Chuang Tzu. Chapter 26. Argument: The
external uncertain. The internal alone without harm. Life and
death are external. The soul only is under man's control. Folly
Contingencies are uncertain. Hence the decapitation of Lung Feng,
the disembowelment of Pi Kan, the enthusiasm of Chi Tzu, the death
of Wu Lai, the flights of Chieh and Chou.
No sovereign but would have loyal ministers; yet loyalty does
not necessarily inspire confidence. Hence Wu Yüan found a
grave in the river; and Ch'ang Hung perished in Shu, his blood,
after being preserved three years, turning into green jade.
No parent but would have filial sons; yet filial piety does not
necessarily inspire love. Hence Hsiao Chi sorrowed, and Tseng
Wood rubbed with wood produces fires. Metal exposed to fire will
liquefy. If the Positive and Negative principles operate inharmoniously,
heaven and earth are greatly disturbed. Thunder crashes, and with
rain comes lightning, scorching up the tall locust-trees. One
fears lest sky and land should collapse and leave no escape. Unable
to lie perdu, the heart feels as though suspended between heaven
So in the struggle between peace and unrest, the friction between
good and evil, much fire is evolved which consumes the inner harmony
of man. But the mind is unable to resist fire. It is destroyed,
and with it Tao comes to an end.
Chuang Tzu's family being poor, he went to borrow some corn from
the prince of Chien-ho.
'Yes', said the prince. 'I am just about collecting the revenue
of my fief, and will then lend you three hundred ounces of silver.
Will that do?'
At this Chuang Tzu flushed with anger and said, 'Yesterday, as
I was coming along, I heard a voice calling me. I looked round,
and in the cart-rut I saw a stickleback.
'"And what do you want, stickleback?" said I.
'"I am a denizen of the eastern ocean", replied the
stickleback. "Pray, Sir, a pint of water to save my life."
'"Yes", said I. "I am just going south to visit
the princes of Wu and Yüeh. I will bring you some from the
west river. Will that do?"
'At this the stickleback flushed with anger and said, "I
am out of my element. I have nowhere to go. A pint of water would
save me. But to talk to me like this, ‹ you might as well
put me in a dried-fish shop at once."'
Jen Kung Tzu got a huge hook on a big line, which he baited with
fifty oxen. He squatted down at Kuei-chi, and cast into the eastern
ocean. Every day he fished, but for a whole year he caught nothing.
Then came a great fish which swallowed the bait, and dragging
the huge hook dived down below. This way and that way it plunged
about, erecting the dorsal fin. The white waves rolled mountain
high. The great deep was shaken up. The noise was like that of
so many devils, terrifying people for many miles around.
But when Jen Kung Tzu had secured his fish, he cut it up and
salted it. And from Chih-ho eastwards, and from Ts'ang-wu northwards,
there was none but ate his fill of that fish. Even among succeeding
generations, gobemouches of the day recounted the marvellous tale.
To take a rod and line, and go to a pool, and catch small fry
is a very different thing from catching big fish. And by means
of a little show of ability to secure some small billet is a very
different thing from really pushing one's way to the front. So
that those who do not imitate the example of Jen Kung Tzu will
be very far from becoming leaders in their generation.
When some Confucianists were opening a grave in accordance with
their Canons of Poetry and Rites, the master shouted out, 'Day
is breaking. How are you getting on with the work?'
'Not got off the burial-clothes yet', answered an apprentice.
'There is a pearl in the mouth.'
Now the Canon of Poetry says:
The greenest corn
Grows over graves.
In life, no charity;
In death, no pearl.
So seizing the corpse's brown with one hand, and forcing down
its chin with the other, these Confucianists proceed to tap its
cheeks with a metal hammer, in order to make the jaws open gently
and not injure the pearl!
A disciple of Lao Lai Tzu while out gathering fuel, chanced to
meet Confucius. On his return, he said, 'There is a man over there
with a long body and short legs, round shoulders and drooping
ears. He looks as though he were sorrowing over mankind. I know
not who he can be.'
'It is Confucius!' cried Lao Lao Tzu. 'Bid him come hither.'
When Confucius arrived, Lao Lai Tzu addressed him as follows:
'Ch'iu! Get rid of your dogmatism and your specious knowledge,
and you will be really a superior man.'
Confucius bowed and was about to retire, when suddenly his countenance
chanced and he enquired, 'Shall I then be able to enter upon Tao?'
'The wounds of one generation being too much', answered Lao Lai
Tzu, 'you would take to yourself the sorrows of all time. Are
you not weary? Is your strength equal to the task?
'To employ goodness as a passport to influence through the gratification
of others, is an everlasting shame. Yet this is the common way
of all, to lure people by fame, to bind them by ties of gratification.
'Better than extolling Yao and cursing Chieh is oblivion of both,
keeping one's praises to oneself. These things react injuriously
on self; the agitation of movement results in deflection.
'The true Sage is a passive agent. If he succeeds, he simply
feels that he was provided by no effort of his own with the energy
necessary to success.'
Prince Yüan of Sung dreamed one night that a man with dishevelled
hair peeped through a side door and said, 'I have come from the
waters of Tsai-lu. I am a marine messenger attached to the staff
of the River God. A fisherman, named Yü Ch'ieh, has caught
When the prince awaked, he referred his dream to the soothsayers,
who said, 'This is a divine tortoise'.
'Is there any fisherman', asked the prince, 'whose name is Yü
Being told there was, the prince gave orders for his appearance
at court; and the next day Yü Ch'ieh had an audience.
'Fisherman', said the prince, 'what have you caught?'
'I have netted a white tortoise', replied the fisherman, 'five
feet in semi-circumference'.
'Bring your tortoise', said the prince. But when it came, the
prince could not make up his mind whether to kill it or keep it
alive. Thus in doubt, he had recourse to divination, and received
the following response:
"Slay the tortoise for purposes of divination and good fortune
So the tortoise was despatched. After which, out of seventy-two
omens taken, not a single one proved false.
'A divine tortoise', said Confucius, 'can appear to prince Yüan
in a dream, yet it cannot escape the net of Yü Ch'ieh. Its
wisdom can yield seventy-two faultless omens, yet it cannot escape
the misery of being cut to pieces. Truly wisdom has its limits;
spirituality, that which it cannot reach.
'In spite of the highest wisdom, there are countless snares to
be avoided. If a fish has not to fear nets, there are always pelicans.
Get rid of small wisdom, and great wisdom will shine upon you.
Put away goodness and you will be naturally good. A child does
not learn to speak because taught by professors of the art, but
because it lives among people who can themselves speak.'
Hui Tzu said to Chuang Tzu, 'Your theme, Sir, is the useless.'
'You must understand the useless', replied Chuang Tzu, 'before
you discuss the useful.
'For instance, the earth is of huge proportions, yet man uses
of it only as much as is covered by the sole of his foot. By and
by, he turns up his toes and goes beneath it to the Yellow Spring.
Has he any further use for it?'
'He has none', replied Hui Tzu.
'And in like manner', replied Chuang Tzu, 'may be demonstrated
the use of the useless.
'Could a man transcend the limits of the human', said Chuang
Tzu, 'would he not do so? Unable to do so, how should he succed?
'The determination to retire, to renounce the world, ‹
such alas! is not the fruit of perfect wisdom or immaculate virtue.
From cataclysms ahead, these do not turn back; nor do they heed
the approach of devouring flame. Although there are class distinctions
of high and low, these are but for a time, and under the changed
conditions of a new sphere are unknown.
'Wherefore it has been said, "The perfect man leaves no
'For instance, to glorify the past and to condemn the present
has always been the way of the scholar. Yet if Hsi Wei Shih and
individuals of that class were caused to reappear in the present
day, which of them but would accommodate himself to the age?
'Only the perfect man can transcend the limits of the human and
yet not withdraw from the world, live in accord with mankind and
yet suffer no injury himself. Of the world's teachings he learns
nothing. He has that within which makes him independent of others.
'If the eye is unobstructed, the result is sight. If the ear
is unobstructed the result is hearing. If the nose is unobstructed,
the result is sense of smell. If the mouth is unobstructed, the
result is sense of taste. If the mind is unobstructed, the result
is wisdom. If wisdom is unobstructed, the result is Te.
'Tao may not be obstructed. To obstruct is to strangle. This
affects the base, and all evils spring into life.
'All sentient beings depend upon breath. If this does not reach
them in sufficient quantity, it is not the fault of God. God supplies
it day and night without cease, but man stops the passage.
'Man has for himself a spacious domain. His mind may roam to
heaven. If there is no room in the house, the wife and her mother-in-law
run against one another. If the mind cannot roam to heaven, the
faculties will be in a state of antagonism. Those who would benefit
mankind from deep forests or lofty mountains are simply unequal
to the strain upon their higher natures.
'Ill-regulated virtue ends in reputation. Ill-regulated reputation
ends in notoriety. Scheming leads to confusion. Knowledge begets
contentions. Obstinacy produces stupidity. Organized government
is for the general good of all.
'Spring rains come in due season, and plants and shrubs burst
up from the earth. Weeding and tending do not begin until such
plants and shrubs have reached more than half their growth, and
without being conscious of the fact.
'Repose gives health to the sick. Rubbing the eyelids removes
the wrinkles of old age. Quiet will disple anxieties. These remedies
however are the resource only of those who need them. Others who
are free from such ills pay no attention thereto.
'That which the true Sage marvels at in the empire, claims not
the attention of the Divine man. That which the truly virtuous
man marvels at it in his own sphere, claims not the attention
of the true Sage. That which the superior man marvels at in his
State, claims not the attention of the truly virtuous man. How
the mean man adapts himself to his age, claims not the attention
of the superior man.
'The keeper of the Yen gate, having maltreated himself severely
in consequence of the death of his parents, received a high official
post. His relatives thereupon maltreated themselves, and some
half of them died.
'Yao offered the empire to Hsü Yu, but Hsü fled. T'ang
offered it to Wu Kuang, but Wu Kuang declined with anger.
'When Chi T'o heard of Hsü Yu's flight, he took all his
disciples with him and jumped into the river K'uan; upon which
the various feudal princes mourned for three years, and Shen T'u
Ti had the river filled up.
'The raison d'etre of a fish-trap is the fish. When the fish
is caught, the trap may be ignored. The raison d'etre of a rabbit-snare
is the rabbit. When the rabbit is caught the snare may be ignored.
The raison d'etre of language is an idea to be expressed. When
the idea is expressed, the language may be ignored. But where
shall I find a man to ignore language, with whom I may be able
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Translated from the Chinese by Herbert A. Giles. First edition,
1889; second edition, 1923.