Exploring Two Major Savants Missionnaires Hermeneutic Engagements with Classical and Modern China: The French Jesuits Séraphin Couvreur (1835-1919) and Léon Wieger (1856-1933)

  • PFISTER, Lauren F (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


This proposal aims at producing several breakthroughs in the study of the life and works of two major modern Jesuit missionary-sinologues: Séraphin Couvreur 顧賽芬 (1835-1919) and Léon Wieger 戴遂良 (1856-1933). Though scholarly attention to some of their most important works has received contemporary praise and scrutiny, no one to date has produced a study of their works in the light of their Jesuit orientation, their concrete situations in northeast China where they lived most of their adult lives, or offered insights drawn from comparative studies related to the lives and works of other major modern missionary-sinologists. Our three-year research project will seek to accomplish all of these interpretive goals on the basis of new research discoveries from relevant archives and a systematic study of their prolific works.

Both men spent the vast majority of their adult lives as members of the Jesuit mission of Sien-hsien [Xianxian 獻縣], district of Ho-kien-fou [Hejian fu 河間府], in the territory defined by the Vatican as the vicariate apostolic of southeastern Tchely [Zhili dongnan 直隸 東南], in what is now Hebei 河北 Province. Initial discoveries about their lives from the French Jesuit Archives have already reveal more than previously known about the roles adopted and attitudes expressed by Couvreur (1870-1919) and Wieger (1886-1933) in that context. Because Couvreur produced standard translations in French and sometimes in Latin of eleven Ruist (“Confucian”) scriptures, his renderings can be fruitfully compared to the English and German renderings of the same canonical texts produced by James Legge (1815-1897) and Richard Wilhelm (1873-1930) respectively, the latter being works the PI has studied in great detail. Wieger’s efforts at offering overviews of Ruist, Daoist and Buddhist traditions, as well as contemporary accounts of post-traditional Chinese cultural developments after the 1911 Chinese revolution, provide the basis for comparisons with the similarly vast coverage found in Wilhelm’s works. Both Couvreur and Wieger created new inter-lingual vocabularies and linguistic tools to aid in the learning of classical, traditional and modern Chinese languages, to the point that Couvreur’s transliteration system had a major influence on the modern French standard until 1949.

All of these issues will be studied by the PI in collaboration with a younger French sinologist, Dr Dimitri Drettas 賀旦思, producing together each year several related original scholarly articles . Finally, they will also prepare an outline for a major monograph highlighting these interpretive discoveries for a broader readership.
Effective start/end date1/01/1531/12/17


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