Summary of “The college of Chinese wisdom” by Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh Unit

Summary of “The college of Chinese wisdom” by Michael Puett andChristine Gross-Loh


The article “The college of Chinese wisdom” by Michael Puett andChristine Gross-Loh seeks to deconstruct common wisdom that collegeis the place where students get to discover who they really are andembrace that identity. The authors borrow from Confucius and otherChinese philosophers to dispute this common western ideology thatthere is a true unified self. The authors thus argue that thiswestern notion of a true unified self is wrong based on Chinesewisdom. Ancient Chinese philosophers believed that self-identity isalways shifting in respect to the changing environment. By respondingto the changing environment, it means that individuals arespontaneous and there is no guarantee to their identity.

The western understanding of the self is wrong in the sense that itpromotes the idea of a guaranteed self-identity that should bepursued at all times and embraced. The notion is also contradictoryin that it encourages individuals to pursue various extracurricularactivities in college with a view of discovering that one activitythat one likes and seeking to perfect it. Nonetheless, searching forthat one extracurricular activity one is good at also reeks of afixed identity. Zhuangzi, a Chinese philosopher, dismisses thewestern view of talents and strengths as a trap that encourages afixed perspective of oneself. Instead, he calls for trainedspontaneity whereby one learns to acknowledge oneself in differentperspectives or in a multidimensional way. These diverse perspectivesopen up a person to new opportunities and connections in life.

Nonetheless, the self is not made from these connections andopportunities but rather what one chooses to do with them. For thisreason, the authors encourage college students to perceive themselvesas projects that constantly change to reflect changes in theenvironment. The environment may also include talents and weaknesses.Therefore, talents and weaknesses should not act as constraints butrather be used as motivations towards improving oneself continuously.By continuous improvement, it may mean looking beyond the identifiedtalents and strengths that tend to define self-identity.