The Xu Dishan Collection » Christianity & Christian texts

Christianity & Christian texts

Christianity came to China quite early, Nestorianism for example was known since the 7th century. Missionary efforts started in the 16th and 17th centuries when Jesuits established a school in Macau, and the famous missionary and translator Matteo Ricci began missionary work in 1583 in Zhaoqing (Guangdong). The Jesuits carried out missionary work until 1724 until Emperor Yongzheng banned Christianity and its missions.

In 1807 Robert Morrison began the Protestant mission on behalf of the London Missionary Society. Morrison was a prolific translator and writer. He was a first translator who recognised the form of vernacular fiction as the best style for a Chinese bible and other theological works, an influence that prevailed in translation works.

From 1844 missionary work and Christianity was allowed again and mission activity increased hugely. The London Missionary Society would play a role in Xu Dishan’s life. He joined the Southern Fujian London Missionary Society in 1916 and was baptised in the same year. The London Missionary Society supported him to study in the literature department of Yanjing University.

Many authors have tried to define the degree of Xu’s Christian faith and views since he himself rarely spoke of it. It is said that he adhered to rituals and practices and went to mass regularly.

Most of the authors agree that Xu combined Buddhist and Christian philosophies in his stories, and the main Christian religious concepts for him were a means (or one means between others) suitable for the task of modernising China.

Author: Friederike Schimmelpfennig (August 2021)

Christianity highlights from the Xu Dishan collection

The Xing jing quan ji 新經全集 (Complete New Testament), with annotations, by Joseph Siao

This is a Catholic New Testament (xing ji 新經) translated into Chinese by the Joseph Siao (Xiao Jingshan 蕭靜山, 1855-1924), a member of the Jesuit mission. This print is based on Xiao’s translation in about 1922, which prevailed until the 1960 as the most used translation for Catholics in China.

The history of Christian contacts with China is quite long, the earliest are documented on a Nestorian stele in Xian, dating from 781, for the 8th and 9th century. Scripture was translated from those days early on, yet no documents survived.

In the 13th century Italian missionaries had contact with the Yuan empire, but only from the 16th century onward missionaries were active in the country and in the imperial court. The Jesuits were the one of most prominent missionary groups. Texts and ecclesiastical writings were translated into Chinese but, in contrast to the missionaries of Protestant denomination, the Catholics never had complete translations of the Bible, since their missionary efforts concentrated on liturgy and pastoral work.

It took until the 1900s to have a complete translation of the New Testament in vernacular Chinese for everyone to read. Joseph Siao’s translation from 1922 was one of the most widespread Catholic bible texts until the 1990s. It includes annotations and commentaries in separate fields below the main text, and its title page is printed in two colours, with red indicating the importance and the religious nature of the book.

On page 3 of the scanned images there is a list of the canonical approval, beginning with ”nihil obstat“(”no objection“) which was given by B Truxler S.J., then the next step of ”Imprimi potest“ (”it may be printed“) that was given by N. Vagner S.J., and the last approval of ”Imprimatur“ (”let it be printed“), which is given on the level of the highest cleric, is given by the Vicar Apostolic of Siensien (Xianxian, near Beijing), Henri Lécroart (1864-1940) on 14 April 1936.

Author: F. Schimmelpfennig (October 2021)

  • Works consulted:
  • Chan, W. (2002). Christianity meets the Chinese religions: A case study of Xu Dishan, The Chinese University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong.). ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. 3066584.
  • Chang, P.-H. (1996). Rejuvenating China: Hsu Ti-shan's (1893-1941) Quest for a Religious Formula. Dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  • Gvili, G. (2015). In Search of the National Soul: Writing Life in Chinese Literature 1918–1937. Dissertation, Columbia University.
  • Lai, J. T. P. (2019). Literary Representations of Christianity in Late Qing and Republican China. Leiden, Brill.
  • Lodwick, K. L. (2016). How Christianity Came to China: A Brief History, 1517 Media.
  • Tiedemann, R. G. (2009). Reference Guide to Christian Missionary Societies in China: from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century: From the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century. Armonk, M.E.Sharpe.
  • Yeo, K. K. (2021). The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in China, Oxford University Press.
  • Zhang, H. 张慧佳. (2015). ”Xu Dishan de wenxue chuangzuo yu jjidujiao wenhua jingshen 许地山的文学创作与基督教文化精神 [On the relationship between Xu Dishan's Literary Creation and Christian Cultural Sprit].“ In: 南都学坛 (人文社会科学学报) Academic Forum of Nandu (Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences), 35(1).
  • Xu Dishan was also a translator of Christian works into Chinese, and in his collection of Chinese titles we find Chinese bibles such as the Xin jing quan ji shang xia ce 新經全集 上下册