The Chuang Tzu

Chuang Tzu. Chapter 10. Argument: All restrictions artifical, and therefore deceptive. Only by shaking off such fetters, and reverting to the natural, can man hope to attain.*

The precautions taken against thieves who open trunks, search bags, or ransack tills, consist of securing with cords and fastening with bolts and locks. This is what the world calls wit.

But a strong thief comes who carries off the till on his shoulders, with box and bag to boot. And his only fear is that the cords and locks should not be strong enough!

Therefore, what the world calls wit, simply amounts to assistance given to the strong thief.

And I venture to state that nothing of that which the world calls wit, is otherwise than serviceable to strong thieves; and that nothing of that which the world calls wisdom is other than a protection of strong thieves.

How can this be shown? In the State of Ch'i a man used to be able to see from one town to the next, and hear the barking and crowing of its dogs and cocks. The area covered by the nets of fishermen and fowlers, and pricked by the plough, was a square of two thousand odd li. And within its four boundaries not a temple or shrine was dedicated, nor a district or hamlet governed, but in accordance with the rules laid down by the Sages.

Yet one morning T'ien Ch'eng Tzu slew the Prince of Ch'i, and stole his kingdom. And not his kingdom only, but the wisdom-tricks which he had got from the Sages as well; so that although T'ien Ch'eng Tzu acquired the reputation of a thief, he lived as comfortably as ever did either Yao or Shun. The small States did not venture to blame, nor the great States to punish him; and so for twelve generations his descendants ruled over Ch'i. Was not this stealing the State of Ch'i and the wisdom-tricks of the Sages as well in order to secure himself from the consequences of such theft?

This amounts to what I have already said, namely that nothing of what the world esteems great wit is otherwise than serviceable to strong thieves, and that nothing of what the world calls great wisdom is other than a protection to strong thieves.

Let us take another example. Of old, Lung Feng was beheaded, Pi Kan was disembowelled, Chang Hung was slived to death, Tzu Hsü was chopped to mince-meat. All these four were Sages, but their wisdom could not preserve them from death.

An apprentice to Robber Che asked him saying 'Is there then Tao in thieving?'

'Pray tell me of something in which there is not Tao', Che replied. 'There is the wisdom by which booty is located. The courage to go in first, and the heroism of coming out last. There is the shrewdness of calculating success, and justice in the equal division of the spoil. There has never yet been a great robber who was not possessed of these give.'

Thus the doctrine of the Sages is equally indispensable to good men and to Che. But good men are scarce and bad men plentiful, so that the good the Sages do to the world is little and the evil great.

Therefore it has been said, 'If the lips are gone, the teeth will be cold'. It was the thinness of the wine of Lu which caused the siege of Han Tan. It was the appearance of Sages which caused the appearance of great robbers.

Drive out the Sages and leave the robbers alone, then only will the empire be governed. As whe the stream ceases the gully dries up, and when the hill is levelled the chasm is filled; so when Sages are extinct, there will be no more robbers, but the empire will rest in peace.

On the other hand, unless Sages disappear, neither will great robbers disappear; nor if you double the number of Sages wherewithal to govern the empire will you do more than double the profits of Robber Che.

If pecks and bushels are used for measurement, they will also be stolen. If scales and steelyards are used for weighing, they will also be stolen. If tallies and signets are used for good faith, they will also be stolen. If charity and duty to one's neighbour are used for rectification, they will also be stolen.

How is this so? One man steals a purse, and is punished. Another steals a State, and becomes a Prince. But charity and duty to one's neighbour are integral parts of princedom. Does he not then steal charity and duty to one's neighbour together with the wisdom of the Sages?

So it is that to attempt to drive out great robbers is simply to help them to steal principalities, charity, duty to one's neighbour, together with measures, scales, tallies, and signets. No reward of official regalia and uniform will dissuade, nor dread of sharp instruments of punishment will deter such men from their course. These do but double the profits of robbers like Che, and make it impossible to get rid of them, ‹ for which the Sages are responsible.

Therefore it has been said, 'Fishes cannot be taken away from water: the instruments of government cannot be delegated to others'.

In the wisdom of Sages the instruments of government are found. This wisdom is not fit for enlighteneing the world.

Away then with wisdom and knowledge, and great robbers will disappear! Discard jade and destroy pearls, and petty thieves will cease to exist. Burn tallies and break signets, and the people will revert to their natural integrity. Split measures and smash scales, and the people will not fight over quantities. Utterly abolish all the restrictions of Sages, and the people will begin to be fit for the reception of Tao.

Confuse the six pitch-pipes, break up organs and flutes, stuff up the ears of Shih K'uang, and each man will keep his own sense of hearing to himself.

Put an end to decoration, disperse the five categories of colour, glue up the eyes of Li Chi, ‹ and each man will keep his own sense of sight to himself.

Destroy arcs and lines, fling away square and compasses, snap off the fingers of Kung Ch'ui, and each man will use his own natural skill.

Wherefore the saying, 'Great skill is as clumsiness'.

Restrain the actions of Tseng and Shih, stop the mouths of Yang and Mih, get rid of charity and duty to one's neighbour, ‹ and the virtue of the people will become one with God.

If each man keeps to himself his own sense of sight, the world will escape confusion. If each man keeps to himself his own sense of hearing, the world will escape entanglements. If each man keeps his knowledge to himself, the world will escape doubt. If each man keeps his own virtue to himself, the world will avoid deviation from the truth path.

Tseng, Shih, Yang, Mih, Shih K'ung, Kung Ch'ui, and Li Chu, all set up their virtue outside themselves and involve the world in such angry discussions that nothing definite is accomplished.

Have you never heard of the Golden Age, the days of Yung Ch'eng, Ta T'ing, Poh Huang, Chung Yang, Li Lu, Li Hsü, Hsien Yüan, He Hsü, Tsun Lu, Chu Yung, Fu Hsi, and Shen Nung? Then the people used knotted cords. They were contented with what food and raiment they could get. They lived simple and peaceful lives. Neighbouring districts were within sight, and the cocks and dogs of one could be heard in the other, yet the people grew old and died without ever interchanging visits.

In those days, government was indeed perfect. But nowadays any one can excite the people by saying, 'In such and such a place there is a Sage'.

Immediately they put together a few provisions and hurry off, neglecting their parents at home and their master's business abroad, filing in unbroken line through territories of Princes, with a string of carts and carriages a thousand li i length. Such is the evil effect of an exaggerated desire for knowledge among our rulers. And if rulers aim at knowledge and neglect Tao, the empire will be overwhelmed in confusion.

How can it be shown that this is so? ‹ Bows and cross-bows and hand-nets and harpoon-arrows, involve much knowledge in their use; but they carry confusion among the birds of the air. Hooks and bait and nets and traps, involve much knowledge in their use; but they carry confusion among the fishes of the deep. Fences and nets and snares, involve much knowledge in their use; but they carry confusion among the beasts of the field. In the same way the sophistical fallacies of the hard and white and the like and the unlike of schoolmen involve much knowledge of argument; but they overwhelm the world in doubt.

Therefore it is that whenever there is great confusion, love of knowledge is ever at the bottom of it. For all men strive to grasp what they do not know, while none strive to grasp what they already know; and all strive to discredit what they do not excel in, while none strive to discredit what they do excel in. The result is overwhelming confusion.

Thus, above, the splendour of the heavenly bodies is dimmed; below, the energy of land and water is disturbed; while midway the influence of the four seasons is destroyed. There is not one tiny creature which moves on earth or flies in air but becomes other than by nature it should be. So overwhelming is the confusion which desire for knowledge has brought upon the world ever since the time of the Three Dynasties downwards! The simple and the guileless have been set aside; the specious and the false have been exalted. Tranquil inaction has given place to a love of disputation; and by disputation has confusion come upon the world.

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* Translated from the Chinese by Herbert A. Giles. First edition, 1889; second edition, 1923.


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