Gary Arbuckle (email@example.com)
I use this book in teaching, and am very grateful for it. However, there are a few "gotchas" that the reader/student should be aware of.
First, it's old. It was done in 1963 and won't be revised, since the author is dead. It thus has a very "traditionalistic" selection of texts, with philosophy more narrowly defined than I feel comfortable with. And of course, it doesn't include any of the textual discoveries since 1963, or any of the groundbreaking textual work, such as Graham's on the Chuang-tzu. There are major authenticity problems with some of the selections from the Kung-sun Lung-tzu and Tung Chung-shu as well.
Second, even for its time, it's conservative. The author was, to put it kindly, credulous about some early datings. The discussion of the Lao-tzu is particularly problematic. There is also an overly dismissive attitude towards the thought of some periods, such as the Han.
Third, it's somewhat biased, though in a very traditional way. The Neo-Confucian standpoint is more or less assumed true throughout. This detracts from the discussion of some documents earlier than the Neo-Confucians.
None of this is an argument not to use the book. But be just a bit careful if you do.
Marilyn H. Dorato
Dr. Chan was my college Asian philosophy professor so I used the book under special circumstances. As I recall, it was to be a beginning for those interested in the subject and was not intended to satisfy those further along in their studies. He was always receptive to differing views, and I think, would have been pleased to argue his points. He might be called conservative, but it was not easy for intellectuals still stuck in Mao's China as he was as a young man. He told us of having to read in the toilet so no one would know. The book is very simply written, easy for a novice to grasp and structured in such a way as to encourage discussion about the various philosophers. I recommend it for those with a budding interest in the subject. It gives a good overview and would encourage most readers to go on. No book should be read without the possibility of questioning what it contains just as no teacher should ever be regarded as the ultimate authority.
I agree with the other reviewers that this book is somewhat dated. However, it still ranks as one of the most accessable books in print about Chinese philosophy. Chan is an expert at culling the essential material from the various sources and distilling them into coherent chunks. However, Chan is notorious for leaning too heavily on the Confucian side of Chinese tradition.
My professor, Wm. Theodore de Bary, arguably Chan's successor, occasionally raises points in class regarding problems with Chan's work. In Wm. de Bary's point of view, the problems are not serious but they are worth addressing in a revision. For example, Chan uses the phrase "Doctrine of the Mean" following an earlier translation while a more accurate translation would be simply "The Mean". Chan has similar problems with English-language usage, but these only occur in exceptional instances. More often he gets bogged down in terminology that was commonly in use during his period but now seems dated.
Another matter to bring up, although not necessarily a problem, is Chan's personal faith in Christianity, which may have influenced his choice of word usage and selection of materials.
Objections aside, this is a wonderful book that anyone with more than a passing interest in Chinese philosophy will find useful. After reading this book, one might want to move on to Prof. de Bary's newly-revised "Sources of Chinese Tradition", and then on to more specialized works.
We owe a great debt to the late Professor Chan for having translated this anthology of selections from over 2,500 years of Chinese philosophy. To my knowledge, this is the only anthology that gives so many selections from so many different periods in Chinese history. Perhaps there never will be a book like this again, at least by one scholar, because I doubt anyone else is competent to translate so many texts from so many different periods.
That being said, this book also has serious limitations. Arbuckle's review (which is nearby) expertly identifies many of them. Here are some more. Chan's English is much better than my modern Chinese, but he still sometimes lapses into incoherence. With a few exceptions, his comments on the translations are both confusing and confused. Chan likes to use Western philosophical terminology, but he is not in command of it. It is neither accurate nor helpful to describe the Ch'eng-Chu wing of Neo-Confucianism as "rationalistic," and the Lu-Wang wing as "dynamic idealism."
For many of the philosophers that Chan covers, this is still the best source for translations. This is especially so of later Chinese philosophy. I know of no better translation of selections from Ch'eng Yi and Ch'eng Hao, for example. But for many other philosophers, you would be better off with translations with a more narrow focus. Daniel Gardner's _Learning to Be a Sage_ is a great source on Chu Hsi. And I would (not surprisingly) recommend the anthology I co-edited for translations from ancient Chinese philosophers. (D.C. Lau, Victor Mair, and Burton Watson have also produced more extensive translations of major early Chinese philosophers. Look up their names here on amazon.com.)
This anthology has been around seemingly forever and was one of the first books I looked into (after the original basic texts) in studying Chinese Philosophy. Since it's publication, however, a lot of work has been done in this field, and the information we have in the West has increased manifold.
The text is excellent in covering the basics, which it presents in a very straightfoward, if not somewhat regimented manner. The basics are definitely here - organized for accessiblity. The history is comprehensive - if not deep, precise - if somewhat lacking in interpretive subtlety. As other reviewers have noted, Chan seems to be more sensitive to his own perspective in the space that he allows to other schools of thought (although he admirably includes them all). The Sourcebook is perfect for the one or two page synopsis of key ideas. Every key concept and figure is at least mentioned.
However, if one's interest in primarily in the roots of Chinese thought, especially the incredible "hundred schools period", one ought to consider A.C. Graham's masterpiece, "Disputers of the Tao" for a more engaging, searching philosophical discussion. I also have a place in my heart for the introductory essay of Waley's translation of the Tao Te Ching, "The Way and its Power".
The three texts together make for a pretty good introduction to Chinese Philosophy in translation. Chan's enduring tome is a treasure house of learning which can hardly be ignored by any student of Chinese philosophy, religion, or society.