- Manufacturing Confucianism: Chinese Traditions and Universal Civilization
Confucianisms, according to Lionel Jensen, in his Manufacturing Confucianism: Chinese Traditions and Universal Civilization, are the results of a four-century-long process of pious manufacture—pious because aimed at truth rather than manipulation, manufacture because the work has been done out of materials close to hand. [End Page 120] These materials are the texts, words, and symbols out of which traditions are invented and reinvented. Jensen's book is simultaneously a meditation on the ecumenical goals of "traditionary invention" and a close study of the specific ways in which sixteenth- and twentieth-century communities have negotiated between inherited meanings and current circumstances. Its case studies splendidly exemplify its broader theoretical themes; I will look at each before returning to an assessment of the book's conclusion.
The first two chapters explore what Jensen aptly calls the "sino-Jesuit community." He surveys the degrees to which the Jesuits were sinified and their efforts to find room for Chinese traditions in an expanded idea of natural religion, in part by redefining their own canon and seeing "Confucius" as an "ethnic philosopher" akin to Plato. Jensen argues that the Jesuits adopted and popularized the rarely used formulation "kong fu zi" as an appellation for their Chinese hero, and it is from this term that "Confucius" was ultimately derived.
Jensen works to make us see things sympathetically from the inside: the challenges the Jesuits faced, and the reasonableness of their responses, from initially likening themselves to Buddhists to their later identification with the "ru." He criticizes Jacques Gernet's China and the Christian Impact: A Conflict of Cultures (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985) for being too ready to see the Jesuits as engaged in cynical manipulation for their own ends. Instead, Jensen urges us to see the Jesuits as working within the constraints of their adopted cultural universe to seek the truth as they understood it. This process of seeing universal significance in the particulars of Chinese culture is then repeated when a fairly crude version of the Jesuits' "Confucius" makes an appearance on the European stage— providing, for Europeans, evidence of the possibility of harmonious life under a benevolent monarchy—in the Confucius Sinarum Philosophus of 1687.
The book's second pair of chapters take up two twentieth-century Chinese efforts to understand the early history of "ru," the term that, at least until modern times, functioned "as an emblem of the culture's central value system" (p. 155). For Zhang Binglin, with whose "The Etiology of Ru" Jensen begins, the ru began as a group of broadly talented gentlemen, but under the pernicious influence of the teacher Kongzi (a.k.a. Confucius), they turned toward the narrower concerns of government careerism. Reacting against the calls by some in his day to make "Kongjiao (Confucianism)" into a national religion, Zhang argued that the original goal of the "ru," and thus China's true intellectual heritage, was wide-ranging service to and direct engagement with China's people.
Hu Shi's "Explaining Ru," on the other hand, argues for a positive connection between the ru and Kongzi. According to Hu, the ru had been priests in the Shang dynasty whose status declined after the Zhou conquest only to be revitalized and transformed by Kongzi, a sage prophesied to save the world. Jensen finds a number of parallels between Hu's picture of Confucius and Christian accounts of Jesus, and argues that these similarities are not coincidental. Hu was determined to find a way to make modern (universal) civilization "congenial and congruous" with Chinese civilization; this he accomplished, in Jensen's words, by collapsing China and the [End Page 121] West "into a single process of civilizational growth, the self-same identity of which was explicit in the patterned variation in the biographies of their spiritual exemplars, Kongzi and Jesus" (p. 263).
While Jensen sometimes seems to want to confine the application of "Confucianism" to the Jesuits' sixteenth-century notion—arguing that at least...