Texts of Taoism
Chuang Tzu

Introductory Notes


This Book brings us to the Second Part of the writings of our author, embracing in all fifteen Books. Of the most important difference between the Books of the First and the other Parts some account has been given in the Introductory Chapter. We have here to do only with the different character of their titles, Those of the seven preceding Books are so many theses, and are believed to have been prefixed to them by Kwang-dze himself; those of this Book and the others that follow are believed to have been prefixed by Kwo Hsiang, and consist of two or three characters taken from the beginning, or near the beginning of the several Books, after the fashion of the names of the Books in the Confucian Analects, in the works of Mencius, and in our Hebrew Scriptures. Books VIII to XIII are considered to be supplementary to VII by Aû-yang Hsiû.

The title of this eighth Book, Phien Mâu, has been rendered by Mr. Balfour, after Dr. Williams, 'Double Thumbs.' But the Mâu, which may mean either the Thumb or the Great Toe, must be taken in the latter sense, being distinguished in this paragraph and elsewhere from Kih, 'a finger,' and expressly specified also as belonging to the foot. The character phien, as used here, is defined in the Khang-hsî dictionary as 'anything additional growing out as an appendage or excrescence, a growing out at the side.' This would seem to justify the translation of it by 'double.' But in paragraph 3, while the extra finger increases the number of the fingers, this growth on the foot is represented as diminishing the number of the toes. I must consider the phien therefore as descriptive of an appendage by which the great toe was united to one or all of the other toes, and can think of no better rendering of the title than what I have given. It is told in the Zo Kwan (twenty-third year of duke Hsî) that the famous duke Wän of Zin had phien hsieh, that is, that his ribs presented the appearance of forming one bone. So much for the title.

The subject-matter of the Book seems strange to us; that, according to the Tâo, benevolence and righteousness are not natural growths of humanity, but excrescences on it, like the extra finger on the hand, and the membranous web of the toes. The weakness of the Tâoistic system begins to appear. Kwang-dze's arguments in support of his position must be pronounced very feeble. The ancient Shun is introduced as the first who called in the two great virtues to distort and vex the world, keeping society for more than a thousand years in a state of uneasy excitement. Of course he assumes that prior to Shun, he does not say for how long a time (and in other places he makes decay to have begun earlier), the world had been in a state of paradisiacal innocence and simplicity, under the guidance of the Tâo, untroubled by any consideration of what was right and what was wrong, men passively allowing their nature to have its quiet development, and happy in that condition. All culture of art or music is wrong, and so it is wrong and injurious to be striving to manifest benevolence and to maintain righteousness.

He especially singles out two men, one of the twelfth century B. C., the famous Po-î, who died of hunger rather than acknowledge the dynasty of Kâu; and one of a more recent age, the robber Shih, a great leader of brigands, who brought himself by his deeds to an untimely end; and he sees nothing to choose between them. We must give our judgment for the teaching of Confucianism in preference to that of Tâoism, if our author can be regarded as a fair expositor of the latter. He is ingenious in his statements and illustrations, but he was, like his master Lâo-dze, only a dreamer.

Part II Section I

Phien Mau, or 'Webbed Toes1.'

1. A ligament uniting the big toe with the other toes and an extra finger may be natural2 growths, but they are more than is good for use. Excrescences on the person and hanging tumours are growths from the body, but they are unnatural additions to it. There are many arts of benevolence and righteousness, and the exercise of them is distributed among the five viscera3; but this is not the correct method according to the characteristics of the Tao. Thus it is that the addition to the foot is but the attachment to it of so much useless flesh, and the addition to the hand is but the planting on it of a useless finger. (So it is that) the connecting (the virtues) with the five viscera renders, by excess or restraint, the action of benevolence and righteousness bad, and leads to many arts as in the employment of (great) powers of hearing or of vision.

2. Therefore an extraordinary power of vision leads to the confusion of the five colours4 and an excessive use of ornament. (Its possessor), in the resplendence of his green and yellow, white and black, black and green, will not stop till he has become a Li Ku5. An extraordinary power of hearing leads to a confusion of the five notes6, and an excessive use of the six musical accords7. (Its possessor), in bringing out the tones from the instruments of metal, stone, silk, and bamboo, aided by the Hwang-kung7 and Ta-lu7 (tubes), will not stop till he has become a Shih Khwang8. (So), excessive benevolence eagerly brings out virtues and restrains its (proper) nature, that (its possessor) may acquire a famous reputation, and cause all the organs and drums in the world to celebrate an unattainable condition; and he will not stop till he has become a Zang (Shan)9 or a Shih (Zhiu)10. An extraordinary faculty in debating leads to the piling up of arguments like a builder with his bricks, or a net-maker with his string. (Its possessor) cunningly contrives his sentences and enjoys himself in discussing what hardness is and what whiteness is, where views agree and where they differ, and pressing on, though weary, with short steps, with (a multitude of) useless words to make good his opinion; nor will he stop till he has become a Yang (Ku)11 or Mo (Ti)11. But in all these cases the parties, with their redundant and divergent methods, do not proceed by that which is the correct path for all under the sky. That which is the perfectly correct path is not to lose the real character of the nature with which we are endowed. Hence the union (of parts) should not be considered redundance, nor their divergence superfluity; what is long should not be considered too long, nor what is short too short. A duck's legs, for instance, are short, but if we try to lengthen them, it occasions pain; and a crane's legs are long, but if we try to cut off a portion of them, it produces grief. Where a part is by nature long, we are not to amputate, or where it is by nature short, we are not to lengthen it. There is no occasion to try to remove any trouble that it may cause.

3. The presumption is that benevolence and righteousness are not constituents of humanity; for to how much anxiety does the exercise of them give rise! Moreover when another toe is united to the great toe, to divide the membrane makes you weep; and when there is an extra finger, to gnaw it off makes you cry out. In the one case there is a member too many, and in the other a member too few; but the anxiety and pain which they cause is the same. The benevolent men of the present age look at the evils of the world, as with eyes full of dust, and are filled with sorrow by them, while those who are not benevolent, having violently altered the character of their proper nature, greedily pursue after riches and honours. The presumption therefore is that benevolence and righteousness are contrary to the nature of man:—how full of trouble and contention has the world been ever since the three dynasties12 began!

And moreover, in employing the hook and line, the compass and square, to give things their correct form you must cut away portions of what naturally belongs to them; in employing strings and fastenings, glue and varnish to make things firm, you must violently interfere with their qualities. The bendings and stoppings in ceremonies and music, and the factitious expression in the countenance of benevolence and righteousness, in order to comfort the minds of men:—these all show a failure in observing the regular principles (of the human constitution). All men are furnished with such regular principles; and according to them what is bent is not made so by the hook, nor what is straight by the line, nor what is round by the compass, nor what is square by the carpenter's square. Nor is adhesion effected by the use of glue and varnish, nor are things bound together by means of strings and bands. Thus it is that all in the world are produced what they are by a certain guidance, while they do not know how they are produced so; and they equally attain their several ends while they do not know how it is that they do so. Anciently it was so, and it is so now; and this constitution of things should not be made of none effect. Why then should benevolence and righteousness be employed as connecting (links), or as glue and varnish, strings and bands, and the enjoyment arising from the Tao and its characteristics be attributed to them?—it is a deception practised upon the world. Where the deception is small, there will be a change in the direction (of the objects pursued); where it is great, there will be a change of the nature itself. How do I know that it is so? Since he of the line of Yu called in his benevolence and righteousness to distort and vex the world, the world has not ceased to hurry about to execute their commands;—has not this been by means of benevolence and righteousness to change (men's views) of their nature?

4. I will therefore try and discuss this matter. From the commencement of the three dynasties downwards, nowhere has there been a man who has not under (the influence of external) things altered (the course of) his nature. Small men for the sake of gain have sacrificed their persons; scholars for the sake of fame have done so; great officers, for the sake of their families; and sagely men, for the sake of the kingdom. These several classes, with different occupations, and different reputations, have agreed in doing injury to their nature and sacrificing their persons. Take the case of a male and female slave13;—they have to feed the sheep together, but they both lose their sheep. Ask the one what he was doing, and you will find that he was holding his bamboo tablets and reading. Ask the other, and you will find that she was amusing herself with some game14. They were differently occupied, but they equally lose their sheep. (So), Po-i15 died at the foot of Shau-yang16 to maintain his fame, and the robber Kih17 died on the top of Tung-ling18 in his eagerness for gain. Their deaths were occasioned by different causes, but they equally shortened their lives and did violence to their nature;—why must we approve of Po-i, and condemn the robber Kih? In cases of such sacrifice all over the world, when one makes it for the sake of benevolence and righteousness, the common people style him 'a superior man,' but when another does it for the sake of goods and riches, they style him 'a small man.' The action of sacrificing is the same, and yet we have 'the superior man' and 'the small man!' In the matter of destroying his life, and doing injury to his nature, the robber Kih simply did the same as Po-i;—why must we make the distinction of 'superior man' and 'small man' between them?

5. Moreover, those who devote their nature to (the pursuit) of benevolence and righteousness, though they should attain to be like Zang (Shan) and Shih (Zhiu), I do not pronounce to be good; those who devote it to (the study of) the five flavours, though they attain to be like Shu-r19, I do not pronounce to be good; those who devote it to the (discrimination of the) five notes, though they attain to be like Shih Khwang, I do not pronounce to be quick of hearing; those who devote it to the (appreciation of the) five colours, though they attain to be like Li Ku, I do not pronounce to be clear of vision. When I pronounce men to be good, I am not speaking of their benevolence and righteousness;—the goodness is simply (their possession of) the qualities (of the Tao). When I pronounce them to be good, I am not speaking of what are called benevolence and righteousness; but simply of their allowing the nature with which they are endowed to have its free course. When I pronounce men to be quick of hearing, I do not mean that they hearken to anything else, but that they hearken to themselves; when I pronounce them to be clear of vision, I do not mean that they look to anything else, but that they look to themselves. Now those who do not see themselves but see other things, who do not get possession of themselves but get possession of other things, get possession of what belongs to others, and not of what is their own; and they reach forth to what attracts others, and not to that in themselves which should attract them. But thus reaching forth to what attracts others and not to what should attract them in themselves, be they like the robber Kih or like Po-i, they equally err in the way of excess or of perversity. What I am ashamed of is erring in the characteristics of the Tao, and therefore, in the higher sphere, I do not dare to insist on the practice of benevolence and righteousness, and, in the lower, I do not dare to allow myself either in the exercise of excess or perversity.


back 1 See pp. 138, 139.

back 2 Come out from the nature,' but 'nature' must be taken here as in the translation. The character is not Tao.

back 3 The five viscera are the heart, the liver, the stomach, the lungs, and the kidneys. To the liver are assigned the element 'wood,' and the virtue of benevolence; to the lungs, the element 'metal,' and the virtue of righteousness.

back 4 Black, red, azure (green, blue, or black), white, and yellow.

back 5 The same as the Li Lau of Mencius (IV, i, 1),—of the time of Hwang-Ti. It is not easy to construe the text here, and in the analogous sentences below. Hsuan Ying, having read on to the ### as the uninterrupted predicate of the sharp seer, says, 'Is not this a proof of the extraordinary gift?' What follows would be, 'But it was exemplified in Li Ku.' The meaning that is given in the version was the first that occurred to myself.

back 6 The five notes of the Chinese musical scale.

back 7 There are twelve of these musical notes, determined by the twelve regulating tubes; six, represented here by Hwang-kung, the name of the first tube, giving the sharp notes; and six, represented by Ta-lu, giving the flat notes.

back 8 See in II, par. 5.

back 9 The famous Zang Tzu, or Zang Shan, one of Confucius's ablest disciples.

back 10 An officer of Wei in the sixth century B. C. He belonged to a family of historiographers, and hence the surname Shih (###). Confucius mentions him in the most honourable terms in the {footnote p. 270} Analect XV, vi, by the name Shih Yu. 'Righteousness' was his great attribute.

back 11 The two heresiarchs so much denounced by Mencius. Both have appeared in previous Books.

back 12 Those of Hsia, Shang, and Kau;—from the twenty-third century B. C. to our author's own time.

back 13 See the Khang-hsi dictionary under the character ###.

back 14 Playing at some game with dice.

back 15 See VI, par. 3.

back 16 A mountain in the present Shan-hsi, probably in the department of Phu-kau.

back 17 A strange character, but not historical, represented as a brother of Liu-hsia Hui. See Bk. XXIX.

back 18 'The Eastern Height,' = the Thai mountain in the present Shan-tung.

back 19 Different from Yih-ya, the famous cook of duke Hwan of Khi. This is said to have been of the time of Hwang-Ti. But there are different readings of the name.