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Louis de Poirot and His Guxin Shengjing at the Linguistic Crossroads of China
The linguistic tools that European Jesuits employed to proselytize in the transitional period between the Ming and the Qing can be divided into two kinds: the traditional wenyan (classical Chinese), and the vernacular, the form that has long been neglected in the history of the Jesuits in China. This paper argues that the vernacular line of the Jesuit writings was inaugurated even during Matteo Ricci's lifetime and the movement continued to flourish thereafter, culminating in Louis de Poirot's translation of the Vulgate Bible into the colloquial idiom mostly spoken by the lower-class people in Beijing. Before 1803, when the Vatican officially declined to have Poirot's Vulgate or ”Guxin Shengjing” published, he had already translated about fifty-seven of the seventy-three books of the Vulgate. Nevertheless, Poirot's merit lies in his use of a Chinese style that was not only colloquial but also Latinate or Western. This new type of vernacular Chinese, ”Europeanized” as it is called today, disappeared until the first decade of the twentieth century. It is because of this particular style that Poirot's Chinese Vulgate, in addition to its influence upon syntax and terminology of later Bibles translated into Chinese, paved the way for the newly developed Mandarin Chinese, which prevails in China today.
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