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Armenian merchant authored first Chinese translation of Bible

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#1 Yervant1


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Posted 27 April 2016 - 10:23 AM

Interesting facts

Armenian merchant authored first Chinese translation of Bible

PanARMENIAN.Net will tell about Hovhannes Ghazarian, who became one of
the first translators of the Bible into the Chinese language. There
are no Armenian sources referring to Hovhannes Ghazarian, more known
as Joannes Lassar. The information about his courtesy we possess
nowadays has originated from notes by English missionaries, who worked
in China and India.

April 27, 2016

PanARMENIAN.Net - According to them, Ghazarian was born in 1781 (or
1778) in the city of Makao, China, to a family of rich Armenian
merchant. Besides native Armenian, he learned the southern Chinese
dialect with the help of servants, who lived in the house. He also
mastered Portuguese and English. A perfect Chinese speaker, he even
worked as a translator at a Portuguese governmental office in Makao
and held official correspondence with Chinese authorities. He was also
engaged in teaching and trade.

At that time, Christian missionaries from England, especially
Protestants, intensified their activity in South and Southeast Asia,
while translators were rated as professionals who could make Bible
available and understandable for the locals. Fort William College that
was founded in Kolkata in1800 was also supposed to train translators,
thus making India a center for translating the Bible into local
dialects and the Chinese language as well.

It’s noteworthy that the first attempts to translate Christian
literature into Chinese date back to Middle Ages. There exist some
handwritten extracts from Bible translated at that time. At the
beginning of the 19th century, missionaries undertook a task to get
complete translation of the sacred book. However, the peculiarities of
the Chinese language made translation a hard job and initial efforts
failed halfway.

In 1804, Joannes Lassar arrived in Kolkata, where the vice-provost of
Fort William College, Claudius Buchanan, learning about the merchant’s
Chinese language skills, offered him to translate the Bible. Lassar,
who experienced financial problems at the moment, agreed to do the job
for 300 Indian rupees (450 pounds) annual fee. He was later joined by
missionary Joshua Marshman, his two sons and the son of the college
provost. To do the translation, Lassar used the Armenian and English
versions of the Bible, as well as a Portuguese-Chinese dictionary.

In 1807, Lassar and Marshman moved from Kolkata to a neighboring city
of Serampore, where they completed the translation of Gospel of
Matthew and sent it to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was supposed
to take it to Lambeth Libraries. During the following years, Lassar
and Marshman continued to translate the other testaments. In 1810, the
gospels of Matthew and Mark were published in Serampore, while the
next year saw the complete translation of the New Testament, which was
published in 1813.

The books caught the eye with a high quality translation and beautiful
calligraphy. Besides, to make biblical names sound appropriate in
Chinese, the translators created new additional hieroglyphs.

Hovhannes Ghazarian’s work was appreciated by his contemporaries.
Thus, on September 13, 1806, Fort William college provost, reverend
David Brown wrote in his letter: “Professor Lassar sent me three
samples of his Chinese translation of the Bible. Although the editions
were published in hustle and I would not criticize them in principle,
I must say that Mr. Lassar knows Chinese perfectly and the job he is
doing will be a triumph if he has several more years to complete it.
He reads the Bible in Chinese so fluently, like you would do it in
English. He also writes very quickly.”

Simultaneously with Lassar and Marshman, a protestant activist, Robert
Morison, was also working on the Chinese translation of the Bible.
Although, they were competing in some way, they consulted each other
on some professional matters.

In 1813, Morison’s translation of the New Testament was published in
the city of Guangzhou (Canton). 10 years later, the translation of the
whole Bible was published in Malacca (currently the territory of
Malaysia). However, a year earlier, in 1822, the translation of the
sacred book made by Lassar and Marshman came out in India. Experts say
this was the best ever Chinese translation of the Bible.

There is little known about the life of Hovhannes Ghazarian after that
period. According to some sources, he died in 1820s; others say he
lived till 1835.

Literature: Stephen Neill, A History of Christianity in India:
1707-1858, Cambridge, 1985 Elijah Coleman Bridgman, S. Wells Williams,
The Chinese Repository, vol IV, Canton, 1836 Ching Su, The printing
presses of the London missionary society among the Chinese, London,
1996 Claudius Buchanan ,Two discourses preached before the University
of Cambridge, on Commencement Sunday, July 1, 1810, Boston, 1811
Daniel Jeyaraj , Embodying Memories: Early Bible Translations in
Tranquebar and Serampore, International bulletin of missionary
research David Helliwell /Curator of Chinese Collections, Bodleian
Library/, The earliest missionary editions, SERICA, some notes on old
Chinese books, January 2013.

Samson Hovhannisyan / PanARMENIAN.Net


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#2 onjig



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Posted 29 April 2016 - 02:24 PM

That's pretty neat.[the first printing] ~ The Christian in China are really treated bad, I've heard of some terrible thing done to them, like Armenians have suffered on a smaller scale.

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