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  • A Study of the History of Nestorian Christianity in China and Its Literature in Chinese: Together with a New English Translation of the Dunhuang Nestorian Documents
  • Gunner Mikkelsen (bio)
Li Tang. A Study of the History of Nestorian Christianity in China and Its Literature in Chinese: Together with a New English Translation of the Dunhuang Nestorian Documents. Second revised edition. European University Studies, Series 27, Asian and African Studies, vol. 87. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang AG, 2004. 230 pp. Paperback $47.95, ISBN 3–631–52274–6.

Not since the 1930s has the research focus on the history and texts of the Church of the East, the so-called “Nestorian” Church, a name it acquired as a term of opprobrium, in China been as intensive as in the past decade. The publication in 1996 of Paul Pelliot’s annotated French translation of the Chinese inscription on the famous Nestorian stele from Xi’an in L’inscription nestorienne de Si-ngan-fu: Edited with supplements by Antonino Forte(Kyoto: Scuola di Studi sull’Asia Orientale; Paris: Collège de France, Boccard) has proven a major boost to the field. Pelliot’s work was produced three quarters of a century ago, and for obvious reasons it includes only to a very limited extent the Nestorian texts recovered in the Mogao “library” cave at Dunhuang in the first decade and a half of the twentieth century. Pelliot was aware of the importance of the Dunhuang texts to the reading of the inscription since he himself on his visit to the Mogao cave in 1908 had recovered and in situ identified three small manuscripts containing three Chinese [End Page 232]Nestorian texts, the Sanwei mengdu zan(Gloria in excelsis deo), Zunjing(Venerables and books), and a short historical postscript that stated that a number of these texts had been translated by Jingjing (Adam), the composer of the Xi’an inscription.

In 2001, English translations of the Dunhuang texts were published in Martin Palmer’s The Jesus Sutras: Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity(New York: Ballantine Wellspring), but, unfortunately for the serious student, these are of the free variety. In the same year, an Italian translation of the inscription by Matteo Nicolini-Zani was published in La via della luce, Stele di Xi’an(Ed. Qiqajon. Magnano, Italy: Monastero di Bose). Useful overviews of the history and texts of the Tang (by Pénélope Riboud) and Yuan periods (by Johan Van Mechelen) were included in the monumental Handbook of Christianity in China, Volume One: 635–1800, edited by Nicolas Standaert (Leiden: Brill, 2001). Detailed studies by Lin Wushu of the Tang texts and their authenticity, terminology, and so on and of the early history of the Church in China appeared in 2003 in his Tangdai jingjiao zai yanjiu(Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe). Xu Longfei’s Die nestorianische Stele in Xi’an: Begegnung von Christentum und chinesischer Kultur(Bonn: Borengässer) was published in 2004; it contains a German translation of the Xi’an inscription (Chinese part) and commentary to many of its technical terms and phrases. Most recently, Nestorian funerary inscriptions in Turkic, Turko-Syriac, and Chinese from the Yuan period, kept in the Maritime History Museum in Quanzhou, have been published in two important works: Iain Gardner, Samuel Lieu, and Ken Parry (eds.), From Palmyra to Zayton: Epigraphy and Iconography(Turnhout: Brepols); and Wu Wenliang’s Quanzhou zongjiao shikefrom 1957, revised and augmented by his son Wu Youxiong (Beijing: Kexue Chubanshe).

In its provision of new English translations of seven Nestorian texts from Dunhuang (pp. 145–204), the book under review is a welcome contribution to the field. In her introduction, Tang Li rightly states: “The Japanese scholar Y. Saeki once attempted to give a full translation of them. However, his translation is based on his interpretation of the original texts and should be, in my opinion, strongly challenged” (p. 14). There is no doubt that Tang’s translations are more accurate than those published by Saeki in his often-cited The Nestorian Documents and Relics in China(Tokyo: Maruzen, 1937; 2nd ed., 1951). Regrettably, though, several errors immediately leap to the eye. A major and...