Jump to content
Learn Chinese in China

One Million Characters

  • entries
  • comments
  • views

82,718 Characters to Go



This week I finished reading the Holy Bible in Chinese. The version that I read (新译本) contains 1,055,606 Chinese characters. I started it several years ago, and finished the last third of the book (some 315,144 characters) this year.


The Bible is an epic millennia-spanning multi-genre story about God and his people. In addition to God himself, its major themes include worship, law and commandment, righteousness and wickedness, love, obedience and faithfulness, judgement, death and resurrection, covenant, conquest, sacrifice, salvation, social order, war, mission, hope, and more. The Bible’s genres include long theological histories of Israel and the Christian church, letters of exhortation and rebuke, philosophical writings, prophecies, proverbs, and songs.


The narrative sweep of the Bible is considerable. It covers the creation of the world, the rise and fall of its kingdoms, the end of all things. Its narrative structure is cyclical and complex. Certain events, figures, and themes in the narrative are recapitulated again and again, in different places and under different names and circumstances. The Bible contains perhaps the most surprising third act ever written. After the people of God are judged for their idolatry and cast into exile, and the remnant are waiting in eschatological anticipation of a promised king, the object of worship and apparent author of the text itself comes into the narrative in a new and unexpected way that transfigures everything that has happened in the story up to that point, and will happen after.


The Bible is an impressive and powerful book. I recommend it. The 新译本 is one of the more accessible Chinese translations out there. Unfortunately, it is stylistically flat. (Its closest English equivalent is probably the NIV.) The 和合本 is more literal, literary, and majestic by comparison. Translated early in the 20th century, the 和合本 remains the most popular Chinese translation of the Bible today (by far), although its language is older and more difficult.


Finishing the Bible puts me within striking distance of my 1,000,000-character goal for the year. Currently I am reading a collection of short stories by 老舍. I expect to complete that book—and my New Year’s Resolution—in the next couple weeks.


Link to《圣经》(新译本)


Some statistics: 
Characters read this year: 917,282
Characters left to read this year: 82,718
Percent of goal completed: 91.7%
List of things read: 
《三八节有感》by 丁玲   (2,370 characters) 
《我在霞村的时候》by 丁玲   (10,754 characters) 
《在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话》by 毛泽东   (18,276 characters) 
《自杀日记》by 丁玲   (4,567 characters) 
《我没有自己的名字》by 余华   (8,416 characters) 
《手》by 萧红   (7,477 characters) 
《牛》by 沈从文   (8,097 characters) 
《彭德怀速写》by 丁玲   (693 characters) 
《我怎样飞向了自由的天地》by 丁玲   (2,176 characters) 
《IBM Cloud文档:Personality Insights》 by IBM   (25,098 characters) 
《夜》by 丁玲   (4,218 characters) 
《虎雏》by 沈从文   (46,945 characters) 
《在巴黎大戏院》 by 施蛰存   (6,181 characters) 
《分析Sonny Stitt即兴与演奏特点——以专辑《Only the Blues》中曲目 《Blues for Bags》为例》   (5,483 characters) 
《一个女剧院的生活》 by 沈从文   (61,154 characters) 
《致银河》 by 王小波   (17,715 characters) 
《在细雨中呼喊》 by 余华   (132,769 characters) 
《熊猫》 by 棉棉   (53,129 characters) 
《1988:我想和这个世界谈谈》 by 韩寒   (81,547 characters) 
《偶然事件》 by 余华   (20,226 characters)
《第七天》 by 余华  (84,847 characters)
《圣经》 (新译本)  (1,055,606 characters; 315,144 read in 2019)


Recommended Comments

"Seems to completely change genre 3/4 of the way through..."


Congratulations on imminent success. The journey's been one of the highlights of the site for me this year. 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
1 hour ago, Lu said:

I like how you review the Bible here as if it were just any ambitious novel that we might have heard of and would consider reading 🙂


Thank you Lu! The Bible is many things. One of the things is a big story. I tried hard to write a review that engaged with the manifest literary dimensions of the text and only gently hinted at its supernatural claims and provenance.


Also, crass apologetics seems like the wrong approach to take on a Chinese reading blog. 😀

Link to comment
1 hour ago, roddy said:

"Seems to completely change genre 3/4 of the way through..."


(Apologies in advance for the following nerdy response that incorporates material I wisely excised from my original review.)


Yes and no. Obviously there is a huge plot twist near the beginning of the New Testament. And there are important genre differences between the New Testament and the Old Testament. Paul’s Greek epistles, for example, do not appear to have any Hebrew counterparts, at least not in terms of genre.


But there are also major literary similarities between the OT and NT. Jesus gets extended treatment at the beginning of the NT. So did Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, and Elijah in the OT. Jesus’s story is told more than once, from different and sometimes conflicting perspectives (in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). So is the story of the kingdom of Judah (in Kings and Chronicles). The prologue of John’s gospel is a recapitulation of the opening of Genesis. Acts is a recapitulation of Joshua. Revelation is a recapitulation of Ezekiel and other prophetic books (and arguably, the entire Hebrew canon).


The NT Jesus is not a single portrait, but a composite picture of the Jesus of the Gospels and the letters of Paul, Peter, and John. The OT David is also a composite picture (of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and Psalms), as is Solomon (Kings, Chronicles, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon) and some of the prophets (those who are mentioned both in Kings/Chronicles and their respective prophetic books).


I believe there was a conscious decision by the New Testament writers to portray Jesus as the fulfillment and culmination of the Hebrew scriptures. At various points in the NT, Jesus is likened to a new Adam, a new Melchizedek, a new Moses, a new Joseph, a new Elijah, a new Jonah, etc. Herod is the new Pharaoh. Mary Magdalene is the new Eve in the garden outside the tomb of Jesus. And so on. The connections are easy to spot once you know the stories.


Finally, focusing on the discontinuity between the OT and NT is good and worthwhile, but there is plenty of discontinuity in the OT itself. The prophetic literature at the chronological end of the Old Testament is very different in style and tone from the kingly literature that precedes it, which is different again from the priestly literature (i.e., the Pentateuch).


1 hour ago, roddy said:

Congratulations on imminent success. The journey's been one of the highlights of the site for me this year. 


Thank you Roddy, for your kind words and for hosting this blog.

  • Like 1
Link to comment

Finishing the Bible puts me within striking distance of my 1,000,000-character goal for the year.

Well done!  I look forward to next years goal of reading 2,000,000 characters in the year :mrgreen:


That's ~170,000 a month, or roughly one small novel (like《在细雨中呼喊》) a month.

Link to comment
8 hours ago, imron said:

Well done!  I look forward to next years goal of reading 2,000,000 characters in the year :mrgreen:


Thank you Imron for your comments and support throughout the year!


I’d like to double my Chinese reading goals in 2020, but that seems unlikely. Who knew that gainful employment and fatherhood could be so time-consuming?

  • Like 1
Link to comment
  • Create New...