Borrowed Gods and Foreign Bodies: Christian Missionaries Imagine Chinese Religion

Article excerpt

Borrowed Gods and Foreign Bodies: Christian Missionaries Imagine Chinese Religion. By Eric Reinders. Berkeley: Univ. of Calif. Press, 2004. Pp. x, 282. $49.95.

Borrowed Gods and Foreign Bodies provides an insightful and sophisticated analysis of missionary perceptions of Chinese society and religion from the beginning of the Protestant missionary enterprise in 1807 until the early twentieth century. Drawing skillfully upon a wide variety of archival sources, Eric Reinders, associate professor of religion at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, offers a multidisciplinary overview of how Western conceptions of the Chinese "other" were shaped by the Victorian sensibilities and religious predispositions of the Protestant missionary community. The primary focus of Reinders's investigation is the manner in which these conceptions-or, more often, misconceptions-were reflected in and disseminated through contemporary missionary publications and correspondence.

The early Protestant missionaries to China found many aspects of native culture profoundly abhorrent or simply inscrutable. The inherent difficulty of surmounting the formidable cultural barriers between China and the West, such as the "Great Wall of Language" (p. 71), meant that missionaries interpreted Chinese customs, beliefs, and mannerisms within the context of their own limited knowledge and experience. …