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Overview

Could it be that the familiar and beloved figure of Confucius was invented by Jesuit priests? In Manufacturing Confucianism, Lionel M. Jensen reveals this very fact, demonstrating how sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Western missionaries used translations of the ancient ru tradition to invent the presumably historical figure who has since been globally celebrated as philosopher, prophet, statesman, wise man, and saint. Challenging both previous scholarship and widespread belief, Jensen uses European letters and memoirs, Christian histories and catechisms written in Chinese, translations and commentaries on the Sishu, and a Latin summary of Chinese culture known as the Confucius Sinarum Philosophus to argue that the national self-consciousness of Europe and China was bred from a cultural ecumenism wherein both were equal contributors.
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Editorial Reviews

Lingua Franca
In Manufacturing Confucianism, Jensen argues that the Jesuits, looking for a way to penetrate the closed corridors of China's intellectual elite, discovered in Kongzi both a reassuringly familiar figure and an irresistible opportunity....Relations between China and the West have long been strained....If Lionel Jensen is right, cooperation between the hemispheres has an equally proud history; not all of it has been told.
Atlantic Monthly
If the New Confucians are wrong about Confucius-if, that is, he never was the humane sage and ethicist of popular imagination, and Confucianism as commonly perceived is largely a mythical concoction-their theories and platform would suddenly rest on a shakier base. That is precisely the premise of a new strain of Confucian scholarship that has stirred excitement and controversy. The scholarship takes on traditional understandings of Confucianism in two ways: by questioning its origins and by questioning its Chineseness....The second big issue-the Chineseness of Confucianism-is the focus of Lionel M. Jensen....Jensen contends that there was no such thing as Confucianism until Jesuit missionaries entered China in the late sixteenth century....[A]mong younger Chinese-born scholars who have no ideological stake in Confucianism as a counterweight to Maoism, efforts like those of Jensen...to place the reputed sage in the historical context of the culture that produced him come as a relief.
Rocky Mountain News
[I]t's of considerable importance to the modern world if the most recent rewriting owes as much to sixteenth-century Italian Catholicism as it does to Chinese imperial history. China and the West are closer than they have ever been, closer surely to each other than either culture is to its antecedents 400 years ago. When the Asian economies were flying high, one often-cited reason was 'Confucian values,' generally understood as a willingness to subordinate radical individualism to the good of society. Jensen's work opens the possibility that those values are more deeply shared than we have realized.
China Quarterly
[W]ritten with much humor, some irony, and, despite disclaimers, a little 'post-modern' irreverence...all the more interesting for readers interested in Confucianism as a catalyst for East-West cultural exchanges. This reviewer has no doubt that the argument of re-invention of culture is historically and universally accurate.
Religious Studies Review
Perhaps the most important work on Confucianism ever published in any language...[Jensen] demonstrates with acute precision how specific Western and Chinese interpretations shaped each other, from the normative claims of late-imperial Chinese intellectuals to the perspectives of leading Western scholars today. This fascinating, monumental study should be required reading for all who study Asia or who endeavor to understand other cultures.
Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies
[A] salutary effect of Jensen's book might be that no serious scholar in Chinese studies will [again] use the term Confucian or Confucianism except in the most guarded circumstances.
From the Publisher

“A thesis that will scandalize cultural purists: the ‘Confucius’ we love, honor and emulate springs from the intercultural trafficking of seventeenth-century Jesuit missionaries. Jensen argues his case on many planes, with nuance and bedrock affection for both China and sinology.”—Haun Saussy, Stanford University, and author of The Problem of a Chinese Aesthetic

“Jensen makes his case with a forceful combination of detailed sinological research and rigorous reasoning. It is certain to be a focus of discussion for many decades to come. Indeed, it will be a significant milestone in the field.”—Hoyt Cleveland Tillman, Arizona State University, and author of Confucian Discourse and Chu Hsi’s Ascendancy

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822320470
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 2/28/1998
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 472
  • Product dimensions: 6.07 (w) x 9.29 (h) x 1.38 (d)

Meet the Author

Lionel M. Jensen is Assistant Professor of History and Director of the Program in Chinese Studies at the University of Colorado at Denver.

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Read an Excerpt

Manufacturing Confucianism

Chinese Traditions & Universal Civilization


By Lionel M. Jensen

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1997 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-9958-2



CHAPTER 1

THE JESUITS, CONFUCIUS, AND THE CHINESE


"He [Cook] is a god." But then recognition is a kind of re-cognition: the event is inserted in a preexisting category, and history is present in current action. The irruption of Captain Cook from beyond the horizon was a truly unprecedented event, never seen before. But by thus encompassing the existentially unique in the conceptually familiar, the people embed their present in the past.—Marshall Sahlins

In ancient times they followed the natural law as faithfully as in our lands; and for 1500 years this people was little given to idols, and those they adored were not such a wretched crowd as our Egyptians, Greeks and Romans adored, but a lot who were very virtuous and to whom were attributed very many good deeds. In fact, in the books of the literati which are the most ancient and of the greatest authority, they give no other adoration than to heaven and earth and the Lord of them. When we examine closely all these books we discover in them very few things contrary to the light of reason and very many in conformity with it.—Matteo Ricci

By the time the Italian Jesuits Michele Ruggieri (1543-1607) and Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) had established the first Christian mission of the modern era in China in September 1583, Zhongni, Kong Qiu, or Kongzi had been dead for over two millennia, but "Confucius" was about to be born. He was born, in a manner similar to that which Marshall Sahlins describes in his account of Captain Cook's incarnation as a Hawaiian god, that is, in an instant reflexive translation of what was strange into a preexistent understanding. Cook was decidedly a man, not a god, yet he and his retinue from the British Royal Navy were not at first comprehensible to the Hawaiian as men. If not men, then they were, says Sahlins, gods; thus Cook the man was appropriated as Lono, the god of fertility.

For sixteenth-century Chinese, the native entity, Kongzi, was a man-god, a shengren, who was the object of an imperial cult, the ancient ancestor of a celebrated rhetorical tradition, and a symbol of an honored scholarly fraternity (the ru, or "Confucians") represented by a phalanx of officials who staffed every level of the imperial bureaucracy. But before the eyes of clerics newly arrived from the West he appeared as prophet, holy man, and saint (santo).

In Jesuit hands the indigenous Kongzi was resurrected from distant symbolism into life, heroically transmuted and made intelligible as "Confucius," a spiritual confrere who alone among the Chinese—so their version had it—had preached an ancient gospel of monotheism now forgotten. As the Italian fathers imagined him, this Chinese saint and his teachings on the One God, Shangdi, had presaged their arrival. It was with this presumption that they undertook a restoration of what they termed his "true learning" (zhengxue). In this way, Ruggieri, Ricci, and several generations of accommodationist fathers construed Kongzi through a timeless vertical relation with divinity, re-cognizing him as "Confucius" while inventing themselves, qua ru, as native defenders of the sage's "first Ru" (xianru) doctrine.

This Confucius was more than the cognitive adjustment Sahlins describes and more than translation. It was a symbol manufactured by the early Jesuits in the course of their adaptation to China. Through their invention, these first missionaries overcame the cultural strangeness of late imperial China and, more surprisingly, within a decade of life among the Chinese, were able to represent themselves to the natives as the orthodox bearers of the native Chinese tradition, the ru. In the name of "the true learning" and its master, Confucius, Ricci, Ruggieri, and others were reincarnated as a Chinese fundamentalist sect that preached a theology of Christian/Confucian syncretism. In turn, the Chinese accepted the fathers as ru and even referred to them, in some cases, as shengren menxia (followers of the holy men).

Today the term "Confucius" and its derivative "Confucian" endure as the principal symbols of China, Chineseness, and tradition. For some time, Confucius has been seen as a legacy left us by the Jesuits, yet scholars have been unable or disinclined to identify an author or text that would confirm the presumption. The figure was assuredly the Jesuits', but it was the second-order reinvention of "Confucius" in Europe, not merely its local invention by the Sino-Jesuit community, that made the term so potent. Our Confucius is in fact a product of both these moments of invention. Although it is proper to acknowledge the Jesuits' role in inventing Confucius, in doing so we tend to obscure the other historical conditions of its invention and reinvention, and thus overlook the term's differential functioning in two separate textual communities. This chapter queries this conflation of the two figures and begins by questioning the invention "Confucius."

It is not my objective to ascertain when and by whom "Confucius" was originally uttered, principally because there is no historically verifiable first use. Instead, I am concerned with the representational mechanics associated with the Jesuit strategy for their mission in China. Specifically, I wish to explore how they, as foreigners, were able to construct a native complex of reference according to which they made sense of both themselves and the Chinese. Secondly, I am interested in the manner in which a certain conceptual product of the local Jesuit conversion project, "Confucius," was received and interpreted in Europe within a collateral, universalizing complex of reference in a fashion contradictory to the intentions of the fathers, but productive of a rich array of fetishes bearing the aura of Chineseness.

What runs through both of these concerns is the fictive character of Confucius, examination of which inevitably opens a window onto the life of the community that created it and onto another one abroad in Europe, which reconceived it under very different cultural circumstances. In chapter 2 I will consider the consequences of the Jesuit assimilation in both China and Europe by examining the difference in the meanings of the missionary "Confusius" (the earliest Jesuit spelling of the name) and the "Confucius" of wide Continental celebrity with which we are more familiar.

However, in this chapter the focus will be the ecclesiastical community in China. This community was the cultural matrix from which a certain "Confusius" was brought forth; it remains the least well understood of the protagonists in this story, having been portrayed only as a mediator between historically given communities. But the first Jesuits were a self-constituting intellectual community, whose local identity was obtained through a lengthy process of translating themselves into native reference while translating Chinese texts into the language of their faith. Their translation was a complex negotiation of identity on native terrain in which they were assisted by Chinese while also helping themselves to the multiple symbolic resources offered by the culture that they quickly made their own.

Through study of this Jesuit enclave and its "engaged representation" of the Chinese, we can reconstruct the making of a tradition, learning how communities of persons create communities of texts, all interrelated and mutually elucidating. We begin by retracing the route taken by those unusually pious priests who, in seeking to make themselves Chinese, constructed a path that for more than four centuries interpreters have used to cross over into China.


Cultural Wilderness and the Reach of Jesuit Imagination

A traveller who has lost his way, should not ask, "Where am I?" What he really wants to know is, Where are the other places? He has got his own body, but he has lost them.—Alfred North Whitehead

To arrive in south China in the last quarter of the sixteenth century must have been disorienting, as well as difficult and dangerous for Michele Ruggieri, Matteo Ricci, and the other missionaries who accompanied them on their respective journeys there in 1579 and 1582. While "Cina," as the Italian fathers called it, was not uncharted territory, it remained a wilderness for them, a place of fanciful European dreams and a spur to the imagination of adventurers and cartographers. Fathers like Ruggieri and Ricci who requested service in the yet-to-be-founded China Mission, elected to undertake a kind of boundary exploration, devoting themselves to pacing and measuring the contours of the line between this wilderness and their own civilization. The passage from Lisbon to Goa and on to Macao took at best one year, but there was always a considerable risk of maritime disaster en route. In their transit to China, the Jesuit fathers endured a lengthy apprenticeship in the unknown to arrive at a tiny outpost of European civilization on the tip of China's southern coast. Macao was a fitting location from which to take the measure of the vast wilderness to the north. But it was strange nevertheless, and the largely European character of its public works could not neutralize its strangeness.

These circumstances must have been quite unsettling for the two men for, unlike many of their fellow residents in this polyglot entrepot, they were not to return home soon. Macao was for them a way station propaedeutic to a greater enterprise, of which neither the perils nor the fruits could be known, only imagined. They were also virtually on their own. Their zeal to immerse themselves in the culture of China distinguished them from the other missionaries in Goa as well as their predecessors in the Mission of the Indies, who, unlike Ricci and Ruggieri, resisted the impulse to go native, preferring instead to preach in their own vernaculars with the assistance of local converts.

On several counts, then, the experience of these two missionaries was one of cultural dislocation. They were isolated in Macao, where few would hear their message. More important, they lacked a language to convey what they could preach so effortlessly on the streets of Rome. To give voice to themselves, the fathers simply wrote themselves into existence. From the records they have left, they were engaged, it would seem, in a feverish self-inscription. During their first years, they generated, in short order, a great volume of letters, a Latin catechism, and a world map.

They wrote in Chinese, Latin, and Portuguese, and between 1581 and 1586, there seemed no limit to their curiosity. In a letter of October 1581, three years after Michele Ruggieri arrived in Macao, Father Pero Gomes, another of the early missionaries, reports: "Father Rogerio [Ruggieri] and I who have been here these months, are employing our time in composing a brief history of the beginning of the world which will be used at the same time as a Christian doctrine and this in the form of a dialogue which will be translated into the Chinese language." That same year, Ruggieri completed a catechism and a version of the lives of the saints, both written in Chinese with the assistance of an unnamed Chinese convert. They had taken three years to write. By 1585 he had become a fair calligrapher and had already written a number of poems in conscious imitation of Tang style. He also completed much of a bilingual (Portuguese/Chinese) dictionary, which when finished comprised 189 folios. In these years Ruggieri ranged across much of the cultural terrain before him, writing down and explaining the Chinese terms for the heavens, the twenty-four periods of the lunar cycle, and the tiangan dizhi (stems and branches) system of calculation. He identified the thirteen provinces of the empire as well as the northern and southern capitals of the Ming dynasty and even undertook preparations to assemble a globe with Chinese notations.

The same sense of fervid acquisition of local knowledge can be seen in the first letters that Ricci and Ruggieri posted from China. These early letters were given (tirelessly) to the details of the quotidian: documenting what they could of Chinese custom; rehearsing their plans for a mission settlement in China proper; chronicling the scholarly activities of the fathers, particularly their progress in language study; and reporting on their meetings with local Chinese officials, from whom they sought permission to enter the country. Of the last of these there is frequent mention, giving any reader of the letters the impression that the Jesuits were directing extraordinary effort at carving a niche, geographic and political, for themselves and for the mission volunteers they presumed would follow. Through this significant epistolary production, they were constructing a frame of reference, situating the China that loomed before them in relation to the known world. They were, like Whitehead's lost traveler, finding the other places.

When in the autumn of 1584 these first letters were sent via Portuguese carrack to awaiting Jesuit censors, the missionaries had already acquired a tract of land near the town of Zhaoqing, ninety miles west of Canton on the south bank of the Xi River, and Ruggieri was laboring over a series of maps that would be made into an atlas of China. At the same time his colleague, Matteo Ricci, was completing his first mappamondo, or world map (see figure 4), which proved to be quite a novelty to the Chinese eye. The mappamondo was an established genre in sixteenth-century Europe; its conventions dictated that China be placed on the eastern edge of the map, with Jerusalem in the center, and Europe in the West. Thus the mappamondo charted the new reaches of known civilization, specifically marking the borders of the unknown and wicked, and all in relation to the ancient locus of the cartographer's faith, Jerusalem.

However, Ricci's mappamondo was different. He composed it in situ to chart his relation to the civilization he had left, but his cartography was most unconventional. In fact, it violated the conventions of the mappamondo genre, as if to indicate a drift toward native perspective or to portray the degree of his cultural displacement. For on Ricci's map, Europe was in the far West. And perhaps in unconscious deference to the regnant Chinese cultural conception of centrality (zhong), Ricci put China near the center; the Holy Land was represented in the western quadrant as an isthmus that linked Asia with North Africa.

The first version of the map went through a series of editions and, owing to its great popularity among the Chinese, became a well-known symbol of Jesuit erudition, reiteratively redacted and reproduced over five decades by subsequent detachments of missionaries. This initial effort was obviously not made to assist Jesuit proselytism: the original map was stolen from their Zhaoqing compound not long after it was finished and was then reproduced by woodblock in multiple copies for an inquisitive Chinese audience. Consequently, unlike its many subsequent revised and annotated editions, this first map was intended exclusively for Ricci and his fellow missionaries, offering a visual, documentary testament of the wide reach of God and framing these European men, both spiritually and physically, within the borders of a science they instinctively understood—cartography—and within a language they sought to master.

Such framing was inspirationally reinforced by the preparation of a Latin "catechism," the initial draft of which was completed in 1581 and called the Vera et brevis divinarum rerum expositio (A True and Brief Exposition of Divine Things). This work is a heterogenous sampling of materials and genres so idiosyncratic that it is difficult to categorize. The first seven chapters consist of a dialogue between a European priest and an "ethnic" philosopher, followed, in order, by the Ten Commandments, the Articles of Faith, a selection of Christ's sayings, and the Sacraments. This catechism, like the map, acted to frame the Jesuits in relation to their immediate experience of the Chinese other. As the work was composed in Latin, its immediate audience was certainly not the Chinese, and it was not, by the Jesuits' own admission, so much a catechism as an explanation and defense of doctrine (doctrina).

While it did serve as a very important though very imperfect template, from which was produced a second version in the Chinese language, the Vera et brevis expositio was clearly of greater value to the Jesuits in coping with cultural estrangement than it was to prospective Chinese catechumens. In drafting a Latin doctrina of this sort at the interface of the unknown, Ruggieri and Ricci were able not simply to reaffirm but to nourish and celebrate, in the language of their beloved church, the cardinal tenets of their faith. Thus, they steeled themselves spiritually for what God had asked of them by making a declaration of faith under duress.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Manufacturing Confucianism by Lionel M. Jensen. Copyright © 1997 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Figures
Acknowledgments
Note
Chronology
Introduction: Confucius, Kongzi, and the Modern Imagination 1
Pt. 1 The Manufacture of Confucius and Confucianism
1 The Jesuits, Confucius, and the Chinese 31
2 There and Back Again: The Jesuits and Their Texts in China and Europe 77
Interlude: The Meaning and End of Confucianism - A Meditation on Conceptual Dependence 135
Pt. 2 Making Sense of Ru and Making Up Kongzi
3 Ancient Texts, Modern Narratives: Nationalism, Archaism, and the Reinvention of Ru 151
4 Particular Is Universal: Hu Shi, Ru, and the Chinese Transcendence of Nationalism 217
Epilogue: At Century's End - Ecumenical Nativism and the Economy of Delight 265
Glossary 287
Notes 305
Abbreviations 305
Bibliography 379
Index 421
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