Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. März 2006

9.4. Translation and Ideology
Herausgeberin | Editor | Éditeur: Nitsa Ben-Ari (Tel Aviv University)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Literary Interpretation of the Bible in China

REN Dong-Sheng (City of Qingdao, P. R. China)


Abstract: The Bible is a text of ideology. Religious politics as the result of the Reformation lead to the division of the Roman Catholic tradition of interpreting the Bible and the Protestant tradition of translating the Bible. This is reflected in the history of Chinese Bible translation. Apart from the two religious sects’ traditions of Bible translation in China, a new tradition developed with the new name for God, Yà-Wèi (亚卫) as its most distinct mark. This paper reveals that the Chinese way of recognizing a religion-oriented text as literary based on the Chinese culture and its tradition of translation, allows for the literary interpretation of the Bible beyond religious circles in the mainland of China. In modern China, where no religion occupies an important position in culture, the religious nature of the Bible is dismissed as its secondary or subordinate nature, and its literary merits are accepted as its primary nature.

Key words: Chinese Bible translation; Chinese recognition of literature; Chinese scholars’ habit of interpreting religion-oriented texts; Chinese tradition of translation


0. Introduction

The Bible is regarded as one of the hundred most translated books which have exerted great influence upon modern China. (Zou Zhen-huan, 1996:36-41). Being "a text of ideology (Ben-Ari, 2000), the Old Testament asserts an obvious nationalism as it entails the idea of God’s election of the Hebrews, while the New Testament presents Christian teachings. Logically, the chief purpose of translating Bible is to gain as many believers as possible by means of circulating versions of the Bible in as many human languages as possible in the world. In a sense, it was because of differences in interpreting the text of the Bible that the two sects, the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church, were divided with their own distinctive tradition of canonizing different biblical books. This difference of religious politics is reflected in the history of Chinese Bible translation. Apart from the two religious sects’ traditions, a new tradition of interpreting and translating the Bible started by non-Christian Chinese scholars with the new name for God, Yà-Wèi (亚卫) as its most distinct mark. This paper attempts to reveal how the Chinese way of recognizing religion-oriented texts as literary, bred by Chinese culture and its translation tradition, directs the literary interpretation of the Bible beyond religious circles in the mainland of China.


1. A Review of the History of Chinese Bible Translation before 1949

There appear to have been three phases during which the Bible was translated into Chinese by missionaries, who came to China from the West before 1919. After 1919, Chinese translators were involved in translating the Bible independently, whether partially or completely.

1.1 The First Phase: During the T’ang Dynasty (Form 635 A.D~845 A.D)

The first introductory translation of the Bible took place in 635 A. D in the T’ang Dynasty, when both translations of the Sanskrit and the Bible in ancient Syrian (the Peshito Verison, called Zhen Jin in Chinese, meaning the Book of True Teaching. Broomhall, 2000 : 32) were encouraged owing to the Emperor’s policy of welcoming foreign cultures. While Xuan Zang, the master Chinese translator who had come back from his journey which he made to seek the sutra, and Bo Po, the Persian scholar of Buddhism, who was invited to the Capital with the task of introducing the sutra, did their translation in their separate Translation Workshops, Bible translation was also done in the officially built Translation Temple. Alopenzz, a Nestorian bishop from Persia, the famous Bible translator and interpreter, was honorably entitled and treated as respected guest by the Emperor. His translation group, consisting of scholars from Persia and Chinese scholars, borrowed terms and expressions from Taoism and Buddhism when interpreting the biblical text. For example, the name of God, Alaha or Aloho in ancient Syrian (Elohim or Eloah in Hebrew), was transliterated into "A-Luo-He(阿罗诃), the three Chinese characters being borrowed from the translation of a Buddhist sutra. (Weng Shao-jun, 1996:45) A translation tradition, characteristic of this opening and compatibility, formed during this period. Unsurprisingly, Jing Jing, a master Bible translator after Aloppenzz, collaborated with a sutra translator in translating a sutra text. In 845 when Wu Zong, an Emperor of the T’ang Dynasty who disliked Buddhism, prohibited Buddhism abruptly, Christianity (called Jing Jiao in Chinese, meaning the Grand Teaching) was embroiled, thus Bible translation also ended.

1.2 The Second Phase: From the End of 16 th Century to 1707

By the end of 16 th century, the Bible was introduced again to China by its proponents, the Jesuits who came to China to preach. The Bible the Jesuits based their translation on was the Vulgate translated by St. Jerome during 382-405, popular since 8 th century, and eventually authorized to be the Standard Bible for the Roman Catholic Church in 1564. In order to emophasize the Catholic understanding of the Bible, the Jesuits transliterated the Latin Name of God, Deus, into Dou Si (陡斯), but the two Chinese words conveyed nothing meaningful). Matthaeus Ricci(1552-1610), who tried to bridge the gap between Catholic teaching and Confucianism, found Tianzhu (天主, the Lord of the Heaven), Tian (天, the Heaven) and Shangdi (上帝, the Top Ruler) in the Chinese classics to be corresponding with Deus, the Creator in the Bible. After his death, his choice met with opposition from other Jesuits who insisted on transliteration rather than the Chinese expressions. The issue of whether transliterated Deus or a borrowed expression form Chinese was to be used, was finally settled with Tianzhu as the only orthodox Chinese translation according to the encyclicals of Pope Clemant XI. But unfortunately, the Bishops intervened in the translation of Deus and the Chinese tradition of honoring the ancestors resulted in the suppression and the eventual eviction of Jesuits from China.

The Jesuits, who lived in China for nearly 200 years, should have produced at least one complete version of the Bible. But they failed. Why? In 1615, upon Jesuit Nicolas Trigault’s (1577-1628) request for permission to translate the Bible into Chinese, the Roman Pope, Paul V, released Romanae Sedis Antistes that a Chinese Bible version in scholarly style (classical literary Chinese) rather than in vernacular style be done, but the Propaganda Fidei, founded in 1622 taking charge of spreading the Bible overseas, did not encourage the planned project because such an effort was dismissed as unnecessary. Even after Louis de Poirot (1735-1814) had informed the Propaganda Fidei of having finished the translation of most of the Bible into Chinese, his manuscript was not authorized for publication. Similarly several other Jesuits’ translation of the Bible into Chinese were not allowed to be published because of the Propaganda Fidei’s order that no new translation was to be published. As a result, it was not until the second half of 19 th century that the Bishop in charge of China was allowed to publish Chinese Bible versions. (Irene, 2003 : 24).

There were other reasons for the Jesuits’ failure to produce a complete Chinese Bible. Firstly, some Jesuits feared that such a Chinese version of the Bible, once produced, would offend the Confucianism which all Chinese scholars adored, thus inviting repression from the Government. Secondly, they wanted to follow the model of Matthaeus Ricci’s strategy of introducing applied sciences in which Chinese scholars were interested prior to spreading Christianity. So they were too busy to translate the whole Bible. Take Matthaeus Ricci as example; Qu Guang-qi, a scholarly higher official of the late Ming Dynasty and a converted Catholic friend of Ricci, had once asked Ricci to translate the whole Bible, promising a special building for the program, but Ricci declined politely, complaining about over the great burden of translating books on geometry and other applied sciences. Ricci also considered it would be a hard job to translate the Bible into Chinese, and even if a translation should be accomplished, the program must be permitted by the Pope. Thirdly, some Jesuits supposed that, given the difficulty to master Chinese for a foreigner, it would be an impossible task to translate the Bible into Chinese. J. Rho (1593-1638) found there was a big difference between Chinese and Latin and D. de Pantoja (1571-1618) complained that Chinese was such a different language that you might find yourself still a baby even after having learned it for years.

1.3 The Third Phase: From 1823 to 1919

In 1823, a complete Chinese version of the Bible in classical Chinese was finished by Robert Morrison (1782-1834), the first Protestant missionary coming to China, with help form William Milne (1785-1822). The followers of Morrison made continued efforts in revising Morrison’s version or started new translation programs, either individually or in collaboration. There were 9 complete Chinese versions of the Bible in Wenli (literary classical Chines), or Easy Wenli, or Guanhua (Mandarin) published between 1823 to 1919. Noteworthy was the fact that a special edition with larger Chinese characters, the Delegates’ Version (containing only the New Testament and first prepared in 1852 by missionaries and polished by Wang Tao, a famous Chinese scholar) was presented to Ci Xi, the Queen Mother of the late Qing Dynasty in 1894 when the whole nation was celebrating her 60 th birthday. Another four copies of this edition were presented to the Emperor’s families later (Zou Zhenhuan, 1996:36-41).

It was really a dramatic turn that the rulers of the early Qing Dynasty oppressed the Jesuits’ spreading of the Christian doctrine, when the Empire was powerful economically, militarily and culturally, but by the end of the Dynasty when the Empire was greatly weakened by repeated military failures, an edition of Chinese Bible was presented as a special gift to the royal families. The publication of the Chinese Mandarin Union Version in April of 1919 met with immediate success, partially owing to Chinese scholars and men of letters welcoming Mandarin literature. Modern Chinese scholars and young lovers of literature approached this version from perspective of literature. The shift of attitude towards the Bible and Christianity manifests the power of Christian culture in conquering other cultures.

1.4 The Period from 1919 to 1949

In this period, China was characterized by multiple ideologies, none of which was dominating. Sun Zhong-shan, the leader of the 1911 Revolution was a Christian himself, and the Temporary President, Yuan Shi-kai, was interested in Christianity. The President of the Republic of China, Jiang Jie-shi, converted to the Roman Catholic Church in 1928, and became a diligent reader of the Bible. The nation under the rule of the Kuo Ming Dang was even divided into over 100 Parishes under 20 Catholic Provinces with each Province having its archbishop and bishops. (Le Fang and Wen Yong, 1995:291) With the Catholic and Protestant Churches sponsoring schools and colleges, access to the Bible, in English or in Chinese became easy for Chinese readers. The Chinese Mandarin Union Version was so frequently republished that Chinese scholars and writers often learned their skills of writing from it. Many Chinese writers or poets took such great interest in the Bible that they bought it for reading and appreciation. Lu Xun and Mao Dun, two famous writers, had bought the Chinese Bible for study or as a source for their literary creation, and both borrowed the story of Jesus’ crucifixion for literary re-creation. Some translators, who were writers and scholars themselves, even translated the biblical poetic books. Xu Di-shan, a noted writer and scholar, and Chen Meng-jia, a talented young poet, translated the Songs of Solomon respectively in 1921 and 1932. Li Rong-fang, the first Chinese scholar on the Old Testament, translated the Lamentations into "Sao-Style" (a delicate poetic writing tradition started by Qu Yuan, a master Chinese poet, 340 B.C-278 B.C.) in 1931. In 1941, Zhu Wei-zhi, translated the fifth part of the Lamentations into "Sao-Style". In 1946, Wu Jing-xiong, a talented scholar and lawyer, with help of the President Jiang Jie-shi, translated all of the Psalms into Chinese traditional poetic forms, namely, the "Four-word", "Five-word", "Seven-word" and "Sao-Style". He also translated the New Testament in 1949. Lü Zhen-zhong, a scholar of Greek in the current Yan Jing University, translated the New Testament in 1946, and revised his version in 1952. He independently finished a translation of the complete Bible in 1970. These are only examples of Chinese Bible translations undertaken by Chinese scholars single-handedly.


2. The Situation since 1949

The foundation of the People’s Republic of China marked the expulsion of foreign imperialistic influences including the foreign influence of Christianity in China, since Marxism became the dominating ideology of the nation under leadership of the Communist Party. There appeared a vacuum in terms of Bible translation and circulation especially during 1966 to 1976 when most ancient writings or books were prohibited (for reading and distributing). The Chinese Bible was labeled a "banned book", so few scholars, if they were not Christian could have a Chinese Bible to read, let alone ordinary readers. Only after China’s opening to the world since the end of 1980s could Chinese scholars return to the Bible and renew their interest in researching it academically. Although no new translation program has been put forth or attempted in practice by Chinese scholars or translators, the Apocrypha, which Zhu Wei-zhi once claimed should be included in the Bible as early as in 1941, were translated by Zhang Jiu-xuan, a Chinese scholar, and published in Beijing in 1978. It is the first time for a Chinese translator to translate the Apocrypha. Many scholars interested in the Bible published their translations or compiled or edited versions of Bible stories.

Effort to retranslate the Bible into contemporary Chinese continued outside the mainland of China. In Taiwai, a group of scholars led by G.M. Allegra produced a complete version for the Chinese Catholic Church in 1968. In 1979, five Chinese Christian/Protestant scholars jointly produced a complete version, the Contemporary Chinese Version, under the direction of Eugene A. Nida’s principle of dynamic equivalence in Hong Kong (Zhao Wei-ben, 1993:110). It is interesting to note that this version, in order to make reading easy for ordinary readers outside the Christian circle, omitted the Chinese name of God, Ye-He-Hua (耶和华), which was initially introduced in the Delegation Version published in 1852 and adopted in the Chinese Mandarin Union Version in 1919 and has become familiar to Chinese readers both inside or outside the Christian circle. In 1992, a complete Chinese version of the Bible, New Chinese Version, was translated by a group of Christian scholars in Hong Kong, with the Chinese name for God, Ye-He-Hua conserved. Since the edition of Contemporary Chinese Version was issued by Chinese Churches in the mainland of China in late 1990s, some scholars are likely to have access to it either for academic research or leisure reading, but it is rather difficult for a Chinese scholar or a college student to get a copy of the New Chinese Version. Chinese Bible versions are available only in Chinese Churches and a handful of Christian bookstores.

Research on the Chinese Bible translation is a new area in mainland China since 1994. While scholars outside the Christian circle, who are mostly non-believers, do the research, they scarcely have an opportunity to have a dialogue with scholars who are believers. There is a big gap in terms of belief, or in terms of ideology between the two. Lack of cultural exchange presents a blockage of information and misunderstanding of each other. There are a few scholars in mainland China interested in the Chinese Bible translation, but given the lack of reference materials and illiteracy in Hebrew and Greek, they are not likely to achieve anything insightful. What is worse, they just quoted or copied findings other scholars have made, and it is possible that this results in many errors academically, or at least in confusion. The worst is the fact that, given the dominating ideology, where free research work is discouraged and limited, some papers with insightful ideas and convincing conclusions are likely to be ignored or even banned for publication. Also, Chinese scholars often differ academically when debating such issues as the status of Chinese Bible translation history through the translation history of China, Chinese Bible translation theories’ contribution to the heritage of translation theories of China, and Chinese Bible version’s role in Chinese culture.


3. Literary Interpretation of the Bible in China

The Bible has been esteemed as the sacred book of Christianity in Western Christian nations. However, due to its duality as religion and literature, a reader’s perspective can be shifted. In Chinese cultural and literary contexts it is approached and interpreted from a literary perspective by most Chinese scholars and translators outside of the Chinese Catholic and Christian circles. This tradition was started by Yan Fu in 1908. In the 1920s, the Bible was introduced as one of world literary classics by Chinese scholars. This literary interpretation was enforced by the Chinese translators’ choice of the new name for God. By the turn of 21 st century a literary interpretation of the Bible became popular beyond Christian circles in the mainland of China.

3.1 The Significance of Yan Fu’s Involvement in Bible Translation

The first attempt by a non-Christian Chinese to translate a Biblical segment from a literary perspective, was made by Yan Fu in 1908. Yan Fu, the most prominent translator of China in the late Qing Dynasty, was paid to translate chapter 1-4 of Mark based on the English Revised Version of 1885 by British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS). A faithful guard for Chinese traditional values, Yan Fu proved to be a non-traditional translator of the Bible: he deliberately omitted two important sentences of the original:

And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete it shall be measured unto you: and more shall be given unto you. For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath. (Mark : 3: 24-25)

Yan Fu did so because Jesus’ teaching conflicted with Chinese ideas of Impartiality and Equality, and his sponsor did not complain about such a manipulation. Before Yan Fu started translating Mark 1-4 in classical Chinese style he himself advocated zealously, the Christian missionaries had completed their own translation in classical Chinese style (Wenli). BFBS had not expected much from the missionary’s version, rather, it hoped Yan Fu’s version, with his fame as first-class translator, would be popular reading among Chinese literati. (Li Chi-chang and Li Tian-gang, 2000) Yan Fu did his translation in the hope of making the Bible a world classic to his Chinese readers (I-Jin Loh, 1995), and his classical literary language was praised as being rich in "literary taste and elegance" (Zhu Wei-zhi, 1990: 72).

Before Yan Fu, Chinese scholars such as Wang Tao, who helped polish the Delegation Version published in 1852, and He Jin-shan, who just paraphrased the Gospels, were not independent in interpreting the Bible. Yan Fu did his version independently, and his translation was full of literary recreation. His independence in keeping his own style and freedom to omit what he disliked indicated that he was actually not affected or controlled by the religious monopoly in interpreting and translating the Bible. Rather, his translation presented an "other" voice against it. Yan Fu’s literary translation of Mark 1-4 was a sign that a literary orientation appeared in the translation of the Chinese Bible (Ren Dong-sheng, 2003).

3.2 Introduction of the Bible as Literary Classic in 1920s

The 1920s saw great freedom in expressing various ideologies in China. It was the time, when many western works on politics, sociology and economy were introduced, including works of Christianity, Marxism and Darwinism. While the New Mandarin Vernacular Movement was in full swing, the Chinese Mandarin Union Version came into the field of vision of Chinese scholars and writers, who were not Christian believers but quite familiar with the Bible, either in English or in Chinese, as a result of their education in schools or universities sponsored by churches, and as a result of their experience of living and studying in Christian countries. In 1920, Zhou Zuo-ren, an influential scholar of the time, foresaw the fate of the Bible (he referred to Chinese Mandarin Union Version) in relation to the development of Chinese literature. He pointed out that the Bible surely would exert a different influence upon China, because the time and the receptive situation in China were so different from that of Europe. Zhou Zuo-ren made clear the dualism of the Bible in 1920, "With regard to content, the Bible containing the New Testament and Old Testament is similar to the Four Books and the Five Classics China boasts, both having two identities: religious teaching and national literature. (Zhou Zuo-ren, 1921) Zheng Zhen-duo, another current influential scholar and the first to briefly introduce the whole Bible as a literary classic to Chinese readers, echoed in 1924 that the Old Testament was a body of the best literature the Hebrew people produced during ten thousand years, and the New Testament was a collection of literary work in Greek (Zheng Zhen-duo, 1924). Zheng Zhen-duo also pointed out the real authors and styles of the biblical books, indicating that the Bible was not a holy book with God as author. Both Zhou Zuo-ren and Zheng Zhen-duo, as representatives of the current Chinese scholars, firmly held that the Bible was a genuine literary classic. There was little wonder that more and more Chinese readers, most being university students, began to approach the Bible from a literary perspective. What Zhu Wei-zhi recalled about the situation can be seen as proof of this:

The new translation of Chinese Mandarin Union Version completed just before May the Fourth aroused young literature lovers’ interest. Psalms, Song of Solomon, Job, and Matthew appealed to them very much. (Zhu Wei-zhi, 1998)

A new context formed, in which China was learning from the West by translating western literary works as part of the effort, and in which the Bible, even prepared by missionary translators, was considered by Chinese scholars and men of letters to be a piece of great literary work the world had ever produced. In other words, Chinese scholars took the literary quality of the Bible as its primary or dominating nature, and took its religious nature as the secondary or non-dominating nature. This perspective of approaching the Bible was contrary to that in the West.

3.3 A New Choice for the Name of God

Most English Bibles see no trouble with rendering the name of the Creator or God into one word: Jehovah. When translated into Chinese, however, problems arise. As I have said, God’s name was transliterated into different Chinese words in the four phases of the translation of the Bible into Chinese. The differences were due mainly to translators’ adoption of different Bible versions in different languages as their chief source. But after the Chinese transliteration of God’s name as Ye-he-hua had been accepted as authoritative for Christians and popular outside the Christian circle, Li Rong-fang, the then Dean of Religion Department of Yan Jing University, created Yà-Wèi (亚卫) as a new transliteration. The pronunciation of Yà-Wèi, is likely to break the relation or kinship between Ye-he-hua, the God in the Old Testament and Ye-Su, the Son of God in the New Testament in terms of Chinese pronunciation.

By now, there are three sets of Chinese names for God because three groups of translators did the translation differently. The first is Ye-He-Hua (耶和华) created by Protestant missionary translators in 1854 and still popular in Protestant Christian circles, and the first character Ye is the same as the first character of Ye-Su (耶稣), the Chinese name for Jesus, indicating the unity and coherence of the Old Testament and the New Testament. The second is Yă-Wéi (雅威, meaning elegant and awe-inspiring) the Chinese Catholic name for the God. The third is Yà-Wèi (亚卫), originated by Li Rong-fang and followed by other Chinese translators and scholars such as Zhu Wei-zhi and his student Prof. Liang Gong and Liang’s M. A. students. And this choice of God’s name has even been published in the textbooks used for college students appreciating the Bible as literature. In a collection of essays on the relation between the Bible and literary works by famous western authors, Prof. Liang Gong, as the editor of the collection, made the Chinese name for God uniformly into Yà-Wèi (亚卫). (See Lian Gong, 2000/2003) Prof. Liang Gong’s identity as non-Christian scholar is the decisive factor in creating such uniformity. When the teacher introduces the God in the Old Testament, he uses Yà-Wèi (亚卫) instead of Ye-He-Hua, and Chinese students approaching the Chinese Bible begin to accept the transliteration.

Some scholars (Le Feng and Wen Yong, 1995: 412-413), having noticed the choice of Yà-Wèi, blamed the new coinage as probably adding to the confusion of the Chinese name of God. The truth is, in my view, that just because of different cultural backgrounds, the three categories of translators formed different traditions of transliterating the names of God. Li Rong-fang was purposeful in creating a different Chinese name, and his choice was deeply grounded in the Chinese way of the recognition of literary works and in Chinese scholars’ habit of interpreting religion-oriented texts as a result of Chinese culture and translation traditions.


4. The Chinese Way of Recognizing Literary Works

The Bible has been regarded as the core text on which Christianity is based in the West. After the Vulgate became popular and eventually authorized as the Standard Bible for the Roman Catholic Church in 1564, the Catholic Church monopolized interpreting the Bible. As a result of the Reformation with its emphasis on the Bible itself as the only authority, translating the Bible into different vernaculars became popular. When translated by the Jesuits and Protestant missionaries into Chinese, two translation traditions were formed in terms of key theological terms, proper names and places. Of course, the Chinese Catholic Church and the Chinese Protestant Church used Bible versions of their own for teaching the audience of their own sects and converting potential believers.

The Non-Christian Chinese scholars’ habit of interpreting religion-oriented texts is bred by Chinese culture. The Chinese culture tends to welcome foreign cultures, and compatibility is one of its characteristics. It seldom refuses foreign cultures, as long as they are introduced in a friendly way. Proof of this is that no bloody religious conflicts have taken place in the history of Chinese culture. It also can be verified in the case of encouraging both the introduction of Sanskrit and the Bible translation during the main part of the T’ang Dynasty (618-907). As Confucianism advocates, the idea of taking human being as the essence of the universe is contrary to the belief that there is a Creator for the universe. There are little chances in Chinese culture for any religion to assume a dominating position, so, neither Daode Jing (the Book of Morality) which is esteemed by Taoism, nor Xiao Jing (the Book of Filialness) which Confucianism holds to be its primary teaching, neither the Sanskrit as a foreign culture, nor the Bible which adores the only God, would occupy the center of Chinese politics. Believing in no religion, Chinese scholars tend to believe Confucius’ thesis that a piece of written work cannot survive through time if it does not possess literariness (言之无文,行之不远). In their eyes, any religious teachings in form of text, can be approached and interpreted from the perspective of literature as long as they have survived successfully through time and have been read generation after generation. A religious text which shows literariness can be defined as a literary work, too. It is the insightful ideas and beautiful imaginations and literariness in a religiously oriented text that appeal to Chinese scholars - this makes up the context of Chinese recognition of literature. While Liang Qi-chao, an influential Chinese scholar who was well accomplished in Sanskrit studies stated that all Sanskrit texts were literary works (Liang Qi-chao, 1989), other scholars such as Zhou Zuo-ren and Zhen Zheng-duo wanted to approach the Bible from the perspective of literature rather than from the perspective of religion.


5. Chinese Translation Tradition

The translation tradition of China has grown up gradually out of a functionalism, taking whatever is useful from the West to serve for China. It does not exclude such large-scale translation movements as the Sanskrit translation and the Bible translation which took place inside China. It is a tradition esteeming "impartiality and opening", (Eva Hung, 2000) and it is also characteristic of "compatibility" (Xiao Li-ming, 2002). The translation of the Bible into Chinese was encouraged and sponsored by the Emperors during the T’ang Dynasty; the Jesuits’ translating of the Bible was allowed by the Emperors during 17-18 th centuries. The translating of the Bible flourished from after the Opium War (1840) to the eve of the May 4 th Movement in 1919 with one of the most luxurious Chinese Bibles, the Queen’s Version. Chinese scholars and translators were free to retranslate the Bible, incomplete or complete, during the period of the Republic of China (1911-1949), thus leading to the multiplication in translations of the Bible into Chinese. As a matter of fact, Li Rong-fang conceived the plan to retranslate the Bible out of his dissatisfaction with the existing Chinese Bible versions. The versions of the Chinese Bible which missionary translators had produced had many flaws. Firstly, since the foreign translators mainly referred to the English version of the Bible, mostly the King James Version (1611) and its Revised Version (1885), though consulting the most influential Hebrew and Greek versions, their final Chinese versions were not perfect in representing the "original Bible". Secondly, it was hard for the foreign translators, given their limited mastering of the Chinese language, to avoid lack of refinement in Chinese as the target language. Thirdly, and the most noteworthy, they translated biblical songs and poems, which are in strict format and dedicated devices, such as Parallelism used in the Psalms, and Kinah and Acrostic employed in the Lamentations, into prose style, but not into poetic style (maybe because of their limitations in managing Chinese). When we consider that in most of the famous Bible versions such as Luther’s Version in German, the King James Bible, the American Standard Version, and Chinese Mandarin Union Version, Studium Version, Modern Chinese Version and New Chinese Version, biblical songs and poems were not translated into poetic style, but prose style, we have to admit that Li Rong-fang as Chinese translator of the Lamentations started a new trend. We should, however, not forget the fact that some of the missionary translators in China have pioneered the translation of biblical poems into Chinese poetic forms or styles. For example, John Chalmers (1825-1899), a missionary translator from England had tried to translate 20 of the Psalms into Chinese poetic forms in 1890, and F. B. Baller (1852-1922), one of the translators involved in translating the Chinese Mandarin Union Version, also translated the Psalms into rhymed Chinese. (See Jost, 2002:136-137; 209) Chinese translators such as Xu Di-shan, Li Rong-fang, Chen Meng-jia, Zhu Wei-zhi, and Wu Jing-Xiong did their translation of biblical poems and songs from perspective of literature; they even drew the biblical poetry away from its religious context of the Bible.


6. Conclusion

Translations are facts in the target cultures (Toury, 2001:29). Chinese Bible translations took place inside China; therefore, such events could not avoid contacts or clashes with Chinese culture and its translation tradition. The Bible, rich in literary merit, when introduced to Chinese culture, where no religion occupies a dominating position, confronted a new context. Non-Christian Chinese scholars would like to approach it from a literary perspective, no longer interpreting it as a religious text. Chinese scholars actually have tried in many ways to render the Bible as a world literary work since the turn of 20 th century. To translate the biblical poems outside their biblical context recreationally for literary appreciation is one their ways of interpreting and manipulating the Bible. The Chinese Bible translation thus has manifested a third tradition, with the transliteration of Yà-Wèi (亚卫) as the most distinctive mark beyond the two sets of Chinese names for God. Just like the Chinese Catholic Bible and the Chinese Protestant Bible are used respectively to reach their own audience, a Chinese Bible with Yà-Wèi (亚卫) as the name for God will appeal to more and more readers who would like to interpret the Bible from the perspective of literature. Only if its is introduced and accepted as a world literary masterpiece can the Bible circulate through China. This is the key to understanding why the religious nature of the Bible is dismissed as its secondary or subordinate nature, and its literary merits are accepted as its primary nature in China.

© REN Dong-Sheng (City of Qingdao, P. R. China)


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9.4. Translation and Ideology

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REN Dong-Sheng (City of Qingdao, P. R. China): Literary Interpretation of the Bible in China. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW:

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