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  • The First Islamic Classic in Chinese: Wang Daiyu’s by Sachiko Murata
  • Cuma Ozkan
Sachiko Murata, trans., The First Islamic Classic in Chinese: Wang Daiyu’s Real Commentary on the True Teaching. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2017, vii, 273 pp. US$23.95 (pb). ISBN 978-1-4384-6508-1

Sachiko Murata has previously contributed to the research on Islam in Late Imperial China, especially by translating seminal texts from the Han Kītab collection (Islamic writings in Chinese) into English. In her Chinese Gleams of Sufi Light, she translated Wang Daiyu’s 王岱輿 (ca. 1570–ca. 1660) Great Learning of Islam (Qingzhen daxue 清真大學) and Liu Zhi’s 劉智 (ca. 1660–ca. 1739) translation of Jami’s Lawa’ih into Chinese as Displaying the Concealment of the Real Realm (Zhenjing zhaowei 真境昭微), as well as produced a synopsis of Wang Daiyu’s Real Commentary on the True Teaching (Zhengjiao zhenquan 正教真詮) by translating snippets from each chapter.1 In the Sage Learning of Liu Zhi, she translated and annotated Nature and Principle in Islam (Tianfang xingli 天方性理).2 In this book, she translates the full forty chapters of Wang’s Zhengjiao zhenquan, which is the first Islamic text written in China, together with the author’s “Self-Narrative” (zixu 自敘) and a “Record of Questions and Answers” (wenda jiyan 問答紀言). Murata bases her translation on the 1657 edition of the text, but she also notes the differences between the editions of 1642, 1873, 1904, and 1922 (pp. 32–33), finding that they mostly have to do with typographical errors or the use of synonymous words.

The Zhengjiao zhenquan consists of two sections of twenty chapters each, in which Wang explains the “spiritual and ethical underpinnings” of Islamic beliefs and practices while providing a “social and spiritual rationale” for them (p. 3). The first section of the work mainly introduces Islamic theology and cosmology explaining the attributes of Allah, Islamic creation, prophethood in Islam, and the relationship between human beings and God. Wang also explains deviant views that mischaracterize God in chapters titled “Similarity to the Real” (sizhen 似真), “Changing the Real” (yizhen 易真), and “Darkening the Real” (meizhen 昧真). The chapter “The Outstanding Differences” (jiongyi 迥異) presents the differences between Islam and the other religions in seven aspects, asserting the superiority of Islam over Chinese religions. The chapter “Huihui 回回,” the Chinese term for Muslims at that time, which Murata translates as “the Returning Returners,” explains the meaning of huihui as a return of body to its origin in two ways and a return of heart to its origin in two ways. The chapter “Husband and Wife” (fufu 夫婦) is unusual in the first section in that it deals with practical topics of marriage, celibacy, and a wife’s obedience to her husband. The first section ends with the chapter on the first pillar of Islam, the profession of faith (shahadah) where Wang explains the necessity of a creator (the “Real Lord” in the text) and prophets. The second section mainly introduces Islamic practices, showing their similarities to and differences from those of Chinese religions. It starts with the five pillars of Islam, which Wang refers to as “The Five Constants” (wu chang 五常), alluding to the Confucian concept. This section also includes topics such as filial piety, friendship, animal sacrifice, vegetarianism, gambling, drinking alcohol, usury, and hoarding. [End Page 307]

Nevertheless, Zhengjiao zhenquan provides not a manual of Islamic beliefs and practices but a rationale for their superiority. Wang’s position in the text is often “polemical,” defending Islamic beliefs and practices against Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism (p. 5). Wang also presents Islam as the only true teaching and shows inconsistencies and fallacies in the beliefs and practices of Chinese religions. Wang often quotes from a wide range of Chinese sources and uses metaphors intelligible to the Chinese audience to demonstrate that Islamic beliefs and practices conform to Chinese antiquity. Yet, he does not abstain from boldly criticizing some Chinese beliefs and practices to show the superiority of Islam. With regards to fengshui 風水, he notes that “the teaching of Islam takes the method of yin and yang as incoherent and regards the clarity of knowledge as shallow . . . The foolish people of the world talk happily about...


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