In the 1920s, John Dewey’s followers in China, led by his student HuShih, attempted to put his pragmatism into practice in their quest for democracy.This essay compares Hu Shih’s thought, especially his emphasis on pragmatism asmethod, with Dewey’s philosophical positions and evaluates Hu’s achievement asa pragmatist in the context of the tumultuous times he lived in. It assesses Hu’sclaim that the means to democracy lies in education rather than politics, sincedemocracy as a way of life requires a cultural renewal beyond institutionalchanges. It argues that a problem-centered approach to social change does notpreclude radical action, even revolution. But pragmatism is against gratuitous useof violence in the service of wholesale and abstract ideals advocated by various‘‘isms.’’ While Hu’s experiment of democracy in China is a significant episode inthe history of pragmatism, its ‘‘failure’’ does not prove that there are inherentflaws in the pragmatist method, that pragmatism is unviable for China. Thefailure needs to be understood in the context of the pragmatist conception ofexperiment, in which failures are to be expected; what is important is to learnfrom them to achieve better results in the next stage of inquiry. Hu Shih’spragmatism contains lessons for pragmatists and for those interested in thecontinued quest for democracy in ChinaFthe experiment continues.
Hu Shih, John Dewey, democracy, China, May Fourth movement, method, educational reforms, Chinese pragmatism
Arts and Humanities
Wiley: 24 months
TAN, Sor-hoon.(2004). China’s pragmatist experiment: Hu Shih’s pragmatism and Dewey’s influence in China. Metaphilosophy, 35(1), 44-64.
Available at: https://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/soss_research/2539
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