Texts of Taoism
Chuang Tzu

Introductory Notes


The first of the three characters in this title renders the translation of it somewhat perplexing. Ying has different meanings according as it is read in the first tone or in the third. In the first tone it is the symbol of what is right, or should be; in the third tone of answering or responding to. 1 prefer to take it here in the first tone. As Kwo, Hsiang says, 'One who is free from mind or purpose of his own, and loves men to become transformed of themselves, is fit to be a Ruler or a King,' and as Zhui Kwan, another early commentator, says, 'He whose teaching is that which is without words, and makes men in the world act as if they were oxen or horses, is fit to be a Ruler or a King.' This then is the object of the Book—to describe that government which exhibits the Tâo equally in the rulers and the ruled, the world of men all happy and good without purpose or effort.

It consists of seven paragraphs. The first shows us the model ruler in him of the line of Thâi, whom I have not succeeded in identifying. The second shows us men under such a rule, uncontrolled and safe like the bird that flies high beyond the reach of the archer, and the mouse secure in its deep hole from its pursuers. The teacher in this portion is Khieh-yü, known in the Confucian school as 'the madman of Khû,' and he delivers his lesson in opposition to the heresy of a Zäh-kung Shih, or 'Noon Beginning.' In the third paragraph the speakers are 'a nameless man,' and a Thien Kän, or 'Heaven Root.' In the fourth paragraph Lâo-dze himself appears upon the stage, and lectures a Yang Dze-kü, the Yang Kû of Mencius. He concludes by saying that 'where the intelligent kings took their stand could not be fathomed, and they found their enjoyment in (the realm of) nonentity.'

The fifth paragraph is longer, and tells us of the defeat of a wizard, a physiognomist in Käng, by Hû-dze, the master of the philosopher Lieh-dze, who is thereby delivered from the glamour which the cheat was throwing round him. I confess to not being able to understand the various processes by which Hû-dze foils the wizard and makes him run away. The whole story is told, and at greater length, in the second book of the collection ascribed to Lieh-dze, and the curious student may like to look at the translation of that work by Mr. Ernst Faber (Der Naturalismus bei den alten Chinesen sowohl nach der Seite des Pantheismus als des Sensualismus, oder die Sämmtlichen Werke des Philosophen Licius, 1877). The effect of the wizard's defeat on Lieh-dze was great. He returned in great humility to his house, and did not go out of it for three years. He did the cooking for his wife, and fed the pigs as if he were feeding men. He returned to pure simplicity, and therein continued to the end of his life. But I do not see the connexion between this narrative and the government of the Rulers and Kings.

The sixth paragraph is a homily by our author himself on 'non-action.' It contains a good simile, comparing the mind of the perfect man to a mirror, which reflects faithfully what comes before it, but does not retain any image of it, when the mind is gone.

The last paragraph is an ingenious and interesting allegory relating how the gods of the southern and northern seas brought Chaos to an end by boring holes in him. Thereby they destroyed the primal simplicity, and according to Tâoism did Chaos an injury! On the whole I do not think that this Book, with which the more finished essays of Kwang-dze come to an end, is so successful as those that precede it.

Book VII
Part I Section VII

Ying Ti Wang1, or 'The Normal Course for Rulers and Kings1.'

1. Nieh Khueh2 put four questions to Wang I2, not one of which did he know (how to answer). On this Nieh Khueh leaped up, and in great delight walked away and informed Phu-i Tzu3 of it, who said to him, 'Do you (only) now know it? He of the line of Yu4 was not equal to him of the line of Thai5. He of Yu still kept in himself (the idea of) benevolence by which to constrain (the submission of) men; and he did win men, but he had not begun to proceed by what did not belong to him as a man. He of the line of Thai would sleep tranquilly, and awake in contented simplicity. He would consider himself now (merely) as a horse, and now (merely) as an ox6. His knowledge was real and untroubled by doubts; and his virtue was very true:—he had not begun to proceed by what belonged to him as a man.

2. Kien Wu7 went to see the mad (recluse), Khieh-yu8, who said to him, 'What did Zah-kung Shih9 tell you?' The reply was, 'He told me that when rulers gave forth their regulations according to their own views and enacted righteous measures, no one would venture not to obey them, and all would be transformed.' Khieh-yd said, 'That is but the hypocrisy of virtue. For the right ordering of the world it would be like trying to wade through the sea and dig through the Ho, or employing a musquito to carry a mountain on its back. And when a sage is governing, does he govern men's outward actions? He is (himself) correct, and so (his government) goes on;—this is the simple and certain way by which he secures the success of his affairs. Think of the bird which flies high, to avoid being hurt by the dart on the string of the archer, and the little mouse which makes its hole deep under Shan-khiu10 to avoid the danger of being smoked or dug out;—are (rulers) less knowing than these two little creatures?'

3. Thien Kan11, rambling on the south of (mount) Yin12, came to the neighbourhood of the Liao-water. Happening there to meet with the man whose name is not known13, he put a question to him, saying, 'I beg to ask what should be done14 in order to (carry on) the government of the world.' The nameless man said, 'Go away; you are a rude borderer. Why do you put to me a question for which you are unprepared15? I would simply play the part of the Maker of (all) things16. When wearied, I would mount on the bird of the light and empty air, proceed beyond the six cardinal points, and wander in the region of nonentity, to dwell in the wilderness of desert space. What method have you, moreover, for the government of the world that you (thus) agitate my mind?' (Thien Kan), however, again asked the question, and the nameless man said, 'Let your mind find its enjoyment in pure simplicity; blend yourself with (the primary) ether in idle indifference; allow all things to take their natural course; and admit no personal or selfish consideration:—do this and the world will be governed.'

4. Yang Dze-ku17, having an interview with Lao Tan, said to him, 'Here is a man, alert and vigorous in responding to all matters18, clearsighted and widely intelligent, and an unwearied student of the Tao;—can he be compared to one of the intelligent kings?' The reply was, 'Such a man is to one of the intelligent kings but as the bustling underling of a court who toils his body and distresses his mind with his various contrivances19. And moreover, it is the beauty of the skins of the tiger and leopard which makes men hunt them; the agility of the monkey, or (the sagacity of) the dog that catches the yak, which make men lead them in strings; but can one similarly endowed be compared to the intelligent kings?'

Yang dze-ku looked discomposed and said, 'I venture to ask you what the government of the intelligent kings is.' Lao Tan replied, 'In the governing of the intelligent kings, their services overspread all under the sky, but they did not seem to consider it as proceeding from themselves; their transforming influence reached to all things, but the people did not refer it to them with hope. No one could tell the name of their agency, but they made men and things be joyful in themselves. Where they took their stand could not be fathomed, and they found their enjoyment in (the realm of) nonentity.'

5. In Kang there was a mysterious wizard20 called Ki-hsien. He knew all about the deaths and births of men, their preservation and ruin, their misery and happiness, and whether their lives would be long or short, foretelling the year, the month, the decade and the day like a spirit. When the people of Kang saw him, they all ran out of his way. Lieh Tzu went to see him, and was fascinated21 by him. Returning, he told Hu Tzu of his interview, and said, 'I considered your doctrine, my master, to be perfect, but I have found another which is superior to it.' Hu Tzu22 replied, 'I have communicated to you but the outward letter of my doctrine, and have not communicated its reality and spirit; and do you think that you are in possession of it? However many hens there be, if there be not the cock among them, how should they lay (real) eggs23? When you confront the world with your doctrine, you are sure to show in your countenance (all that is in your mind)24, and so enable (this) man to succeed in interpreting your physiognomy. Try and come to me with him, that I may show myself to him.'

On the morrow, accordingly, Lieh Tzu came with the man and saw Ha Tzu. When they went out, the wizard said, 'Alas! your master is a dead man. He will not live;—not for ten days more! I saw something strange about him;—I saw the ashes (of his life) all slaked with water!' When Lieh Tzu reentered, he wept till the front of his jacket was wet with his tears, and told Hu Tzu what the man had said. Hu Tzu said, 'I showed myself to him with the forms of (vegetation beneath) the earth. There were the sprouts indeed, but without (any appearance of) growth or regularity:—he seemed to see me with the springs of my (vital) power closed up. Try and come to me with him again.'

Next day, accordingly, Lieh Tzu brought the man again and saw Hu Tzu. When they went out, the man said, 'It is a fortunate thing for your master that he met with me. He will get better; he has all the signs of living! I saw the balance (of the springs of life) that had been stopped (inclining in his favour).' Lieh Tzu went in, and reported these words to his master, who said, 'I showed myself to him after the pattern of the earth (beneath the) sky. Neither semblance nor reality entered (into my exhibition), but the springs (of life) were issuing from beneath my feet;—he seemed to see me with the springs of vigorous action in full play. Try and come with him again.'

Next day Lieh Tzu came with the man again, and again saw Hu Tzu with him. When they went out, the wizard said, 'Your master is never the same. I cannot understand his physiognomy. Let him try to steady himself, and I will again view him.' Lieh Tzu went in and reported this to Hu Tzu, who said, 'This time I showed myself to him after the pattern of the grand harmony (of the two elemental forces), with the superiority inclining to neither. He seemed to see me with the springs of (vital) power in equal balance. Where the water wheels about from (the movements of) a dugong25, there is an abyss; where it does so from the arresting (of its course), there is an abyss; where it does so, and the water keeps flowing on, there is an abyss. There are nine abysses with their several names, and I have only exhibited three of them. Try and come with him again.'

Next day they came, and they again saw Hu Tzu. But before he had settled himself in his position, the wizard lost himself and ran away. 'Pursue him,' said Hu Tzu, and Lieh Tzu did so, but could not come up with him. He returned, and told Hu Tzu, saying, 'There is an end of him; he is lost; I could not find him.' Hu Tzu rejoined, 'I was showing him myself after the pattern of what was before I began to come from my author. I confronted him with pure vacancy, and an easy indifference. He did not know what I meant to represent. Now he thought it was the idea of exhausted strength, and now that of an onward flow, and therefore he ran away.

After this, Lieh Tzu considered that he had not yet begun to learn (his master's doctrine). He returned to his house, and for three years did not go out. He did the cooking for his wife. He fed the pigs as if he were feeding men. He took no part or interest in occurring affairs. He put away the carving and sculpture about him, and returned to pure simplicity. Like a clod of earth he stood there in his bodily presence. Amid all distractions he was (silent) and shut up in himself. And in this way he continued to the end of his life.

6. Non-action (makes its exemplifier) the lord of all fame; non-action (serves him as) the treasury of all plans; non-action (fits him for) the burden of all offices; non-action (makes him) the lord of all wisdom26. The range of his action is inexhaustible, but there is nowhere any trace of his presence. He fulfils all that he has received from Heaven27, but he does not see that he was the recipient of anything. A pure vacancy (of all purpose) is what characterises him. When the perfect man employs his mind, it is a mirror. It conducts nothing and anticipates nothing; it responds to (what is before it), but does not retain it. Thus he is able to deal successfully with all things, and injures none.

7. The Ruler28 of the Southern Ocean was Shu29, the Ruler of the Northern Ocean was Hu30, and the Ruler of the Centre was Chaos. Shu and Hu were continually meeting in the land of Chaos, who treated them very well. They consulted together how they might repay his kindness, and said, 'Men all have seven orifices for the purpose of seeing, hearing, eating, and breathing, while this (poor) Ruler alone has not one. Let us try and make them for him.' Accordingly they dug one orifice in him every day; and at the end of seven days Chaos died31.


back 1 See pp. 136-138.

back 2 See p. 190, note 5.

back 3 An ancient Taoist, of the time of Shun. So, Hwang-fu Mi, who adds that Shun served him as his master when he was eight years old. I suppose the name indicates that his clothes were made of rushes.

back 4 Shun. See p. 245, note 3.

back 5 An ancient sovereign, earlier, no doubt, than Fu-hsi; but nothing is known of him.

back 6 He thought nothing about his being, as a man, superior to the lower creatures. Shun in governing employed his acquired knowledge; Thai had not begun to do so.

back 7 See p. 170, note 2.

back 8 See p. 170, note 3.

back 9 A name;—'a worthy,' it is said.

back 10 Name of some hill, or height.

back 11 A name ('Root of the sky'), but probably mythical. There is a star so called.

back 12 Probably the name of a mountain, though this meaning of Yin is not given in the dictionary.

back 13 Or, 'a nameless man.' We cannot tell whether Chuang Tzu had any particular Being, so named, in view or not.

back 14 The objectionable point in the question is the supposition that doing' was necessary in the case.

back 15 Or, 'I am unprepared! But as Thien Kan repeats the question, it seems better to supply the second pronoun. He had thought on the subject.

back 16 See the same phraseology in VI, par. 11. What follows is merely our author's way of describing the non-action of the Tao.

back 17 The Yang Ku, whom Mencius attacked so fiercely. He was, perhaps, a contemporary and disciple of Lao Tzu.

back 18 The ### may be taken as = ### in which case we must understand a ### as its object; or as = ###, an echo,' indicating the quickness of the man's response to things.

back 19 Compare the language of Lao Tan, in Bk. XII, par. 8, near the beginning.

back 20 ### is generally feminine, meaning 'a witch.' We must take {footnote p. 263} it here as masculine (= ###). The general meaning of the character is 'magical,' the antics of such performers to bring down the spirits.

back 21 Literally, 'intoxicated.'

back 22 The teacher in Taoism of Lieh Tzu, called also Hu Khiu, with the name Lin (###). See the remarks on the whole paragraph in the Introductory Notice of the Book.

back 23 'The hens' signify the letter of the doctrine; 'the cock,' its spirit; 'the eggs,' a real knowledge of it.

back 24 ### is here in the first tone, and read as ###, meaning 'to stretch,', to set forth.'

back 25 One of the dugong. It has various names in Chinese, one being ###, 'the Man-Fish,' from a fancied resemblance of its head and face to a human being;—the origin perhaps of the idea of the mermaid.

back 26 The four members of this sentence occasion the translator no small trouble. They are constructed on the same lines, and seem to me to be indicative and not imperative. Lin Hsi-kung observes that all the explanations that had been offered of them were inappropriate. My own version is substantially in accordance with his interpretations. The chief difficulty is with the first member, which seems anti-Taoistic; but our author is not speaking of the purpose of any actor, but of the result of his non-action. ### is to be taken in the sense of ###, 'lord,' 'exercising lordship.' The ### in the third sentence indicates a person or persons in the author's mind in what precedes.

back 27 = the Heavenly or self-determining nature.

back 28 Perhaps 'god' would be a better translation.

back 29 Meaning 'Heedless.'

back 30 Meaning 'Sudden.'

back 31 The little allegory is ingenious and amusing. 'It indicates,' says Lin, 'how action (the opposite of non-inaction) injures the first condition of things.' More especially it is in harmony with the Taoistic opposition to the use of knowledge in government. One critic says that an 'alas!' might well follow the concluding 'died.' But surely it was better that Chaos should give place to another state. 'Heedless' and 'Sudden' did not do a bad work.