Confusing Judaism and Christianity in Contemporary Chinese Letters

By Fu, Xiaowei | Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought, Summer-Fall 2006 | Go to article overview
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Confusing Judaism and Christianity in Contemporary Chinese Letters


Fu, Xiaowei, Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought


WITH THE OPENING OF CHINA TO THE WEST IN THE 1980s, knowledge of and interest in Jews and Judaism began to spread beyond the intelligentsia in ways not possible before. The escalated introduction of foreign cultures led the Chinese to discover the contributions made by many eminent Jews and persons of Jewish origin to modern Western philosophy, culture, science and economics. With that discovery came a curiosity about and admiration for Jewish wisdom. The establishment of Sino-Israeli diplomatic relations in 1992 only added to the Chinese hunger for understanding what it was about Jews and Judaism that fostered such wisdom.

This highly desirable development has focused thus far mainly on three fields: the study aimed at "decoding" the Jews' success in learning and business; the introduction of and research about Jewish religion and philosophy; and the translation and study of Jewish literature, in which Jewish religion and philosophy are treated more seriously and with greater accuracy. However, the influence of these studies is largely limited to academic circles, whereas books about the recipe for Jewish success in business and the translation and study of Jewish literature have much broader social influence.

The increasing "Jewish fever" in China--largely positive, as several recent studies have shown--has a down side, however. It has been accompanied by a common misreading of Judaism or confusion of Judaism with Christianity. Such misreading, appearing first in the translations of Jewish literature, has caused readers of the translated Jewish literature to deepen their knowledge about Judaism and Christianity, and also to muddle it. Indeed, many of them believe that Jews and the Christians belong to the same religion because they share the same Bible.

This paper will examine the phenomenon by examining selected Chinese versions of the works of Isaac Bashevis Singer. To be sure, there are other texts and even other kinds of data that might be equally appropriate for this study. The Chinese translations of Singer stories, however, are generally regarded as the most typically Jewish compared with those of such other well-known Jewish writers as Franz Kafka, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth and Bernard Malamud.

It may suffice to quote Su Tong, a famous Chinese writer who recently said, "If you want to get to know the Jews, but are handicapped by not knowing how, it might be a shortcut to read Singer's stories." (2) Yet, as will be demonstrated here, the confusion of Judaism and Christianity in the translation and study of Singer's works is both striking and representative of a larger problem.

I. Confusions Respecting the Bible, the Virgin Mary, the Messiah

A. The Bible

The Chinese version of Singer's works includes five novels, 45 short stories and several children's stories, many of which have more than one translation. And there are at least 51 Chinese translators who have tackled Singer's works. Most of these Singer translators appear to understand that the Old Testament is the holy scripture of Judaism and part of the Christian Bible. Few, however, seem to realize that that to the Jews, it is called the Tanakh (3) or the Hebrew Bible, but never the Old Testament. Chinese scholars of Judaic philosophy and religion, to be sure, do understand that, but they are not the one doing the translating.

It is a common practice in academia to transliterate Torah as Tuola, with a note when it first appears in books. Most Singer translators, however, are far from clear about the matter. Some render it as Shengjing, the Bible (4), or Shenxun, God's instructions; (5) or they transliterate it as DuoLajing, (6) with a footnote--"DuoLajing is the entire Jewish scriptures"--which may be incorrect, but would be less likely to cause religious confusion. More translators, however, render it as Jiu Yue Quan Shu shou wu juan, the first five books of the Old Testament, or Jidujiao Jiu Yue Quan Shu shou wu juan, the first five books of the Christian Old Testament.

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