Holy Irony, World's Largest Bible Printer Is In Atheist China

Though China is officially atheist, Christianity is growing, with believers now outnumbering communists. That's good news for a huge Bible publisher that supports charities in China and Africa.

Inside Nanjing's Amity Printing Bible factory
Inside Nanjing's Amity Printing Bible factory
Nina Trentmann

NANJING — Most German households have a Bible, even if it isn't regularly read. In fact, it remains a bestseller. "We estimate the extent of annual sales for complete Bibles, which is to say the Old Testament and the New Testament in various translations, to be about 500,000," says Christoph Rösel, Secretary General of the German Bible Society headquartered in Stuttgart.

Some of the books come from the largest Bible-producing factory in the world, located in atheist China, of all places. Nowhere else are so many of the holy books printed as at Amity Bible Printing Co. in Nanjing, northwest of Shanghai. Some 13 million copies were printed there in 2014 alone, and the factory has printed nearly 130 million Bibles since its founding.

In the soulless gray industrial zone near Nanjing's South Railway Station are the sounds of rattling and roaring inside Amity Bible Printing Co. Without interruption, the printing machines pull in fresh paper, which emerges printed and cut seconds later as blue-clad workers sort the pages by hand.

The pile of paper is then transported on a pallet to another area in a vast factory hall. Here the paper is further sorted, pressed and bound. Blue signs exhort workers to be careful. "We really do have to watch what we're doing," says employee John Zhang. "Otherwise we run a high risk of burning the place down, what with so much paper." Lighters and cigarettes are thus taboo in the printing plant.

A few meters away a fully automated press is running. It presses the paper and fits it into a hard cover. The machine spits out up to 70 books per minute. "It has to go quickly — bam, bam," John Zhang says. "Otherwise we can't keep up with orders."

Every year the company sends several thousand copies to Germany. The number rose from 8,000 Bibles in 2013 to nearly 14,000 in 2014. But Germany isn't the only place with a demand for cheaply produced Bibles from China. Amity delivers primarily to South America, Africa and the rest of Europe.

In search of meaning

The company's prospects are good, in part because the number of Christians is growing in South America, Africa and also China. But what's good news for the Nanjing company — more Christians mean more Bibles sold — is a source of annoyance for the Chinese government.

The Chinese government views the growth of Christianity with skepticism. As Chinese society becomes more commercialized, growing numbers of people are seeking a deeper meaning to life and are turning to Christian churches.

Qiu Zhonghui has been watching with interest for years as more of his fellow citizens have turned to Christianity. "Since China opened up economically, the number of Christians has increased," says Amity Bible Printing's chairman. In view of rapid change, turbo urbanization and pressure on the job market, Qiu believes the need for meaning in the officially atheist country is on the rise.

This yearning is, of course, good for his business. Production for Amity has been growing. The factory has been printing in Nanjing since 1987, initially just for the Chinese market. Exports came with the new millennium.

Photo: Yoshi Canopus

Today Amity Bible Printing prints books in some 90 foreign languages as well as Mandarin, Cantonese and some Chinese minority dialects. The factory currently employs more than 600 people, and production capacity is three times what it was in the 1980s.

The company is a joint venture consisting of the Amity Foundation and the United Bible Societies, a world alliance headquartered in London. Production is financed by the sales of Bibles, commissions for school books, and donations of paper and money.

Despite growing demand, it's a low-margin business. The Amity turnover in 2013 was equivalent to 38 million euros.

"We're not a normal company," says the chairman. "We aren't profit-oriented." But he still wants to earn money from Bibles printing and use it to support charity projects in China and Africa. "That's why it's not right to say that we aren't interested in making money," the 59-year-old says.

More Christians than communists

But in the People's Republic, Christianity is regarded with suspicion, and the churches are strictly controlled. Religious services are often monitored on video, and Chinese citizens may only take part in services arranged specifically for them. Catholics must join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, as the Beijing government does not recognize the Pope.

Perhaps that's why most of the growth is among the Protestant churches. The number of believers is thought to be 100 million, which means that Christian churches have more members than the Communist Party of China, which the Xinhua state news agency reports has just over 85 million members.

These membership figures are the reason for the many new churches that have been built over the past few years in a number of cities. But not all of them remain standing, as the example of Sanjiang demonstrates. The church near the large city of Wenzhou was torn down on government orders. The Guardian reported that other churches were also destroyed.

But that doesn’t concern the Amity Bible Printing boss. He says his company is treated like any other Chinese company.

"We have a license to do business and no problems," Qiu says. He frequently has visitors, many from abroad. "People often ask me if we censor the Bible," he says. "We don't. The government exerts no influence over content."

Because most Chinese Bibles were burned during the Cultural Revolution, there is a shortage of them in China. "In the 1980s, importing was far too expensive, which is why we decided to print them here," Qiu says. The China Christian Council, the umbrella organization of Chinese Protestant churches, distributes Bibles in communities.

Qiu wants to produce even more of them, saying the company has the capacity to print 20 million a year. These would be aimed first and foremost at the Chinese market, with export a secondary priority.

Qiu says expansion will need to come soon. An expert from Purdue University says that by 2025 the number of Christians in China will have grown to 160 million. "That means we're going to have to print a lot more than 20 million," Qiu says.

Germany will need copies too, even if most of the Bibles sold there are produced there, says Christoph Rösel of the German Bible Society. "We know our Chinese colleagues," he says. "They deliver good quality, although we do try if possible to stick to locally produced Bibles."

But via various charity initiatives, Rösel says, the German Bible Society also subsidizes production in China. "The money for that comes from individual donations or collection money from evangelical churches in Germany."

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council

Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke

During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press

Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!