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Catholic Bible Translation in Twentieth-Century China: An Overview

  • Daniel K. T. Choi
  • George K. W. Mak

Abstract

Although Catholic missionaries in China during the late Ming and early Qing dynasties penned more than 200 writings in Chinese, there was not a single complete translation of the Bible among them. Yet the Jesuit missionaries as early as 1615 sought and received permission from Rome to translate the Catholic Bible into literary Chinese.1 The oldest extant Chinese version of the Catholic Bible dates back to the early eighteenth century. Jean Basset, a French priest of the Missions Etrangères de Paris (MEP) in Sichuan, with the help of John Xu Ruohan, translated a portion of the New Testament—from the Gospel of Matthew to the first chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews—from Latin into literary Chinese. Nevertheless, Basset’s work was not published.2 It was not until the twentieth century that Chinese Catholics witnessed the publication of the first complete translation of the Catholic Bible in Chinese, the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Version (the Franciscan Biblical Institute version; in Chinese, Sigao Shengjing, 1968).

Keywords

Textual Basis Chinese Translation Greek Text Early Qing Dynasty Complete Translation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Piet Rijks, “The History of the Bible in China,” in Servant of the Word (Hong Kong: Studium Biblicum OFM, 1996), pp. 3–4. In 1757, the Catholic Church permitted the reading and printing of vernacular Bibles under certain conditions.Google Scholar
  2. Paul Ellingworth, “Translation Techniques in Modern Bible Translations,” in A History of Bible Translation, ed. Philip A. Noss (Rome: Edizioni Di Storia E Letteratura, 2007), p. 323. For information about the Chinese writings penned by Catholic missionaries during the Ming and Qing dynasties, seeGoogle Scholar
  3. Xu Zongze, Ming Qing Yesuhuishi yizhu tiyao (Shanghai: Shanghai Guji Chubanshe, 2006).Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    For details of the translation work of Basset and Su, see François Barriquand, “First Comprehensive Translation of the New Testament in Chinese: Fr. Jean Basset (1662–1707) and the Scholar John Xu,” Societas Verbi Divini: Verbum SVD vol. 49 (2008), pp. 91–119; Cai Jintu (Daniel K.T. Choi), “Bai Risheng de Zhongwen Shengjing yiben ji qi dui zaoqi Xinjiao yijing de yingxiang,” Huashen qikan (China Evangelical Seminary Journal) no. 1 (2008), pp. 50–77.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    For an overview of the history of Chinese Protestant Bible translation, see Jost Oliver Zetzsche, The Bible in China: The History of the Union Version or the Culmination of Protestant Missionary Bible Translation in China (Nettetal: Steyler Verlag, 1999).Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Joachim Kurtz, “Messenger of the Sacred Heart: Li Wenyu (1840–1911) and the Jesuit Periodical Press in Late Qing Shanghai,” in From Woodblocks to the Internet: Chinese Publishing and Print Culture in Transition, circa 1800 to 2008, ed. Cynthia Brokaw and Christopher A. Reed (Leiden, Netherlands and Boston: Brill, 2010), p. 82.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    He Leisi (Marie-Louis Félix Aubazac), “Xiao yin,” Sheng Baolu shuhan bing shuwei zongtu handu (Hong Kong: Xianggang Nazalei Jingyuan, 1927). As the authors of this chapter have not been able to obtain the full text of the two editions of the Epistles of Paul and Other Apostles (Sheng Baolu shuhan bing shuwei zongtu handu), they are uncertain whether the 1927 edition was the reprint of the 1918 edition.Google Scholar
  8. 16.
    Xinjing quanshu (Tianjin: Tianjin Chongdetang, 1949). Indeed, Xiao Shunhua had translated the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Prison Epistles into Mandarin. They were published separately in the early 1940s. For information about Xiao’s portions of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, see Giovanni Rizzi, CRSP, Edizioni della Bibbia nel contesto di Propaganda Fide: Uno studio sulle edizioni della Bibbia presso la Biblioteca della Pontificia Università Urbaoniana, vol. III (Rome: Urbaniana University Press, 2006), p. 1132. While the list of Chinese Catholic Bible versions compiled by Piet Rijks does not include Xiao’s Gospel of John, the copy of this portion deposited at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Hong Kong attests to its publication. Rijks, “The History of the Bible in China,” p. 33. Also, Daniel K. T. Choi has seen copies of Xiao’s Acts of the Apostles and Prison Epistles, which are not included in Rijk’s list too: Zongtu dashi lu (Tianjin: Chongdetang, 1941); Sheng Baolu shuxinji: Fulu shiqi shuxinji (Tianjin: Chongdetang, 1943). Moreover, Édouard Petit edited a Bible reader called Jianyi Shengjing duben (Hong Kong: Kwangchi Press, 1955). Petit’s Bible reader includes excerpts of his translation of biblical passages in both the Old and New Testaments.Google Scholar
  9. 18.
    Ma Xiangbo joined the Society of Jesus (SJ) in 1862. He was ordained in 1870 and later became the first Chinese principal of Collège Saint Ignace (Xuhui Gongxue). After leaving the priesthood in 1876, Ma started a career in business and government while actively engaged in educational work. He spent his late years in Tushanwan and translated Catholic works into Chinese. For details of Ma Xiangbo’s Bible translation activities, see Fang Hao, “Ma Xiangbo xiansheng yu Shengjing,” Dongfang zazhi vol. 9, no. 7 (1976), pp. 35–40. A renowned Chinese jurist and ambassador to the Holy See, Wu Jingxiong was originally a Methodist Protestant but converted to Catholicism in 1937. For Wu’s own description of his Bible translation work, see chapter 18,Google Scholar
  10. John C. H. Wu, Beyond East and West (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1951).Google Scholar
  11. 24.
    For a discussion of the literary characteristics of Wu’s translations, see Francis K. H. So, “Wu Ching-Hsiung’s Chinese Translation of Images of the Most High in the Psalms,” in Bible in Modern China: The Literary and Intellectual Impact, ed. Irene Eber, Sze-kar Wan and Knut Walf (Nettetal, Germany: Steyler Verlag, 1999), pp. 321–350; Francis K. H. So, “Wu Jingxiong yi jing zhong songge zhi tese,” Tianzhujiao yanjiu xuebao no. 2 (2011), pp. 434–455.Google Scholar
  12. 25.
    Wu Zhu Wenying, “Xie zai Shengyong yi yi chongban qianxi xu,” in Shengyong yi yi, trans. Wu Jingxiong (Taipei [Taibei]: Taiwan Shangwu Yinshuguan, 2011), p. 19. For Jiang’s revisions of Wu’s Psalms and New Testament, see Jiang Zhongzheng xiansheng shougai Shengjing Shengyong yi gao (Taipei [Taibei]: Yangming Shuwu, 1986).Google Scholar
  13. 33.
    John Baptist Zhang Shijiang, “The Promotion of the Bible in Contemporary China and Evangelization,” trans. Purple Kwong, Tripod vol. 27, no. 144 (Spring 2007): pp. 11–21. http://www.hsstudyc.org.hk/en/tripod_en/en_tripod_144_03 .html (accessed February 10, 2014).Google Scholar
  14. 34.
    For the history of translation of the Studium Biblicum Version, see Gabriele Maria Allegra, Lei Yongming Shenfu huiyilu (Memoirs of Gabriele Maria Allegra), trans. Han Chengliang (Hong Kong: Studium Biblicum OFM, 2001); Arnulf Camps, OFM, “Father Gabriele M. Allegra, O.F.M. (1907–1976) and the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum: The First Complete Chinese Catholic Translation of the Bible,” in Bible in Modern China, ed. Eber, Wan and Walf, pp. 55, 76.Google Scholar
  15. 39.
    For reports on the publication of the Studium Biblicum Version, see Bernardino M. Bonansea, OFM, “First Chinese Bible from Original Texts,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly vol. 31 (1969), pp. 521–552; Fang Zhirong (Fang Chih-jung, Mark), “Shengjing: Sigao Shengjing Xuehui yishi,” Shenxue lunji no. 2 (1969), pp. 267–274.Google Scholar
  16. 41.
    Li Shiyu, “Shengjing Xuehui sanshi nian de yange yu gongzuo genggai,” Duo Sheng vol. 13, no. 8 (1975), p. 24.Google Scholar
  17. This is cited in Chiu Wai Boon (Zhao Weiben), Yi jing su yuan: Xiandai wu dai Zhongwen Shengjing fanyi shi (Hong Kong: China Graduate School of Theology, 1993), p. 75.Google Scholar
  18. 43.
    Theobaldus Diederich (Zhai Xu), “Yijing de teshu kunnan,” Duo Sheng vol. 13, no. 8 (1975), pp. 49–50. Diederich’s article is cited in Chiu, Yi jing su yuan, p. 97. See also Xiao Jingshan, “Xiao yin,” in Xinjing quanji.Google Scholar
  19. 44.
    Shengyong yi yi chugao, p. 119. Although Wu did not know biblical languages and Latin, Luo Guang and Fang Hao helped Wu check his translations against the Greek New Testament and the Latin Vulgate. Fang Hao, “Wu Desheng xian-sheng fanyi Shengjing de jingguo” in Fang Hao liushi ziding gao, vol. 2 (Taipei [Taibei]: Taiwan Xuesheng Shuju, 1969), pp. 1977–1978;Google Scholar
  20. Luo Guang, Luoma siji (Taipei [Taibei]: Huaming Shuju, 1962), p. 314.Google Scholar
  21. 50.
    Thor Strandenaes, Principles of Chinese Bible Translation as Expressed in Five Selected Versions of the New Testament and Exemplified by Mt 5:1–12 and Col 1 (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1987), p. 101.Google Scholar
  22. 51.
    Ibid. For an introduction to the works of Greek textual critics, see Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 4th edn. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).Google Scholar
  23. 55.
    According to Nida and Taber, a translation “dynamically equivalent” to the original means “a translation in which the message of the original text has been transposed into the receptor language in such a way that the RESPONSE of the RECEPTOR is essentially like that of the original receptors. Frequently, the form of the original text is changed; but as long as the change follows the rules of back transformation in the source language, of contextual consistency in the transfer, and of transformation in the receptor language, the message is preserved and the translation is faithful.” Eugene A. Nida and Charles R. Taber, The Theory and Practice of Translation (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1969), p. 200.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Cindy Yik-yi Chu 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel K. T. Choi
  • George K. W. Mak

There are no affiliations available

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