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A Pragmatist and His Free Spirit portrays the unconventional love between a Chinese social reformer and an American avant-garde artist. Hu Shi was a student at Cornell when he first met Edith Clifford Williams. They exchanged some 300 letters between 1914 and 1962; these, alongside Hu's diaries, poems and other correspondence, provide the substance of this book. In Williams, Hu met his intellectual match. She helped him reconcile his self-image as an independent thinker with his acquiescence to an arranged marriage. Best known for his contribution to China's Literary Revolution, Hu's experimental vernacular poetry was partly inspired by his exposure to Williams's avant-garde art. In reconstructing their romance, the authors deftly exemplify the dilemmas which confronted a generation of Chinese intellectuals, particularly those educated in the West. Although Hu shared his contemporaries' patriotic hopes for China, he never subscribed to the prevailing ideology. Sustained by Williams's unflinching honesty, he advocated John Dewey's pragmatic approach, one which has recently regained acceptance in China. Although the romantic ardor dwindled, the two retained, in each other's eyes, an image of their idealistic youth.