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Journal of World History 10.1 (1999) 215-218

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Manufacturing Confucianism: Chinese Traditions and Universal Civilization. By Lionel M. Jensen. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1997. Pp. xv + 444. $59.95 (cloth); $19.95 (paper).

Students of Chinese and Western history are on the whole familiar with how China came to have a place in the imagination of the eighteenth-century European Enlightenment, largely thanks to Jesuit efforts of the century and a half before. That Jesuits and Jesuit literature purveyed cultural messages east and west, from the philosophe spirit to natural religion to rococo art to material culture, is also well known. A spate of works by Hudson, Reichwein, Robowtham, and Pinot of earlier [End Page 215] vintage and Spence of later (all but Spence eluded the author's bibliography) has traced this marvelous story of Jesuit latitudinarian feats in doctrinal matters regarding China (which the Jesuits needed to penetrate) and Europe (which they needed to make receptive to their China efforts).

In Manufacturing Confucianism Lionel Jensen has read and studied widely to recast this story with a deliberate use of the term manufacture (pp. 22-27), a usage that will engender debate and misunderstanding. Jensen's argument is that the Jesuits, principally Ricci and Ruggieri, literally created Confucius, a name latinized from Kong Fuzi (Master Kong). His survey of ru (Confucian) literature revealing no mention of the name Kong Fuzi (e.g., pp. 81-92), even though admitting to such usages on spirit tablets in village temples (p. 7), Jensen goes beyond the latinization argument to state that the Jesuits proceeded to make Confucius fulfill European needs of an exemplar of reason and civility, even to the point of being an avatar of a proto-Christian natural theology.

Jensen devotes the second half of the book to applying his theory of cultural accommodation to the work of two twentieth-century Chinese renditions of "remanufacturing" Confucianism: Zhang Binglin's Yuanru (The Etiology of Ru) of 1910 and Hu Shi's Shuoru (An Elaboration on Ru) of 1934. Jensen sees both men as using Western sources and argumentative modes (usually of an evolutionary and developmental nature) to buttress the view that the ru evolved from primitive religious origins to secular sophistication, thus, like the West, sharing in the growing compatibility of religion with rationality and intellect.

In anticipation of possible charges of trivializing Confucius and Confucianism for not having existed before the Jesuits, Jensen uses the terms "Our Confucius" and "Their Confucius," saying further, "My story of Confucius and Confucianism is a reverent account of an ecumenical impulse or spirit, definitive of a modern temper found in the Renaissance, forgotten since the seventeenth century in the West, and recovered in the twentieth century in China" (p. 5). Throughout the book, then, the reader encounters both the ecumenical impulse and the author's fundamental love of Confucian thought and its interpretation. But the reader will have ample occasions to test an otherwise vigorously reasoned tale. One such example is offered here.

Throughout the book, with eloquent reinforcement in the epilogue, the author shows his appreciation of the ease (ecumenical impulse) with which Confucius and Confucianism lend themselves to reinterpretation, serving "political" needs of the interpretive present. The Jesuits' sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the Chinese twentieth were for Jensen such times. Yet the author does not, even though he is aware [End Page 216] of them, engage for comparison two major occasions of a Chinese domestic "manufacture" of Confucianism before the arrival of the Jesuits. One was during the Han, when such men as Lu Jia, Jia Yi, and Dong Zhongshu summoned Confucius and his teachings to justify their preaching to three early Han emperors on the wisdom of joining morality and politics (very much the politico-moralis of the Jesuit-Enlightenment patois), resulting in the rise of Confucianism as a state religion. Further, during the later Han, the Old-text/New-text controversy saw Confucius the transmitter pitted against Confucius the reformer. The second major threshold of domestic manufacture was the Song neo-Confucian...