by Bryan W. Van Norden
Read by Brian Nishii
‘This book is an introduction in the very best sense of the word. It provides the beginner with an accurate, sophisticated yet, accessible account, and offers new insights and challenging perspectives to those who have a more specialised knowledge.’ – Lee H. Yearley, Walter Y. Evans-Wentz Professor, Religious Studies, Stanford University. In fact, Van Norden’s ‘Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy’ is evidently also of increasing importance in balancing our 21st century view of philosophy in general. It is to Van Norden’s regret, that when ‘philosophy’ is discussed or taught, it is almost always in the context of ‘Western Philosophy’ and rather than a global perspective. Yet the contribution of China to global thought and understanding is crucial, especially in our contemporary context. In his highly accessible Introduction, Van Norden gives an overview of the subject, from its mythical origins through its early history, and on to the most important time, the Eastern Zhou dynasty (770-221 BCE). This is The Period of the Philosophers. It is here we find the greatest thinkers, within two definable periods, the Spring and Autumn Period (722-481 BCE) and the Warring States Period (403-221 BCE). Into the Spring and Autumn Period comes Kongzi – better known in the West as Confucius (551-479 BCE), whose Analects have become more or less synonymous with the Western understanding of Classical Chinese Philosophy. Van Norden considers the life, work and ideas of Kongzi, and his subsequent influence (even in the present day throughout Asia), with the ‘Five Themes of Confucianism’ including ‘Happiness in the Everyday World’, ‘The Family and Differentiated Caring’ and ‘Ethical Cultivation’. But as he points out, Kongzi had his critics even in the generations that immediately followed him – principally Mozi and the Mohists. However Kongzi’s influence also continued through the Warring States Period, when other figures emerging such as Mengzi (known as Mencius in the West) (372-289 BCE). In this fascinating survey, Van Norden’s discussion ranges over ‘Daodejing and Mysticism’, ‘Zhuangzi’s Therapeutic Skepticism and Relativism’, Han Feizi’s ‘Theory of Government’, and later Chinese thought, stepping well into the 20th century with Mao Zedung. In the Appendices, Van Norden also explains ‘Hermeneutics or How To Read a Text’, and ‘Kongzi as Systematic Philosopher’. A third (particularly valuable Appendix to the newcomer to Chinese topics), on ‘The Chinese Language and Writing System’ is not possible to present on audiobook, but is contained in the accompanying PDF. Altogether, Van Norden has provided a thoughtful introduction not only to Classical Chinese Philosophy, but also in passing, to aspects of Chinese culture. The experienced American reader Brian Nishii, fluent in Mandarin, is an ideal presenter. Van Norden is also the author of Mengzi – which he reads himself on Ukemi Audiobooks. The recording is accompanied by a PDF containing full details.