Book Review: The Great Thoughts Of China

The Great Thoughts Of China:  3,000 Years Of Wisdom That Shaped A Civilization, by Liang Congjie

This is not a book that I exactly hated to read, seeing as I greatly appreciate the wisdom of Chinese thinking.  That said, this book was disappointing in that it would have been a better book without the “great thoughts” of losers like Mao Tsetung and Deng Xiaoping with their pro-Communist fortune cookie efforts that fall far below the rest of the statements that are included here in terms of their worth and the wisdom and insight that they provide.  It is clear that this book is the sort of official work that came with the desire on the part of the Chinese government (and presumably willing American collaborators) in improving the opinion of readers in the Chinese government by pointing to Communism as an aspect of authentic Chinese thinking over the course of millennia rather than being a corrupt and decadent element of Western society that has actively harmed the culture and well-being of China, which would be an accurate picture.  This book is an example where it would have been more enjoyable with fewer material, or at least different material than that included at the end of every section.

This particular book is a bit more than 250 pages and is divided into various sections that contain fragments of Chinese thoughts about various subjects that range from sentences to paragraphs.  This sort of book is definitely not geared towards sustained wisdom but more the sort of pithy statement that tends to be associated with Chinese wisdom rathre than the more lengthy discourses that one is familiar with otherwise.  This is a great shame because this book quotes from quite a few very excellent sources of Chinese wisdom from the ancient and medieval past and it is to be regretted that the selections included here are too short to have the sort of sustained wisdom that one wants.  It is perhaps for this reason why the inclusion of communist “wisdom” also of a short nature is so irritating, in that it fails to even approach the wisdom of the short selections of Chinese history.  Topics such as ambition, art, bureaucracy, creation, criticism, economics, education, family, fate, government, history, human nature, justice, knowledge, law, leadership, learning, the military, misfortune, mortality, policy, politics, reality, relationships, science, self-cultivation, society, success, and tradition are all interesting, and I found myself agreeing a lot with Chinese legalist thinkers as well as the more conservative and counter-revolutionary currents of Chinese thought reflected here.

It is interesting to ponder why it is that the author of this book thought that American audiences wanted to see Communist “wisdom.”  We may view this book, if we are uncharitable readers, as being an example of Chinese propaganda in seeking to make Communism appealing to the reader, or one may assume that the Chinese government believed (and may still believe) that those who have an interest in Chinese history and culture would be sympathetic to Communist propaganda.  It is obvious that this particular appeal could only have been made once China started opening up, its seeming openness to Western influence being a commitment instead to try to exploit the openness that the West was showing to its influence.  And yet this is a clumsy effort at trying to appeal to Sinophiles, in that the author actually thinks that Communist leaders have worthwhile wisdom to share and that the Chinese communist “wisdom” can be seen as being of the same level of quality as the ancient Chinese wisdom that was just once again becoming fashionable after yet another periodic attempt by a tyrannical government to destroy it in the name of cultural revolution, a distressingly common experience in Chinese history.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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