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Kumarajiva: Translator Monk

Millions of Chinese speak the words of Kumarajiva every day. Far fewer have any idea that he is the man who translated key Buddhist texts from Sanskrit into Chinese.

Millions of Chinese speak the words of Kumarajiva (334-413) every day. Far fewer have any idea of who he is. He was perhaps China's most influential translator: in medieval China, he translated some of the most important Buddhist texts from Sanskrit into Chinese. Kumarajiva settled down for a life of contemplation as a Buddhist priest, but a series of invasions and occupations from the east saw him kidnapped, finally ending up at the great Chinese city of Chang'an (modern Xi'an). There he was given the task of rendering some of the key Buddhist teachings, such as the Diamond Sutra, into a form that Chinese worshippers could understand and use. In today's China, there are immense numbers of Buddhists who use Kumarajiva's texts. Even if his name has faded, Professor Rana Mitter says his achievement is very much part of the contemporary Chinese religious scene.
Chinese Characters is a series of 20 essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

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