Injunctions Against “Homosexuality” in the Chinese Bible

It is well-known that when Chinese people converted to Protestant Christianity in the nineteenth century they were instructed to abandon certain practices that were regarded by their new faiths as sinful. Notable amongst these were the veneration of their ancestors and the taking of multiple wives or concubines. Some these injunctions were arguably cultural rather than doctrinal but what was unarguable was that the Bible did explicitly ban certain practices. But what exactly was it that new Christians had to stop doing?

In this paper I examine certain words used in the Letters of Pauls, as well as in the Book of Leviticus in the Jewish Bible, that have typically been cited as banning sexual relations between men. My study begins with the manuscript partial translation of Jean Basset (白日昇, 1662–1707) and Xu Ruohan 徐若翰(Johan Su, ? –1734)that they were working on until Basset’s death. It ends with the Union versions published in 1919, although the New Testament was completed some years earlier. In all, I consider twenty-one complete or partial translations into various forms of Chinese. In this study I show that the first, the translations were by no means consistent, Secondly, I trace the origin of some of the words used and in doing so, shed light on the scholarly contexts of the translations. Finally, I examine changes in Protestant teachings that led to these variations.

About the Speaker

Benjamin Penny is Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Centre on Chine in the World and Head of the ANU Taiwan Studies Program. His work mainly focusses on Chinese religions, but he is also interested in the Chinese Treaty Ports in the mid-nineteenth century and the development of Sinology. His two current projects are a study of a Taiwanese new religion, Weixin shengjiao 唯心聖教, and a book based on the teenage diaries of Chaloner Alabaster, an English Student Interpreter in Hong Kong in 1855-56.

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