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Revisiting China’s Modernity

Ethnicity, Religion, and Nation

Jiang Sun

Investigating the nature of Chinese modernity from the perspectives of social and intellectual history and inspired by Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, this book reveals the ambiguity of nation as a modern concept and opens up a new possibility for the turn of China’s national narratives. The definitions of nation as either an imagined community or an entity with a substantive cultural origin are both partially wrong in the Chinese context, since China had its distinctive socio-cultural system in pre-modern times and the binary mode of nationality is inadequate to interpret the complexity of Chinese society. In light of this complexity, this work explores the relationship between the Manchus and the Han Chinese throughout the Qing dynasty, examines the transmission and reproduction of modern knowledge, particularly that of race and nation, on the ground of China’s reactions to the Western influence, and discusses how the supra-nationalist discourse of various religions succumbed to the homogenizing nature of nation state in modern China. To depict a general picture of "Chinese modernity" and avoid the risk of oversimplification, the author combines the methodology of social history with that of intellectual history, abandoning the East-West binary opposition and grouping all ten chapters into three parts that respectively approach Chinese modernity from a specific perspective. On this basis, it can be concluded that Chinese modernity, as a form of new knowledge, is produced out of the combination of a forward-thinking viewpoint and a fantasy about the modern age, which constitutes an inevitable path to China’s "national liberation" from the entanglement of ethnicity and cultural traditions.

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8 Representing Religion: Issues of “Chinese Religions” at the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions

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From May 1 to October 28, 1893, the Columbian World Exposition was held in the city of Chicago to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of the American continent. Many international conferences were held during the exposition, but probably the most remarkable one was the World’s Parliament of Religions. Deputies from ten different religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Taoism, Confucianism, Shintoism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) delivered speeches or presented papers. After the Parliament, the organizer John Barrows (1893, 1: p. 19) published these texts in two volumes.

Certainly, there have been discussions on the impact of the World’s Parliament of Religions on the history of religions. In U.S. religion history studies, scholars have been concerned with how American society has looked at the issues of religion. For example, Donald H. Bishop (1969, pp. 63–76; 1970, pp. 348–371) has observed that American Christians take the view that there are three different approaches to realizing religious diversity: exclusion, inclusion, and pluralism. Richard Seager (1995) has pointed out that the World’s ←225 | 226→Parliament encouraged the birth of religious pluralism in the U.S. In addition, scholars have also studied the World’s Parliament with regard to the acceptance of Eastern religions in the U.S. (Jackson 1981; Fields 1981). Suzuki Norihisa (1979) and Mori Koichi (1990) summarized the views of Japanese religious personages who attended the World’s Parliament, and James Edward Ketelaar (1990) discussed the influence of the World’s Parliament on Japanese Buddhism. Besides the above-mentioned studies, Chen Xiyuan...

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