Liu Zhi’s journey through ritual law to Allah’s Chinese name : conceptual antecedents and theological obstacles to the Confucian-Islamic harmonization of the Tianfang Dianli
Abstract: This dissertation places the Chinese Muslim literatus Liu Zhi (1660?–1730?) and his writings in their historical, cultural, social and religio-philosophical context. Liu Zhi was affiliated with a burgeoning network of Sinicized Muslim scholars of the late Ming–early Qing period, who wrote about Islam in classical Chinese to form a body of literature known as the Han Kitab. At a time of transition for Chinese society, the Manchu Qing dynasty (1644–1911), particularly under the aegis of the Kangxi emperor (1662–1722), attempted to establish hegemony over China and project an image of legitimate sovereignty, despite foreign origins, over an ethnically diverse empire. This situation opened a window of opportunity for various communities, including Chinese Muslims, to express their beliefs and collective identity as being not only unthreatening to Chinese culture and society, but, moreover, completely consonant with the values and doctrines of the dominant Confucian ideology. Liu Zhi, the consummate product of the Chinese Muslim educational system and scholarly network, embodied this ethic. His work represents the most systematic and sophisticated attempt within the Han Kitab corpus to harmonize Islam with Chinese thought. In particular, in his Tianfang Dianli , Liu Zhi explored the theme of Ritual, applying this quintessential Chinese concept to Islamic religious practice. He also provided a theoretical, metaphysical foundation for his discussion of orthopraxy, presenting an introduction to Islamic theology in classical Chinese. The challenge of expressing these concepts in a context devoid of any clear monotheistic principle tested the limits of his scholarship and linguistic finesse. Liu Zhi’s theological discussion in the Tianfang Dianli engages not only the ancient Confucian tradition, but also Daoism, Buddhism, and even non-Chinese traditions. His methodology reveals him as an erudite and cosmopolitan scholar, who synthesized diverse influences, from Sufism to Neo-Confucianism, and possibly even Jesuit and Jewish sources, into a body of work that was both steeped in tradition and, yet, exceedingly original, epitomizing the phenomenon of Chinese Muslim simultaneity.