Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Premier's Little Green Book

Some pleasant, if peculiar news from the latest issue of Time Magazine (June 30, 2008): last November the prime minister of the People's Republic of China, Wen Jinbao, identified the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius as one of his favorite books, claiming "to have read [it] nearly 100 times." Since then, the Meditations have become a bestseller in China, rising to fifth place in the China Book International bestseller list. This was welcome news to me, since I've long found Aurelius's work to be a source of reassurance, ever since I bought my first copy of it (the green-covered Loeb Classical Library edition) during my first week in college. It's nice to know that millions more people are discovering it for the first time. Yet I can also see why the book would resonate with the leadership of an authoritarian state which is trying, not always successfully, to promote social harmony in the midst of the largest socioeconomic revolution in history. Marcus Aurelius tells his readers that human relationships are naturally harmonious and beneficial, and that human misconduct is both involuntary and transitory. "With what art thou discontented? The wickedness of men? Take this conclusion to heart, that rational creatures have been made for one another, that forbearance is part of justice, that wrongdoing is involuntary, and think how many ere now, after passing their lives in implacable ennmity, suspicion, hatred...have been laid out and burnt to ashes - think of this, I say, and stay thy fretting." (IV.3, trans. by C.R. Haines)

Meanwhile, the popularity of the Meditations may prove to be bad news for James Patterson, the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and the Chinese home sushi-preparation industry, as LibraryThing's UnSuggester observes...

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