Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Between Christianity and Asian Traditions in 20th-Century China: The Contributions of Wu Leichuan

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Between Christianity and Asian Traditions in 20th-Century China: The Contributions of Wu Leichuan

Article excerpt


How did Christian civilization encounter and assimilate into Asian traditions in China in the early twentieth century?1 Highlighting the Christian thought of Wu Leichuan (1870-1944), a Chinese Christian thin-ker, I focus on and analyze the question of how to understand the social praxis as well as the interaction and religious hybridity involving modern Western thoughts and traditional Asian thoughts.

In critically considering the formation of knowledge on Christianity in China, I explore an analytical basis for investigating and analyzing contemporary Chinese society by considering how to comprehend the hybridity of mutable thoughts and cultures that interact with each other, with their nascent state of disorganization followed by transcending con-ventional boundaries. In investigating how Wu Leichuan's historical consciousness interacted with Christianity and how he formulated his religious theory that came to be deeply entrenched in China, I focus on the religious hybridity of Wu's thought and his theory of social praxis.

Wu did not see Christianity as a foreign culture or religion but as a universal faith. In order to render Christianity into a holy and universal faith, he saw the need to interpret Christianity in harmony with the framework of his own cultural traditions. Wu's Christian worldview is thus transformed and integrated within the context of Asian philosophy, and the transcendental vision of Christianity is changed into a new vision that embraces Asian introspective self-cultivation or internalizes the idea of self-actualization. Wu's Christian faith emphasizes social praxis, and this point of emphasis opens a new interpretative horizon by seeing his view of Christianity being jointly shaped by the confluence of both Asian philosophy and Christian thought.

The era in which Wu's thought took shape saw Chinese intellectuals of the time strongly advocating a cultural movement for the liberation of all people. In the Christian community, Chinese intellectuals also devoted their lives to the shaping and forming of the Chinese national con-sciousness and educational campaigns. At the time, the Christian com-munity commenced a pervasive cultural and religious movement in an attempt to adapt Christianity, a foreign religion, to China's national conditions and culture. On the one hand, there was a religious movement calling for massive repentance, which focused on saving individual souls. On the other hand, a new thought movement was being formed and spread that focused on creating a new Chinese Christian school of thought while embedding it in the context of Chinese traditional thought. In this era, there were massive educational movements that emphasized the autonomous cultural spirit of the Chinese people and at the same time, there were concentrated efforts at adapting the foreign religion, Christianity, to China's national conditions and crafting a fully adapted Chinese version of Christianity.

In North East Asian region, many thinkers who worked on reforming their country's systematic degeneration paid great attention to the idea of nationalist autonomy and self-determination. Not limited to this self-autonomy, these thinkers were also deeply interested in how to harmonize or integrate Asian traditions with Western Christianity. These reform-minded thinkers in China at the time were such dignified thinkers as Wu Leichuan, Zhao Zichen, Wu Yaozong, Liu, Tingfang and Xu Baoqian.2 Korean reformative thinkers, counterparts of these Chinese thinkers, were such diverse luminaries as Kim Kyo-sin, RyuYong-mo, and Ham Sok-hon.

These days, what appears to be the dominant theology of Christianity is often found in fervent, single-minded emphasis on material possessions and successes. In stark contrast to this, unduly leaning on more power and possessions, Wu's Christianity contains components of serious social praxis that purport to understand the sufferings of the common people. …

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