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  • A Pragmatist and His Free Spirit

A Pragmatist and His Free Spirit

The Half-Century Romance of Hu Shi and Edith Clifford Williams

Susan Chan Egan and Chih-p'ing Chou

English , 2009/03 The Chinese University of Hong Kong Press

Tags: Biography, Literary Studies

203 x 134 x 30 mm , 410pp ISBN / ISSN : 978-962-996-341-5

  • US$30.00

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A Pragmatist and His Free Spirit portrays the unconventional love of Hu Shi, a Chinese social reformer and civil rights pioneer, and Edith Clifford Williams, an American avant-garde artist of the early twentieth century. Hu studied at Cornell University, where he first met Williams, and Columbia University, where he worked with the famous pragmatist John Dewey. At the time of his death in 1962, he and Williams had exchanged more than 300 letters that, along with poems and excerpts from Hu's diaries and documents (some of which have never before been translated into English) form the center of this book.

In Williams, Hu found his intellectual match, a woman and fellow scholar who helped the reformer reconcile his independent scholarship with cultural tradition. Williams counciled Hu on the acceptance of an arranged marriage, and she influenced his pursuit of experimental vernacular poetry through an exposure to avant-garde art. In 1933, the two became lovers, although their romance would eventually dwindle. Nevertheless, Williams maintained a devoted and honest correspondence with Hu throughout his tumultuous life.

Hu's work touched on virtually every crucial aspect of twentieth-century Chinese society, particularly Chinese liberalism and the use of vernacular Chinese. A Pragmatist and His Free Spirit explores the lesser-known side of this major philosopher while reconstructing his romance with Williams. Not only does the volume place Hu within the larger social, economic, and political context of his time, but it also provides readers with a multifaceted portrait of China's dramatic modern history.


Susan Chan Egan is an independent scholar based in Santa Barbara, California. She is the author of A Latterday Confucian: Reminiscences of William Hung (1893-1980) and cotranslator of Wang Anyi's The Song of Everlasting Sorrow: A Novel of Shanghai.Chih-p'ing Chou is professor of East Asian studies at Princeton University.

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