Issue 75:4 (2013) of The Review of Politics contains reviews of three recent books in Chinese and comparative philosophy:
- Doh Chull Shin: Confucianism and Democratization in East Asia. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Pp. x, 366.), reviewed by Albert H. Y. Chen
- Tongdong Bai: China: The Political Philosophy of the Middle Kingdom. (London: Zed Books, 2012. Pp. 177.), reviewed by Michael Nylan
- John A. Rapp: Daoism and Anarchism: Critiques of State Autonomy in Ancient and Modern China. (London: Continuum, 2012. Pp. xi, 292.), reviewed by Edward S. Krebs
Nylan’s review of Bai is relentlessly critical, concluding that:
When all is said and done, this book highlights the enormous chasm that currently exists between Euro-American and PRC scholarship on a great many issues relating to the early empires in China. Tying scholarship so tightly to contemporary politics does not make for careful analyses likely to ameliorate long-standing disputes between the two great continental powers, as is Bai’s ostensible goal. Instead, this book will irritate knowledge- able readers while confirming others in their old prejudices. (p. 679)
It’s surprising to hear that a book as provocative as Bai’s will confirm people’s old prejudices. What Nylan means is that Bai’s picture of early China is based, she says, on a variety of views (e.g., that “zhongguo” means “Middle Kingdom”; she says it means “Central States,” courts once closely allied with the Zhou kings) that critical historians have long since rejected. She also objects to Bai’s characterizing Confucians and Daoists as belonging to schools, and wishes he had attended instead to the many overlaps among the early texts. And so on. Some of her points strike me as accurate and useful; others as tendentious but certainly based in relevant scholarship; and still others veer toward the realm of the “simplistic or unsubstantiated” that she says she finds in Bai’s book. As far as one can tell from the review, Nylan did not find a single thing of value in Bai’s book. I daresay there is an enormous chasm between the largely historical goals of Nylan’s scholarship and the largely philosophical goals of Bai’s. This is not to say that philosophers cannot learn from historians, or vice versa. But there are many challenges, not the least of which is learning to approach one another charitably, mindful of differing objectives and audiences.