This book contains the lectures worked together by Prof, J. Ching and Prof. H. Kung in the summer semester of 1987 at the Ecumenical Institute of the University of , Germany. This explains the dialogical character of the book: On one hand J. Ching explains important elements of Chinese religion, and on the other H. Kung reflects about Chinese religion from a Christian perspective.
Since this introduction to Chinese religion was given in the academic framework of "General Studies", i.e. for students of various faculties not specializing in religion, it rather intends to communicate some clear and general ideas which could stimulate Christian reflection, than to enter into a detailed discussion of the topic. Thus there are no footnotes in the book, with the exception of very few references (in brackets)_ from H. Kung.
The book proceeds in four chapters according to the four main areas of Chinese religion: First, the religion of ancient China (pp. 29-88), which is described by J. Ching as the "pre-humanistic" religious period, stands - according to J. Ching- as the historical foundation for the "big tradition" of Chinese humanism. Secondly, Confucianist humanism is presented as religion (pp. 91-147). then Taoism as philosophy and religion follows (pp. 155ff). Taoism as philosophy is demonstrated with the help of two texts from Laotze and Chuangtze. Taoism as religion drew inspiration from Lao-chung, but developed its own Canon (p. 178) and religious praxis. Fourthly, and finally, Buddhism occupies the two authors. Buddhism came as a foreign religion from India to China. but it has been - not without difficulties- integrated into the Chinese world and Became "Chinese" Buddhism.
To the question, whether there is one Chinese religion or three religions, J. Ching responds : Inasfar Confucianism and Taoism have arisen from the same old spiritual heritage and shared many formulations of belief, one may speak of one Chinese religion. Buddhism remains as a foreign religion. In fact, Confucianism Taoism and Buddhism can live together in the spirit of tolerance and harmony, since they all intend to offer some basic answers to various human needs.
And here the question arises: What is religion? J. Change did not give a clear definition. She explains the reason for doing so: The word "religion" (tsung chiao) became a part of the modern Chinese language only in the late 19th century through Japanese translations of Western thought. Of course, religious facts existed already in its own form in ancient China.
Therefore, after elaborating different perspectives of Chinese religion, J. Change raises an academic issue: In view of the underlying humanism, which demands a special way of self-transcendence, self-transcendence not only in regard to human beings but also in the light of all reality: the Most-High (Confucianism), the deepest Depth (Taoism), and the very Last Reality (Buddhism), the notion of religion must be redefined (251).
In fact, the authors propose a hypothesis about the specific character of Chinese religion: World religions can be divided into three main groups. The first group is characterized by its semantic origin and prophetic mature; Judaism, Christianity and Islam belong to this group. the second group includes mainly Indian religions with their special trait of mysticism: Hinduism and Buddhism/ The third group (the third main current) exists in the Far East with China as motherland; it shows the characteristics of wisdom (pp. 13, 249). In this way we can say that religion has been given a kind of descriptive definition.
The present book can be read with different interests. According to my reading , the following reflections of H. Kung deserve our special attention: How does Christianity meet the so called "popular religion" (volksreligion) and the "high religion" (Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism)? how do we resolve the question of "double citizenship", i.e. the tension of belonging to China and its religions on one hand, and also belonging to Christianity on the other? These questions are highly relevant, both for the inculturation of Christianity in China as well as for interreligous dialogue.
According to the authors Chinese religion is truly a religion. in other books (e.g. Theologie im Aufbruch, Munchen 1987, pp. 247ff) H. Kung has pointed out general criteria for evaluating a true religion. He considers Humanism as the general ethical criterion of religion, especially for religions which do not have their own written Canon, for example, "popular religion". For the religions which have a Canon, their religiosity itself should be examined according to their own Canon. It seems to me that H. Kung has applied this kind of criteriology in the present book.
The exposition of the religion of ancient China inspired Kung to reflect on "popular religion" and to express his opinion on how Christianity should meet it. Kung thinks that many phenomena of archaic religiosity are still existing in the "high religions", like ancestor-worship, offerings, miracles... basic human needs for help and security, for consolation and courage, for an explanation and interpretation of human existence and the world at large. However, "popular religion" could also become an "opium" for the people. Such a possibility should not be excluded. Nevertheless, this possibility shows that religion is not only an expression of the real misery of people, it is at the same time also a protest against such misery (p. 77).
In this context Kung sees a possible dilemma for Christianity in the process of inculturation in the milieu of "popular religion": If Christianity takes a critical position against "popular religion", then it remains foreign to the people. If it adapts itself (too much), then Christianity is threatened with loss of its identity. H. Kung proposes a solution to the dilemma: The respect for "popular religion" does not exclude a careful and enlightened critic (a kind of self-enlightenment and self-purification, ) regarding the various elements of "popular religion", e.g. formulations of belief, ritual practices, and patterns of social behavior. It seems to me that Kung adopts here the view that "popular religion" should gradually develop into a rational religion. Although Kung carefully states that such rational critic should not slip into rationalistic dryness of abstraction, however, there is justified ground for doubting whether a rational critical mind can "understand" a believer of "popular religion" at all. In his famous book Theories of primitive religion, E.E. Evans-Pritchard criticizes those theoreticians who treat primitive religion from their own rational point of view as "scissors-and-paste method". Evans-Pritchard says: "If the scholar himself believed what primitives believe, or practiced what they practice, he would have been guided by a certain line of reasoning, or impelled by some emotional state, or immersed in crowd psychology, or entangled in a network of collective and mystical representations" (p.109).
Dealing with Confucianism and Taoism Kung lists a series of comparisons. First, the likeness of the duality of the name of God in ancient China (Shang-ti and T'ien) and the two names of God in ancient Israel (Yahwey and Elohim); he does not mention revelation as the specific element of Israel's religion. Secondly, Kung tries to compare Jesus Christ (his person, dominant characteristics, unique behavior and basic options) with Master Kung (Confucius), placing both - at least initially- on the same human and historical level. It is interesting to see how H. Kung skillfully demonstrates similarities and differences of these two historical figures and their influence in different historical contexts. Yet we may ask: Who is doing this comparison for whom? In other words, will a Confucianist or a Christian recognize his (her ) "Master" or "Lord"? Here I would like to quote again Evans-Prichard: "To penetrate to the structure of a mind different from our own, is hard work. It is indeed hard work, especially when we are dealing with such different subjects as primitive magic and religion, in which it is all too easy, when translating the conceptions of the simpler peoples into our own, to transplant our thought into theirs". IN the same critical line Kung offers some comparisons between the Tao and the Christian God. In such comparisons Kung does not only find similarities and differences, he also finds a proof for his hypothesis of three major groups of world-religions, Chinese religion with its specific focus on wisdom being the third.
Finally, we come to the problem of "double citizenship". It is well known that many Chinese adhere to three religions at the same time. They can be Confucianists in the struggle of life, Taoists in relation to nature, and Buddhists in their inner piety of heart. For them, the double citizenship might-theoretically speaking- not be possible, practically, however, it is. How does the Christian face this problem? Kung offers the following considerations. On the level of culture and ethical norms there is no problem, since any true process of inculturation requires both, to be Christian and Chinese. The problem arises rather on the level of citizenship in belief. Kung considers three position. In the first case, a Christian confesses himself as Christian and at the same also as a true Buddhist, Confucianist and Taoist. But in fact, he does not take seriously any of these religions. In the second case, one can be a religious Christian and Buddhist at the same time by trying to take seriously both, Christianity and Buddhism. Kung thinks that such a person is still in the process of search for his ultimate belief, for each religion sooner or later challenges each person in the depth of his heart to take this or that basic option. finally, in the third case, a Christian take his own Christian faith very seriously. He takes the faith of other religions also seriously, insofar as they help him to deepen his understanding of the One Last Reality, the Absolute God, and of the world, human existence and big nature.
In this sense a Christian can be at the same time a Confucianist, Buddhist and Taoist, without falling into a contradiction with himself. He is an ecumenical Christian. Such a view is important for inter-religious dialogue.
What Paul F. knitter said about Kung in the conference" Toward a universal theology of religion" (1984 at Temple University) can be repeated here: "What he has been doing throughout most of his theological career, he was doing again-exploring new territory, raising new questions in the encounter of Christianity with other religions".
Christentum und Chinesische Religion does not only provide first hand knowledge of religion in China, it gives us also the opportunity to reflect again on the living relationship between us, Chinese Christian, and other religious believers.
The present book is indeed an important contribution in the field of inculturation and interreligious dialogue.
Rev Vu Kim Chinh, Professor of Fujen Catholic University, Taiwan
Last Updated February 20,1997 by Steven Proulx