A popular college instructor explains how ancient Chinese thought can be applied to everyday life.
A celebrated professor of Chinese philosophy and history at Harvard, Puett’s Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory course has been touted as a life-changing experience and was lauded as the third-most-popular undergraduate class at the university. His book, co-written with journalist and East Asian historian Gross-Loh, is suffused with the altruistic perspectives, paradoxes, and analogies of classic Chinese philosophers and scholars. Puett first debunks common myths related to predestination, personal truth, and the illusion of freedom, and then contrasts a host of human conditions against the wisdom and pensive perspectives of moral and social philosophers like Confucius, Mencius, Laozi, Zhuangzi, and Xunzi. The art of relationships, when viewed through a Confucian ritual-rich lens, takes on new meaning and greater heft when smaller customs receive priority, creating a deeper human connection. Mencius stressed the importance of goodness and self-cultivation, natural human possibilities whose potential remains continually challenged by the “unpredictable and capricious” world we inhabit. Both Laozi and Zhuangzi believed in the human ability to connect, influence, and transform a life in constant flux through acts of humanitarianism. Xunzi’s work effectively synthesized many of these thinkers’ ideas regarding decision-making, vitality, impulsivity, and interactive humanity. Puett’s dynamism translates well from his classroom theater onto the page, and his provocative, radical re-envisioning of everyday living through Chinese philosophy opens wide the “possibilities for thinking afresh about ourselves and about our future.” His text presents creative alternatives to the stale “confines of our narrative.” With philosophical consideration, our methods of interacting and coexisting may, as the author promises, have the power to better our lives and our relationships.
With its academic tone and spirited, convincing vision, revolutionary new insights can be gleaned from this book on how to approach life’s multifarious situations with both heart and head.