Zhao’s debut primer on ancient Chinese wisdom focuses on using Confucian values to meet the challenges of present-day America.
Confucius’ teachings are just as resonant today as they were 2,500 years ago, says Zhao. The author was raised during the upheaval of the Chinese Cultural Revolution before becoming an American resident in 1992, and his familiarity with both cultures lends a unique perspective to this title. He finds Confucian thought and the American Protestant ethic to be complementary approaches; used together, he suggests, they can resurrect traditional American values such as thrift and hard work, which seem to have been lost in the social and financial tumult of recent decades. Zhao has chosen five Confucian values as most relevant—determination, education, thrift, family and friendship—and sets forth in separate detailed sections how each can be applied to the day-to-day lives and needs of most Americans. For the most part, Zhao succeeds admirably. His approach is practical, straightforward, and well researched—he lists more than 200 sources in his notes. Structurally, however, the book is less effective. Zhao frontloads his commentary with observations on the familiar successes of Asian Americans in such areas as science and math. If one read only the introductory material of each section, one would have the impression, for example, that Confucian values totally validate Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom approach. But this is not really what Zhao is saying at all. Only later in each section does Zhao discuss the nuances of Confucian thought, providing a more balanced—and more useful—elaboration of how to apply each value. Zhao is also frequently repetitive and relies on a fair amount of purely anecdotal comments. This could be remedied by using more examples from U.S. and Chinese history to illustrate his points.
With a few improvements, this could be a must-read for anyone wondering which age-old teachings can endure today.