I went for a talk held last Saturday 10th August 2007 which commemorates the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Robert Morrison in China. It was interesting, and held totally in Chinese, which was fun since my Chinese is a bit rusty and seriously needs polishing. Anyway, here are my reflections on the event.
讲座一: 圣经翻译与宣教 — 上帝的话语传扬神州大地
讲座二: 走过200年 — 华人圣经翻译的历史回忆与前瞻
**The 200th aniversary celebration of Morrison's entry into China
Topic: The Beginning and Development of the Chinese Bible and Chinese Christianity
Lecture 1: Chinese Bible Translation and Evangelism — The Word of God across the land of China
Speaker: Mr. Ke Weisheng
Lecture 2: Through 200 years — Remembering the translation history of the Chinese Bible and envisioning its future
Speaker: Prof. Huang Ximu
Last Saturday, I went to St. Andrew's Cathedral around 2:30pm to listen to an exciting talk which was conducted to comemmorate Robert Morrison's entry into China. Robert Morrison (马礼逊) was the first Protestant missionary into China during the time of the Qing Dynasty, and the first Protestant Chinese Bible was produced by him.
The talk was split into 2 parts with a break in between. The first part was taken by Mr. Ke Weisheng (柯伟生先生) and Prof. Huang (黄锡木博士) took the second part. Mr. Ke concentrated mainly on the production of Bibles and the growth of churches in China through evangelism and the distribution of Gospel literature, while Prof. Huang focused on the history of translation of the Bible into Chinese and the direction upon which we can move forward on this issue.
The first talk went smoothly enough. Mr. Ke talked very briefly about the various Chinese translations, leaving the topic to Prof. Huang. However, he covered the practical results of the reach of the Bible in China, and the resultant conversion of many Chinese. As he was involved in Bible distribution work in China, he shared with us the difficulties of the Chinese Christians in getting a Bible there, and how precious they treat the Word of God. Coming out of the 'Cultural Revolution' in which the Christians were severely persecuted, churches were closed and Bibles burned, the Chinese churches that survived had little or no Bibles left for themselves (A church with one or more Bibles was considered fortunate). Mr. Ke shared how the various Bible Societies helped to solicit and give Bibles to the Chinese who desperately needed the Word of God. In time, they have need to set up a printing factory exclusively dedicated to the printing of Chinese Bibles in China itself, and about 40 million Bibes have been printed in that factory so far. Even then, the number of Christians in China have grown astronomically, and unofficial figures put the number of Christians at much more than the number of Bibles printed so far. It is because of this that the company printing the Bibles is going to move to a larger factory so as to be able to print more Bibes as a faster pace so as to provide the Chinese, both beleivers and unblievers, with the Word of God.
The second talk by Prof. Huang was more academic and centers on the translation history of the Chinese Bible. In his talk, he thus goes back in time to the time of the Nestorians (景教) who brought their beliefs into China during the Tang and Yuan Dynasty. The next wave of Christian influence was through the Jesuits during the Ming Dynasty in the 17th century AD, with the most prominent person there being the Italian Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci (利玛窦). These waves did not manage to establish Christianity in the land, but the Jesuits at least managed to leave behind some preliminary translation work and a presence in the land. Some time later, a certain Roman Catholic Priest managed to complete a translation of the Bible into Chinese. However, as Roman Catholicism was decaying from within then, he was not allowed to publish this Bible as the Pope had by then passed a decree against all translations of the Bible into the vernacular. This unpublished Bible was therefore entrusted to a museum in Britain, where it remained until Morrison stumbled upon it and made a copy of it himself for reference before he departed for China.
In the course of time, Rev. Robert Morrison departed for China. Together with his friend Rev. William Milne (米怜), he commenced translation of the Bible into Chinese, of course after learning the language first. This translation was finally completed and then printed in Malacca. With this, many other missionaries could start to reach out to the Chinese for Christ, and slowly Chinese were won for Christ (which I am eternally grateful, since I am a Chinese)
Prof. Huang then carried on with the history of Chinese Bible translation up to the production of the Chinese Union Version (和合本) in 1919, which is the most widely used version up till today. It is indeed fascinating, as little known details like the Chinese who helped in the translation process were lifted from obscurity.
Prof. Huang then concluded his talk by talking about the recent events with regards to the Chinese Union Version, as they are producing a revised and updated version (和合本修订版) and have almost if not already completed it. The language of this version is supposed to be updated in order to match the changes in the Chinese language such that the new generations would be able to 'connect' with it. Anyway, each of us who attended the talk were given a cmplimentary copy of the Revised Chinese Union Version New Testament (新约和合本修订版), courtesy of the Bible Society of Singapore.
From this talk, I could see the hand of God working through providence in reaching out to the Chinese. God in His wisdom and love spared China from the reach of the Nestorians and the Jesuits, although the latter did manage to secure a presence in the land, as the time was not yet ripe. Imagine the consequenes if China today would consist mainly of Nestorians (who are unorthodox Christologically) or worse still, Roman Catholic heretics! In His great mercy, God allowed the Protestants enough time to catch up and follow through on His Great Commission in reaching out to the Chinese. As of now, Protestants make up the majority of China's Christians, more than the Catholics who came before us. God used the scholarship of brilliant and learned Jesuits to create some groundwork in the difficult task of translating the Scriptures, in a time when Protestants were not yet up to the task. Robert Morrison's task was thus made easier when the Protestans finally send missionaries to China.
A bit of irony may be noted here. Prof. Huang seems to be rather ecumenical-minded (actually both speakers are), and he was lamenting the fact that it was impossible for work to commence on making a translation of the Bible in Chinese which both Protestants and Roman Catholics could use. This is due to the fact that many terms in the Bible are translated differently by the two groups, and there would be a virtual riot in the churches if anyone would dare to attempt to change the translated word. For example, God in Protestant Bibles is translated as ShangDi (上帝) whereas in Catholic Bibles it is translated as TianZhu (天主). However, I am very much delighted in this fact, as this would make ecumenical efforts in China between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics so much harder, if they can't even agree on the terms to use in addressing God. In this time of growing apostasy, such a linguistic barrier would help to insulate the evangelical & protestant churches of China against the heresies of Rome, as least for some time. Truly, God is at hand protecting the Chinese from what has befallen many countries so far.
After the two talks, there was a Q&A session. Since the main topic was on the translation of the Chinese Bible, I posed a question to the speakers (in English because I do not know how to ask this question in Chinese) regarding the textual basis of the Chinese Union Version and the way forward in Bible translation. Keeping in view the (stupid and ridiculous) on-going KJV-Only controversy, I asked the speakers if the Chinese Union Version was translated based on the Majority or the Critical Text, and which text family would be utilized in the update to the Chinese Union Version. The answer given to my question was that they think that the Chinese Union Version was translated based on the English Revised Version (its better known American counterpart is the New American Bible), which I would come to know later is based on the Critical Text. Later versions like the update would be based on the latest scholarship in textual criticism, and as such would be based on the Critical Text or the Alexandrian text-type. This is a very interesting answer, and poses quite a few questions to KJVOites. I would be truly interested to know what version the Chinese people in a KJVO church should use, since almost all versions of the Chinese Bible are based on the Critical Text and not the Majority Text, nevermind the Textus Receptus or the KJV of 1611.
** Translated by me.