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  • Manufacturing Confucianism: Chinese Traditions and Universal Civilization
  • Min-sun Chen (bio)
Lionel M. Jensen. Manufacturing Confucianism: Chinese Traditions and Universal Civilization. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1997. xix, 444 pp. Hardcover $59.95, ISBN 0-8223-2034-7. Paperback $19.95, ISBN0-8223-2047-9.

In this well-researched book, Lionel M. Jensen offers as his main thesis that it was the pioneer Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) who invented the name "Confucius" and the term "Confucianism." Other Jesuit missionaries during the subsequent European Enlightenment period and, later, prominent Chinese scholars of the twentieth century then continued this process of "manufacturing" Confucianism by reinventing it to suit the needs of their times—a process that commands both attention and admiration because it involved the virtual creation of a universal civilization that incorporates healthy elements from both Chinese and Western civilzations. So far, the result has been rather insubstantial, but this does not mean that the effort should be abandoned. Indeed, Jensen himself is carrying forward the noble task of manufacturing and reinventing Confucianism. It is hoped that in the next millennium we may succeed in creating a truly ecumenical world and a truly universal civilization.

Through the skillful use of concepts and terminology taken from twentieth-century philology and linguistics, Jensen has made an elaborate attempt to prove his thesis. In addition to a long introduction, a detailed epilogue, a comprehensive bilingual glossary, and a complete index, his book contains two parts: part 1 (pp. 31-147) on "The Manufacture of Confucius and Confucianism" and part 2 (pp. 149-264) on "Making Sense of Ru and Making Up Kongzi." Part 1 deals with the sincere efforts of Ricci and other Jesuit missionaries as well as their contemporaries in the European scholarly community to gain a deep insight into Chinese traditions and bridge the gulf that existed between China and the West. Part 2 details the progress made by the Chinese literary giant Zhang Binglin (1868-1916) and the great twentieth-century scholar and educator Hu Shi (1891-1962) in reinventing [End Page 459] ru and further universalizing a struggling Chinese civilization that had been dealt repeated heavy blows by the nations of the West since the Opium War of 1839-1842. All of these main points receive ample coverage in Jensen's book. On the whole, it is an impressive scholarly work. The back cover of the paperback edition offers these comments by two American scholars: Hoyt Cleveland Tillman calls Jensen's book "a milestone in the field," while Haun Saussy claims that Jensen has offered "a thesis that will scandalize cultural purists."

In a recent popular publication, The Life Millennium: The 100 Most Important Events and Peoples of the Past 1,000 Years (New York: Time Inc., 1998), Matteo Ricci is listed on page 181 as number 68. Jensen's book certainly is one of the more important biographical studies on Ricci, and it offers sufficient grounds to justify Ricci's receiving this kind of recognition. Ricci's achievement in understanding the teachings of Confucius and the essence of Chinese tradition, with all its virtues and shortcomings, and his ability to transmit this knowledge to other Jesuit missionaries and to the European intellectual community are certainly worthy of wide recognition. (Indeed, the current rumor has it that the conferring of sainthood on Ricci by the Catholic Church is probably just a matter of time.)

One of the merits of Jensen's volume is that it views the missionary enterprise of Ricci and other Jesuits from the wider perspective of Sino-Western cultural contacts. Jensen sees the attempts by Ricci and others to interpret, reinterpret, and theorize on Confucius and Confucianism in terms of a meaningful cross-cultural dialogue—an invention, reinvention, and manufacturing of Confucianism all in the context of Sino-Western contacts. Jensen is fully aware of the implications of this dialogue, attempted under conditions that the Jesuits could not control.

According to the late Earl H. Pritchard (1907-1996), an authority on the history of Sino-Western relations, from the time the Portuguese first appeared in the South China Sea in 1514 up until 1839, China, by maintaining her tribute system and...


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