AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 165

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Session 165: Evolution of the Sino-Islamic Intellectual Tradition

Organizer: Kristian Petersen, University of Washington, USA

Discussant: John B. Henderson, Louisiana State University, USA

The goal of this panel is to examine the contours of Sino-Islamic intellectual history from the seventeenth to twenty-first century. We will explore the intertextuality of Chinese and Islamic sources utilized by Muslim authors in producing new discourses and delineate the dialogues that occurred between these philosophical, religious and nationalistic subjects. While analyzing our subjects we will consider why these authors chose to compose their works. Unravel who understood the complex interplay of technical Islamic vocabulary presented in a Chinese lexicon. Delineate how each respective generation felt about these interpretations and altered them to coincide with their individual motivations and perspectives. Explore how and why these positions become normative and sustained by later generations. Outline what the factors were that brought about the importance of these works. Trace why these positions had authority within this intellectual movement and why their constituencies valued them. Finally, we review why they were given the interpretive authority of Islam within this tradition. We will investigate these issues through exemplary and popular sources that shaped this intellectual heritage. We begin with representative authors from the Han Kitab tradition, Ma Zhu and Liu Zhi (seventeenth and eighteenth centuries). Then explore nineteenth century intellectual shifts through the work of Ma Dexin. Finally, we examine how modern intellectuals (twentieth and twenty-first centuries) situate their tradition within a nationalistic and globalized world. Altogether, we concentrate on the hybrid quality of these voices, authored by the tradition’s most important scholars, and how they shaped the successive stages of Sino-Islamic thought.

A Proper Place for God: Ma Zhu’s Chinese-Islamic Theology
Jonathan N. Lipman, Mount Holyoke College, USA

The Yunnanese literatus Ma Zhu composed the Qingzhen Zhinan (“Compass of Islam”) in Beijing during the tumultuous 1670s. A dual insider, having earned the xiucai degree in the late Ming and studied Arabic and Persian in the Yunnan and Beijing madrasas, Ma wrote of the Dao of Islam in the vocabulary of Ming-Qing Confucian orthodoxy. Indebted to first-generation Han kitab writers such as Wang Daiyu, he provided a firm intellectual foundation for Liu Zhi’s masterful trilogy on ritual, philosophy, and the life of the Prophet, begun less than a decade later. This essay focuses on Ma Zhu’s placement of a monotheistic deity—Allah—in a Chinese cultural matrix that lacked a creation story and attributed much of the obvious good sense of the cosmos to ancient human actors. Why bother with Allah if the material universe (wanwu) spontaneously arose from the unquestionable sequence of wuji, taiji, and yin-yang? What did Allah do if innovators such as Fuxi, Shennong, Houji, and Shikuang created the essentials of human life? In his chapters on Allah’s love for the world (zhenci) and “cognition of God by experience” (tiren), Ma Zhu attempted to solve these puzzles of his simultaneous Sino-Muslim religious and intellectual heritage. With his Han kitab colleagues, he aimed to demonstrate the compatibility, even mutual dependence, of Confucianism and Islam.

James D. Frankel, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Liu Zhi (ca. 1660 – ca. 1730) is widely regarded as the consummate product of the Chinese Muslim scholarly community that emerged in the late sixteenth century, developed into a school of thought in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and set a standard for Islamic intellectual activity in China down to the present day. The Muslim literati of the late Ming - early Qing period produced a body of literature known as the Han Kitab in which they expressed their beliefs and collective identity as being consonant with the dominant Confucian ideology. These works reflect the interrelated needs of stemming the tide of assimilation preserve Islamic identity, and defending the faith against critics. Liu Zhi’s work represents the most systematic and sophisticated attempt within the corpus to harmonize Islam with Chinese thought. As heir to earlier scholars, he continued a tradition of translating Islamic religious texts into classical Chinese, yet with original thought and innovative methodology. Liu Zhi engaged not only Confucianism, but also Daoism, Buddhism, and non-Chinese traditions. His erudite scholarship draws upon eclectic sources and synthesizes diverse influences, from Sufism to Neo-Confucianism. In turn, Liu Zhi inspired subsequent generations of Chinese Muslims to navigate the vicissitudes of cultural diaspora by constructing a truly simultaneous identity and presenting a unique vision of Islam that is remarkably Chinese in its core values, yet remains unmistakably Islamic. Liu Zhi thus contributed significantly to the refinement, legitimization, and popularization of a simultaneously Chinese-Islamic intellectual tradition at the meeting place of two great civilizations.

Divine Principles for Reviving the World: Ma Dexin’s (1794-1874) Contribution to Islamic Thought
Kristian Petersen, University of Washington, USA

This essay evaluates the influence of Ma Dexin (1794-1874), the last major Chinese Muslim scholar in pre-modern China. Ma was a prolific author and his literary output included theological and scientific treatises written in Chinese and Arabic. His singularity relied on his ability to perpetuate the distinct Sino-Islamic discursive tradition that preceded him while simultaneously encouraging his followers to engage the larger Muslim world. I delineate the uniqueness of Ma’s influence through several key transformations he initiated. First, his Record of the Pilgrimage Journey demystified the hajj for Chinese Muslims while asserting its importance as an essential religious obligation. His precedent enabled his coreligionists to acquire the logistical knowledge of the journey and the determination for undertaking the pilgrimage. Second, Ma made the first concerted effort to render the entire Qur’an in Chinese and believed that Chinese Muslims should have greater knowledge of their scripture. Ma’s translation marked a shift in the Sino-Islamic colloquy, where verses were previously scattered and limited in application. Finally, Ma reestablished Chinese Muslims reliance on Arabic for scholarly production and instruction. His Arabic treatises illustrate that Ma intended these works to ready his students for participating in global Islamic dialogues. Their subsequent literary production demonstrates that Arabic was utilized as a prominent language for intellectual discourse after Ma’s reintroduction of it. Overall, Ma characterized a major shift in Chinese Muslim intellectual life, advocating the maintenance of his local scholarly tradition alongside greater pragmatic and scholarly engagement with the broader Muslim world.

Muslim Chinese or Muslims by ethnicity. From Huihui to Huizu. How did the Chinese Muslims become ethnic
Wlodzimierz Cieciura, University of Warsaw, Poland

During the long transition from empire to the People’s Republic one of the major shifts in the Sino-Muslim identity has been the creation and promotion of the ethnic concept of the Sinophone Islamic community. How did this idea come about and in what ways was it argued for and against? Why did it eventually prevail politically in mainland China after 1949 and is it really so universally accepted today? In this paper I will try to discuss the possible sources of the Muslim ethnicity theory (Huizu shuo) as identifiable in the writings of some of the leading Muslim intellectuals in Republican China, particularly those concentrated around Chengda Shifan and its ‘Yuehua’ magazine. In their texts these educated members of the community employed a wide range of arguments drawing their inspirations both from the authors based in the Islamic heartlands and their non-Muslim compatriots in China. The adoption and combination of notions derived from the two sources in the debate on the nature of Sino-Muslim community demonstrates that the modern concept of Chinese Muslim ethnicity could be seen as a product of the generic cultural simultaneity of the Hui, much the same way as were their older adaptations to the Chinese environment.

Between ‘Abd al-Wahhab and Liu Zhi, Chinese Muslim intellectuals at the edge of the twenty-first Century
Leila Chebbi, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, France

Chinese Muslim intellectuals born after the Cultural Revolution and trained between the 1980s and the 1990s come from different geographical, academic and religious background. They have entered into the twenty first century in order to spread their knowledge of Islam and they have also thought about its future in China. Their goals were designed to target Muslims and non Muslims from China. They have used classical and modern means of communication such as teaching, publishing, audio and media support and internet. Liu Zhi’s heirs, who are mainly graduated from official academic schools, are spreading the idea of a national Islam, which became a part of the Chinese culture. In opposition, Abd al-Wahhab’s heirs, for the most part graduated from Islamic universities, stick to the idea of an universal Islam, inspired by Wahhabism, that ignores cultural differences. In the twenty-first century, both intellectuals currents evolved and tend to become closer. It is an adaptation process that reminds us of the reforming process of the preceding eras.