Bibles have been pulled from the shelves of online stores and large bookshops across China as Beijing continues to clamp down on how citizens practice religion.

The country has always controlled Bible sales – only permitting it to be distributed and printed by state-sanctioned churches – but it has become possible to buy it online in recent years.

However, the Asian country appears to have cracked down on the loophole, with searches for the Bible on China’s largest e-commerce platforms starting to generate “no results” responses.

Taobao, Jingdong, Amazon and are among those platforms which divulged no results for the sacred text.

The apparent elimination of the book comes as tensions emerged between China and Rome over a momentous deal that some perceive to be on the brink of being signed.

The negotiation would give the Vatican greater control over the appointment of bishops in China and would serve to reunify relations between the Vatican and Beijing which deteriorated in 1951.

Chinese officials announced Beijing “has always made real efforts towards” building Vatican relations in a press conference on Tuesday to release a white paper.

The paper, which is the country’s first white paper on religious freedom in more than two decades, outlines how religious beliefs and freedoms are protected in the communist country. It both promised to safeguard religious freedom but also urged religions to acclimatise to a socialist society.

While China’s ruling Communist Party is officially atheist the Chinese government recognises Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, Protestantism and Catholicism.

Chinese president Xi Jinping, who recently abolished term limits for the Chinese presidency, has stringently cracked down on Christianity since coming to power. Christmas was banned in some universities in the country over December.

But the Bible is not the only book the Chinese government has cracked down on. In March, it emerged the Chinese government banned posts referring to George Orwell’s dystopian satirical novella Animal Farm and the letter ‘N’ in a wide-ranging online censorship crackdown.

The China Digital Times, a California-based site covering China, reported a list of terms blocked from being posted on Chinese website Weibo by government censors includes the letter ‘N’, Orwell’s novels Animal Farm and 1984, and the phrase ‘Xi Zedong’.

The latter is a combination of President Xi and former chairman Mao Zedong’s names.

Search terms blocked on Sina Weibo, a microblogging site which is China’s equivalent of Twitter, include “disagree”, “personality cult”, “lifelong”, “immortality”, “emigrate”, and “shameless”.

It was not immediately obvious why the ostensibly harmless letter ‘N’ had been banned, but some speculated it may either be being used or interpreted as a sign of dissent. The publication reported that the ban on the letter was only temporary, having ended on 26 February.