Thursday, December 1, 2011

Against Buddhism and Daoism

Mungello tells the very engaging story of the Christians of the Chinese city of Hangzhou during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in The Forgotten Christians of Hangzhou.  The story focuses on the missionary activities of Jesuit priests in China during this time period, and their attempts to inculturate or acclimatize Catholicism inChina.  

The Jesuits painted themselves in distinctly Confucian colors, imitating the ways (and even dress) of the literati scholar/officials of this time period.  They sought to portray Christianity as a moral and ethical philosophy, as well as a religion, at least until the Chinese became formal Christians and could learn more about the other aspects of the faith which were considered bizarre by contemporary Chinese (like the crucifixion of Christ).

But more than half the book focuses on the Catholic Chinese scholar Zhang Zingyao and his works relating to Christianity, Confucianism, and his attack on Buddhism and Daoism.   Zhang took the Jesuit attempt to show the harmony that exists between Christianity and Confucianism a step forward.  He believe that Buddhism and Daoism had polluted the original Confucian philosophy, adding foreign elements to it; only Christianity, properly understood, could restore Confucianism to its primal state.

Zhang viewed Christianity as straddling the line between this world of ‘reality’  and the other world of heaven; while the Buddhists and Daoists believed that this world was not real, and in a real sense an illusion.  In the end, Zhang saw this as a dangerous affront to Confucian ideas about the family, the state, and the role of people in society, i.e. on attached on fundamental Chinese values.  

Interestingly, he believed a religion from the west was the remedy for this state of corruption of Chinese religion.

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