Click here return to the Hualin main page.

Click here return to the Hualin E-Journal Vol 1.1 Table of Contents page.


Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 1.1 (2018): 76–117;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Buddhism in the West)

Download full text PDF


Where is God? Evolution of the representation of Buddhism in the French Translations of The Sutra of Forty-two Chapters

HOU Xiaoming

Abstract: The Sutra of Forty-two Chapters (Sishi’er zhang jing 四十二章經) is traditionally considered to be the first Buddhist sūtra translated into Chinese. Interestingly, after more than a millennium, its French translation also became the first integral translation of a Buddhist sūtra published in western language. However, despite its importance, its French translations have never been studied systematically. The present study is a historical and textual research of its four consecutive French translations from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century, respectively translated by Joseph de Guignes (1721–1800), Joseph Gabet (1808–1853) and Évariste Huc (1813–1860), Léon Feer (1830–1902), and Charles de Harlez (1832–1899). Through an analysis of vocabulary, style and interpretation of the translations, it shows that the image of Buddhism represented in these translations has changed from a monotheism, to a pantheism, a nihilism and a panpsychism. The evolution of its representations, as the result of a search for ‘God’ when defining a religion, is analyzed from the historical point of view which reengages the translations in the cultural controversies during the period when the discovery of the Orient was used to both challenge and defend the European conscience.

Keywords: Buddhism in Europe, French, Translations, The Sutra of Forty-two Chapters


About the Author: Hou Xiaoming is currently a Ph.D. student at École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris, Department of Religions and Systems of Thought. She received her B.A. in French Literature and completed her secondary major in Chinese Literature from Fudan University in 2013. She received her M.A. in Asian Studies from EPHE in 2015. The title of her doctoral thesis is ‘Translation and Creation of Tradition: The Formation of Buddhist Meditation Teaching Systems through the Second to Sixth Century in China’, which studies the influence of the history of Chinese Buddhist translations on the formation of Buddhist meditation teaching systems in the works of Zhiyi 智顗 (538–597). Her primary interest is on the question of how the transmission and transformation of lexical paradigms contributed to the Sinification of Buddhism. Working primarily in the field of Chinese Buddhism and the cross-cultural transmission of Buddhist texts between India and China, she is also interested in the transmission, translation and reception of Buddhist texts in Europe, particularly in France.


This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.