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December 26, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright December 26, 2008 Jeffrey Wasserstrom. Used by permission.


Peter Zarrow’s piece last month on Bertrand Russell’s writing on and travels to China may have gotten some of our readers curious about the other two members of the triumverate of famous philosophers mentioned in the introduction to that post: the Indian poet and thinker Rabindranath Tagore and the American pragmatist and educational theorist John Dewey. What each of these two men thought about and did while in China could be well worth a posting. And perhaps in 2009 the blog will run such pieces, as it would be a very appropriate year to do so, at least in Dewey’s case, marking as it will the 90th anniversary of his first lectures in China. Also of interest would be a comparative look at the ways Chinese intellectuals of the day responded to Russell, Dewey, and Tagore.

John Dewey

One thing likely to emerge from such a comparison would be that it was the philosopher who came from the country closest to China who met with the most opposition. This was partly due to Tagore arriving at a time, 1924, when New Culture Movement iconoclasm was still going strong and his message was seen as traditionalist. There may now be a statue at Peking University honoring Tagore’s visit to that campus, but as Stephen N. Hay stresses in Asian Ideas of East and West, and as Pankaj Mishra points out in a recent New York Review of Books essay, there was a good deal of resistance to his ideas among intellectuals in Shanghai and Beijing during the 1920s.