Religious Literacy and Moral Education in Republican Texts

2:00 pm – 3:45 pm
Room F

  • Organised by Richard Ellguth
  • Richard Ellguth, Chair
  • Eugenia Werzner, “Between Politics and Science: Paving the Way for ‘Religious Studies’ (zongjiaoxue) in Late Qing and Early Republican China”
  • Lisa Lindkvist Zhang, “’Elevated Religion’: Narrations of Indian Philosophy in Republican China”
  • Marius Oesterheld, “From Dieting to Savings Accounts–Asceticism in Early Twentieth-Century Chinese Advice Literature”

During the late Qing dynasty, China experienced a gradual disintegration of the traditional taxonomy of the ‘‘three teachings‘‘ (sanjiao 三教) and a readjustment of previous categories such as heresy (xiejiao 邪教) and orthodoxy (zhengjiao 正教) became necessary. This period, marked by a growing influence of Christian missionary groups, new educational institutions and advancements in print technology gave rise to entirely differentiated discourses on ‘’religion(s)’’ (zongjiao 宗教). In the early 20th century, the actual multiplicity of voices in the Chinese spiritual landscape was starting to be reflected in the domestic print culture. Given the stipulation of freedom of religious belief and the official recognition of five religions (Protestantism, Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism and Daoism) in 1912, it became clear to many intellectuals and large parts of the public that foreign religious groups could no longer be ignored or simply classified as ‘‘heterodox‘‘. At the same time, popular sects and local cults increasingly came under attack from state-led anti-superstition campaigns.
In Republican China, this new environment played itself out in a spectrum of diverse discourses and the one that can be labelled as ‘‘religious literacy‘‘ turned out to be of vital significance. Writings concerned with promoting religious literacy cover on the one hand texts that introduced new knowledge on religion(s), religious groups and spiritual traditions, thus pursuing purely scholarly or educational ends. On the other hand, we find highly creative continuations of the tradition of writings concerned with the moral cultivation of individuals. These texts, which drew inspiration from a wide range of sources, including Japanese ethics textbooks, academic works on psychology and education, English-language self-help books and Christian devotional literature, developed various strategies of reconciling universalist categories like civilisation and progress with China’s philosophical and religious heritage.
The papers in this panel investigate particular genres of texts that engaged with these concerns while emphasising the development of concepts, neologisms, and discursive strategies.

Eugenia Werzner, “Between Politics and Science: Paving the Way for ‘Religious Studies’ (zongjiaoxue) in Late Qing and Early Republican China”

This paper will address writings from the late Qing and early Republican period (ca. 1900–1930) that dealt with “religious studies.” These writings show that the ideas on the object, methodology, and motivation of this new academic discipline underwent an evolution in the first three decades of the 20th century. At first sight, this evolution could be described as a change from a politically motivated talk on “religion” to the persuasion of purely scholarly ends. Indeed, while Liu Shipei 劉師培 and his contemporaries emphasised the superiority of the “original” religion of the Han (ancestor worship) over the “polytheism” of the “barbarians” and the foreign religions like Christianity and Islam, the scholars of the later decades seemed to approach “religion” in a purely scientific, disinterested way. Apart from introducing new knowledge and data on religion(s), they reframed the traditional ancestor worship, regarding it either as one of the numerous “primitive religions” or as a manifestation of “animism” or “fetishism.” A closer look at the Republican research shows that it was not as objective as it might appear since it also tried to meet the political demands of the day. Tracing the emergence and usage of some key concepts (“religion(s)”, “religious scholar”, “primitive religion”) in the period of 1900–1930, this presentation tries to discern different positions communicated in public and scientific texts. At the same time, it tries to reconstruct the deeper concerns of what at first sight seems to be the promotion of religious literacy and the introduction of “religious studies”.

Lisa Lindkvist Zhang, “’Elevated Religion’: Narrations of Indian Philosophy in Republican China”

The limited scholarship that exists about Indian philosophy in Republican China has tended to focus on Buddhist philosophy, with most of the attention centred on the supposed ‘‘scientificity’’ of Yogacara philosophy. In this paper, I argue that while ‘’science’’ was an important constituent in descriptions of ‘’Indian philosophy’’, most Republican accounts of this late 19th century East Asian neologism, regarded it not as scientific but as the religious philosophy par excellence. Liang Shuming 梁漱溟 claimed that the foundation for Indian philosophy was “elevated religion” (gao zongjiao 高宗教)—religion which was philosophical and transmundane or chushi 出世, and Zhang Zhengfan 張正藩 maintained that “what is called Indian philosophy is completely derived from religion”. If the emergence of Yogacara philosophy as a scientific philosophy was in large part a home-grown East-Asian idea, operating as a discursive strategy to counter Western colonialism, then the depiction of Indian philosophy as ‘’religious’’ can be ascribed to the accelerated worldwide circulation of shared knowledge at the turn of the last century. The main concerns of scholars who researched Indian philosophy in Europe and India at the time were related to its “religiosity”’ and/or “spirituality,” due to its perceived indebtedness to Hinduism/Brahmanism, or the Astika/Orthodox schools. As these considerations were carried over the seas and transplanted in East Asia contexts, they equally became questions for scholars of Indian philosophy there, leading to novel articulations of this “superior religious” philosophy.

Marius Oesterheld, “From Dieting to Savings Accounts—Asceticism in Early Twentieth-Century Chinese Advice Literature”

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Max Weber argued in his reflections on the Protestant ethic that the spirit of capitalism—in his eyes a Western invention—was rooted in inner-worldly asceticism. Of course, the causal relationship between religious value systems and economic development he postulated has since been discredited as overly simplistic. Nevertheless, Weber’s depiction of a Protestant entrepreneurial spirit based on self-denial as the motor of progress follows a master narrative of the time that informed discourses on moral education in Europe and the US and even exerted considerable influence in China. There, it encountered a system of moral thought built on Buddhist, Daoist, and Confucian elements which were held together, among other things, by shared apprehensions about wantonness and excess. The results of this encounter are reflected for instance in debates on dietary and spending habits. During the early Republican era, Daoist and Buddhist views on nutrition were reframed as scientifically proven methods of improving hygiene and public health. Time-honoured exhortations not to drink, gamble, and womanise were combined with information on personal savings accounts to transform frugality into a civic virtue.
Drawing mainly on works by Liu Renhang 劉仁航 and Zhu Lin 朱麟, this paper will examine how, by adopting the vocabulary of self-restraint that permeated earlier prescriptive literature, blending it with corresponding aspects of Euro-American self-help literature, and linking it to overarching narratives of nation-building, imperialism, and civilisational progress, Chinese advice literature of the early twentieth century created a new syncretic ethos of self-mastery.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room F