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Socrates in Sichuan: Chinese Students Search for Truth, Justice, and the (Chinese) Way Hardcover – April 1, 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Peter Vernezze's witty and informative book is far more than a lively and often funny series of Socratic dialogues with his deftly characterized Chinese students. It is a chance for us to eavesdrop as this American teacher grapples with students who challenge his own set notions. These debates have much to teach us about how young people in this ever-changing China think about politics, human relations, and even sex education.”—Charles Hayford, visiting scholar, Department of History, Northwestern University, and author of To the People: James Yen and Village China
(Charles Hayford 2010-12-31)

Socrates in Sichuan provides a panoramic view of ‘living’ Chinese philosophy in contemporary China. His book is an honest, good-humored, and hugely engaging attempt to describe the pain and the joy of a seasoned teacher’s encounter with Chinese students, who reveal the fears and the values of their generation in this sometimes radically foreign country.”—Roger T. Ames, professor of Chinese philosophy, University of Hawai'i, and editor of the journal Philosophy East and West
(Roger T. Ames 2011-01-01)

“With the observant and nonjudgmental eye of an American philosopher, Peter Vernezze provides fresh insights into the views of a generation now entering the expanding Chinese middle class, which will take part in shaping China's future. This book opens a unique window to understanding what China, and its people, are becoming.”—Xujun Eberlein, author of Apologies Forthcoming
(Xujun Eberlein 2011-01-02)

“In the vein of Bill Holm’s Coming Home Crazy, Socrates in Sichuan is a lively introduction to teaching in China and acclimating to the standards of a provincial teacher's college. Vernezze’s respect for and interest in his students’ opinions allows their voices to fill the pages, making this an educational portrait of a unique seminar.”—Michael Meyer, author of The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed
(Michael Meyer 2011-01-03)

Socrates in Sichuan is a fascinating window into the outlook of young Chinese today and is fun to read into the bargain.”—Richard Nisbett, author of The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently. . . and Why
(Richard Nisbett 2011-01-04)

“One of the best ways to understand another culture is to spend time in its education system. Peter Vernezze arrived in China with the rare experience of having taught philosophy in American colleges, and his book is more than just a window into the minds of Chinese students – it’s also a study of how Western philosophical concepts translate into a very different culture.”—Peter Hessler, staff writer at the New Yorker and author of the trilogy Oracle Bones, River Town, and Country Driving
(Peter Hessler 2011-01-05)

About the Author

Peter J. Vernezze has edited two books (Bob Dylan and Philosophy, The Sopranos and Philosophy) in the bestselling philosophy series, Open Court’s “Popular Culture and Philosophy,” and is the author of Don’t Worry, Be Stoic: Ancient Wisdom for Troubled Times. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 212 pages
  • Publisher: Potomac Books (April 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597976725
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597976725
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.9 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,495,688 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Amazon-"Socrates in Sichuan: Chinese Students Search for Truth, Justice, and the (Chinese) Way" by Peter J. Vernezze; hardcover, 199 pages, © 2011.

This is a short memoir of a university philosophy professor's experience teaching for two years (in the Peace Corps) at Sichuan Normal University in China. The storyline that holds the book together is his account of regular off-campus meetings where he invites all Chinese students to come engage in discussions of various philosophical questions, in part, to expose students to the strategy of questioning and in part to himself learn the current attitudes and beliefs of China's next generation.

In truth, this book is about 30-40 percent about Western philosophy insofar as Vernezze prefaces many chapters by setting the proposed question in a Western context or comparing the students viewpoints with various Western philosophers across the last 2400 years. This is not bad since most Western readers are deficient in our Western philosophical heritage.

Vernezze is well-versed in Western philosophy but is no scholar in Chinese history. His reading of the basic Chinese classics by Confucius, the Tao Te Ching, and a few other works allows only the most superficial of comparisons. His strength is definitely on communication to the Western reader, not depth in Chinese philosophy or current worldview. Perhaps the best take-away lesson from this book is some sense of how tied to rote memorization the Chinese educational system has been since the Song Dynasty. It has won them first place in the international PISA exam, but no Nobel Prizes. His fight to get Chinese students to question is perhaps one of the best accessible published examples of China's current educational dilemma.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a charming book.

Peter Vernezze is another Peace Corps volunteer who, in the Peter Hessler tradition, chronicles his experience teaching college students in Sichuan. (The other great book on China by a former Peace Corps volunteer is Michael Meyers' superb The Last Days of Old Beijing.) Vernezze, who had taught philosophy in the US for 15 years, was an English teacher at Sichuan Normal University, and for two years he held a weekly discussion group on philosophy that grew increasingly popular.

Being neither a "China expert" nor a philosophy expert (one semester in college), I found this book offered both a valuable primer on the influence of Confucius and the Tao, which is going strong to this day, as well as an intriguing glimpse into the mindset on contemporary young Chinese people.

The author starts by describing the typical university classroom: rows of desks bolted to the floor, all facing the front-center of the room from which the professor will lecture them. The room is designed to discourage peer-to-peer discourse, and as Vernezze later explains, peer-to-peer discourse is something the Chinese student absolutely does not desire. They see themselves, he writes, as vessels into which the professor is expected to deliver his knowledge. They aren't interested in what their fellow students have to say. Anything of value will come from the teacher.

So it makes perfect sense that he holds his philosophy discussion group in local coffee shops where students can sit facing one another. There, he challenges them with questions such as What is Truth? What is Sanity? Is life a matter of fate or free will? How Vernezze draws his students out, and the stumbling blocks that challenge him, makes for excellent reading.
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Format: Hardcover
The book chronicles a two year philosophy discussion group the author held with Chinese undergraduate students while a Peace Corps volunteer in Chengdu, China in Sichuan Province. Given that the most important relationship going forward for the United States is going to be its relationship with China, it's probably a good idea to familiarize ourselves with the views of the up-and-coming generation of young Chinese.

In addition to finding out what these young Chinese think about deep questions like the nature of the good life, the reality of fate or the purpose of romantic love we learn as well their views on a variety of contemporary events from the bombing of the World Trade Center to the riots of Tibet, which occurred while the author was present and were the subject of one of his sessions. We also learn a good deal about the landscape of contemporary Chinese culture, from the re-emergence of Confucius to the Edison Chen scandal to the prevalence of Christmas celebrations in China. We even discover there is a Chinese version of American Idol. I think the thing that really sets this book apart from a standard travelogue where the author provides his or her impressions of some foreign land is that in this case we get our ideas about China from the words of Chinese students themselves. In addition, the author does an especially good job of connecting the dots between these students views and classical Chinese thought, for example, linking their views on political truth to the metaphysics of Taoism and Confucianism. The volume is both a fascinating portrait of China today and a glimpse of where it is headed.
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