1835  — 1919

Seraphin Couvreur

Jesuit missionary in China, translator of Chinese classics, and compiler of several dictionaries.

Couvreur was a native of Varenne, Somme, France. After his studies at the seminary in Amiens, he entered the Society of Jesus in September 1853. Upon completion of his philosophical and theological studies at Vals and Laval respectively, he was ordained a priest in 1867. While teaching grammar at the college in Amiens, he asked to go to the China mission.

He arrived in April 1870, and after language training at Hochienfu (Hejian), Hopei (Hebei) Province, he became a parish priest for several years and was then appointed a professor in the seminary at Sien-hsien (Xianxian), about 150 miles south of Peking (Beijing). Aware of the need for missionaries to improve their communication with the Chinese, he published a Latin-Chinese dictionary in 1877. This work launched his long career of publishing a French-Chinese, then a Chinese-French, dictionary, and also dual-language translations (French and Latin) of the Five Classics and the Four Books—-the key writings of Chinese civilization. Many of these works had several editions and have been reprinted in Paris and Taipei in recent decades.

For his sinological contributions Couvreur twice received the Stanislas Julien Prize from the Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres in Paris. The greater part of his life he spent at the Jesuit residence in Sien-hsien, where he died.


This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.


  • Seraphin Couvreur, Dictionarium linguae Sinicae Latinum (1877), Choix de documents (4th ed., 1906), Dictionarium Sinicum et Latinum (2d ed., 1907), Dictionnaire Francais-Chinois (2d ed., 1908), Seu Cheu: Les Quatre Livres, (2d ed., 1910), Dictionnaire classique de la langue Chinoise (3d ed., 1911), Li Ki ou memoire des bienseances, 2 vols. (2d ed., 1913), Tch’ouen Ts’iou et Tso Tchouan, 3 vols. (1913), Ceremonial (1916), Cheu King (2d ed., 1916), Chou King, (2d ed., 1916), Guide de la conversation Francais-Anglais-Chinois. Guide to Conversation in French, English, and Chinese (10th ed., 1920), and Geographie ancienne et moderne de la Chine (2d ed., 1934).

About the Author

John W. Witek

Associate Professor of East Asian History, Georgetown University, Washington D.C., USA