China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - From Russian Orthodox Christianity to Humanism: The Transculturation and Secularization of Tolstoyism in China

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Roosevelt Room 5, Exhibit Level

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Tolstoy was widely respected as a humanist in East Asia. Significantly, when discussing Tolstoyism as his iconic worldview, many people only highlighted the “human” side of Tolstoy, ignoring his religious inquiry. This trend was especially common in China: One key difference between the reception of Tolstoy in Japan and in China is that Tolstoy’s religious works were among the first to be translated and discussed in Japan, whereas they were largely neglected in China. In fact, the concepts of “religion” and “the human” constitute two of the essential elements in Tolstoyism and are intertwined with each other, as Tolstoy believes that true religion is the human relationship with one’s neighbors and with the limitless world.
Drawing upon ancient wisdom from the Eastern world, including Buddhism and Taoism, to fathom the truth of God, life, and love, Tolstoy’s new religion blurs and distorts the religious boundary between East and West, which fostered its transplantation in Asian countries. Chinese readers found Tolstoyism more accessible precisely because of its observable bond with Asian tradition. By tracing how Chinese intellectuals (such as Zhang Qingtong, Gu Hongming, and Zhou Zuoren) defined and redefined Tolstoyism through transculturation, this paper reveals the dynamics of cross-cultural contact spaces in the early twentieth century and the dialectical negotiation between Western ideas and Chinese tradition in this transcultural process.

Xiaolu Ma

Kalamazoo College, Michigan

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