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
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
'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
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
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
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.