Muhammad Ma Jian

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Ma Jian
Mǎ Jiān/馬堅
Born (1906-06-06)June 6, 1906
 Qing Dynasty, Shadian, Gejiu
Died August 16, 1978(1978-08-16) (aged 72)
 People's Republic of China, Beijing
Other names Muḥammad Mākīn as-Ṣīnī, Makin
Nationality Chinese
Ethnicity Hui
Region Yunnan
Profession Translator, professor, journalist
Religion Islam
Denomination Sunni Islam
Political Party Communist Party of China
Main interest(s) Translation of Confucian works into Arabic, translation of Islamic texts into Chinese
Notable idea(s) Compatibility between Islam and Marxism
Notable work(s) Chinese translation of the Qur'an
Education Shanghai Islamic Normal School
Alma mater Al-Azhar University
Teachers Hu Songshan
Muhammad Ma Jian
Traditional Chinese 馬堅
Simplified Chinese 马坚
Courtesy name
Traditional Chinese 子實
Simplified Chinese 子实

Muhammad Ma Jian (Gejiu, 1906 – Beijing, 1978) (Arabic: محمد ماكين الصينيMuḥammad Mākīn as-Ṣīnī;[1] English translation: Muhammad Ma Jian the Chinese) was a Chinese Islamic scholar and translator of Muslim Hui ethnicity. He is notable for translating the Qur'an into Chinese and stressing compatibility between Marxism and Islam.[2]

Early years[edit]

Jian was born in 1906 in Shadian, a village in the Gejiu county of Yunnan. This was a majority-Hui village that would later be the site of the infamous Shadian incident during China's Cultural Revolution. When Jian was six years old, he was sent to the provincial capital of Kunming, where he would receive his primary and secondary education until the age of 19.[3] Following his graduation, Jian returned to his hometown of Shadian to teach at a Sino-Arabic primary school for two years - an experience which he did not enjoy. This was followed by a stint of study under Hu Songshan in Guyuan, a city in the Hui region of Ningxia.[4] He then went to Shanghai for further education in 1929, where he studied at the Shanghai Islamic Normal School for 2 years.[5]

Study in Cairo[edit]

Following the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, Jian was sent by the Chinese government to Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, to cultivate relations with Arab nations.[6] He was a member of the first group of government-sponsored Chinese students to study there - which included men who would later become leading Chinese scholars of Arabic and Islam, such as Na Zhong.[7] While in Cairo, he contacted the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Salafi Publishing House, which agreed in 1934 to publish one of his works - the first full-length book in Arabic on the history of Islam in China.[8] A year later, Jian translated the Analects into Arabic. Whilst in Cairo, he would also subsequently translate several of Muhammad Abduh's works into Chinese, with the assistance of Rashid Rida,[9] as well as Husayn al-Jisr's The Truth of Islam.[10] To promote Chinese interests in the context of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Jian was sent to Mecca in early 1939 as part of a hajj delegation alongside 27 other students - a journey on which they spoke to Ibn Saud about the determination of 'all the Chinese people' to resist the Japanese.[11]

Return to China[edit]

Jian returned to China in 1939. There he edited the Arabic-Chinese Dictionary, while translating the Qur'an and works of Islamic philosophy and history. He also became a professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at Peking University in 1946, a role in which he oversaw the introduction of the first Arabic-language courses in the Chinese higher education system.[12] At Peking University, he would train many of the next generation's most prominent Chinese Arabists, such as Zhu Weilie.[13] His initial translation of the Qur'an's first 8 volumes was completed in 1945, and after being rejected by Beijing publishing houses in 1948, this was published by Peking University Press a year later.[14] Following the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War and the proclamation of the People's Republic of China, he was also elected as a member of the People's Political Consultative Conference in 1949.[15] In 1952, another edition of his Qur'an translation was published by Shanghai's Commercial Press,[16] and Jian became one of the founders of the Islamic Association of China.[17] As part of this role, Jian also aimed to increase public awareness of Islam - which he did by publishing several articles in newspapers such as the People's Daily and the Guangming Daily.[18] He also published a translation of Tjitze de Boer's History of Philosophy in Islam in 1958.[19] Due to his linguistic skills, he served as a high-level interpreter for Chinese officials such as Zhou Enlai, whom he enabled to speak to Gamal Abdel Nasser at the Bandung Conference.[20] It was this that allowed him to keep his professorship and post in the PPCC until his death in 1978, despite widespread persecution of Muslims during the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution.[21] Following his death, Jian's translation of Philip K. Hitti's History of the Arabs was published in 1979 by the Commercial Press.[22] The China Social Sciences Press also posthumously printed, in 1981, his complete translation of the Qur'an, which Jian had worked on up until 1957, and then between 1976 and 1978.[23]


Ma Jian has been praised for his 'two-way' contribution to Sino-Arab cross-cultural exchange - that is, his translations of Confucian literature into Arabic, and Quran into Chinese.

His translation of the Qur'an remains the most popular in China today, surpassing versions by Wang Jingzhai and Li Tiezheng.[24] It has been lauded for its faithfulness to the original, and has reached an 'almost canonical status'.[25] The quality of this translation has also been recognised internationally - with the Medina-based King Fahd Holy Qur'an Printing Press opting to use it for their Arabic-Chinese bilingual edition of the Quran, published in 1987.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kees Versteegh; Mushira Eid (2005). Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics: A-Ed. Brill. pp. 382–. ISBN 978-90-04-14473-6. 
  2. ^ Mao, Yufeng (2007). Sino-Muslims in Chinese Nation-building, 1906-1956 (Ph.D. diss.). George Washington University, 126-127. 
  3. ^ Amrullah, Amri (June 15, 2015). "Muhammad Ma Jian, Intelektual Muslim Modern Cina" [Muhammad Ma Jian, Muslim Intellectual of Modern China]. Republika (in Indonesian). Jakarta. Retrieved February 15, 2017. 
  4. ^ Aubin, Françoise (2006). "Islam on the wings of nationalism: the case of Muslim intellectuals in Republican China". In Dudoignon, Stéphane A.; Hisao, Komatsu; Yasushi, Kosugi. Intellectuals in the Modern Islamic World: Transmission, Transformation and Communication. Routledge. pp. 260–261. ISBN 978-0415549790. 
  5. ^ Ciecura, Wlodzimierz (April 28, 2015). "Bringing China and Islam Closer: The First Chinese Azharites". Middle East Institute. Retrieved February 15, 2017. 
  6. ^ Haiyun, Ma (May 10, 2013). "Go West at What Cost? China's Pivot on Middle East Studies". ISLAMiCommentary. Retrieved February 15, 2017. 
  7. ^ Ciecura.
  8. ^ Benite, Zvi Ben-Dor (2008). "Nine Years in Egypt: Al-Azhar and the Arabization of Chinese Islam". HAGAR Studies in Culture, Polity and Identities. 8: 3. 
  9. ^ Ciecura.
  10. ^ Chen, John T. (2014). "Re-Orientation: The Chinese Azharites between Umma and Third World, 1938-1955". The Journal of Asian Studies. 34 (1): 35. doi:10.1215/1089201x-2648560. 
  11. ^ Mao, Yufeng (2011). "A Muslim Vision for the Chinese Nation: Chinese Pilgrimage Missions to Mecca during World War II". The Journal of Asian Studies. 70 (2): 386–387. doi:10.1017/S0021911811000088. 
  12. ^ Haiyun, Ma (2006). "Patriotic and Pious Muslim Intellectuals in Modern China: The Case of Ma Jian". The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences. 23 (3): 57. 
  13. ^ Ma (2013).
  14. ^ Spira, Ivo (2005). Chinese Translations of the Qur'ān: A Close Reading of Selected Passages (PDF) (MA diss.). Oslo University. Retrieved February 15, 2017. 
  15. ^ Ciecura.
  16. ^ Waardenburg, Jacques (2009). "Islam in China: Western Studies". In Akiner, Shirin. Cultural Change & Continuity In Central Asia. Routledge. p. 340. ISBN 978-1136150340. 
  17. ^ Guanglin, Zhang (2005). Islam in China. Beijing: China Intercontinental Press, 77. 
  18. ^ Gao, Zhanfu (2017). "Studies of Islam in China in the Twentieth Century". In Yijiu, Jin; Wai-Yip, Ho. Islam. Brill. pp. 73–74. ISBN 978-9004174542. 
  19. ^ Gao, 74.
  20. ^ Benite, Zvi Ben-Dor (2013). "Taking 'Abduh to China: Chinese-Egyptian Intellectual Contact in the Early Twentieth Century". In Gelvin, James L.; Green, Nile. Global Muslims in the Age of Steam and Print. University of California Press. p. 264. ISBN 978-1-234-56789-7. 
  21. ^ Boyle, Kevin; Sheen, Juliet (2013). Freedom of Religion and Belief: A World Report. London: Routledge. p. 183. 
  22. ^ Zhixue, Ma (2008). "The Latest Edition of History of the Arabs: Prefaces and Postscript" (PDF). Arab World Studies. 5: 81. 
  23. ^ Petersen, Kristian. "Qur'anic Interpretation in China". Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Retrieved February 15, 2017. 
  24. ^ Wang, Jin (2016). "Middle East Studies in China: Achievements and Problems" (PDF). Middle East Review of International Affairs. 20 (2): 51. 
  25. ^ Spiro, 23-24.
  26. ^ Petersen.

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