UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The protestant missionaries as bible translators : mission and rivalry in China, 1807-1839 Tong, Clement Tsz Ming


The first generation of Protestant missionaries sent to the China mission, such as Robert Morrison and William Milne, were mostly translators, committing most of their time and energy to language studies, Scripture translation, writing grammar books and compiling dictionaries, as well as printing and distributing bibles and other Christian materials. With little instruction, limited resources, and formidable tasks ahead, these individuals worked under very challenging and at times dangerous conditions, always seeking financial support and recognition from their societies, their denominations and other patrons. These missionaries were much more than literary and linguistic academics – they operated as facilitators of the whole translational process, from research to distribution; they were mission agents in China, representing the interests and visions of their societies and patrons back home. Using rare Chinese Bible manuscripts, including one that has never been examined before, plus a large number of personal correspondence, journals and committee reports, this study seeks to understand the first generation of Protestant missionaries in their own mission settings, to examine the social fabrics within which they operated as “translators”, and to determine what factors and priorities dictated their translation decisions and mission strategies. Although Morrison is often credited with being the first translator of the New Testament into Chinese, the truth of the matter is far more complex. The following study is designed to illustrate both the complexity of the historical process underlying the Protestant translations of the Bible, as well as the complexities attendant upon notions of translation and authorship. Recognizing how these translators interacted with one another and how they made use of their sources, and appreciating their continued struggle for support, recognition and patronage is the key to understanding their translation approaches and decision-making.

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