02/12/2022 Washington, D.C. — Given the limited resources available in China, a Christian in China’s Zhejiang province purchased thousands of Christian books from other countries and put them for sale through his online bookstore. His business benefited tens of thousands of Chinese Christians eager to grow in their faith. The authorities, on the other hand, found him to be a threat to society.
On Sept. 1, 2019, Chen Yu, who operated his Wheat Bookstore in Zhejiang province’s Taizhou city, was detained for selling unapproved religious publications imported from Taiwan, the U.S., and other countries. Consequently, the police launched a nationwide investigation to track down the bookstore’s customers through sale records and confiscated their purchased books.
Many of Chen’s customers were harassed and questioned by local authorities. According to China Aid, the Chinese government was utilizing this investigation opportunity to search for “illegal [religious] activities locally.”
Wheat Bookstore had to notify its customers to warn them of potential visits from the police and give suggestions on how they should respond after consulting with a lawyer. Christians who bought from this bookstore were advised to delete their order records and hide the books from the authorities if they were asked to show their purchase.
A house church pastor from Shenzhen city in the southern province of Guangdong told Bitter Winter, “People who buy Christian books are practicing believers, so the government looks into them to determine how dangerous they are to the stability of their regime.” He, too, was summoned to purchase from Wheat Bookstore.
Another Christian customer who also was summoned by the police alleged that police were trying to collect evidence to accuse Wheat Bookstore and to deter Christian bookstores in China from selling books with the aim of creating a “spiritual famine” in China.
On Sept. 27, 2020, Chen was charged with “illegal business operations.” He was sentenced to seven years in prison and fined 200,000 RMB ($29,450 USD).
According to a document from the People’s Court of Linhai City, in addition to the seven-year sentence and imposed fine, Chen phone was confiscated. Moreso, the remaining 12,864 Christian books from his bookstore will be destroyed by the Linhai City Public Security Bureau.
Chen asked for a Bible after he was detained. His mother Zheng Jinmei sent him a Bible, but the prison staff did not pass it to him. In response, Zheng wrote down Psalms and Romans for his son.
“Our loving God knows Chen Yu’s needs and desires. He moved the prison staff, and he passed the Bible I had sent to Chen Yu in the end,” she said.
On Jan. 17, 2021, Chen penned a letter for his parents to greet them. He revealed that his new prison mate was also Christian and was glad that they could fellowship together. Chen also encouraged his parents by saying, “We have to wait patiently. God is righteous, and He also hears our prayers. Take good care of yourself and grow in your spiritual life. I believe that we will reunite soon.”
Chen’s mother, Zheng, was hit with cancer and went through many surgeries. She is concerned that they might not make it before their son’s release.
On Jan. 7, 2022, Taizhou City Intermediate People’s Court in Zhejiang province rejected the appeal of Chen Yu and maintained the original sentence. Oddly, the verdict was first released on the WeChat public account “Combating Pornography and Illegal Publications in Zhejiang,” instead of through Chen’s lawyer.
Zheng Jinmei contacted Chen’s lawyers after reading the post, only to learn that the lawyers did not receive the verdict. She was shocked that the court did not notify the lawyers about the verdict of the appeal court. The lawyers responded that they would continue to appeal and asked Zheng not to worry about the lawyer fee.
Chen’s parents were very frustrated and infuriated by the verdict. But Zheng continued to lead prayer meetings the next day in a prayer group.
She prayed, “Dear God, my tears shed for You. We offer our knees for these brothers and sisters in Christ who are imprisoned. We know that the souls behind bars also need your gospel and grace. Oh Lord, through these pastors, elders, your sons, and daughters, including Chen Yu, they will be a lamp for you in these prisons and bring light to the places filled with darkness.”
Let us all follow Zheng’s prayer and uplift Chen in prayer as our persecuted brother.
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This story is part of ICC’s series Shackled to the Podium, a series where we remember those who have suffered or are currently suffering persecution by the Chinese Communist Party on account of their faith. This series will populate daily for the duration of the 2022 Beijing Olympics. Click here to read more about the project.
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Since 1995, ICC has served the global persecuted church through a three-pronged approach of advocacy, awareness, and assistance. ICC exists to bandage the wounds of persecuted Christians and to build the church in the toughest parts of the world.