SOCRATES IN SICHUAN by Peter Vernezze (China)


Socrates in Sichuan: Chinese Students Search for Truth, Justice, and the (Chinese) Way
Peter J. Vernezze (China 2006-08)
Potomac Books
April 2011
212 pages
$10.01 (Kindle); $9.49 (Hardback)


When Peter J. Vernezze took a leave of absence from his position as a philosophy professor to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in China, he supplemented his main task―teaching English―with leading a weekly philosophical discussion group with Chinese undergraduate and graduate students at Sichuan Normal University in Chengdu. In each session the students debated topics as diverse as the status of truth, the meaning of life, the reality of fate, the definition of sanity, the necessity of religion, and the value of romantic love.

Each of the twenty-five chapters of Socrates in Sichuan focuses on the topic of one evening’s discussion, which was always in the form of a question:

  • How are ancient conceptions of virtue holding up in a society overrun by capitalism?
  • Are traditionally conservative sexual values going the way of the rickshaw?
  • Can an atheistic country even have a sense of morality?

This unprecedented portrait of the Chinese mind allows the up-and-coming generation―known as the ba ling hou, or “post-1980s generation”―to express its unique perspective on China―and America. In addition, the book provides the reader with a crash course in Chinese culture, both ancient and modern, as students discuss everything from Confucius to the Edison Chen scandal (a Chinese pop star whose sexually explicit pictures found their way onto the Internet), from classical Chinese poetry to the Super Boy and Super Girl competitions (Chinese versions of American Idol). Throughout, the author provides the intellectual and historical context necessary to appreciate and understand today’s China.

Peter Vernezze Writes —

Peter Vernezze (China 2006-08)

A philosophy professor for fifteen years, I recently took a leave of absence to join the Peace Corps and served two years as a Volunteer at Sichuan Normal University in Chengdu. During this time I held a philosophical discussion group with my Chinese undergraduates, which serves as the basis for my forthcoming book Socrates in Sichuan: Chinese Students Search for Truth, Justice and the Chinese Way. The book attempts to bring together my academic experience as a student and teacher of Chinese philosophy and culture with my practical experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The book is a continuation of my passion for writing about intellectual matters for non-specialists. At present, I am a sojourner in civilized life again.


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