Before the 1912 version was found, experts believed the earliest complete Chinese version of the Qur'an was the one produced and published in Beijing in 1927.
The newly discovered manuscript translation, found among old archives by researchers with the Muslim Culture Institute of Lanzhou University, is believed to have been translated into Chinese by Sha Zhong and Ma Fulu, two noted imams and Arabic calligraphers in Lanzhou, said Ding Shiren, head of the institute.
Sha and Ma began translating the Qur'an in 1909 and completed their work in 1912, Ding said.
Sha then copied out the Chinese text and made three handwritten books, which were widely used in Lanzhou.
Ding said two other Chinese versions of the Koran were finished in Gansu in the 20th century.
Ding and his colleagues are still making a comparative study of the three versions.
He said the translation by Sha and Ma is faithful to the Arabic version, though parts of the Chinese text used Lanzhou dialect.
Experts say Islam was introduced to China in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). But early Chinese Muslim scholars did not translate the Koran, out of fear they might misinterpret its text, Ding said.
"Earliest Chinese version of Koran found in NW China" Xinhua December 17, 2011
"Earliest Chinese version of Quran found" China Daily December 17, 2011
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today