|Alternative Chinese name|
|Hiragana||そうし or そうじ|
The Zhuangzi (Chinese: 莊子) is an ancient Chinese work from the late Warring States period (3rd century BC) which contains stories and anecdotes that exemplify the carefree nature of the ideal Daoist sage. Named for its traditional author, "Master Zhuang" (Zhuangzi), the Zhuangzi is one of the two foundational texts of Daoism, along with the Laozi (Dao De Jing).
The Zhuangzi is composed of a large collection of anecdotes, allegories, parables, and fables, which are often humorous or irreverent in nature. Its main themes are of spontaneity in action and of freedom from the human world and its conventions. The fables and anecdotes in the text attempt to illustrate the falseness of human distinctions between good and bad, large and small, life and death, and human and nature. While other philosophers wrote of moral and personal duty, Zhuangzi promoted carefree wandering and becoming one with "the Way" (Dào 道) by following nature.
Though primarily known as a philosophical work, the Zhuangzi is regarded as one of the greatest literary works in all of Chinese history, and has been called "the most important pre-Qin text for the study of Chinese literature." A masterpiece of both philosophical and literary skill, it has significantly influenced writers for more than 2000 years from the Han dynasty to the present. Virtually every major Chinese writer and poet in history, from Sima Xiangru and Sima Qian during the Han dynasty, Ruan Ji and Tao Yuanming during the Six Dynasties, Li Bai during the Tang dynasty, to Su Shi and Lu You in the Song dynasty were familiar with and deeply influenced by the Zhuangzi.
The Zhuangzi is named for and attributed to Zhuang Zhou – "Master Zhuang" (Chinese: "Zhuangzi" 莊子) – a man who was born around 369 BC in the state of Song, near the borders of modern Henan and Shandong provinces, and died around 286 BC. Almost nothing is concretely known of Zhuangzi's life. He is thought to have spent time in the southern state of Chu, as well as in Linzi, the capital of the state of Qi. Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian, written around 104 BC, has a biography of Zhuangzi, but most of it seems to be drawn from anecdotes in the Zhuangzi itself. Burton Watson has noted, "Whoever Zhuang Zhou was, the writings attributed to him bear the stamp of a brilliant and original mind."
Even though the text is generally treated as a single whole, scholars have recognized since the Song dynasty that some parts of the book could not have been written by Zhuangzi himself. It is generally accepted that the middle and later Zhuangzi chapters are the result of a subsequent process of accretion and redaction by later authors responding "to the scintillating brilliance" of the inner chapters.
Since ancient times the first 7 chapters (the nèi piān 內篇 "inner chapters") have been considered to be the actual work of Zhuangzi, and most modern scholars agree with this view. The Records of the Grand Historian refers to a 100,000-word Zhuangzi work and references several chapters that are still in the text. The Book of Han, finished in AD 111, lists a Zhuangzi in 52 chapters, which many scholars believe to be the original form of the work. A number of different forms of the Zhuangzi survived into the Tang dynasty, but a shorter and more popular 33-chapter form of the book prepared by Guo Xiang around AD 300 is the source of all surviving editions. In 742, an imperial proclamation from Emperor Xuanzong of Tang awarded the Zhuangzi the honorific title True Scripture of Southern Florescence (Nanhua zhenjing 南華真經), a name still used in certain formal contexts.
A large number of Zhuangzi fragments dating from the early Tang dynasty were discovered among the Dunhuang manuscripts in the early 20th century. They collectively form about twelve chapters of Guo Xiang's version of the Zhuangzi, and are preserved mostly at the British Library and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Among the Japanese national treasures preserved in the Kōzan-ji temple in Kyoto is a Zhuangzi manuscript from the Muromachi period. The manuscript has seven complete chapters from the "outer" and "miscellaneous" chapters, and is believed to be a close copy of an annotated edition written in the 7th century by Daoist master Cheng Xuanying (成玄英; fl. AD 630–660).
Almost all of the 33 surviving Zhuangzi chapters contain fables and allegories. Most Zhuangzi stories are fairly short and simple, such as "Lickety" and "Split" drilling seven holes in "Wonton" (chapter 7) or Zhuangzi being discovered sitting and beating on a basin after his wife dies (chapter 18), although a few are longer and more complex, like the story of Master Lie and the magus (chapter 14) and the account of the Yellow Emperor's music (chapter 14). Unlike the other stories and allegories in other pre-Qin texts, the Zhuangzi is unique in that the allegories form the bulk of the text, rather than occasional features, and are always witty, emotional, and are not limited to reality.
Unlike other ancient Chinese works, whose allegories were usually based on historical legends and proverbs, most Zhuangzi stories seem to have been invented by Zhuangzi himself. Some are completely whimsical, such as the strange description of evolution from "misty spray" through a series of substances and insects to horses and humans (chapter 18), while a few other passages seem to be sheer playful nonsense which read like Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky". The Zhuangzi is full of quirky and fantastic characters, such as "Mad Stammerer", "Fancypants Scholar", "Sir Plow", and a man who believes his left arm will turn into a rooster, his right arm will turn into a crossbow, and his buttocks will become cartwheels.
A master of language, Zhuangzi sometimes engages in logic and reasoning, but then turns it upside down or carries the arguments to absurdity to demonstrate the limitations of human knowledge and the rational world. Some of Zhuangzi's reasoning, like his famous argument with his philosopher friend Hui Shi – "Master Hui" ("Huizi" 惠子) – about the joy of fish (chapter 17), have been compared to the Socratic and Platonic dialogue traditions, and Huizi's paradoxes near the end of the book have been termed "strikingly like those of Zeno of Elea."
"The Butterfly Dream"
The most famous of all Zhuangzi stories – "Zhuang Zhou Dreams of Being a Butterfly" ("Zhuāng Zhōu mèng dié" 莊周夢蝶) – appears at the end of the second chapter, "On the Equality of Things".
The striking image of Zhuangzi wondering if he was a man who dreamt of being a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming of being a man is so famous that whole dramas have been written on its theme. In it Zhuangzi "[plays] with the theme of transformation", illustrating that "the distinction between waking and dreaming is another false dichotomy. If [one] distinguishes them, how can [one] tell if [one] is now dreaming or awake?"
"The Death of Wonton"
Another famous Zhuangzi story – "The Death of Wonton" ("Hùndùn zhī sǐ" 渾沌之死) – illustrates the dangers Zhuangzi saw in going against the innate nature of things.
Zhuangzi believed that the greatest of all human happiness could be achieved through a higher understanding of the nature of things, and that in order to develop oneself fully one needed to express one's innate ability. In this anecdote, Zhuangzi humorously and absurdly uses "Wonton", a name for both primordial chaos and, by physical analogy, wonton soup, to demonstrate what he believed were the disastrous consequences of going against things' innate natures.
"Zhuangzi's Wife Dies"
Another well-known Zhuangzi story – "Zhuangzi's Wife Dies" ("Zhuāngzǐ qī sǐ" 莊子妻死) – describes how Zhuangzi did not view death as something to be feared.
Zhuangzi seems to have viewed death as a natural process or transformation, where one gives up one form of existence and assumes another. His writings teach that "the wise man or woman accepts death with equanimity and thereby achieves absolute happiness."
The other major philosophical schools of ancient China, such as Confucianism, Legalism, and Mohism, were all concerned with concrete social, political, or ethical reforms designed to reform people and society and alleviate the problems and suffering of the world. However, Zhuangzi believed that the key to true happiness was to free oneself from the world and its standards through the Daoist principle of "inaction" (wúwéi 無為), action that is not based on any purposeful striving or motives for gain. In one instance, Zhuangzi has a man named "Rufus Southglory" ("Nánróng Chú" 南榮趎) visit Laozi, who asks him: "Why have you come with such a host of people accompanying you?" Southglory, who had come by himself, looked behind himself but saw no one, for Laozi actually meant the "host of people" to mean "the baggage of old ideas, the conventional concepts of right and wrong, good and bad, life and death, that he lugged about with him wherever he went.
In order to illustrate the mindlessness and spontaneity he felt should characterize human action, Zhuangzi most frequently uses the analogy of craftsmen or artisans. As Burton Watson writes, "the skilled woodcarver, the skilled butcher, the skilled swimmer does not ponder or ratiocinate on the course of action he should take; his skill has become so much a part of him that he merely acts instinctively and spontaneously and, without knowing why, achieves success." The term "wandering" (yóu 遊) is used throughout the stories of the Zhuangzi to describe how an enlightened person "wanders through all of creation, enjoying its delights without ever becoming attached to any one part of it."
The Zhuangzi vigorously opposes formal government, which Zhuangzi seems to have felt was problematic at its foundation "because of the opposition between man and nature." The text tries to show that "as soon as government intervenes in natural affairs, it destroys all possibility of genuine happiness." It is unclear if Zhuangzi would have supported modern anarchism, as he did not support violence, and the political references in the Zhuangzi are more concerned with what government should not do rather than what kind of government should exist.
Western scholars have long noticed that the Zhuangzi is often strongly anti-rationalist. Mohism, deriving from Zhuangzi's possible contemporary Mozi, was the most logically sophisticated school in ancient China. Whereas reason and logic became the hallmark of Greek philosophy and then the entire Western philosophical tradition, in China philosophers preferred to rely on moral persuasion and intuition. The Zhuangzi played a significant role in the traditional Chinese skepticism toward rationalism, as Zhuangzi frequently turns logical arguments upside-down to satirize and discredit them. However, Zhuangzi did not entirely abandon language and reason, but "only wished to point out that overdependence on them could limit the flexibility of thought."
The Zhuangzi is one of the most influential works in the history of Chinese literature. Jia Yi, in his 170 BC work "Fu on the Owl", the earliest definitively known fu rhapsody, sought consolation in Zhuangzi's words, which he does not reference by name but cites for one-sixth of the poem. Virtually every major Chinese writer or poet in history, from Sima Xiangru and Sima Qian during the Han dynasty, Ruan Ji and Tao Yuanming during the Six Dynasties, Li Bai during the Tang dynasty, to Su Shi and Lu You in the Song dynasty were "deeply imbued with the ideas and artistry of the Zhuangzi." Several explicitly stated their admiration of the Zhuangzi, such as in Ruan Ji's essay "Discourse on Summing Up the Zhuangzi" (Dá Zhuāng lùn 達莊論), Wang Anshi's essay "Discourse on the Zhuangzi" (Zhuāngzǐ lùn 莊子論), and Su Shi's essay "A Record of the Memorial Shrine of Master Zhuang" (Zhuāngzǐ cítáng jì 莊子祠堂記).
Outside of China, however, the Zhuangzi lags far behind the Dao De Jing in general popularity, and is rarely known by non-scholars. In the introduction to his 1994 translation of the Zhuangzi, famed sinologist Victor H. Mair wrote: "I feel a sense of injustice that the Dao De Jing is so well known to my fellow citizens while the Zhuangzi is so thoroughly ignored, because I firmly believe that the latter is in every respect a superior work."
|1||"Carefree Wandering"||Xiāoyáo yóu 逍遙遊|
|2||"On the Equality of Things"||Qí wù lùn 齊物論|
|3||"Essentials for Nurturing Life"||Yǎng shēng zhǔ 養生主|
|4||"The Human World"||Rén-jiān shì 人間世|
|5||"Symbols of Integrity Fulfilled"||Dé chōng fú 德充符|
|6||"The Great Ancestral Teacher"||Dà zōng shī 大宗師|
|7||"Responses for Emperors and Kings"||Yìng dì wáng 應帝王|
|8||"Webbed Toes"||Piān mǔ 駢拇|
|9||"Horses' Hooves"||Mǎ-tí 馬蹄|
|10||"Ransacking Coffers"||Qū qiè 胠篋|
|11||"Preserving and Accepting"||Zài yòu 在宥|
|12||"Heaven and Earth"||Tiān-dì 天地|
|13||"The Way of Heaven"||Tiān dào 天道|
|14||"Heavenly Revolutions"||Tiān yùn 天運|
|15||"Ingrained Opinions"||Kè yì 刻意|
|16||"Mending Nature"||Shàn xìng 繕性|
|17||"Autumn Floods"||Qiū shuǐ 秋水|
|18||"Ultimate Joy"||Zhì lè 至樂|
|19||"Understanding Life"||Dá shēng 達生|
|20||"The Mountain Tree"||Shān mù 山木|
|21||"Sir Square Field"||Tián-zǐ fāng 田子方|
|22||"Knowledge Wanders North"||Zhī běi yóu 知北遊|
|23||"Gengsang Chu"||Gēngsāng Chǔ 庚桑楚|
|24||"Ghostless Xu"||Xú wú-guǐ 徐無鬼|
|25||"Sunny"||Zé yáng 則陽|
|26||"External Things"||Wài wù 外物|
|27||"Metaphors"||Yù yán 寓言|
|28||"Abdicating Kingship"||Ràng wáng 讓王|
|29||"Robber Footpad"||Dào zhí 盜跖|
|30||"Discoursing on Swords"||Shuō jiàn 說劍|
|31||"An Old Fisherman"||Yú fù 漁父|
|32||"Lie Yukou"||Liè Yùkòu 列禦寇|
|33||"All Under Heaven"||Tiānxià 天下|
|"Inner chapters" (Nèi piān 內篇)|
|"Outer chapters" (Wài piān 外篇)|
|"Miscellaneous chapters" (Zá piān 雜篇)|
- Giles, Herbert (1889), Chuang Tzu, Mystic, Moralist and Social Reformer, London: Bernard Quaritch; 2nd edition, revised, Shanghai: Kelly and Walsh (1926), rpt. London: George Allen and Unwin (1961).
- Legge, James (1891), The Texts of Taoism, in Sacred Books of the East, vols. XXXIX, XL, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Fung, Yu-lan (1933), Chuang Tzu, a new selected translation with an exposition on the philosophy of Kuo Hsiang, Shanghai: Shang wu (only translates first 7 "inner" chapters).
- Ware, James (1963), The sayings of Chuang Chou, New York: Mentor Classics.
- Watson, Burton (1964), Chuang tzu: Basic Writings, New York: Columbia University Press; 2nd edition (1996); 3rd edition (2003) converted to pinyin.
- – – – (1968), The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, New York: Columbia University Press.
- (Japanese) Akatsuka, Kiyoshi 赤塚志 (1977), Sōshi 荘子 (Zhuangzi), in Zenshaku kanbun taikei 全釈漢文大系 (Fully Interpreted Chinese Literature Series), vols. 16-17, Tokyo: Shūeisha.
- Graham, A.C. (1981), Chuang-tzu, The Seven Inner Chapters and other writings from the book Chuang-tzu, London: George Allen and Unwin (translation notes published separately in 1982 as Chuang-tzu: textual notes to a partial translation, London: School of Oriental and African Studies).
- Mair, Victor H. (1994), Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu, New York: Bantam Books; Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press (1997).
- Roth (1993): 56.
- Mair (1998): 21.
- Mair (1994): xliii.
- Mair (1998): 20.
- Mair (1994): xxxi.
- Mair (1994): xxxi-xxxiii.
- Watson (2003): 3.
- Roth (1993): 57.
- Roth (1993): 58.
- Roth (1993): 61-62.
- Roth (1993): 62.
- Mair (1998): 23.
- Mair (1998): 23-24.
- Mair (1998): 24.
- Mair (1994): 24.
- Mair (1994): xl.
- Graham (1981): 21-22.
- Mair (1994): xxxix.
- Mair (1994): 71.
- Watson (2003 ): 115.
- Mair (1994): xxxiv.
- Watson (2003 ): 3.
- Watson (2003 ): 6.
- Mair (1994): 228.
- Watson (2003 ): 4.
- Mair (1994): xli.
- Mair (1994): xlii.
- Mair (1998): 22.
- Translations from Mair (1998): 21-22.
- Works Cited
- Graham, A.C. (1981), Chuang-tzu, The Seven Inner Chapters and other writings from the book Chuang-tzu, London: George Allen and Unwin. ISBN 0-04-299013-0
- Mair, Victor H. (1994), Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu, New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-37406-0
- – – –, "Chuang-tzu", in William Nienhauser, ed. (1998), The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature, vol. 2, Bloomington: Indiana University Press: 20-26. ISBN 0-253-33456-X
- Roth, H.D., "Chuang tzu 莊子", in Michael Loewe, ed. (1993), Early Chinese Texts – A Bibliographic Guide, Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China & Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California Berkeley: 56-66. ISBN 1-55729-043-1
- Watson, Burton (2003 ), Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, New York: Columbia University Press.
|Part of a series on|
- Zhuangzi Bilingual Chinese-English version (James Legge's translation)
- The Zhuangzi "Being Boundless", Complete translation of Zhuangzi by Nina Correa
- Selection from The Zhuangzi, translated by Patricia Ebrey
- The Complete Works Of Chuang Tzu, translated by Burton Watson
- Zhuangzi, translated by A. Charles Muller