Jimmy Carter and Bible Printing in China
Xiaoling Zhu and Jimmy Carter May 18, 2011
In 1989, when I was a graduate student at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, Former President Jimmy Carter came and held a Town Hall meeting with the international students. I was one among about 30 students on that day. After sharing the mission of the Carter Center, President Carter opened the floor for questions. I had the first question for him.
“What do you think about the religion policy in China?”
President Carter replied to me, “Instead of answering your question directly, I would like to share a story with you about Vice Premier Minister. Deng Xiaoping’s visit to the U.S. in 1979, and he later became the Premier Minister.”
“I was the President when he came to the White House. In a very private moment, he and I talked about faith, what he believed, and what I believed. I liked to chat with many Communist leaders about their faith. At this time, he asked for suggestions about Christianity. I shared three suggestions with him: First, Chinese Christians should have Bibles in their hands. If China will not print bibles in China, foreigners will smuggle Bibles to China. Mr. Deng Xiaoping replied, ‘We will print Bibles in China.’”
As I know, Mr. Deng Xiaoping gave the order, not only to print Bibles, but to use Bible paper which had been imported for printing Mao Zedong’s Works, and to print a large quantity of Bibles on a military printing press in Nanjing, China, who had special machines to print on the special paper.
“Religious freedom is in the Constitution of China,” Carter suggested, “China needed to reopen churches. People who believe in God need a place to worship. Mr. Deng Xiaoping answered, ‘We will reopen the churches in China.’”
At the time of their conversation, I was still in China. I remembered that my father, an ordained pastor, received a notice from upper level government to go to the local government for the key to the church, which was owned by the local government and used as a meeting hall. I accompanied my father to ask for the key. I vividly saw the city mayor release the key, and my father opened the church. We worshiped God the next Sunday.
Carter went on:
“Thirdly, he said that Christian missions have no country boundaries. Thus, I suggested that China should let missionaries in. Deng Xiaoping was quite for a while, and then said, “I will give you an answer tomorrow morning.” The next day, Deng Xiaoping said to Jimmy Carter, “No.”
I understood why Premier Minister Deng Xiaoping answered in this way. During the first and second Opium Wars (1840-1848), many unequal treatises between the Qing Dynasty and Western Countries were written by some of our western missionaries who knew the Chinese language. All those treatises required two key items: open the gates and open the church. When I studied at Candler School of Theology, I learned that some of the foreign mission boards had made mistakes by entering China to spread the Gospel with military forces during that period of time.
Shortly after the meeting of these two great leaders, the United Bible Society worked with the China Christian Council (CCC) and built the Nanjing Amity Printing Press in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, China. Since early 1980s, more than 80 million Bibles were printed in different languages for just $2 a copy. And now, printing speed is 1 million copies of the Bible a month! China does not need smuggled Bibles; in fact, China now exports Bibles to many countries through the United Bible Society.
Bible ministries in China, I cannot help but to think about this pivotal conversation between U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Vice Premier Minister Deng Xiaoping. We thank them for their contribution to the rapid growth of the church in China in modern history.
It was the CCC dream to have a Bible Ministries Exhibition in the US, one of the suggestions I gave them was to meet with Former President Jimmy Carter, who made a great contribution to Bible printing in China. Before the CCC delegation visited President Jimmy Carter at the Carter Center in Atlanta, GA, later 2005, I made a phone call to Dr. Yawei Liu, Director of China Programs at the Carter Center, asking him to ask Jimmy Carter to share the story of Mr. Xiaoping Deng with Chinese church leaders. At the 30-minute meeting, President Carter shared the story with the CCC delegation. Rev. Shengjie Cao, President of CCC, invited Jimmy Carter to cut the ribbon for the Bible Ministries Exhibition in Atlanta, and Carter responded, “I will be there if it will be on May 19, 2006.”
On May 19, 2006, Former President Jimmy Carter attended the opening ceremony and cut the ribbon.
On May 18, 2011, Former President Jimmy Carter will be filmed for the second Bible Ministry Exhibition in the US in the fall of 2011, and it was exactly 5 years after the first China Bible Exhibition in Atlanta. I was invited to work on this project and flied to Atlanta. Accompanied by Dr. Yawei Liu, I met President Carter in his office, who was smiling, very healthy man! We shared hands with him and give him my business card with Global Ministries, UCC and Disciples logos. After the filming, I presented him with two photos: the one I took about 22 years ago at Emory University when he sheared the story about meeting with Deng Xiaoping, and the other was the one when he cut the ribbon for the fist Bible Ministries Exhibition 5 years ago. President Carter was so pleased accepted photos, and also signed the copies I have.
President Jimmy Carter is a great man, and I am so happy to have such great opportunity to participate in this great story as a very little one.
This photo was taken by Xiaoling Zhu when President Jimmy Carter shared his story about Vice Premier Minister Deng Xiaoping.
This photo is the moment when Jimmy Cater cut the ribbon for China Bible Exhibition in Atlanta, May 19, 2006. Xiaoling is standing two-person-right behind him.