Texts of Taoism
Chuang Tzu

Introductory Notes


It is observed by the commentator Kwei Kän-khüan that one idea runs through this Book:—that the most sage and wise men have ministered to theft and robbery, and that, if there were an end of sageness and wisdom, the world would be at rest. Between it and the previous Book there is a general agreement in argument and object, but in this the author expresses himself with greater vehemence, and almost goes to excess in his denunciation of the institutions of the sages.

The reader will agree with these accounts of the Book. Kwang-dze at times becomes weak in his attempts to establish his points. To my mind the most interesting portions of this Book and the last one are the full statements which we have in them of the happy state of men when the Tâo maintained its undisputed sway in the world, and the names of many of the early Tâoistic sovereigns. How can we suppose that anything would be gained by a return to the condition of primitive innocence and simplicity? The antagonism between Tâoism and Confucianism comes out in this Book very decidedly.

The title of the Book is taken from two characters in the first clause of the first paragraph.

Book X
Part II Section III

Khu Khieh, or 'Cutting open Satchels1.'

1. In taking precautions against thieves who cut open satchels, search bags, and break open boxes, people are sure to cord and fasten them well, and to employ strong bonds and clasps; and in this they are ordinarily said to show their wisdom. When a great thief comes, however, he shoulders the box, lifts up the satchel, carries off the bag, and runs away with them, afraid only that the cords, bonds, and clasps may not be secure; and in this case what was called the wisdom (of the owners) proves to be nothing but a collecting of the things for the great thief. Let me try and set this matter forth. Do not those who are vulgarly called wise prove to be collectors for the great thieves? And do not those who are called sages prove to be but guardians in the interest of the great thieves?

How do I know that the case is so? Formerly, in the state of Khi, the neighbouring towns could see one another; their cocks and dogs never ceased to answer the crowing and barking of other cocks and dogs (between them). The nets were set (in the water and on the land); and the ploughs and hoes were employed over more than a space of two thousand li square. All within its four boundaries, the establishment of the ancestral temples and of the altars of the land and grain, and the ordering of the hamlets and houses, and of every corner in the districts, large, medium, and small, were in all particulars according to the rules of the sages2. So it was; but yet one morning, Thien Khang Tzu3 killed the ruler of Khi, and stole his state. And was it only the state that he stole? Along with it he stole also the regulations of the sages and wise men (observed in it). And so, though he got the name of being a thief and a robber, yet he himself continued to live as securely as Yao and Shun had done. Small states did not dare to find fault with him; great states did not dare to take him off; for twelve generations (his descendants) have possessed the state of Khi4. Thus do we not have a case in which not only did (the party) steal the state of Khi, but at the same time the regulations of its sages and wise men, which thereby served to guard the person of him, thief and robber as he was?

2. Let me try to set forth this subject (still further). Have not there been among those vulgarly styled the wisest, such as have collected (their wealth) for the great chief? and among those styled the most sage such as have guarded it for him? How do I know that it has been so? Formerly, Lung-fang5 was beheaded; Pi-kan6 had his heart torn out; Khang Hung7 was ripped open; and Dze-hsu8 was reduced to pulp (in the Kiang). Worthy as those four men were, they did not escape such dreadful deaths. The followers of the robber Kih9 asked him, saying, 'Has the robber also any method or principle (in his proceedings)?' He replied, 'What profession is there which has not its principles? That the robber in his recklessness comes to the conclusion that there are valuable deposits in an apartment shows his sageness; that he is the first to enter it shows his bravery; that he is the last to quit it shows his righteousness; that he knows whether (the robbery) may be attempted or not shows his wisdom; and that he makes an equal division of the plunder shows his benevolence. Without all these five qualities no one in the world has ever attained to become a great robber.' Looking at the subject in this way, we see that good men do not arise without having the principles of the sages, and that Kih could not have pursued his course without the same principles. But the good men in the world are few, and those who are not good are many;—it follows that the sages benefit the world in a few instances and injure it in many. Hence it is that we have the sayings, 'When the lips are gone the teeth are cold10;' 'The poor wine of Lu gave occasion to the siege of Han-tan11;' 'When sages are born great robbers arise12.' When the stream is dried, the valley is empty; when the mound is levelled, the deep pool (beside it) is filled up. When the sages have died, the great robbers will not arise; the world would be at peace, and there would be no more troubles. While the sagely men have not died, great robbers will not cease to appear. The more right that is attached to (the views of) the sagely men for the government of the world, the more advantage will accrue to (such men as) the robber Kih. If we make for men pecks and bushels to measure (their wares), even by means of those pecks and bushels should we be teaching them to steal13; if we make for them weights and steelyards to weigh (their wares), even by means of those weights and steelyards shall we be teaching them to steal. If we make for them tallies and seals to secure their good faith, even by means of those tallies and seals shall we be teaching them to steal. If we make for them benevolence and righteousness to make their doings correct, even by means of benevolence and righteousness shall we be teaching them to steal. How do I know that it is so? Here is one who steals a hook (for his girdle);—he is put to death for it: here is another who steals a state;—he becomes its prince. But it is at the gates of the princes that we find benevolence and righteousness (most strongly) professed;—is not this stealing benevolence and righteousness, sageness and wisdom? Thus they hasten to become great robbers, carry off princedoms, and steal benevolence and righteousness, with all the gains springing from the use of pecks and bushels, weights and steelyards, tallies and seals:—even the rewards of carriages and coronets have no power to influence (to a different course), and the terrors of the axe have no power to restrain in such cases. The giving of so great gain to robbers (like) Kih, and making it impossible to restrain them;—this is the error committed by the sages.

3. In accordance with this it is said, 'Fish should not be taken from (the protection of) the deep waters; the agencies for the profit of a state should not be shown to men14.' But those sages (and their teachings) are the agencies for the profit of the world, and should not be exhibited to it. Therefore if an end were put to sageness and wisdom put away, the great robbers would cease to arise. If jade were put away and pearls broken to bits, the small thieves would not appear. If tallies were burned and seals broken in pieces, the people would become simple and unsophisticated. If pecks were destroyed and steelyards snapped in two, the people would have no wrangling. If the rules of the sages were entirely set aside in the world, a beginning might be made of reasoning with the people. If the six musical accords were reduced to a state of utter confusion, organs and lutes all burned, and the ears of the (musicians like the) blind Khwang15 stopped up, all men would begin to possess and employ their (natural) power of hearing. If elegant ornaments were abolished, the five embellishing colours disused, and the eyes of (men like) Li Ku16 glued up, all men would begin to possess and employ their (natural) power of vision. If the hook and line were destroyed, the compass and square thrown away, and the fingers of men (like) the artful Khui17 smashed, all men would begin to possess and employ their (natural) skill;—as it is said, 'The greatest art is like stupidity18.' If conduct such as that of Za(Shan)19 and Shih (Khiu)20 were discarded, the mouths of Yang (Ku)21 and Mo (Ti) gagged, and benevolence and righteousness seized and thrown aside, the virtue of all men would begin to display its mysterious excellence. When men possessed and employed their (natural) power of vision, there would be no distortion in the world. When they possessed and employed their (natural) power of hearing, there would be no distractions in the world. When they possessed and employed their (natural) faculty of knowledge, there would be no delusions in the world. When they possessed and employed their (natural) virtue, there would be no depravity in the world. Men like Zang (Shan), Shih (Khiu), Yang (Ku), Mo (Ti), Shih Khwang (the musician), the artist Khui, and Li Ku, all display their qualities outwardly, and set the world in a blaze (of admiration) and confound it;—a method which is of no use!

4. Are you, Sir, unacquainted with the age of perfect virtue? Anciently there were Yung-khang, Ta-thing, Po-hwang, Kang-yang, Li-lu, Li-khu, Hsien-yuan, Ho-hsu, Zun-lu, Ku-yung, Fu-hsi, and Shan-nang22. In their times the people made knots on cords in carrying on their affairs. They thought their (simple) food pleasant, and their (plain) clothing beautiful. They were happy in their (simple) manners, and felt at rest in their (poor) dwellings. (The people of) neighbouring states might be able to descry one another; the voices of their cocks and dogs might be heard (all the way) from one to the other; they might not die till they were old; and yet all their life they would have no communication together23. In those times perfect good order prevailed.

Now-a-days, however, such is the state of things that you shall see the people stretching out their necks, and standing on tiptoe, while they say, 'In such and such a place there is a wise and able man.' Then they carry with them whatever dry provisions they may have left, and hurry towards it, abandoning their parents in their homes, and neglecting the service of their rulers abroad. Their footsteps may be traced in lines from one state to another, and the ruts of their chariot-wheels also for more than a thousand li. This is owing to the error of their superiors in their (inordinate) fondness for knowledge. When those superiors do really love knowledge, but do not follow the (proper) course, the whole world is thrown into great confusion.

How do I know that the case is so? The knowledge shown in the (making of) bows, cross-bows, hand-nets, stringed arrows, and contrivances with springs is great, but the birds are troubled by them above; the knowledge shown in the hooks, baits, various kinds of nets, and bamboo traps is great, but the fishes are disturbed by them in the waters; the knowledge shown in the arrangements for setting nets, and the nets and snares themselves, is great, but the animals are disturbed by them in the marshy grounds. (So), the versatility shown in artful deceptions becoming more and more pernicious, in ingenious discussions as to what is hard and what is white, and in attempts to disperse the dust and reconcile different views, is great, but the common people are perplexed by all the sophistry. Hence there is great disorder continually in the world, and the guilt of it is due to that fondness for knowledge. Thus it is that all men know to seek for the knowledge that they have not attained to; and do not know to seek for that which they already have (in themselves); and that they know to condemn what they do not approve (in others), and do not know to condemn what they have allowed in themselves;—it is this which occasions the great confusion and disorder. It is just as if, above, the brightness of the sun and moon were darkened; as if, beneath, the productive vigour of the hills and streams were dried up; and as if, between, the operation of the four seasons were brought to an end:—in which case there would not be a single weak and wriggling insect, nor any plant that grows up, which would not lose its proper nature. Great indeed is the disorder produced in the world by the love of knowledge. From the time of the three dynasties downwards it has been so. The plain and honest-minded people are neglected, and the plausible representations of restless spirits received with pleasure; the quiet and unexciting method of non-action is put away, and pleasure taken in ideas garrulously expressed. It is this garrulity of speech which puts the world in disorder.


back 1 See pp. 141, 142.

back 2 The meaning is plain; but to introduce the various geographical terms would make the translation cumbrous. The concluding ### is perplexing.

back 3 This event is mentioned in the Analects, XIV, xxii, where the perpetrator of the murder is called Khan Khang Tzu, and Khan Hang. Hang was his name, and Khang the honorary title given to him after his death. The family to which he belonged had originally taken refuge in Khi from the state of Khan in B. C. 672. Why and when its chiefs adopted the surname Thien instead of Khan is not well known. The murder took place in 482. Hang did not immediately usurp the marquisate; but he and his successors disposed of it at their pleasure among the representatives of the old House till 386, when Thien Ho was recognised by the king of Kau as the marquis; and his next successor but one took the title of king.

back 4 The kingdom of Khi came to an end in B. C. 221, the first year of the dynasty of Khin, after it had lasted through five reigns. How Chuang Tzu made out his 'twelve generations' we cannot tell. There may be an interpolation in his text made in the time of Khin, or subsequently.

back 5 See on Book IV, par. 1.

back 6 See on Book IV, par. 1.

back 7 A historiographer of Kau, with whom Confucius is said to have studied music. He was weakly and unjustly put to death, as here described by king Kang, in B. C. 492.

back 8 Wu Dze-hsu, the hero of revenge, who fled from Khu to Wu, which he long served. He was driven at last to commit suicide, and his body was then put into a leathern wine-sack, and thrown into the Kiang near the present Su-kau;—about B. C. 475.

back 9 See on Book VIII, par. 4.

back 10 This is an instance of cause and effect naturally happening.

back 11 At a meeting of the princes, presided over by king Hsuan of Khu (B. C. 369-340), the ruler of Lu brought very poor wine for the king, which was presented to him as wine of Kao, in consequence of a grudge against that kingdom by his officer of wines. In consequence of this king Hsuan ordered siege to be laid to Han-tan, the capital of Kao. This is an instance of cause and effect occurring irregularly.

back 12 There seems to be no connexion of cause and effect here; but Chuang Tzu goes on in his own way to make out that there is such a connexion.

back 13 The verb 'to steal' is here used transitively, and with a hiphil force.

back 14 See the Tao Teh King, ch. 36. Our author's use of it throws light on its meaning.

back 15 Note 1, p. 186.

back 16 Note 2, p. 269.

back 17 A skilful maker of arrows of the time of Yao,—the Kung-kung of the Shu, II, i, 21; V, xxii, 19.

back 18 The Tao Teh King, ch. 45.

back 19 Note 6, p. 269.

back 20 Note 7, p. 269.

back 21 Note 5, p. 261.

back 22 Of the twelve names mentioned here the reader is probably familiar with those of Fu-hsi and Shan-nang, the first and second of the Ti in chronology. Hsien-yuan is another name for Hwang-Ti, the third of them. Ku-yung was, perhaps, a minister of Hwang-Ti. Ho-hsu has occurred before in Book IV. Of the other seven, five occur among the fifteen sovereigns placed in the 'Compendium {footnote p. 288} of History' between Fu-hsi and Shan-nang. The remaining two may be found, I suppose, in the Lu Shih of Lo Pi.

back 23 See the eightieth chapter of the Tao Teh King.