Skip to main content

The Chinese Translation: An Update

Richard Zhu
Read Full Newsletter

The Chinese Translation: An Update

By Richard Zhu, chief translator, United Kingdom

A Chinese translation of The Urantia Book is a long-anticipated and high-priority project of Urantia Foundation. It has the potential to spiritually benefit over one billion Chinese-speaking people. I am grateful and honored to devote myself to this translation work. Recently, the simplified Chinese version was completed, and I am taking this opportunity to thank all of my supporters and share my experiences with this monumental translation project.

Before beginning this work, I was a professional urban planner with a master’s degree in this field. I enjoyed reading and exploring the meaning of life in many ways. In early 2010 I experienced a spiritual awakening, and there arose a call within myself to search for a deeper truth. I explored online and read through various materials. Unbelievably, The Urantia Book was my final discovery at the end of this interconnected searching chain.

I downloaded the book from the Foundation’s website, and it seemed like a treasure chest, which I opened to discover answers to all my questions regarding life’s purpose and truth. And I soon came to the firm belief that this book is a genuine truth book which I strongly desired to share with other Chinese-speaking people.

I then contacted Georges Michelson-Dupont, Manager of Translations, to inquire about a Chinese translation and offer my assistance. He told me that there was a translation nearly completed but it was not ready for publishing; the concepts were not properly translated, hence there were misrepresentations in the text.

My communications with Georges continued, and I learned more about the shortcomings of the existing Chinese draft. I read through The Urantia Book, searching for solutions. After nearly two years of preparation and discussions, I agreed to thoroughly revise the translation. Georges and I finally met in person and I signed a Translator’s Agreement.

By early 2012, now fully committed to the Chinese translation work, I began to learn more about the earlier translation attempts, going back to the 1990s. The challenges were many. The first translator progressed slowly, and the first completed translation was deemed unsuitable for publication. However, I learned much from this earlier endeavor. In addition, the best practices developed through other translations provided me with much guidance on how to produce a Chinese translation that more accurately reflects the English text.

Even the best-laid plans present challenges, and from the start there were many. The first one was the extreme difficulty of translating English concepts into Chinese! Since the Chinese language system is based on characters rather than letters, simple transliteration, which doesn't tell you the meaning of the words but only helps you pronounce them, was not a viable approach. Etymology had to be extensively used in the translation process.

Let’s take as an example the word “morontia.” This concept would be meaningless if it were simply transliterated into Chinese. I had to imitate the revelators’ method. Half of the meaning came from the Chinese concept of spirit, the other half from the concept of material. This formed a new Chinese concept representing the vast level intervening between the material and the spiritual.

The second challenge was to form a good translation team. Over the years I contacted dozens of people, several of whom participated for just a short period. After years of working alone, I began collaborating with Vicki Yang, a professional translator with considerable experience translating English into traditional Chinese. She brought with her a retinue of other members.

My third challenge came from references in The Urantia Book to texts such as the Tao Te Ching (The Way) by Lao Tzu, and the Bible. I spent countless hours scouring these books to find the original, or even translated Chinese texts to compare with my own work, so that Chinese readers from different backgrounds would recognize the familiar concepts and quotes from these ancient books.

Now that the simplified version has been completed, we are working on a version of the same translation using the more complex “traditional” characters. By ensuring that the simplified and traditional characters are consistent in meaning, we will provide for readers of both texts the ability to read the same translation in either set of characters, avoiding confusion or debates.

It is crucial to any translation or revision process to attract volunteers to read and give feedback on the text. Fortunately, under the leadership of Vicki Yang, about 20 readers versed in both simplified and traditional Chinese writing have been invited to help with this phase.

The translation team is passionate about providing a high-quality translation of the fifth epochal revelation, which will serve the billions of Chinese-speaking people of mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the diaspora for decades to come.

What Is the Difference between Traditional and Simplified Chinese Characters?

Mandarin and Cantonese are the two most common verbal Chinese dialects. But when it comes to writing, you need to distinguish between simplified and traditional Chinese characters.

Traditional Chinese was originally the standard in all Chinese-speaking regions. Some say that characters were simplified in writing throughout history. Simpler forms of characters have also been said to exist in documents dating back as far as the Qin dynasty (from 221 to 207 BCE). However, most of the simplified characters used today were developed in the 1950s and 1960s by the government of the People's Republic of China. The government implemented an official system of simplified Chinese, with hopes that it would help improve China’s literacy rates by making the characters easier to read and write.

Simplified Chinese is officially used in mainland China and Singapore, and is often also used by the Chinese community in Malaysia. Traditional Chinese is used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau.







Hong Kong






Besides simplifying individual characters, simplified Chinese also uses fewer characters in total. Simplified Chinese often uses a single character to represent words that have different meanings but the same pronunciation. In traditional Chinese, each word has its own separate character.

The long history and culture attached to traditional Chinese make it aesthetically pleasing and meaningful. One example is the character for “love.” In traditional Chinese, the character is and part of what makes up this character is (heart). In simplified Chinese, the character for love is —it omits the “heart” component. Some feel that because of changes like this, traditional characters better represent the meaning of words. ~Adapted from online sources

Difference between Traditional and Simplified Chinese characters
Difference between Traditional
and Simplified
Chinese characters