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Zvi Ben-Dor Benite has contributed an important piece to the history of
Muslims in imperial China, centered on a seventeenth-century Muslim
genealogy known as the Jing Xue Xi Chuan Pu (hereinafter Genealogy),
which has been recently discovered, punctuated, and printed as the Jing Xue
Xi Chuan Pu (Xining: Qinghai Renmin Chubanshe, 1989). His book follows
Sachiko Murata’s study of Confucian Muslim texts and teachers (namely,
Chinese Gleams of Sufi Light: Wang Tai-Yu’s Great Learning of Pure and
Real and Liu Chih’s Displaying the Concealment of the Real Realm [Albany,
NY: State University of New York, 2000]) and illuminates many aspects of
the Muslims’ cultural life in imperial China.
The book consists of an introduction, four chapters, and a conclusion
with tables and illustrations. The first chapter decodes the Genealogy and
outlines the trajectory of the Chinese Muslims’ educational network in central
and coastal China. The second chapter explores the “social logic”
behind the practices of the Muslim literati (p. 74) – that is, how they envisioned
and understood the educational system, their roles, and Islam in reference
to imperial China’s existing sociocultural categories. This chapter
reveals how Muslim educational institutions enabled and empowered
Muslim intellectuals to convert “Islam” and “Muslim” into valid social categories
of school (xuepai) and to envision themselves as “literati” (shi) that
were as much Chinese as Muslim.
The third chapter analyzes the transformation of Islamic knowledge from
“orality” to “texuality” (p. 158) and the formation of the Chinese Islamic
school, which was patterned on contemporary Chinese schools of scholarship.
The fourth chapter explains how Confucian Muslims interpreted Islam,
Prophet Muhammad, and Islamic canons as equivalents and counterparts of
Confucianism (enumerated in the Han Kitab as “Dao,” “Sage,” and “Classic”),
and how the Muslim literati embraced Confucianism. In the ...