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A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy

by Wing-Tsit Chan

Buy the book: Wing-Tsit Chan. A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy

Release Date: 01 April, 1969

Edition: Paperback

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Buy the book: Wing-Tsit Chan. A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy


Chan walks you through the a labyrinthine mindset.

I have to admit to one thing; this book is not for the timid. It took me a long time to read and the myriad of names and dates did confuse me. This massive work of over 800 pages (it is a bit of a misnomer as the book is about 780 pages of text and notes - the rest is appendix, bibliography and index) is really an almost exegetical read of Chinese philosophy.

Wing-Tsit Chan obviously took great care to plan out this book. The main advantage of this book is that it makes a whole range of primary sources accessible to the English speaking reader. As best as these books can get, it tries to cover the whole gamut of Chinese philosophy from pre-Confucian all the way through to Maoist China. If there is one thing that stands out is that Chinese philosophy is just as (and I hate to juxtapose - but I will this one time) convoluted and affected by forces as (or even more than our very own "western" tradition) acting on it. If you take the analysis from Confucian to Neo-Confucian (and even beyond), this development takes a tour de force through a variety of schools inclusive of (but not excluding others) of Taoism, Buddhism, modern neo-Rationalist and neo-Idealist movements.

The book is full of valuable "digressions" (if you can call it that) of details concerning the various players that are involved in the process of change. As if almost being the de facto standard, he starts with Confucianism and presents important extracts. Certainly, we have to be a little critical of what he opts out by what he opts in - but that is the work of specialists. Chan writes from and about the Analects and follows is metamorphosis through Mencius, Hsun Tzu, and Tung Chung-Shu. Later, he deftly shows how different (significantly different) Confucianism is from Neo-Confucianism. Also important is Chan's treatment of the Tao-Te Ching and its impact on the modern epistemological and metaphysical traditions.

For those who have studied humanistic Chinese traditions will form an opinion of the Chinese as hard-core pragmatists with no sense of aesthetics or metaphysics. This book will, as it did me, pleasantly change all that. Despite the strict adherence to age old traditions, influences most Buddhist - clearly show a bent toward the metaphysical. I have to admit that I would on the occasion get caught up in the almost obsessive references to things like the turbidity of water and how it is correct or not to use it as a metaphor for some essential things like man's nature.

Last but not least, are how interestingly Chan talks about the traditions in the west - especially Kant, Bergson and Nietzsche. Oddly enough, for those of you who were paying attention, the digression at the end about the signs and symbols sounded suspiciously like Claude Levi-Strauss. For the novices out there, I highly recommend this book as a starter but certainly one cannot neglect the complete The Analects, Doctrine of the Mean, The Great Learning, The Classic of Filial Piety and the works of Mencius to get some sense of modern day sino-based traditions. Despite having been written in 1969, the book is as timeless as ever and one of my personal favorites.

Miguel Llora

From Amazon.com



An excellent way to get acquainted with Chinese philosophy

I agree with the other reviewers that this book is somewhat dated. However, it still ranks as one of the most accessable books in print about Chinese philosophy. Chan is an expert at culling the essential material from the various sources and distilling them into coherent chunks. However, Chan is notorious for leaning too heavily on the Confucian side of Chinese tradition.

My professor, Wm. Theodore de Bary, arguably Chan's successor, occasionally raises points in class regarding problems with Chan's work. In Wm. de Bary's point of view, the problems are not serious but they are worth addressing in a revision. For example, Chan uses the phrase "Doctrine of the Mean" following an earlier translation while a more accurate translation would be simply "The Mean". Chan has similar problems with English-language usage, but these only occur in exceptional instances. More often he gets bogged down in terminology that was commonly in use during his period but now seems dated.

Another matter to bring up, although not necessarily a problem, is Chan's personal faith in Christianity, which may have influenced his choice of word usage and selection of materials.

Objections aside, this is a wonderful book that anyone with more than a passing interest in Chinese philosophy will find useful. After reading this book, one might want to move on to Prof. de Bary's newly-revised "Sources of Chinese Tradition", and then on to more specialized works.

From Amazon.com


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