- Islamic Thought in China: Sino-Muslim Intellectual Evolution from the 17th to the 21st Century ed. by Jonathan Lipman
For a long time, Islam in China was a neglected topic among academics in contrast to the sustained interest it maintained among enthusiastic Christian missionaries. The appearance of Dru Gladney's foundational ethnography of the Hui in the early 1990s, followed later by the first comprehensive history of the same group [End Page 50] by Jonathan Lipman, a student of Joseph Fletcher, initiated an age when serious scholarly engagement with the topic began to gain momentum. From sociology and anthropology to historiography and ethnomusicology, not to mention political science, academics in the past three decades have been experimenting with different approaches to do justice to the richness of the topic. One essential manifestation of this richness is the almost inevitable intertwining of religion and ethnicity. This is due, on the one hand, to the modern transformations that introduced both concepts into the Chinese linguistic and cultural worlds, and, on the other hand, to state governmental pragmatics that combined socialism with imperial legacies. Thus, in terms of either the Sinophone Muslims to which the Hui—the major subject of this new volume—belong, or the Turkic-speaking Uyghur, whose rich linguistic, cultural, and religious traditions have now largely been overshadowed by sensational reports on "terrorism," studies of Islam in China always have to grapple with the intricate and shifting relationship between two competing paradigms. One is that of ethnic study, which has to consider the nationalist as well as the socialist views of nationality and ethnicity; the other is that of religious study, which, admittedly, is derived both from modern study of religion as a presumably universal human phenomenon and, specifically for Islam, from the long tradition of Western oriental scholarship with a strong focus on textual interpretation.
To both paradigms, this new collection put together by Jonathan is an excellent addition. In the introduction, Lipman discusses the challenge as well as the potential of this project: "We hope that this book will stimulate scholars in Islamic Studies to take more interest in China as a site of Islamic thought, and those in Chinese Studies to consider the Muslims of China as both legitimately Chinese and different in instructive ways. We are persuaded that both fields will be enriched by study of this conjunction" (p. 10). The fact that this volume is published by Edinburgh University Press, a renowned academic publisher known for its focus on Islamic studies, speaks to the success of this border-crossing endeavor.
Consisting of eight essays by established as well as junior scholars based in the United States, Europe (both Western and Eastern), and Japan (notably without contributors based in China), the book is divided chronologically into two parts. Each part circles around one theme. The first part, with its focus primarily on the late imperial period (1636–1912 c.e.), brings together four essays that examine major Hui intellectual figures who have been called, by their admirers in later generations, Huiru, or Hui Confucians. They have thus been named because in one way or another, either piecemeal or systematically, they tried to establish substantial connections between the official imperial ideology that centered on a certain interpretation of Confucianism, and their own particular and particularly intellectualist understandings of Islamic creeds, doctrines, and theological arguments. Their work has been collectively designated by their followers as Han kitāb, [End Page 51] using the Chinese transcription of the Arabic word for "book." The level of their grasp of both classical Chinese and Arabo-Persian Islamic literature varied widely, with Liu Zhi (ca. 1660–ca. 1730), presumably the pinnacle of this scholarship, being the most learned. The four essays in part one are systematic and detailed examinations of the work of four major Hui intellectual figures: Wang Daiyu, Ma Zhu, Liu Zhi, and Ma Dexin.
James Frankel writes admirably on Liu Zhi, borrowing from his book on the same subject...