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Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Dao: Ancient Chinese Thought in Modern American Life

Sam Crane (Original Author)
ISBN: 978-0-470-67477-2
216 pages
October 2013, Wiley-Blackwell
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Dao: Ancient Chinese Thought in Modern American Life (0470674776) cover image


This highly original work introduces the ideas and arguments of the ancient Chinese philosophies of Confucianism and Daoism to some of the most intractable social issues of modern American life, including abortion, gay marriage, and assisted suicide.
  • Introduces the precepts of ancient Chinese philosophers to issues they could not have anticipated
  • Relates Daoist and Confucian ideas to problems across the arc of modern human life, from birth to death
  • Provides general readers with a fascinating introduction to Chinese philosophy, and its continued relevance
  • Offers a fresh perspective on highly controversial American debates, including abortion, stem cell research, and assisted suicide
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1 Key Concepts of Confucianism and Daoism 13

2 Birth 37

3 Childhood 65

4 Work 93

5 Marriage and Family 109

6 Public and Political Life 133

7 End of Life 169

Index 195

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Author Information

Sam Crane is Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Williams College, USA. Fluent in Mandarin, which he began learning while researching his doctoral thesis in the 1980s, he first visited China in 1983, and is a former faculty member of the John Hopkins academic campus in Nanjing. The author of The Political Economy of China’s Special Economic Zones (1990), The Theoretical Evolution of International Political Economy (1991), and the highly personal Aidan’s Way: The Story of a Boy’s Life and a Father’s Journey (2003), about life with his severely disabled son, Crane has long been fascinated by ancient Chinese philosophy, particularly the classical texts of the pre-imperial era.

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“Sam Crane's new book is a richly rewarding exploration of the ancient Chinese values and insights that have been the focus of his academic research, in connection with the deepest questions of personal and public ethics in the modern United States. Every chapter draws from Crane's scholarship but also from his unsparing description of wrenching choices in his own life. Readers who are China specialists will learn more about its traditions; readers who are not will have new tools and concepts with which to understand their own societies, institutions, and creeds.”

—James Fallows, of The Atlantic, author of China Airborne

   “Sam Crane has written a lively and insightful guide to China's two key philosophical schools—Confucianism and Daoism—by looking at how they would deal with today's problems in western countries. Abortion, education, crime, dealing with the mentally challenged: by exploring how China's greatest philosophical schools might have dealt with them, we learn not only about these ancient ways of thought but also take away innovative ways of looking at our own society. Sprinkled with humorous and touching first-person anecdotes, Crane has given us a truly innovative and fascinating book aimed at general readers.”

—Ian Johnson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Wild Grass: Three Stories of Change in Modern China

"This is a book for those who value life in all its combinations. Sam Crane's marriage of ancient Chinese thought and modern American life is filled with profound insights, intimate anecdotes and something beyond mere humanity. Applying the teachings of Zhuangzi and Confucius to debates about abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia, it will be read and argued-over again and again."   

—Jonathan Watts, author of When a Billion Chinese Jump

"Sam Crane's erudite writing on ancient Chinese philosophy in the modern era gives us a new window on some of the most hotly discussed issues in American society today, from democracy to sex."

—Edward Wong, China Correspondent, The New York Times

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