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Chinese Works : Chinese Harmony of the Gospels

Chinese Works

<p style='text-align: justify;'>Jean Basset (1662-1707) a French missionary of the Missions Etrangères de Paris in Sichuan Province, assisted by a Chinese convert Johan Xu (d. 1734), undertook to translate the New Testament from the Vulgate into literary Chinese. At the time of his death the translation had reached the first chapter of the <i>Epistle to the Hebrews</i>.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>In 1739 an anonymous copy of a Chinese <i>Harmony of the Gospels</i>, plus the remaining books up to Hebrews 1, came into the hands of Sir Hans Sloane and was deposited in the British Museum (MS Sloane 3599). Proposals were made in 1801 and 1804 to publish the manuscript, but the technical difficulties and consequent vast expense of such a procedure (£6000 for 5000 copies) meant that nothing was done. In 1805 Robert Morrison (1782-1834), the first Protestant missionary to China, transcribed this manuscript with the help of a Chinese assistant. He subsequently based his own Bible translation on it, and thus laid the foundation of the entire Protestant missionary enterprise in China.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>In 1964 the Bible Society acquired the manuscript shown here (now MS Add.10067). Although in a different hand, its content is identical with Sloane 3599; either the latter had been copied from the former, or both from the same archetype.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The existence of a Chinese translation of the <i>New Testament</i>, said to be in the library of the Propaganda Fidei in Rome, was mentioned in several learned publications during the nineteenth century, but no-one had ever seen it. Only in 2006 was a Chinese manuscript in the Biblioteca Casanatense in Rome (Codex 2024) recognised as the one formerly supposed to have been in the Propaganda Fidei.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>In this newly-identified manuscript the Four Gospels appear as separate works, the other books being identical with the two previously known versions. It was the gift of Giovanni Giacomo Fatinelli (1653-1736), who acted as procurator in Rome for Cardinal de Tournon (1668-1710), the ill-fated Papal legate to China. The handwriting is the same as that of MS Add.10067, fully proving the authenticity of the latter.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>MS Add.10067 is written on paper of European manufacture which bears a watermark of a hunting horn on a shield and the initials IB and PP. The clear and well-formed characters are those of an educated native copyist. Punctuation is added in red, consisting of small circles indicating periods and side lines indicating proper nouns (single for persons and double for places). The first page of the manuscript is missing.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The translation is, as noted by the Bible Society assessors in 1804, not only "accurate" but "in point of style of superior elegance to any known Chinese translation from European languages." The Harmony (in 28 chapters) is not the famous <i>Diatessaron</i> of Tatian but one otherwise unknown (possibly done in China). There is no doubt that had its publication not been prevented first by the reluctance of its original sponsors and later by insuperable technical difficulties, a very fine version of the Gospels could have been made available to Chinese readers much earlier than eventually occurred.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The transcription of the Chinese text is taken from the Digital edition of the Chinese Wenli New Testament (incomplete; 1707) by Fr. Jean Basset (1662-1707) and Fr. Johan Xu (? -1734) created by Simon Wong, by courtesy of the United Bible Societies © United Bible Societies, 2018.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'><b>References</b></p><p style='text-align: justify;'> A.C. Moule, 'A manuscript Chinese version of the New Testament (British Museum, Sloane 3599)', <i>Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society</i> 85 (1949): 23-33<br /> Eugenio Menegon, 'The Biblioteca Casanatense (Rome) and its China materials', <i>Sino-Western Cultural Relations Journal</i> 22 (2000): 31-55<br />蔡錦圖 (Daniel Kam To Choi), 白日陞的中文聖經譯本及其對早期新教譯經的影響 ('The Chinese Bible manuscript of Jean Basset and its influence on the early Protestant Chinese Bible translation'), 華神期刊 (<i>China Evangelical Seminary Journal</i>) 1 (2008): 50-77<br />内田庆市 (Uchida Keiichi), 白日昇漢譯聖經攷 ('Jean Basset's translation of the Bible into Chinese'), 東アジア文化交涉研究 (<i>Journal of East Asian Cultural Interaction Studies</i>) 5 (2012): 191-198<br /></p>

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