Introduction

The multi-scriptural phenomenon of Asian cultures and religions has presented a problem and a challenge to the reading of the Bible, by Asian Christians, from the time of the colonial era. In order to justify the existence of and uphold the credibility of the missionary movement, which was part of the whole colonial project of the empire, the basic missionary strategy was set to undermine and even condemn the living traditions of Asian religions and their respective scriptures. The impact of such a strategy was tremendous on the Asian Christian converts who could not afford to ignore the reality of the plurality of texts. Their new identity as Christians threw their Asian religio-cultural identity into confusion and head-on collision. In this historical situation of the spread of Christianity to the east, conflicts of the Bible with local religions and their scriptures gave rise to the suppression of the native. The very encounter of the different living scriptural traditions should have provided an exciting melting pot for the reading and re-reading of both the Christian Bible and the other Asian scriptures, if the Asian Christians were ever encouraged to interpret their cultural heritage in the face of the foreign canon and to appropriate the Bible in the context of a multi-scriptural environment. The Bible and other Asian texts have attracted the attention of postcolonial research, since the Bible and its interpretation in Asia have been an enlightening topic ever since the colonial era.1

From the vantage point of postcolonial criticism, Sugirtharajah attempts to show the role of the Bible in the colonial conquest and to

R S. Sugirtharajah, Asian Biblical Hermeneutics and Postcolonialism: Contesting the Interpretations (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1998); The Bible and the Third World: Precolonial, Colonial and Postcolonial Encounters (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Pui-Lan Kwok, Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005).

critically analyze the reality of the missionary position, which is not always completely innocent or without ignobility. He classifies three different modes of relating the Bible to Asian culture and religion in colonial history and champions the postcolonial reconfigurations as an alternative critical way of approaching the contested nature of the relationship between the Bible and other Asian texts. While the Anglicist mode endeavours to, on the one hand, replace the indigenous texts by integrating the colonized into the culture of the colonizer and, on the other hand, import the Enlightenment and the modernist conviction of grand-narrative as well as western reading techniques of historical criticism in order to ascertain the single objective meaning of the Christian Bible;2 the Orientalist mode advocates the promotion and revival of the native texts and constructs local history and civilization as a preparation for biblical faith. In the case of India, Sugirtharajah observes that the Orientalist policy was 'instigated partly as a way of effectively controlling and managing the Indian people'.3 He further notes that 'the Orientalist invocation of a lost Golden Age of Indian civilization based on ancient Sanskrit texts and Sanskritic criticism continues to act as a fertile cultural site for Indian Christian biblical interpretation'.4 One of the consequences of the Orientalist effort is the re-moulding of India under the highly literary Brahman Hindu culture, which privileges the Sanskrit texts over the vernacular and folk tradition of the common people.

Both the Orientalist and the Anglicist also exercised their impact in China. The alleged 'manufacturing of Confucianism' by the Jesuits in China is a parallel case in point.5 Not only does Chinese culture come to be equated almost exclusively with Confucian tradition, but also China possesses mainly a philosophical tradition that focuses on moral and ethical living with no substantive religious beliefs and practices. Buddhism is regarded as being imported from India and Taoism is mostly treated as a philosophy of nature and derogatively as a form of primitive religion. These misconceptions have given rise to the total neglect of the rich and elaborate indigenous religions of the people and consequently have done a lot of harm to an holistic understanding of Chinese culture. The Anglicist mode was operative in China at a time when 'Mr Science' and 'Mr Democracy' were warmly welcomed and put forward as the only

Sugirtharajah, Asian Biblical Hermeneutics and Postcolonialism, pp. 8—12. 5 Ibid., p. 4. 4 Ibid., p. 5.

Lionel M. Jensen, Manufacturing Confucianism: Chinese Traditions and Universal Civilization (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997).

two saviours for the future of China, in the reconstruction of the nation in the face of defeats and humiliation under the colonial powers, in the earlier part of the twentieth century. Some liberal Christians under the influence of western science and democratic thought aspired to follow the scholarship of historical criticism in biblical studies. A liberal group of Christian intellectuals who established Wenshe (the shortened form in Chinese for National Christian Literature Association of China) attempted to introduce western literary and historical tools to China. Its members were in favour of not only a scientific examination of the Bible but also 'suggested that all myths and "superstitions" be deleted from the Bible'.6 This belief in the objectivity of science also applied to the native culture and its texts.

Sugirtharajah's third mode of approach to the Bible and Asian texts is that of the nativist interpretation, which attempts to recover the vernacular forms as a corrective measure against the pitfalls of the first two modes. Though nativist interpretation has something to recommend it, Sugirtharajah rightly warns of its inherent tendency to idealize the indigenous tradition, privileging it as a pure, static and uncontaminated entity.7 Sugirtharajah proposes that the postcolonial discourse assists the formerly colonized communities to resist the hegemonic claim of the Bible, to expose the implicit and explicit colonial codes in the text and to critique the imperial Eurocentric interpretation based on colonial ideology and practices. According to him, postcolonial reading is basically 'an emancipatory reading of the texts'8 and he points out 'its advocacy of a wider hermeneutical agenda to place the study of sacred texts - ChristianHindu, Christian-Buddhist, Christian-Confucian - within the intersecting histories which constitute them'.9

With Sugirtharajah's precise analyses of the three modes of relating the Bible to the Asian situation in colonial times and his passionate dedication to the postcolonial framework of reading as the backdrop, this chapter aims at exploring the hermeneutical issues of the encounter of'the two texts' - the Bible and other Asian texts. Cross-textual biblical interpretation, which, I propose, is an appropriate approach to accommodate them and to facilitate a fruitful negotiation between them for the benefit

Peter Chen-Mian Wang, 'Contextualizing Protestant Publishing in China: The Wenshe 1924-1928', in Daniel Bays (ed.), Christianity in China: From the Eighteenth Century to the Present (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), p. 306.

R. S. Sugirtharajah, Asian Biblical Hermeneutics and Postcolonialism: Contesting the Interpretations (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1998), p. 14. Ibid, p. 19. 9 Ibid, p. 23.

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