Zhuangzi, named Zhou and styled Zixiu or Zimu, was a native of the kingdom of Song (i.e., northeast of present-day Shangqiu, Henan) during the Warring States period. He lived about 369-286 BC, and was a mandarin of Qiyuan, Meng. Poor but fond of Dao, he did not yearn for wealth or power. It is recorded in the Bibliographies of Laozi, Zhuangzi, Shenzi, Hanfeizi and Liezi in the Records of the Historian that Zhuangzi had extensive learning and wrote over one hundred thousand words. His works are based on Laozi’s theories. They inherit and develop Laozi’s “Dao”, which follows the example of Spontaneity and thus is in every place. Moreover, they stress that things come into being and change by themselves and negate the existence of any controller. They put forward the ideas that “the Vital Breath exists in everything”, and that “the birth of a man is the convergence of the Vital Breath, which forms life, and the breaking-up of the Vital Breath causes death”. Hence Zhuangzi became the founder of his school of teachings. During the Wei, Jin, and the Southern and Northern Dynasties, the doctrines of Laozi and Zhuangzi turned became the core of the teachings of Daoist Philosophy, and Zhuangzi was regarded as a Divine Man. In the second month of the first Tianbao year during the reign of emperor Xuanzong of the Tang dynasty (AD 724), Zhuangzi was granted the title ” Perfect Man of Nanhua “, and the Book of Master Zhuang written by him was titled the Perfect Book of Nanhua by imperial order. During the reign of emperor Huizong of the Song dynasty, he was granted the title “Perfect Sovereign of Numinous Subtlety and Original Pervasion”.
Composition and Style:
The Book of Master Zhuang originally consisted of seven inner chapters, fifteen outer chapters, and eleven miscellaneous chapters, and the Book of Nanhua follows this composition. Scholars generally admit that the seven inner chapters were written by Zhuangzi himself and embody the magnificence of Zhuangzi’s doctrines, spirit and writing style. The other chapters are elaborations and explanations, and some of them were written by Zhuangzi’s disciples or supplemented by people of later ages. Now we briefly state the main theories of the seven chapters to show the essential content of the Book of Nanhua.
Summary of the Contents:
The names and major theories of the seven inner chapters of the Book of Nanhua (i.e., the Book of Master Zhuang) are as follows:
Chapter One : Unfettered Excursion: Be free and unfettered between Heaven and Earth. If not selfish and utilitarian, people could feel free and unfettered and their spirit could wander between Heaven and Earth.
Chapter Two: On the Equality of All Things: Heaven and Earth and I came into existence simultaneously, and all things in the world and I form a unity. Ordinary people differ from other things because they have selfish desires. If selfish desires are eliminated, the heart of people will be the in unison with all other things.
Chapter Three: Essentials of the Cultivation of Life: The physical body of human beings is less important while the spirit is essential, so the cultivation of Dao should be the cultivation of the human spirit.
Chapter Four: The Human World: Don’t fight against others for fame in troubled times, and hide your virtues to avoid trouble.
Chapter Five: Evidence of Virtue Complete: Virtues fill one’s heart and express themselves spontaneously. If one has no desire for things outside oneself, one can get them naturally; if one does not ask others to submit, they submit of their own will.
Chapter Six: Great Master for Worship: One is able to learn the Dao which is followed by everything in Heaven and on Earth, and regard it as one’s master. Hence Dao is called the “Great Master for Worship”.
Chapter Seven: Response to Emperors: Those who have no desire and follow Spontaneity can be emperors. Emperors govern by Non-Interference.
As for the outer chapters and miscellaneous chapters, they are said to be extensions to the inner chapters. An introduction to each of these chapters would take up much space, so only the names are listed below. Please read the book if you want to learn the details (both ancient and contemporary scholars have given detailed annotations to the Book of Master Zhuang).
Linked Toes, Hoofs, Prying Open a Suitcase, Freedom, Heaven and Earth, The Heavenly Way, Heavenly Motion, Polishing One’s Mind, Cultivation of One’s Nature, Autumn Rain, Supreme Joy, Perfection of Life, Mountain Trees, Tian Zifang, Zhi’s Northern Journey (altogether fifteen chapters).
Gengsang Chu, Xu Wugui, Zeyang, Things Outside Oneself , Allegories , Declining the Throne, Robber Zhi, Discussions About Swords, The Fisherman, Lieyu Kou, The World .
The names of the chapters listed above are mostly taken from the beginning of the first sentence of each chapter, so they are not understandable at first sight and will become clear only if you read the whole chapter.
Zhuangzi’s thought had a profound and lasting influence on later ages, and no other philosophers in the pre-Qin period could compare to him. Qian Binsi (i.e., Mr. Qian Mu) says that he was simultaneously an unrivalled great philosopher and a literary giant. This is an objective comment on Zhuangzi.
Author: He Bingcong
Translator: Chang Hong
(Courtesy of: Taoism Culture & Information Centre)