In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Bible in China

  • Introduction

Biblical Studies The Bible in China
K.-K. Yeo
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0298


The “Bible” and “China” may appear to be incompatible. Yet a challenging and creative mutual impact of the Bible and the Chinese world is evident in the storied and torrid landscape interconnecting the Bible, world Christianity, and Chinese society in the last fourteen centuries. Since 635 CE, China’s Emperor Tang Taizong (唐太宗) commissioned Alouben (阿羅本), the Syrian monk, to translate the “true sutra” of the Church of the East for the Chinese Imperial Library. In the Song (960–1279) and Yuan (1271–1368) dynasties, Jews, synagogue, and stone and scroll inscriptions were already in Kaifeng. In the Yuan dynasty, John of Montecorvino (b. 1247–d. 1328), an Italian Franciscan, arrived in China in 1291 CE and began translating some of the New Testament and Psalms texts into Chinese and Mongolian. Other Catholic missionaries, Jesuits, Franciscans, and Dominicans arrived in China in the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties, including Michele Ruggieri (羅明堅, b. 1543–d. 1607) and Matteo Ricci (利瑪竇, b. 1552–d. 1610). Robert Morrison (馬禮遜, b. 1782–d. 1834) arrived in Macau in 1807, and the Chinese Protestant missions expanded biblical translation to publishing, education, and welfare services. The Russian Orthodox missionaries arrived in China at the end of the seventeenth century, and they translated the liturgical and catechesis texts into Chinese. Foreign missionaries and scholars together with national Chinese leaders and lay believers collaborated on the works of: (1) the Bible translations in various Chinese versions; (2) the Bible expressions in diverse Chinese literary and religious contexts; (3) the Bible interpretations in wide-ranging mediums of readings; and (4) the Bible receptions in China’s multiple cultural life, social institutions, and the arts. The four-fold paradigm of the relationship between the “Bible” and “China” ebbs and flows on the tides of historical flux and encounter, as it navigates through the ever-shifting cultural and linguistic changes, institutional metamorphoses, sociopolitical shifting contexts. The challenge of any researcher in this field is to interpret the data and explain the seemingly illogical characteristics of the Bible in China. Further research may show how the Bible is not a relic of the past but a culturally enlivened writing for the world, including China for centuries past, for the present, and even for its future prospects.

General Overviews

Scholars of religions and sacred texts have long been studying the topic of the Bible in China but face a formidable task mainly because of (1) the long complex history between the encounter of the Bible and China; (2) the multiple languages and dialects used; (3) the sheer amount of material, with many primary sources not being extant; and (4) the highly interdisciplinary method required for the investigation of this field. There are so many uncharted territories in this field of study, that exploring them in many cases means working with the primary sources. The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in China (Yeo 2021) provides an accessible mapping of the scope of this researched material, the method of investigation, and both the primary and the secondary sources of this field. This bibliographic guide is designed according to the four-fold paradigm (the translation, expression, interpretation, and reception of the Bible in China) of the Handbook (read the introductory essay on the structure of the four-fold paradigm) and can be used in tandem with it. The massive two-volume works Standaert 2001 and Tiedemann 2009 are worth consulting, though their scope is much broader than the Bible—including commentary on Christianity in China; similar to these is Bays 2012. On the state of classical studies—a larger field of which biblical studies is a part—in China, see Günther 2019. To assist researchers in this field of study, the next two subsections provide Journals and Scholarly Series for those who want to keep up with the field’s new development, as well as research centers, research guides, and bibliographic archives for those who want to gain wider access to more resources.

  • Bays, Daniel H. A New History of Christianity in China. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

    This work presents a clear and “new” view of Chinese church history from the seventh to the early twentieth centuries, especially strong on the Protestant side. It gives an inspiring observation on the flexibility and creativity of Chinese culture and Chinese Christianity with Christian faith and theology.

  • Günther, Sven. “Classics in China: An Update.” Ancient West and East 18 (2019): 225–230.

    A report of the fascinating progress of classics in China, especially on research institutes, key figures, academia, publications, and conferences.

  • Standaert, Nicolas, ed. Handbook of Christianity in China. Vol. 1: 635–1800. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2001.

    This is an archive of experts’ essays on Christianity in China in the Tang, Yuan, Late Ming through mid-Qing dynasties. Extensive bibliographies given in both Chinese and foreign languages are a bonus.

  • Tiedemann, R. G., ed. Handbook of Christianity in China. Vol. 2: 1800–Present. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009.

    This is the second of the two exhaustive works. This volume covers Catholic and Protestant Christianities in China from 1800 to 2000 and includes essays by experts in those fields.

  • Yeo, K. K., ed. The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in China. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021.

    A collection of forty-seven chapters that offer a comprehensive, yet concise, treatment set in a historical frame of assigned topics, giving succinct evidence and insightful interpretations of encounters between the Bible and China.

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