Better known as 'Master Zhuang', Zhuangzi (Chinese: 庄子) is the most significant of China’s early interpreters of Taoism, whose work (Zhuangzi) is considered one of the definitive texts of Daoism and is thought to be more comprehensive than the Daodejing.Zhuangzi, (Chinese: “Master Zhuang”,庄子) Wade-Giles romanization Chuang-tzu, original name Zhuang Zhou (born c. 369, Meng [now Shangqiu, Henan province], China—died 286 bce), the most significant of China’s early interpreters of Taoism, whose work (Zhuangzi) is considered one of the definitive texts of Daoism and is thought to be more comprehensive than the Daodejing, which is attributed to Laozi, the first philosopher of Daoism. Zhuangzi’s teachings also exerted a great influence on the development of Chinese Buddhism and had considerable effect on Chinese landscape painting and poetry.Zhuangzi is, after Laozi (老子), one of the earliest thinkers to contribute to the philosophy that has come to be known as Daoism (Daojia), or school of the Way. According to traditional dating, he was an almost exact contemporary of the Confucian thinker Mencius, but there appears to have been little to no communication between them. He is ranked among the greatest of literary and philosophical giants that China has produced. His style is complex—mythical, poetic, narrative, humorous, indirect, and polysemic.Zhuangzi espoused a holistic philosophy of life, encouraging disengagement from the artificialities of socialization, and cultivation of our natural “ancestral” potencies and skills, in order to live a simple and natural, but full and flourishing life. He was critical of our ordinary categorizations and evaluations, noting the multiplicity of different modes of understanding between different creatures, cultures, and philosophical schools, and the lack of an independent means of making a comparative evaluation. He advocated a mode of understanding that is not committed to a fixed system, but is fluid and flexible, and that maintains a provisional, pragmatic attitude towards the applicability of these categories and evaluations.The Zhuangzi text through which we know his work was the result of the editing and arrangement of the Jin dynasty thinker and commentator Guo Xiang (Kuo Hsiang, d. 312 CE), who reduced what had been a work in fifty-two chapters to the current edition of thirty-three chapters, excising material that he considered to be spurious. Zhuangzi’s version of Daoist philosophy was highly influential in the reception, interpretation, and transformation of Buddhism in China.
LifeIn spite of his importance, details of Zhuangzi’s life, apart from the many anecdotes about him in the Zhuangzi itself, are unknown. The “Grand Historian” of the Han dynasty, Sima Qian (died c. 87 bce), incorporated in his biographical sketch of Zhuangzi only the most meagre information. It indicates that Zhuangzi was a native of the state of Meng, that his personal name was Zhou, and that he was a minor official at Qiyuan in his home state. He lived during the reign of Prince Wei of Chu (died 327 bce) and was therefore a contemporary of , an eminent Confucian scholar known as China’s “Second Sage.” According to Sima Qian, Zhuangzi’s teachings were drawn primarily from the sayings of Laozi, but his perspective was much broader. He used his literary and philosophical skills to refute the Confucians and Mohists (followers of Mozi, who advocated “concern for everyone”).
PhilosophyZhuangzi taught that what can be known or said of the Dao is not the Dao. It has neither initial beginning nor final end, nor limitations or demarcations. Life is the ongoing transformation of the Dao, in which there is no better or worse, no good or evil. Things should be allowed to follow their own course, and men should not value one situation over another. A truly virtuous man is free from the bondage of circumstance, personal attachments, tradition, and the need to reform his world. Zhuangzi declined an offer to be prime minister of the state of Chu because he did not want the entanglements of a court career.In general, Zhuangzi's philosophy is skeptical, arguing that life is limited and knowledge to be gained is unlimited. To use the limited to pursue the unlimited, he said, was foolish. Our language and cognition in general presuppose a dao to which each of us is committed by our separate past—our paths. Consequently, we should be aware that our most carefully considered conclusions might seem misguided had we experienced a different past. "Our heart-minds are completed along with our bodies." Natural dispositions to behavior combine with acquired ones—including dispositions to use names of things, to approve/disapprove based on those names and to act in accordance to the embodied standards. Thinking about and choosing our next step down our dao or path is conditioned by this unique set of natural acquisitions.Zhuangzi's thought can also be considered a precursor of relativism in systems of value. His relativism even leads him to doubt the basis of pragmatic arguments (that a course of action preserves our lives) since this presupposes that life is good and death bad. In the fourth section of "The Great Happiness" (至樂 zhìlè, chapter 18), Zhuangzi expresses pity to a skull he sees lying at the side of the road. Zhuangzi laments that the skull is now dead, but the skull retorts, "How do you know it's bad to be dead?"Another example about two famous courtesans points out that there is no universally objective standard for beauty. This is taken from Chapter 2 (齊物論 qí wù lùn) "On Arranging Things", or "Discussion of Setting Things Right" or, in Burton Watson's translation, "Discussion on Making All Things Equal".
Men claim that Mao [Qiang] and Lady Li were beautiful, but if fish saw them they would dive to the bottom of the stream; if birds saw them they would fly away, and if deer saw them they would break into a run. Of these four, who knows how to fix the standard of beauty in the world? (2, tr. Watson 1968:46)However, this subjectivism is balanced by a kind of sensitive holism in the famous section called "The Happiness of Fish" (魚之樂, yúzhīlè).
Zhuangzi and Huizi were strolling along the dam of the Hao Waterfall when Zhuangzi said, "See how the minnows come out and dart around where they please! That's what fish really enjoy!"Huizi said, "You're not a fish — how do you know what fish enjoy?"Zhuangzi said, "You're not me, so how do you know I don't know what fish enjoy?"Huizi said, "I'm not you, so I certainly don't know what you know. On the other hand, you're certainly not a fish — so that still proves you don't know what fish enjoy!"Zhuangzi said, "Let's go back to your original question, please. You asked me how I know what fish enjoy — so you already knew I knew it when you asked the question. I know it by standing here beside the Hao." (17, tr. Watson 1968:188-9, romanization changed to pinyin)The traditional interpretation of this "Daoist staple", writes Chad Hansen (2003:145), is a "humorous miscommunication between a mystic and a logician".
The Zhuangzi TextThe currently extant text known as the Zhuangzi is the result of the editing and arrangement of the Jin dynasty thinker and commentator Guo Xiang (Kuo Hsiang, d. 312 CE). He reduced what was then a work in fifty-two chapters to the current edition of thirty-three chapters, excising material that he considered to be spurious. His commentary on the text provides an interpretation that has been highly influential over the subsequent centuries.Guo Xiang divided the thirty-three chapters into three collections, known as the Inner Chapters (Neipian), the Outer Chapters (Waipian), and the Miscellaneous Chapters (Zapian). The Inner Chapters are the first seven chapters and are considered to be the work of Zhuangzi himself. The Outer Chapters are chapters 8 to 22, and the Miscellaneous Chapters are chapters 23 to 33. The Outer and Miscellaneous Chapters can be further subdivided. Much modern research has been devoted to a sub-classification of these chapters according to philosophical school. Kuan Feng made some scholarly breakthroughs early in the twentieth century; A. C. Graham continued his classification in the tradition of Kuan Feng. Harold Roth has also taken up a consideration of this issue and come up with some very interesting results. What follows is a simplified version of the results of the research of Liu Xiaogan.According to Liu, chapters 17 to 27 and 32 can be considered to be the work of a school of Zhuangzi’s followers, what he calls the Shu Zhuang Pai, or the “Transmitter” school. Graham, following Kuan Feng, considers chapters 22 to 27 and 32 not to be coherent chapters, but merely random “ragbag” collections of fragments. Liu considers chapters 8 to 10, chapters 28 to 31, and the first part of chapter 11 to be from a school of Anarchists whose philosophy is closely related to that of Laozi. Graham, again following in the tradition of Kuan Feng, sees these as two separate but related schools: the first he attributes to a writer he calls the “Primitivist,” the second he considers to be a school of followers of Yang Zhu. Liu classifies chapters 12 to 16, chapter 33, and the first part of chapter 11 as belonging to the Huang-Lao school. (Graham refers to the supposed author of these chapters as the “Syncretist.”) Graham finds the classification of chapter 16 to be problematic.In the following chart the further to the right the chapters are listed, the further away they are from the central ideas of the Inner Chapters:
|The Inner Chapters ||School of Zhuang ||Anarchist chapters ||Huang-Lao school |
| || || || |
|1. Wandering Beyond ||17. Autumn Floods ||8. Webbed Toes ||11. Let it Be, Leave it Alone |
|2. Discussion on Smoothing Things Out ||18. Utmost Happiness ||9. Horse’s Hooves ||12. Heaven and Earth |
|3. The Principle of Nurturing Life ||19. Mastering Life ||10. Rifling Trunks ||13. The Way of Heaven |
|4. In the Human Realm ||20. The Mountain Tree ||11. Let it Be, Leave it Alone ||14. The Turning of Heaven |
|5. Signs of Abundant Potency ||21. Tian Zi Fang || ||15. Constrained in Will |
|6. The Vast Ancestral Teacher ||22. Knowledge Wandered North ||(16?. Mending the Inborn Nature) ||(16?. Mending the Inborn Nature) |
|7. Responding to Emperors and Kings ||23. Geng Sang Chu || || |
| ||24. Xu Wugui ||28. Yielding the Throne ||33. The World |
| ||25. Ze Yang ||29. Robber Zhi || |
| ||26. External Things ||30. Discoursing on Swords || |
| ||27. Imputed Words ||31. The Old Fisherman || |
| ||32. Lie Yukou || |
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