Review of Conversations With Great Thinkers
Letter/Review printed in Dushu magazine, Beijing, April, 1993
This letter/review was printed five years before the book was published in any language.
Click here for the original Chinese version.

Mr. Han Zhe,

I read your book twice from cover to cover. I greatly admire you for the wide range of knowledge you have shown in the book, and I admire your writing style also. You indeed have reached the goal you preach in your book, to write simply and clearly. What makes me admire you more is that you have perceived the deep crisis in “the developed countries” that are envied by a lot of “undeveloped countries”. The crisis that you describe in your book has been, for a long time, neglected or covered up. Only true intellectuals who are willing to do some deep thinking, and are most insightful, dare to confront this crisis.

The reason I’m using the term “true intellectuals” is because you have criticized “fake intellectuals” in your book. I understand your seriousness when you use the word “intellectual”. The word “intellectual” didn’t originate in China, it was borrowed from the West. However, it has acquired its own meaning after it was translated.

In the view of the average Chinese person, a college student can be an intellectual. An intellectual of this kind could perhaps expand his knowledge so that he later becomes “a big intellectual” who seldom concerns himself about the destiny of mankind. The intellectual you refer to is actually like a “Shi”, a scholar in the Chinese tradition, a “Shi” who “is dedicated to the ultimate principles” and “takes benevolence as his lifetime duty” according to Confucius, and a “Shi” who “may not have permanent property, but has a persistent will” according to Mencius.

Your observations on the decadence of the West are not about any specific or concrete issues. They are observations made from a philosophical perspective, which is similar to the traditional way that the Chinese “Shi” observed society and predicted the future of the world. You point out that people in the West have no ambition, have lost their respect and pride, and have ceased to pursue high ideals. You contend that the chief threat to the West isn’t foreign invasion, nor the deterioration of the economy or the pollution of the environment, but rather the fact that people have closed their minds and are interested only in making money and spending money. You loathe the “work ethic” that has turned everything into a business, and has made “success” synonymous with “making lots of money.” You see that Western societies are deteriorating despite peace, comfort, and prosperity, and they are going towards the future blindfolded. You criticize Western politicians because they put current considerations above long-term interests. You recognize that democracy in the West has given individuals so much power that society as a whole has almost no power, and that Western democracies are actually mob rule, as opposed to other countries that are ruled by dictators.

All of the above is profound....

After I read your book, I realized that you have indeed seen the crises that America is facing at a time when most people don’t see them. This shows that you not only have the power of observing society intellectually, but also have a sense of mission. This is in line with the Chinese “shi” who “concern themselves over the future ahead of everyone else.” However, I hope you can examine further the phenomena of American society and find solutions for the problems. I know solutions are not easy to find, but as we all know, it’s easier for a doctor to prescribe medicine if he has made the correct diagnosis. Only by doing this can you help those who study America, and those who are concerned about the future of mankind.

Shenzhi Li
former vice president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences