This article examines the importance of John Dewey's visit to China in 1919–21 to his general philosophy of meliorism. I will argue that Dewey's view of the economic realities in China, as well as his well-known work on the U.S. educational system, points to an underlying problem—that of mindless work activity. Extending past research on Dewey's notion of artful activity, I will argue that one cannot completely understand Dewey's advice to his Chinese and American audiences without reference to his theory of aesthetic experience and its relation to everyday conduct. Art as Experience then becomes an important point of departure for endeavors that seek to constructively determine what workers can do to make occupational experience more meaningful or artful. Additionally, I will argue that Dewey's reticence to explore the aesthetic in the early 1900s does not entail that this concept was not present. To the contrary, one can see his work in the 1910s and 1920s—including his experience in China—as a precursor for the account of aesthetic experience in everyday life that he finally explicates in the 1930s. In this sense, one can detect a further emphasis on the Chinese conceptual overlay of spontaneity in his evolving thought on artful activity.

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