shuo: ‘Yao you guang’, jiu you le guang,” it read. God said: “Let there be light,” and there was light.
I was holding a Bible.
I took the book to the counter – its look was so plainly familiar it could have had the stamp of the Gideons on its cover– and without so much as a glance at my selection the cashier, while barking into a phone, rang it up. At fifty percent off, I thought, they’re practically giving these away – and in the very belly of the National Library of the People’s Republic of China, no less (a bookshop, it must be said, that was hardly as glamorous as its location might suggest, a labyrinthine afterthought with an uninspired selection). So much for my mother’s stateside informant.