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Reviews 369

. 1999. Coming onto the Map: Western Regions Geography and Cartographic Nomenclature in the Making of the Chinese Empire in Xinjiang. Late Imperial China 20,
no. 2 (December): 6198.
Perdue, Peter C. 1998. Boundaries, Maps, and Movement: Chinese, Russian, and Mongolian
Empires in Early Modern Central Eurasia. International History Review 20, no. 2 (June):

Nicholas F. Gier. Spiritual Titanism: Indian, Chinese, and Western Perspectives. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000. xxvi, 302 pp.
Hardcover $65.50, isbn 0791445275. Paperback $17.56, isbn
Comparative philosophers, theologians, and practitioners of Asian intellectual
history will surely find much of interest in this provocative, controversial, and
undeniably ambitious, titan-like monograph. Simply put, Spiritual Titanism
argues that Jainism, Samkhya, Yoga, and later Hindu texts endorse what Heinrich Zimmer, in his 1956 study Philosophies of India,1 characterized as the heresy of Titanism or the preemption of divine prerogatives and confusion of
human and divine attributes (p. 2). Author Nicholas Gier adds that Titanism
is a philosophical mistake (p. 16), humanism gone berserk; it is anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism taken to their limits. Defining deity in
culturally biased, distinctly Christian terms as any being who is omniscient, omnipotent, infinite, and omnipresent, Gier asserts that humans obviously delude
themselves if they believe that they can become divine in the sense of these
Although the monograph concedes that Indian Titanism, as it refers to this
supposed tendency of Jainism, Samkhya, Yoga, and later Hinduism, is a rather

benign form of extreme humanism, its author warns, quite apocalyptically, that
a Titanistic spirit can be said to inspire militarism, environmental pollution and
degradation, and the possible misuse of genetic engineering. If left unchecked,
Titanism might destroy or radically change life as we know it on earth (p. 3).
Such hyperbole undermines the credibility of Spiritual Titanism, and will likely
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of Hawaii Press

prompt readers to question whether it should be considered reliable scholarship

or an exercise in learned yet partial religio-philosophical polemic. Specialists in
Indian philosophy will most probably find the assessments of Jainism, Samkhya,

370 China Review International: Vol. 8, No. 2, Fall 2001

and Yoga in Spiritual Titanism, which consume most of the monograph, rather
dated, reliant as they are, for example, on the writings of Zimmer and Karl Potters 1963 study, Presuppositions of Indias Philosophies.2
Spiritual Titanism allows that early Buddhism, although humanistic, avoids
Titanism, but adds that later Buddhism endorses a Hindu-like version of Titanism, one mitigated only by its premodern search for a return to a primordial
unity and totality. Rather than premodernism, however, the monograph advocates a postmodern reconstruction of the self as relational and social (p. 15).
In this regard, it finds in the Confucian concept of ren
the best Chinese answer to spiritual Titanism (p. 16). More generally, the volume lauds Daoism and
Xunzis Confucianism as expressions of perspectives most antithetical to Titanism, emphasizing as they do the impossibility of human beings achieving divine
qualities. While interesting, the weakest portion of Spiritual Titanism is its brief,
often elementary analyses of Chinese philosophical texts. Readers of the volume
cannot help but notice that despite the expanse of material dealt with and the
myriad romanized terms from Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, and Japanese, there is little
that is addressed with the authority of a specialist relying first and foremost on
primary sources.
Perhaps most problematic is the extent to which Giers analyses are driven
by his tendency, quite anachronistic, to see all of religio-philosophical history in
terms of categories such as premodernism, modernism, and postmodernism. Gier
has little use for modernism, which he associates with a set of dualistic distinctions including those of fact and value, subject and object, public and private, science and faith, politics and religion, theory and practice (p. xiv). Most
disturbingly, Gier sees these modernistic distinctions as having been, arguably, the cause of institutionalized racism (a modernist invention), militarism,
social disintegration, and environmental degradation (p. xiv). Recoiling from a
return to the premodernist dissolution into the One, Gier unabashedly sides
with the postmodernistsmessiah-like theorists in his presentation of Titanism
and its alternatives. Gier further divides postmodernism into constructive postmodernismhis teamand deconstructive postmodernism, which, he warns,
lands one in an amorphous dissipation in Derridean differance (p. xiv).
David Ray Griffins Introduction to SUNY Series in Constructive Postmodern Thought amplifies the apocalyptic outlook informing Giers analyses.
For example, it states:
Whereas the word modern was almost always used until quite recently as a
word of praise and as a synonym for contemporary, a growing sense is now
evidenced that we can and should leave modernity behindin fact, that we
must if we are to avoid destroying ourselves and most of the life on our planet.
. . . [T]he continuation of modernity threatens the very survival of life on our
planet. This awareness, combined with the growing knowledge of the inter-

Reviews 371

dependence of the modern worldview with modernitys militarism, nuclearism,

patiarchy [sic], global apartheid, and ecological devastation, is providing an unprecedented impetus for people to see the evidence for a postmodern worldview and to envisage postmodern ways of relating to each other, the rest of
nature, and the cosmos as a whole. (pp. xxi, xxv)

Griffin acknowledges, however, that philosophical postmodernism, associated

with the writings, he claims, of Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze, and Kristeva, tends to issue in relativism . . . and seems to many thinkers
to imply nihilism (p. xxiii). Seeking to reform postmodernism, Griffin describes
a revisionary, constructive, orperhaps bestreconstructive postmodernism
that does not attempt to delegitimize all worldviews so much as it tries to offer a
postmodern worldview through a revision of modern premises and traditional
concepts in the light of inescapable presuppositions of our various modes of
practice (p. xxiii). Griffin foresees this reconstructive activity as issuing in a
postmodern world . . . postmodern persons, with a postmodern spirituality, a
postmodern society, and ultimately a postmodern global order (p. xxiv).
Another characterization of the brand of postmodernism pushed in Spiritual
Titanism might be conservative postmodernism, since it seeks to salvage a positive meaning not only for the notions of selfhood, historical meaning, reason,
and truth as correspondence, which were equated with modernity, but also for
notions of divinity, cosmic meaning, and an enchanted nature, which were central to premodern modes of thought (p. xxiv). Sensibly, Griffin admits that constructive postmodernists do not hold the naively utopian belief that the success
of this movement would bring about a global society of universal and lasting
peace, harmony and happiness, in which all spiritual problems, social conflicts,
ecological destruction, and hard choices would vanish (p. xxv). It recognizes, instead, that there is perhaps a transcultural proclivity to evil deep within the human heart, which no new paradigm, combined with a new economic order, . . .
will suddenly eliminate (p. xxv). Nevertheless, Griffin rightly contends that the
human proclivity to evil in general, and to conflictual competition and ecological
destruction in particular, can be greatly exacerbated or greatly mitigated by a
world order and its worldview. Yet without compelling proof, Griffin ominously
asserts that modernity exacerbates it about as much as imaginable (p. xxvi).
Griffin concludes his polemic with the confession, This series, making no pretense of neutrality, is dedicated to the success of this movement toward a postmodern world.
Without launching a defense of modernity, and to a certain extent admitting
some of the charges leveled, this review will add, as a word of caution for those
enthusiastic about the new age, that not all bad paradigms are followed by better
ones, and many new ideas vanish even before their novelty does. Most problematic, there is little to convince the skeptic that the constructive postmodernist

372 China Review International: Vol. 8, No. 2, Fall 2001

world so touted in this volume will be significantly better than the one it seeks to
On a less comprehensive level, Spiritual Titanisms analyses are often unpersuasive, despite the declarative form they often take. For example, the notion that
Jains, due to their supposedly modernistic, titanistic tendencies, in some sense
contribute to or exacerbate tendencies toward environmental degradation is difficult to accept, especially when one realizes, as Giers Preface admits, that Jains
are at the forefront of Indias environmental movement (p. xiv). Also problematic for this messianic, constructive postmodern project is its heroicization of one
of the least liberal and environmentally friendly Chinese paradigms, that of
Xunzi, a thinker who is not wholly incommensurate philosophically with the perspectives of the ruling elite in the Peoples Republic, an elite responsible for more
ecological degradation than any other extant regime. Inadvertently, Gier villifies
the good guys in the trenches engaged in righting the ecosystem, while idolizing
those who have helped to create a nightmare of their habitat.
Even as it espouses relatively positive analyses of ancient Chinese philosophies, Spiritual Titanism advances numerous questionable interpretations of the
same material. For example, Gier declares that the Daoist self is . . . fully relational but, especially in Zhuangzi, exhorted to sever all contacts with society
(p. 15). Elsewhere Gier states that Zhuangzis philosophy appears to join Yoga
Titanism in affirming an antisocial self, which although living in the world, remains disengaged from it (p. 207). In yet another passage, Gier explains that
the social-relational Confucian self, which melds with constructive postmodernism, is rejected in the Zhuangzi (the sages self is distinctly nonsocial, in
terms of the necessity of relating to other human beings . . .) (p. 220). However,
William A. Callahans recent study, Cook Dings Life on the Whetstone: Contingency, Action, and Inertia in the Zhuangzi, in Wandering at Ease in the
Zhuangzi, edited by Roger Ames, has established, quite convincingly, that the
Zhuangzi advocates an engaged activism rather than any retreat away from society. Brian Lundbergs essay, A Meditation on Friendship, in the same volume,
has made a similar point.3 Giers characterization of Zhuangzi as an advocate of
a distinctly nonsocial self is at best a polemical exaggeration and at worst an
egregiously mistaken reading of the text.
Along other lines, Spiritual Titanism faults Roger Ames and David Hall for
trying to deify Confucius and the Confucian sage in general, claiming instead
that most Confucian philosophers never viewed Confucius as a deity (p. 178).
In making these claims, Spiritual Titanism seeks to preserve one of its protagonists, the non-Titanistic Confucians, as advocates of the spiritually correct Asian
philosophical stance. However, in doing so, it clearly brackets out a tendency of
East Asian religio-philosophical history toward the apotheosis of Confucius and
other Confucians, which has persisted throughout Chinese and East Asian his-

Reviews 373

tory. Gier attempts to settle the matter via proclamation that Confucius was not
divinized as a savior; rather he was canonized as the saint of the literati (p. 178)
but in doing so clearly subscribes to a Christian notion of the divine. Hall
and Ames, in noting the deification of Confucius, have hardly pioneered a novel
interpretation so much as they have rehearsed a well-known phenomenon of
Chinese religio-philosophical history. In the West, an understanding of this
phenomenon dates back to the Rites Controversy of the seventeenth century.
Gier, eager to find a praiseworthy paradigm in Asian philosophy, too quickly dismisses the divinization of Confucius, and thus undermines the credibility of his
Other remarks made in passing, yet equally askew, reveal that Spiritual
Titanism rests too heavily on secondary sources to be deemed authoritative overall. One last example, perhaps, will illustrate this point. In discussing Steve Odins
The Social Self in Zen and American Pragmatism, Gier offers a facile etymology
of the Japanese word ningen
(Chinese: renjian), a notion central to Watsuji
Tetsuro s understanding of the self. According to Gier, ningen is composed of
two Chinese characters, one meaning individual and the other meaning society
(p. 175). Supposedly, this interplay between individual and society establishes the relational nature of Watsujis view of the self. Without denying the latter point, it should be pointed out that the nin
(Chinese: ren) in ningen refers
to a human being, a person, or people, and not something as Western as an individual. Also, the gen
(Chinese: jian) in ningen refers to the space between or
among, indicating the presence of a human being in the realm of others, that is,
among people. To suggest that gen simply refers to society is to mischaracterize, via hyperbolic translation, the notion: after all, is one in society
when in the company of another person(s), or simply among friends?
It is noteworthy that this compound appears early on in the title of chapter 4
of the Zhuangzi (Ren jian shi
), where it signifies something akin to in
the world among other people, indicating what might rightly be called, in a very
interpretive way, the social nature of Zhuangzis philosophy. Oddly enough, while
Gier consistently asserts that the Zhuangzi advocates withdrawal from society
and social relations, when he glosses the character ningen, which figures prominently in the thinking of the Inner Chapters of the Zhuangzi, he all too eagerly
renders it figuratively as society. This inconsistency, while perhaps minor in itself, is indicative, it seems, of the relatively polemical nature of the monograph as
a whole.
John Allen Tucker
John Allen Tucker is an associate professor of Asian history at East Carolina University, in Greenville, North Carolina, specializing in Sino-Japanese thought, with
a particular concentration in Japanese Neo-Confucianism of the Tokugawa period.

374 China Review International: Vol. 8, No. 2, Fall 2001


1. Heinrich Zimmer, Philosophies of India, ed. Joseph Campbell (Cleveland: World Publishing, 1956).
2. Karl H. Potter, Presuppositions of Indias Philosophies (Westport: Greenwood, 1963).
3. William A. Callahan, Cook Dings Life on the Whetstone: Contingency, Action, and
Inertia in the Zhuangzi, and Brian Lundberg, A Meditation on Friendship, both in Wandering at Ease in the Zhuangzi, ed. Roger T. Ames (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2000),
pp. 175196 and 211218, respectively.

Maris Boyd Gillette. Between Mecca and Beijing: Modernization and Consumption among Urban Chinese Muslims. Stanford: Stanford University
Press, 2000. xii, 279 pp. Hardcover $45.00, isbn 0804736944.
Eighteen months of fieldwork among the inhabitants of Xians historic Hui Muslim Quarter in Shaanxi in 1994 and 1995, and numerous subsequent visits, laid
the foundation for this careful and engaging ethnographic study of identity and
modernity. It is Maris Boyd Gillettes thesis that urban Hui Muslims are using
consumption to manipulate ideas about social developments and position themselves more favourably within a state-sponsored evolutionary ideology (p. 3).
Consumption is seen here, literally and metaphorically, as a buying into the Chinese states unilinear developmentalist ideology with its hierarchical ranking of
Han civilization and non-Han nationality cultures. Butand this is an important point in the bookselective consumption among Hui Muslims and alternative sources of validation, whether derived from Islamic precepts or from
identification with the material progress of Arab-Muslim countries, may also subvert such a model, attaching modernity instead to reassertions of Hui Muslim
purity and halal (qingzhen
), linking religious with secular (and superior)
standards of social morality, sanitation, and hygiene. Gillette agrees with much of
the scholarship on consumption, which claims that consumer-oriented societies,
as are developing also in the case of China, may be seen to grant people
increased opportunities for self-expression and agency. However, she also points
to, and illustrates, important differences. The Chinese state intervenes and constrains in those cases where problematic religious consumer goods (such as a
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of Hawaii Press

Hui-initiated antialcohol movement and a Hui preference for Arabic-style architecture, religious-school curricula, and the like) are perceived as encroaching on
the governments monopoly over the definition, direction, and ultimate objectives
of progress.