Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Dominic Sachsenmaier's "Global Entanglements of a Man Who Never Traveled"

Dominic Sachsenmaier is a professor of “Modern China with a Special Emphasis on Global Historical Perspectives” at Göttingen University/Germany. In the past, he held faculty positions at Duke University and the University of California, Santa Barbara. Sachsenmaier’s main current research interests include China’s transnational and global connections. Among other works, he authored Global Perspectives on Global History: Theories and Approaches in a Connected World (2011).

Sachsenmaier applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Global Entanglements of a Man Who Never Traveled: A Seventeenth-Century Chinese Christian and His Conflicted Worlds, and reported the following:
Page 99 actually raises some questions that are important for the entire monograph. My book deals with an untraveled seventeenth-century Chinese Catholic convert who throughout his lifetime remained a committed Confucian. His name was Zhu Zongyuan, and he was actually one of the most significant Chinese Christian authors of the mid-seventeenth-century. People like Zhu believed that both Confucianism and Christianity or as they called it, the “Learning of Heaven,” were ultimately one and the same teaching. But this was hardly acceptable to many people around them – neither to most Confucian scholars nor to many circles in the Catholic Church.

Page 99 shows that combining traditions like Confucianism and Christianity could lead to huge uncertainties:
Was this really a synthesis between equal parts?... Was the Lord of Heaven (i.e. the Christian God) truly a divine being towering far above the cultural differences of this world? Or was his message, as presented to seventeenth-century China, closely wedded to concepts and contents from Europe? … This was not a theoretical question but also pointed to many practical issues.
Partly writing against his critics in China, the hero of this book, Zhu Zongyuan, spent much ink on questions of this kind. He sought to come to terms with the foreign origins of his faith. This was a formidable challenge since – for a variety of reasons – the “Learning of Heaven” put emphasis on key concepts, liturgies and symbols which were not Chinese but obviously of European origin. I deal with these challenges in one part of my book.

In another part I show that ongoing battles also characterized aspects of Zhu Zongyuan’s life in Catholic communities. He played various roles as a Christian, many of which were entangled with his life as a Confucian scholar in his local society. Yet exactly because Christian life was not – and could not possibly be – strictly separated from Chinese communal and associational life, it was characterized by many inherent contradictions. Both sides of the Chinese-Catholic encounter had to make institutional compromises, and the final product did not always make the “Learning of Heaven’s” more acceptable to a Chinese audience.
Learn more about Global Entanglements of a Man Who Never Traveled at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue