China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

4 - Using the Classics for Reform in Early Twentieth-Century Chinese Islam

Friday, July 6
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Location: Willow, First Floor

Chinese Islamic reformers during the modern period (after the turn of the twentieth century) criticized Sufism, especially the practice of saint veneration. On this point, they differed from contemporary conservative Muslims in China. At the same time, they attached importance to Islamic texts that conservative Muslims also valued, such as Mawāhib-i ‘āliyya and ḥ al-bayān, which endorse Sufi ideas and practices. For example, Wang Jingzhai (d. 1949), a leading reformist Muslim of modern China, consulted these two traditional exegeses of Quran to translate the divine revelation into Chinese, while at the same time criticizing the ‘superstitions’ of Sufis. How can we explain reformers’ use of these same ‘traditional’ texts? Reformers recognized that they could more effectively refute the validity of such ‘superstitions’ by basing their arguments on the very texts with which conservatives justified them. Now, how did they utilize the classics, including the ‘heretical’ discourses? My presentation examines this question, focusing on Wang Jingzhai. I argue that Chinese Islamic reform during the modern period did not always entail the abrogation of the traditional classics by the introduction of the newer texts from the Arab Middle East, but rather evolved through the re-evaluation of the first as well as the appreciation of the latter. Putting it differently, I aim to show how Chinese Muslim scholars selectively received or creatively negotiated with intellectual trends from the heartland of Islamic world.

Tatsuya Nakanishi

Kyoto University, Japan

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