Named for its traditional author, "Master Zhuang" Zhuangzi , the Zhuangzi is—along with the Tao Te Ching —one of the two foundational texts of Taoism , and is generally considered the most important of all Daoist writings.
The Zhuangzi consists 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.
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.
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. Scholars have recognized since at least the Song dynasty — that some parts of the book could not have been written by Zhuangzi himself.
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Portions of the Zhuangzi have been discovered among bamboo slip texts from Warring States period and Han dynasty tombs, particularly at the Shuanggudui and Zhangjiashan Han bamboo texts sites. A large number of Zhuangzi fragments dating from the early Tang dynasty were discovered among the Dunhuang manuscripts in the early 20th century by the expeditions of Hungarian-British explorer Aurel Stein and French Sinologist Paul Pelliot.
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Hundred Schools of Thought. 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 ".
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.
He didn't know that he was Zhuang Zhou.
But he didn't know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that he was Zhuang Zhou. Between Zhuang Zhou and the butterfly there must be some distinction!
This is called the Transformation of Things. The well-known image of Zhuangzi wondering if he was a man who dreamed of being a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming of being a man is so striking that whole dramas have been written on its theme.
If [one] distinguishes them, how can [one] tell if [one] is now dreaming or awake? Another well known Zhuangzi story—"The Death of Wonton"—illustrates the dangers Zhuangzi saw in going against the innate nature of things. Lickety and Split often met each other in the land of Wonton, and Wonton treated them very well. Wanting to repay Wonton's kindness, Lickety and Split said, "All people have seven holes for seeing, hearing, eating, and breathing.
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Wonton alone lacks them. Let's try boring some holes for him.
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. The story of "The Debate on the Joy of Fish" is a well-known anecdote that has been compared to the Socratic dialogue tradition of ancient Greece. Zhuangzi said, "The minnows are darting about free and easy!
This is how fish are happy. How do you know that the fish are happy? How do you know that I do not know that the fish are happy?
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But you obviously are not a fish; so the case is complete that you do not know that the fish are happy. You said, How do you know that the fish are happy; but in asking me this, you already knew that I know it. I know it right here above the Hao.
The exact point made by Zhuangzi in this debate is not entirely clear. Another well-known Zhuangzi story—"Drumming On a Tub and Singing"—describes how Zhuangzi did not view death as something to be feared. When Huizi went to convey his condolences, he found Zhuangzi sitting with his legs sprawled out, pounding on a tub and singing. But pounding on a tub and singing—this is going too far, isn't it?
When she first died, do you think I didn't grieve like anyone else? But I looked back to her beginning and the time before she was born. Not only the time before she was born, but the time before she had a body. Not only the time before she had a body, but the time before she had a spirit. In the midst of the jumble of wonder and mystery a change took place and she had a spirit.
Another change and she had a body. Another change and she was born. Now there's been another change and she's dead. It's just like the progression of the four seasons, spring, summer, fall, winter.
If I were to follow after her bawling and sobbing, it would show that I don't understand anything about fate. So I stopped. Zhuangzi seems to have viewed death as a natural process or transformation, where one gives up one form of existence and assumes another.
How do I know that in hating death I am not like a man who, having left home in his youth, has forgotten the way back? The story of Zhuangzi's death, contained in chapter 32 of the text, exemplifies the colorful lore that grew up around Zhuangzi in the decades after his death, as well as the elaboration of the core philosophical ideas contained in the "inner chapters" that appears in the "outer" and "miscellaneous chapters".
Master Zhuang said: "I take heaven and earth as my inner and outer coffins, the sun and moon as my pair of jade disks, the stars and constellations as my pearls and beads, the ten thousand things as my funerary gifts.
With my burial complete, how is there anything left unprepared? What shall be added to it? You rob the one and give to the other—how skewed would that be? The stories and anecdotes of the Zhuangzi embody a unique set of principles and attitudes, including living one's life with natural spontaneity, uniting one's inner self with the cosmic "Way" Dao , keeping oneself distant from politics and social obligations, accepting death as a natural transformation, showing appreciation and praise for things others view as useless or aimless, and stridently rejecting social values and conventional reasoning.
The Zhuangzi interprets the universe as a thing that changes spontaneously without a conscious God or will driving it, and argues that humans can achieve ultimate happiness by living equally spontaneously. 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.
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.
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. After the collapse of the Han dynasty in AD and the subsequent chaos of the Three Kingdoms period , both the Zhuangzi and Zhuang Zhou began to rise in popularity and acclaim. The Zhuangzi has been called "the most important of all the Daoist writings",  and its "inner chapters" embody the core ideas of philosophical Daoism.
The Zhuangzi was very influential in the adaptation of Buddhism to Chinese culture after Buddhism was first brought to China from India in the 1st century AD.
The Zhuangzi retained prominence throughout Chinese history as the preeminent example of core Daoist philosophical ideals. The 17th century scholar Gu Yanwu lamented his government's flippant use of the Zhuangzi on the imperial examination essays as representative of a decline in traditional morals at the end of the Ming dynasty — Outside of China and the traditional " Sinosphere ", the Zhuangzi lags far behind the Tao Te Ching in general popularity, and is rarely known by non-scholars.
In , the British translator and Sinologist Arthur Waley described the Zhuangzi as "one of the most entertaining as well as one of the profoundest books in the world. 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.
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More info on Zhuangzi
Aryadeva and Nagarjuna Adi Shankara. Laozi and Confucius. Yi Hwang Yi I. See also: Dream argument. Goldin, Paul R. In Mair, Victor H. The Columbia History of Chinese Literature.
New York: Columbia University Press. Graham, A. London: George Allen and Unwin. Idema, Wilt ; Haft, Lloyd A Guide to Chinese Literature. Idema, Wilt In Chang, Kang-i Sun ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kern, Martin In Owen, Stephen ed. Knechtges, David R. In Knechtges, David R. Leiden: Brill. Li, Wai-yee Mair, Victor H.
New York: Bantam Books. Google Books Mair, Victor H.
In Nienhauser, William ed.