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  • The Bible in Modern China: The Literary and Intellectual Impact
  • Chen-main Wang (bio)
Irene Eber, Sze-kar Wan, and Knut Walf, editors, in collaboration with Roman Malek. The Bible in Modern China: The Literary and Intellectual Impact. Institut Monumenta Serica, Sankt Augustin, in cooperation with the Harry Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Nettetal, Germany: Steyler Verlag, 1999. 450 pp. Hardcover DM 90.00, ISBN 3-8050-0424-9.

The study of the history of Christianity in China has made enormous strides in the past fifteen years, with new articles and monographs devoted to various aspects of the subject appearing with increasing frequency. And yet until now little research has appeared on the Bible in China, whether on its translation into Chinese, its circulation among the populace, or its role in the Chinese church. Since the Bible has been a major instrument in the propagation of the Gospel in China, and moreover because it is intimately related to the perception of Christianity among the general population, the lack of research on this subject has been a major obstacle to our understanding of the history of Christianity in China. Consequently, The Bible in Modern China: The Literary and Intellectual Impact answers a long-felt need for such an account, and, like a precious diamond, reflects its high value from almost every facet.

This volume had its origin in a workshop on the theme of the Bible in modern China, held at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1996. The participants at that workshop represented a number of scholarly communities, including theologians, church historians, and secular scholars. From the papers presented at that conference fourteen have been selected by the editors for publication in this volume, where they have been organized under three headings: Translation of the Bible, Reception of the Bible, and Appropriation of the Bible. Irene Eber, one of the workshop organizers and an editor of the present volume, has also contributed the general introduction.

Among the essays dealing with Bible translations, the one by Nicolas Standaert discusses both the failure of the early Jesuits to accomplish that vital task and their success in publishing a variety of other texts relating to the Bible. As early as 1615, the Jesuits received Vatican permission to begin work on a translation; however, they failed to accomplish this because of the vast amount of time and energy involved and because of their duties in the service of the imperial court. In mid-century, the Propaganda Fide of the Vatican reversed its position, with the result that the dream of a Chinese Catholic Bible was not realized until the mid-twentieth century. Standaert demonstrates how the Jesuits offset this failure by publishing Chinese-language accounts of the life of Jesus, various Sunday [End Page 441] readings, and related works. He demonstrates how the Jesuits were successful in accommodating themselves to the native cultural tradition in adapting the format of the Jing (Classics) to their publications.

In a related study, Arnulf Camps tells of the life and work of Father Gabriele M. Allegra, who devoted himself to the translation and publication in 1968 of the first major edition of the Catholic Chinese Bible, and to the organization of the Studium biblicum Franciscanum as a vehicle for the promotion of biblical literature in Asia.

Although there was no central authority to approve or disapprove of their undertaking the task of translating the Bible, Protestant missionaries in any case faced numerous difficulties in bringing the Union Version to completion. In an 1890 conference, a resolution was reached to produce translations in three separate forms: a Mandarin, a Classical (High Wenli), and an "Easy Wenli" version. Nonetheless, according to Jost Zetzsche's study, almost three decades were to pass before the Mandarin version was in print, while the Classical versions were never completed. Zetzsche also explains how the translation project was delayed by various theological, linguistic, and personal disputes among the individuals involved. And as time passed, the High Wenli version, the most highly regarded of the three proposed versions, gradually lost its attractiveness for the Chinese and missionary translators, while the less attractive Mandarin version in time...


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