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Zhuangzi 莊子 "Master Zhuang"

The Zhuangzi 莊子 "Master Zhuang" is one of the two basic writings of Daoist philosophy from the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE). The other is the book Laozi 老子 or Daodejing 道德經.

Zhuang Zhou

Traditionally the authorship of the Zhuangzi is ascribed to Zhuang Zhou 莊周 (trad. 369-286 BCE), called Zhuangzi, who lived during the late 4th century in the state of Song 宋. He refused a state office offered to him by the king of Chu 楚 and preferred living a private and quiet life, or, in the words of himself, "to drag my tail in the mud like the tortoise". Following his own philosophy, Zhuangzi lived in great austerity, wore threadbare clothes and straw sandals. It is said that in this shape he once visited the king of the state of Wei 魏. Asked why he used to travel in such a poor condition, Zhuangzi compared himself to a monkey fallen into a thornbush. His biography in the history Shiji 史記 says that he once had the post of a lacquer tree garden, but soon became tired of this work and gave it up. His most befriended collegue was Hui Shi 惠施, who is known as a dialectician or sophist (mingjia 名家).

The book Zhuangzi

The book Zhuangzi was fixed in its shape by Liu Xiang 劉向, an imperial librarian of the Former Han dynasty 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE). At that time the book Zhuangzi comprised 52 chapters, while the received version, shaped by the Jin period 晉 (265-420) Daoist scholar Guo Xiang 郭象, has only 33 chapters, divided into three parts: 7 "inner chapters" (neipian 內篇), 15 "outer chapters" (waipian 外篇), and 11 "miscellaneous chapters" (zapian 雜篇). The literary language of the Zhuangzi is very excellent and many parts of the book, in thought as well as in language, seem to stem from one single author, at least the Inner Chapters. The Song period 宋 (960-1279) writer and thinker Su Shi 蘇軾 was the first who systematically analyzed the probability of Zhuang Zhou’s authorship and came to the conclusion that the chapters Dao Zhi 盗跖, Yufu 漁父, Rangwang 讓王 and Yuejian 說劍 were definitely not written by the philosopher Zhuangzi. The Ming period 明 (1368-1644) collector Jiao Hong 焦竑 argued that the Inner Chapters were quite probably written by one person, but the Outer and Miscellaneous Chapters were additions of later times, especially the Han period. The modern scholar Luo Genze 羅根澤 systematically analysed these doubtful parts of the book. He concluded that some parts included anti-Confucian, or probably anarchist or at least libertinist, sentiments of what he calls "leftist Daoists" (zuopai daojia 左派道家), while others were written by "rightist Daoists" (youpai daojia 右派道家) that were accepting the Confucian order of society. These, and the chapters talking of immortals, were creations of the late Warring States or the early Han period, when Confucianism was not yet defined as the official state doctrine. Wang Shumin 王叔岷 (Zhuangzi jiaoshi 莊子校釋) says that the division into inner and outer chapters was an arrangement by Guo Xiang, who therewith followed a common use also to be found in other early texts, and therefore challenges the old theory that the Inner Chapters were originals and therefore more trustworthy than the others. Ma Xulun 馬叙倫 (Zhuangzi yizheng 莊子義證) also points at the fact that only very few texts include a part of "miscellaneous chapters". The famous historian of philosophy Feng Youlan 馮友蘭, followed this argument and doubted whether the Inner Chapters really contained any original thoughts of Zhuangzi.
During the Han period the book Zhuangzi was not yet regarded with high esteem. Only during the Jin period it became one of the "Three Mysterious Books" (sanxuan 三玄), together with the Yijing 易經 and the Laozi. During the Tang period 唐 (618-907) the philosopher Zhuangzi was deified and the book attributed to him was given the official title of Nanhua zhengjing 南華真經 "Perfect classic of the Southern Flower". The most important commentaries are Zhuangzi zhu 莊子注 by Guo Xiang, Zhuangzi shu 莊子疏 by the Tang period author Cheng Xuanying 成玄英, Lu Deming's 陸德明 phonetic commentary Zhuangzi yinyi 莊子音義, Lin Xiyi's 林希逸 commentary Nanhua zhenjing kouyi 南華真經口義 from the Song period, the Ming period scholar Jiao Hong's Zhuangzi yi 莊子翼, and finally the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) commentaries Zhuangzi jishi 莊子集釋 by Guo Qingfan 郭慶藩, Wang Xianqian's 王先謙 Zhuangzi jijie 莊子集解, and the modern commentary Zhuangzi buzheng 莊子補正 by Liu Wendian 劉文典. Other early commentaries were written by Sima Biao 司馬彪 and Cui Zhuan 崔譔, fragements of which can be found in the collectaneum Jingdian shiwen 經典釋文.
The Zhuangzi is also very important for its information on the proponents of other philosophical schools regularly cited. Zhuangzi expresses his philosophical thoughts by anecdotes which makes the book very amusing and readable, besides of the high literary quality. Many parts of the Zhuangzi are reports about strange countries and fabulous beasts like in the pseudo-geography Shanhaijing 山海經, and supernatural powers of immortals, like in later collections of Daoist biographies like the Liexianzhuan 列仙傳. Some critics also say that Zhuangzi in some chapters exerted hypnomancy (interpretation of dreams).
The most widespread and important editions of the Zhuangzi are the facsimile of a Song period print in the collectaneum Xu guyishu 續古逸書, the edition in the Daoist Canon Daozang, the Ming period edition in the Liuzi quanshu 六子全書, produced in the Shide Hall 世德堂, the Shizi quanshu 十子全書 edition by the Juwen Hall 聚文堂, and the Qing period prints in the Zishu ershier zhong 子書二十二種 and the Zhuangzi jishi 莊子集釋 published by the Sixian Academy 思賢講舍 in Changsha. The Zhuangzi is also to be found in the collectanea Sibu congkan 四部叢刊, Baizi quanshu 百子全書, Zhuzi jicheng 諸子集成, Sibu beiyao 四部備要 and Siku quanshu 四庫全書.
The book Zhuangzi was at all times very attractive because of its metaphorical language. It is an appealing counterpart and completion of the mysterious and obscure statements in the Daodejing. Zhuangzi's high literary standards made it furthermore a favoured reading of the educated class, even the Confucians. In the 3rd century CE, when Confucianism was somewhat discredited by the failure of the state administration, Daoism was en vogue, especially in the syncretist form of the so-called "School of Mysteries" (xuanxue 玄学) that combined Confucian ideas with that of the anti-state attitude of Laozi and Zhuangzi. All early commentators to the Zhuangzi, like Xiang Xiu or Guo Xiang, were representants of the School of Mysteries. In the next centuries the Buddhist concept of prajñā (Chinese transliteration bōrě 般若, sic!), the universal wisdom that penetrates all objects in the universe, was merged with Zhuangzi's understanding of the Dao. Other aspects of Daoism were also to be found in Buddhist religion, like samādhi "mediation", which can be compared with Zhuangzi's "sitting and forgetting". The monk Zhidun 支遁 compiled an essay to Zhuangzi's chapter Xiaoyaoyou, and it is known that the monk Huiyuan 慧远 in his early years studied the Confucian Classics as well as Laozi and Zhuangzi. Finally, Zhuangzi's description of the Dao laid the foundation for the Neo-Confucian interpretation of the universal or Heavenly order (tianli 天理), which was not only in principle the same as the Daoist "Way", but also implanted the positive character of the Confucian order of society into the hearts of all humans.

Zhuangzi's philosophy

The Way (dao) of nature and the life of non-activity. The chapters Qiwulun 齊物論, Xiaoyaoyou 逍遥遊 and Dazongshi 大宗師 can be seen as the core parts of the book that reflect the most important philosophical thoughts of Zhuang Zhou. The Daoist says that the difference between right and wrong (shi fei 是非), this and that (bi ci 彼此), other objects and the self (wu wo 物我), or old and young (shou yao 壽夭), is irrelevant in an absolute sense. This is because the natural Way, the Dao 道, is equally included in all objects and conditions. Furthermore, situation and status change permanently, which makes it all the more difficult to establish comparisons or clear boundaries. The smallness of a sparrow and the monstrous dimension of the leviathan are only perceivable in comparison to each other, but not in an objective sense. Distinctions arise from the existance of expectations (you dai 有待) in a man's mind, and from a conciousness of a self (you ji 有己). The philosopher who is able to make himself free of such scales and relative comparisons, will be happy to wander around in a "free and easy" manner. For him, even the difference between life and death or its alleged happiness and tristesse, respectively, is of no importance. Such a man is an "arrived person" (zhiren 至人) who has himself made free of worldly problems and questions. The Dao, as Zhuang Zhou explains, has affections (qing 情) and trustworthiness (xin 信), but does not act (wu wei 無為) and has no shape (wu xing 無形). It can be transmitted but is not touchable, it can be obtained but not be seen. It has root and branches, but is not implanted in Heaven and Earth, and it exists since countless ages. If the Dao can be seen or heard of touched, this is not the true Dao. The "true" or "perfect man" (zhenren 真人) who has obtain the Dao, is unified (yi 一 "one") with the whole nature and the cosm, he sits and forgets (zuowang 坐忘) about the Confucian social values of kindheartedness (ren 仁) and social responsiblity (yi 義), he forgets all his knowledge, even his own fate and life, and therefore wholly corresponds to Heaven's will (tianming 天命). The one Dao, as the origin of all things, is simultaneously covering everything. In the beginnings, it had no dimension (wuji 無機), but as an element encompassing all objects, it is also the boundless dimension (taiji 太極).
Relativism and constant change. Of the Outer Chapters, the Qiushui 秋水 "Autumn floods" is that part which represents Zhuang Zhou's thoughts best. It is designed in the shape of a conversion between the Earl of the River 河伯 and the Master of the Sea 海若. Both come to the conclusion that size, value, life and death, and right and wrong are relative characteristics, but seen from the absolute side of the Dao, there is nothing like small and great ("the largest thing is an autumn hair, and Mt. Taishan 泰山 is but a hill"), old and young ("a baby is a methusalem, and Peng Zu 彭祖 a young child"), cheap and dear, and so on. The consequence of this observation is that man will be able to find the Dao by becoming part of nature (ziran 自然 "to be like it is"), where such relative judgments are not existing. Living – or, as a ruler, reigning – in a natural way means to give reins to all events without actively changing anything. From the economic side, "non-acting" (wuwei) is liberalism, and it was also interpreted in this sense during the early Han period, before the state monopolies on salt and iron were introduced. The most famous parable demonstrating the vanishing of any level of reality behind a flux of identities is Zhuang Zhou's dream of being a butterfly who dreams that he is Zhuangzi.
The most important parts of the "Miscellaneous Chapters" are Yuyan 寓言 and Tianxia 天下. The first explains that it is not possible to grasp the Dao with commonly used terms and words, but only with the help of metaphers or so-called "jug words" (zhiyan 卮言) that are poured out in a different way each day. The chapter "Under Heaven" can be called the first history of Chinese philosophy. The author of this chapters holds that Daoism was the most ancient philosophy, from which the various interpretations of the Dao resulted in the emergence of various schools, like the Confucians, the legalists, sophists, etc. Yet he also stressed that all these schools function like the organs of one body, with their specific strengths and functions.
Zhuangzi compared the worldview of one individual person with the perspective of a frog in a well. He is only able to see a tiny part of Heaven and will therefore at all events give a very distorted statement about the world. All people will therefore highly esteem their own view and despise that of others. This kind of relativism is not unique to Zhuangzi. Many other contemporary philosophers also stress the importance to refrain from the view of absolute terms, like the dialecticians, or Mozi 墨子 who advocated practical experiments instead of theoretical buildings, or even the Confucian philosopher Mengzi 孟子 who stressed to see society and political decisions in a rational way.
Scepticism, "nihilism", "anarchism". In the field of politics, the philosopher Zhuangzi was very skeptical. He was of the opinion that the quest for fame and status was vain and useless. Even in the traditional social order, he saw only restrictions and rules of no eternal, or natural value, like the Confucian core concepts of humankindness and social responsibility, which were wholly irrelevant for an individual searching for the Dao, because this search required to make oneself free of any "artificial" and non-natural restrictions. Zhuangzi even called these two responsibilities "brands of punishment" (jingxing 黥刑). The ancient rulers of the past were able to live in natural conditions, which enabled them to sleep well and to rest without any thoughts and sorrows in their brains. Consequently seen, the Daoists were even hostile towards civilization and progress. Natural conditions were seen as positive, while all man-made or artificial things were interpreted as an obstruction of the Dao. Zhuangzi was in some points very critical to his contemporaries. He often ridicules Confucius and brandishes the rulers of his days in the words that the theft of a braclet is punished by execution, while a man stealing a country is rewarded by the position of a lord. The Confucian view on the importance of learning was also despised by Zhuangzi. He thought that the investigation of daily matters, even rituals and etiquette, led to a mere "small knowledge" (xiaozhi 小知), while the search for the Dao would lead to "true knowledge" (zhenzhi 真知). Yet because the true nature of both, vernacular matters as well as the eternal Way, cannot be penetrated by humans, learning is of not use at all. Instead of active learning, Zhuangzi preferred giving up all search for details and reasons, and following one's own intuition like a small child. In the political sphere, he similarly advocated the destruction of wealth, the discarding of jewels, the abolishion of official seals and of weights and measures. Only then the people would find peace, in a kind of anarchic state.
Man's search for the Dao. The philosophy of Zhuangzi touches many aspects, but basically his theories are derived from the words of the book Daodejing. While this book of Laozi can be seen as a more theoretical framework, the brilliant parables of Zhuangzi help to understand Laozi's theories in a human context. Yet Zhuangzi must be called a philosopher of his own, because he goes far beyond the framework that the Daodejing had constructed. The basic concept of both philosophers is the Way of nature that is characterized by an unswayed flow of things. To behave in conformity with the Dao therefore means, to be like nature and to avoid activism. Zhuangzi was of the opinion that the shape of objects is a result of their shapeless "spirit" (jingshen 精神), which it itself in concordance with nature and the Dao. Bright things, he says, are born out of the dark, and formed objects out of the shapeless. The influence of the Dao on all objects under Heaven is a kind of energy (qi 氣) permeating all things. Because all things and objects are penetrated by this natural energy, they are practically infected by the character of the Dao. The Dao is not a creative power outside of the universe, but with the individuation of things it becomes part of them, even as a productive factor. All objects therefore are in possession of the Dao, even things as small as an ant and as humble as excretas. The Dao can be compared with a large musical instrument that consists of the many objects in the universe. The permanent change of each individual object creates a kind of music. This ceaseless change is a basic status all objects are bound to. The change of life and death are caused by the Dao's own nature to exist without beginning and end, to take shape without creation, to be void and to be replenished, and to transform into a multitude of shapes. None of all these different shapes and statuses can be grasped, and it is consequently of no effect to cling to one single idea or ideology, or to strive for the construction of a detailed code of rules, or even to work hard for one project that might tomorrow be useless because every underlying condition had changed. The change of one object into another can be interpreted in a modern, scientific sense, stating that matter never goes lost but only transforms into something else.
The same consequence of the permanent change is that there are no absolute standards of judgment that might be used. As a shapeless phenomenon the Dao cannot be measured physically. It can likewise not be expressed in words, as already Laozi has said. The short life of a single man will by all means not be long enough to make any correct statement about an eternal thing as the Dao. Consequently, those attempting to search the Dao have to cease pondering about it, in other words, to "fast in the heart" (xinzhai 心齋), where the energy of the Dao concentrates, but also to live a life in austerity and simplicity.
The status of the perfect man is described in a mystical way in which he is unified with Heaven and Earth and is identical to all the ten thousand things in the universe ("the ten thousand things and me are one"). He willingly follows the patterns set by Heaven. What he obtains, has been granted by occasion, and what he loses, goes away in the course of changes. He therefore displays no joy nor regret. The perfect man will be able to comprehend the situation of all things, even the joy of the fishes swimming in a river, as Zhuangzi explained to his friend Hui Shi.

Feng Qi 馮契 (1987). "Zhuang Zhou 莊周 ", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhexue 哲學, vol. 2, pp. 1244-1245. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
Jiang Guozhu 姜國柱 (1993). Zhongguo lidai sixiang shi 中國歷代思想史, vol. 1 Xianqin 先秦, pp. 272-305. Taibei: Wenjin chubanshe.
Liu Gangji 劉綱紀, Feng Qi 馮契 (1987). "Zhuangzi 莊子", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhexue 哲學, vol. 2, pp. 1242-1244. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
Li Shen 李申 (1992). "Zhuangzi 莊子", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史, vol. 3, pp. 1616-1617. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
Xu Hongxing 徐洪興 (1992). "Zhuangzi 莊子", in: Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Zhexue 哲學, p. 76. Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe.

內篇 Neipian Inner Chapters:
1. 逍遙遊 Xiaoyaoyou Enjoyment in untroubled ease
2. 齊物論 Qiwulun The adjustment of controversies
3. 養生主 Yangshengzhu Nourishing the Lord of Life
4. 人間世 Renjian shi Man in the world, associated with other men
5. 德充符 Dechongfu The seal of complete virtue
6. 大宗師 Da zongshi The great and most honoured master
7. 應帝王 Ying diwang The normal course for rulers and kings
外篇 Waipian Outer Chapters:
8. 駢拇 Bingmu Webbed toes
9. 馬蹄 Mati Horses's hoofs
10. 胠篋 Qujia Cutting open satchels
11. 在宥 Zaiyou Letting be, and exercising forbearance
12. 天地 Tiandi Heaven and Earth
13. 天道 Tiandao The Way of Heaven
14. 天運 Tianyun The revolution of Heaven
15. 刻意 Keyi Ingrained ideas
16. 繕性 Shanxing Correcting the nature
17. 秋水 Qiushui The floods of autumn
18. 至樂 Zhile Perfect enjoyment
19. 達生 Dasheng The full understanding of life
20. 山木 Shanmu The tree on the mountain
21. 田子方 Tian Zifang Tian Zifang
22. 知北遊 Zhibeiyou Knowledge rambling in the north
雜篇 Zapian
23. 庚桑楚 Geng Sangchu Gengsang Chu
24. 徐无鬼 Xu Wugui Xu Wugui
25. 則陽 Zeyang Zeyang
26. 外物 Waiwu What comes from without
27. 寓言 Yuyan Metaphoric language
28. 讓王 Rangwang Kings who have wished to resign the throne
29. 盜跖 Dao Zhi Robber Zhi
30. 說劍 Yuejian Delight in the sword-fight
31. 漁父 Yufu The old fisherman
32. 列御寇 Lie Yukou Lie Yukou (i.e. Liezi)
33. 天下 Tianxia Under Heaven
Chinese literature according to the four-category system

July 24, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail