Texts of Taoism
Chuang Tzu

Introductory Notes


'Rectifying or Correcting the Nature' is the meaning of the title, and expresses sufficiently well the subject-matter of the Book. It was written to expose the 'vulgar' learning of the time as contrary to the principles of the true Tâoism, that learning being, according to Lû Shû-kih, 'the teachings of Hui-dze and Kung-sun Lung.' It is to be wished that we had fuller accounts of these. But see in Book XXXIII.

Many of the critics are fond of comparing the Book with the 21st chapter of the 7th Book of Mencius, part i, where that philosopher sets forth 'Man's own nature as the most important thing to him, and the source of his true enjoyment,' which no one can read without admiration. But we have more sympathy with Mencius's fundamental views about our human nature, than with those of Kwang-dze and his Tâoism. Lin Hsî-kung is rather inclined to doubt the genuineness of the Book. Though he admires its composition, and admits the close and compact sequence of its sentences, there is yet something about it that does not smack of Kwang-dze's style. Rather there seems to me to underlie it the antagonism of Lâo and Kwang to the learning of the Confucian school. The only characteristic of our author which I miss, is the illustrative stories of which he is generally so profuse. In this the Book agrees with the preceding.

Book XVI
Part II Section IX

Shan Hsing, or 'Correcting the Nature1.'

1. Those who would correct their nature by means of the vulgar learning2, seeking to restore it to its original condition, and those who would regulate3 their desires, by the vulgar ways of thinking, seeking thereby to carry their intelligence to perfection, must be pronounced to be deluded and ignorant people. The ancients who regulated the Tâo nourished their faculty of knowledge by their placidity, and all through life abstained from employing that faculty in action;—they must be pronounced to have (thus also) nourished their placidity by their knowledge4.

When the faculty of knowledge and the placidity (thus) blend together, and they nourish each other, then from the nature there come forth harmony and orderly method. The attributes (of the Tâo) constitute the harmony; the Tâo (itself) secures the orderly method. When the attributes appear in a universal practice of forbearance, we have Benevolence; when the path is all marked by orderly method, we have Righteousness; when the righteousness is clearly manifested, and (all) things are regarded with affection, we have Leal-heartedness; when the (heart's) core is thus (pure) and real, and carried back to its (proper) qualities, we have Music; when this sincerity appears in all the range of the capacity, and its demonstrations are in accordance with what is elegant, we have Ceremony. If Ceremonies and Music are carried out in an imperfect and one-sided manner, the world is thrown into confusion. When men would rectify others, and their own virtue is beclouded, it is not sufficient to extend itself to them. If an attempt be made so to extend it, they also will lose their (proper) nature.

2. The men of old, while the chaotic condition was yet undeveloped5, shared the placid tranquillity which belonged to the whole world. At that time the Yin and Yang were harmonious and still; their resting and movement proceeded without any disturbance; the four seasons had their definite times; not a single thing received any injury, and no living being came to a premature end. Men might be possessed of (the faculty of) knowledge, but they had no occasion for its use. This was what is called the state of Perfect Unity. At this time, there was no action on the part of any one, but a constant manifestation of spontaneity.

This condition (of excellence) deteriorated and decayed, till Sui-zän and Fû-hsî arose and commenced their administration of the world6; on which came a compliance (with their methods), but the state of unity was lost. The condition going on to deteriorate and decay, Shän Näng and Hwang-Tî arose, and took the administration of the world, on which (the people) rested (in their methods), but did not themselves comply with them. Still the deterioration and decay continued till the lords of Thang and Yü7 began to administer the world. These introduced the method of governing by transformation, resorting to the stream (instead of to the spring)8, thus vitiating the purity and destroying the simplicity (of the nature). They left the Tâo, and substituted the Good for it, and pursued the course of Haphazard Virtue. After this they forsook their nature and followed (the promptings of) their minds. One mind and another associated their knowledge, but were unable to give rest to the world. Then they added to this knowledge (external and) elegant forms, and went on to make these more and more numerous. The forms extinguished the (primal) simplicity, till the mind was drowned by their multiplicity. After this the people began to be perplexed and disordered, and had no way by which they might return to their true nature, and bring back their original condition.

3. Looking at the subject from this point of view, we see how the world lost9 the (proper) course, and how the course (which it took) only led it further astray9. The world and the Way, when they came together, being (thus) lost to each other, how could the men of the Way make themselves conspicuous in the world? and how could the world rise to an appreciation of the Way? Since the Way had no means to make itself conspicuous in the world, and the world had no means of rising to an appreciation of the Way, though sagely men might not keep among the hills and forests, their virtue was hidden;—hidden, but not because they themselves sought to hide it.

Those whom the ancients called 'Retired Scholars' did not conceal their persons, and not allow themselves to be seen; they did not shut up their words, and refuse to give utterance to them; they did not hide away their knowledge, and refuse to bring it forth. The conditions laid on them by the times were very much awry. If the conditions of the times had allowed them to act in the world on a great scale, they would have brought back the state of unity without any trace being perceived (of how they did so), When those conditions shut them up entirely from such action, they struck their roots deeper (in themselves), were perfectly still and waited. It was thus that they preserved (the Way in) their own persons.

4. The ancients who preserved (the Way in) their own persons did not try by sophistical reasonings to gloss over their knowledge; they did not seek to embrace (everything in) the world in their knowledge, nor to comprehend all the virtues in it. Solitary and trembling they remained where they were, and sought the restoration of their nature. What had they to do with any further action? The Way indeed is not to be pursued, nor (all) its characteristics to be known on a small scale. A little knowledge is injurious to those characteristics; small doings are injurious to the Way;—hence it is said, 'They simply rectified themselves.' Complete enjoyment is what is meant by 'the Attainment of the Aim.'

What was anciently called 'the Attainment of the Aim' did not mean the getting of carriages and coronets10; it simply meant that nothing more was needed for their enjoyment. Now-a-days what is called 'the Attainment of the Aim' means the getting of carriages and coronets. But carriages and coronets belong to the body; they do not affect the nature as it is constituted. When such things happen to come, it is but for a time; being but for a time, their coming cannot be obstructed and their going cannot be stopped11. Therefore we should not because of carriages and coronets indulge our aims, nor because of distress and straitness resort to the vulgar (learning and thinking); the one of these conditions and the other may equally conduce to our enjoyment, which is simply to be free from anxiety. If now the departure of what is transient takes away one's enjoyment, this view shows that what enjoyment it had given was worthless. Hence it is said, 'They who lose themselves in their pursuit of things, and lose their nature in their study of what is vulgar, must be pronounced people who turn things upside down.'







back 1 See pp. 147, 148.

back 2 'Vulgar' must mean 'common,' and 'the vulgar learning' is the teaching popular in the time of our author, and which he regarded as contrary to the principles of Tâoism, of which he was an adherent. The Chinese critics say that 'vulgar' here is used as the opposite of 'true.'

back 3 ### is generally explained by ###, 'to confuse,' but I cannot construe the sentence with that meaning of the term. In the Khang-hsî dictionary which I have followed, the character is defined by ### with special reference to this passage.

back 4 This sentence is the clue to the author's aim in the whole Book. The 'knowledge' is defined by ###, 'the faculty of perception and apprehension.'

back 5 These 'men of old' were what we may call 'primeval men;' men in the lowest stage of development; but which our author considered to be the highest or paradisiacal condition of their nature.

back 6 Kwang-dze gives no hint of how long he considered this highest condition to have lasted. Sui-zän, 'the man of the Burning Speculum,' 'the Fire-producer,' whom Williams calls 'the Prometheus of China,' appears before Fû-hsî, as the first in the line of the Rulers of the world, who broke up the Primal Unity.

back 7 These were Yâo and Shun, named from the principalities over which their fathers ruled.

back 8 'The streams' were the methods of culture that arose after the simple virtues and spontaneity of the Tâo were lost.

back 9 It is the same character in the text which I have been obliged to translate thus differently,—###.

back 10 That is, worldly distinction.

back 11 Because they depend on others. Compare Mencius VI, i, ch. 17, 2.