The Chuang Tzu

Chuang Tzu. Chapter 33. The Empire. Summary by early editors.Chuang Tzu. Chapter 33. The Empire. A rather unique and valuable summary by early editors of the different Chinese philosophical schools. Like most of the later chapters of Chuang Tzu, almost certainly not written by him since he himself is one of the philosophers discussed. Note the differences in the various schools of Taoism discussed.*

Systems of government are many. Each man thinks his own perfect. Where then does what the ancients called the system of Tao come in? There is nowhere where it does not come in.

It may be asked whence our spirituality, whence our intellectuality. The true Sage is born; the prince is made. Yet all proceed from an original One.

He who does not separate from the Source is one with God. He who does not separate from the essence is a spiritual man. He who does not separate from the reality is a perfect man. He who makes God the source, and Te the root, and Tao the portal, passively falling in with the modifications of his environment, ‹ he is the true Sage.

He who practices charity as a kindness, duty to one's neighbour as a principle, ceremony as a convenience, music as a pacificator, and thus becomes compassionate and charitable, he is a superior man.

He who regulates his conduct by law, who regards fame as an external adjunct, who verifies his hypotheses, who bases his judgment upon proof, ‹ such men rank one, two, three, four, etc. It is thus that officials rank. In a strict sense of duty, in making food and raiment of paramount importance, in caring for and nourishing the old, the weak, the orphan, and the widow, they all exemplify the principle of true government.

Thus far-reaching was the extension of Tao among the ancients.

The companion of the gods, the purifier of the universe, it nourishes all creation, it unites the empire, it benefits the masses. Illuminating the fundamental, it is bound up with the accessory, reaching to all points of the compass and to the opposite extremes of magnitude. There is indeed nowhere where it is not!

How it enlightened the polity of past ages is evidenced in the records which historians have preserved to us. Its presence in the Canons of Poetry, History, Rites and Music, has been made clear by many scholars of Chou and Lu. It informs the Canon of Poetry with its vigour, the Canon of History with its usefulness, the Canon of Rites with its adaptability, the Canon of Music with its harmonizing influence, the Canon of Changes with its mysterious Principles, and the Spring and Autumn with its discriminations. Spread over the whole world, it is focussed in the Middle Kingdom, and the learning of all schools renders constant homage to its power.

But when the world is disorganized, true Sages do not manifest themselves, Tao ceases to exist as One, and the world becomes cognizant of the idiosyncrasies of the individual. These are like the senses of hearing, sight, smell and taste, ‹ not common to each organ. Or like the skill of various artisans, each excellent of its kind and each useful in its turn, but not equally at the command of all.

Consequently, when a mere specialist comes forward and dogmatizes on the beauty of the universe, the principles which underlie all creation, the position occupied by the ancients in reference to the beauty of the universe, and the limits of the supernatural, ‹ it follows that the Tao of inner wisdom and of outer strength is obscured and prevented from asserting itself. Every one alas! regards the course he prefers as the infallible course. The various schools diverge never to meet again; and posterity is debarred from viewing the original purity of the universe and the grandeur of the ancients. For the system of Tao is scattered in fragments over the face of the earth.

Not to covet posthumous fame, nor to aim at dazzling the world, nor to pose as a benefactor of mankind, but to be a strict self-disciplinarian while lenient to the faults of others, herein lay the Tao of the ancients.

Mo Tzu and Ch'in Hua Li became enthusiastic followers of Tao, but they pushed the system too far, carrying their practice to excess. The former wrote an essay Against Music, and another which he entitled Economy. There was to be no singing in life, no mourning after death. He taught universal love and beneficence towards one's fellow men, without contentions, without censure of others. He loved learning, but not in order to become different from others. Yet his views were not those of the ancient Sages, whose music and rites he set aside.

The Yellow Emperor gave us the Hsien-ch'ih. Yao gave us the Ta-chang. Shun, the Tao-shao. Yü, the Ta-hsia. T'ang, the Ta-hu. Wen Wang the P'i-yung. Wu Wang and Chou Kung added the Wu.

The mourning ceremonial of old was according to the estate of each, and determined in proportion to rank. Thus, the body of the Son of Heaven was enclosed in a seven-fold coffin. That of a feudal prince, in a five-fold coffin. That of a minister, in a three-fold coffin. That of a private individual, in a two-fold coffin. But now Mo Tzu would have no singing in life, no mourning after death, and a single coffin of only three inches in thickness as the rule for all alike!

Such doctrines do not illustrate his theory of universal love; neither does his practice of them establish the fact of his own personal self-respect. They may not suffice to destroy his system altogether; though it is unreasonable to prohibit singing, and weeping, and rejoicing in due season.

He would have men toil through life and hold death in contempt. But this teaching is altogether too unattractive. It would land mankind in sorrow and lamentation. It would be next to impossible as a practical system, and cannot, I fear, be regarded as the Tao of the true Sage. It would be diametrically opposed to human passions, and as such would not be tolerated by the world. Mo Tzu himself might be able to carry it out; but not the rest of the world. And when one separates from the rest of the world, his chances of developing an ideal State become small indeed.

Mo Tzu argued in favour of his system as follows: Of old, the great Yü drained off the flood of waters, and caused rivers and streams to flow through the nine divisions of the empire and the parts adjacent thereto, ‹ three hundred great rivers, three thousand branches, and streams without number. With his own hands he plied the bucket and dredger, in order to reduce confusion to uniformity, until his calves and shins had no hair left upon them. The wind bathed him, the rain combed him; but he marked out the nations of the world, and was in very truth a Sage. And because he thus sacrificed himself to the commonwealth, ages of Mihists to come would also wear short serge jackets and straw sandals, and toil day and night without stopping, making self-mortification their end and aim, and say to themselves, 'If we cannot do this, we do not follow the Tao of Yü, and are unworthy to be called Mohists'.

The disciples of Hsiang Li Ch'in, the followers of the five princes, Mohists of the south, such as K'u Huo, Chi Ch'ih, and Teng Ling, ‹ all these studied the canon of Mo Tzu, but their disagreements and agreements were not identical. They called each other schismatics, and quarrelled over the 'hard and white', the 'like and unlike', and argued over questions of 'odd and even'. Chü Tzu was their Sage, and they wanted to canonize him as a saint, that they might carry on his doctrines into after ages. Even now these differences are not settled.

Thus we see that Mo Tzu and Ch'in Hua Li, while right in theory, were wrong in practice. They would merely have taught mankind to compete with each other in working the hair off their calves and shins. The evil of that system would have predominated over the good. Nevertheless, Mo Tzu was undoubtedly a well-meaning man. In spite of failure, with all its withering influences, he stuck to his text. He may be called a man of genius.

Not to be involved in the mundane, not to indulge in the specious, not to be overreaching with the individual, nor antogonistic to the public; but to desire the tranquillity of the world in general with a view to the prolongation of life, to seek no more than sufficient for the requirements of oneself and others, and by such a course to purify the heart, ‹ herein lay the Tao of the ancients.

Sung Hsing and Yin Wen became enthusiastic followers of Tao. They adopted a cap, shaped like the Hua mountain, as a badge. They bore themselves with kindly discrimination towards all things. They spoke of the passive qualities of the heart as though they had been active; and declared that whosoever could bring joy among mankind and peace within the girdle of ocean should be made ruler over them.

They suffered obloquy without noticing the insult. They preserved the people from strife. They prohibited aggression and caused arms to lie unused. They saved their generation from wars, and carried their system over the whole empire, to the delight of the high and to the improvement of the lowly. Though the world would have none of them, yet they struggled on and would not give way. Hence it was said that when high and low became tired of seeing them, they intruded themselves by force. In spite of all this, they did too much for others, and too little for themselves.

'Give us', said they, 'but five pints of rice, and it will be enough.' The master could not thus eat his fill; but the disciples, although starving, did not forget the world's claims. Day and night they toiled on, saying, 'Must we necessarily live? Shall we ape the so-called saviours of mankind?'

'The superior man', they say, 'is not a fault-finder. He does not appropriate the credit of others. He looks on one who does no good to the world as a worthless fellow. He regards prohibition of aggressive actions and causing arms to lie unused, as external; the diminution and restraint of our passions, as internal. In all matters, great or small, subtle or gross, such is the point to which he attains.'

To be public-spirited and belong to no party, in one's dealings not to be all for self, to move without being bound to a given course, to take things as they come, to have no remorse for the past, no anxiety for the future, to have no partialities, but to be on good terms with all, herein lay the Tao of the ancients.

P'eng Meng, T'ien P'ien, and Shen Tao, became enthusiastic followers of Tao. Their criterion was the identity of all things. 'The sky', said they, 'can cover but cannot support us. The earth can support but cannot cover us. Tao can embrace all things but cannot deal with particulars.'

They knew that in creation all things had their possibilities and their impossibilities. Therefore they said, 'Selection excludes universality. Training will not reach in all directions. But Tao is comprehensive.'

Consequently, Shen Tao discarded all knowledge and self-interest and became a fatalist. Passivity was his guiding principle. 'For', said he, 'we can only know that we know nothing, and a little knowledge is a dangerous thing'.

Take any worthless fellow who laughs at mankind for holding virtue in esteem, or any unprincipled vagabond who reviles the great Sages of the world; subject them to torture, they will turn round and discard positive and negative alike. If they can but get free, they will trouble no more about knowledge and forethought. Past and future will cease to exist for them, in their then neutral condition.

Move when pushed, come when dragged. Be like a whirling gale, like a feather in the wind, like a mill-stone going round. The mill-stone as an existence is perfectly harmless. In motion or at rest it does no more than is required, and cannot therefore incur blame.

Why? Because it is simply an inanimate thing. It has no anxieties about itself. It is never entangled in the trammels of knowledge. In motion or at rest it is always governed by fixed laws, and therefore it never becomes open to praise. Hence it has been said, 'Be as though an inanimate thing, and there will be no use for Sages'.

'For a clod cannot be without Tao', at which some full-blooded young buck covered the argument with ridicule by crying out, 'Shen Tao's Tao is not for the living, but for the dead!'

It was the same with T'ien P'ien. He studied under P'eng Meng; with the result that he learnt nothing.

P'eng Meng's tutor said, 'Those of old who knew Tao, reached the point where positive and negative ceased to exist. That was all.'

Now the bent of these men is one of opposition, which it is difficult to discuss. They act in every way differently from other people, but cannot escape the imputation of purpose. What they call Tao is not Tao; and what they predicate affirmatively cannot escape being negative. The fact is that P'eng Meng, T'ien P'ien, and Shen Tao, did not know Tao. Nevertheless they all had a certain acquaintance with it.

To make the root the essential, to regard objective existences as accidental, to look upon accumulation as deficiency, and to meekly accept the dispositions of Providence, herein lay the Tao of the ancients.

Kuan Yin and Lao Tzu became enthusiastic followers of Tao. They based their system upon nothingness, with One as their criterion. Their outward expression was gentleness and humility. Their inward belief was in unreality and avoidance of injury to all things.

Kuan Yi said, 'Adopt no absolute position. Let externals take care of themselves. In motion, be like water. At rest, like a mirror. Respond, like the echo. Be subtle, as though non-existent. Be still, as though pure. Regard uniformity as peace. Look on gain as loss. Do not precede others. Follow them.'

Lao Tzu said, 'He who conscious of being strong, is content to be weak, ‹ he shall be a cynosure of men.

'He who conscious of purity, puts up with disgrace, ‹ he shall be the cynosure of mankind.

'He who when others strive to be first, contents himself with the lowest place, is said to accept the contumely of the world.

'He who when others strive for the substantial, contents himself with the unsubstantial, stores up nothing and therefore has abundance. There he is in the midst of his abundance which comes to him without effort on his part. He does nothing, and laughs at the artifices of others.

'He who when others strive for happiness is content with security, is said to aim at avoiding evil.

'He who makes depth of fundamental importance and moderation his rule of life, is said to crush that which is hard within him and temper that which is sharp.

'To be in liberal sympathy with all creation, and not to be aggressive towards one's fellow-men, ‹ this may be called perfection.'

O Kuan Yin! O Lao Tzu! verily ye were the true Sages of old.

Silence, formlessness, change, impermanence, now life, now death, heaven and earth blended in one, the soul departing, gone no one knows where: suddenly, no one knows whither, as all things go in turn, never to come back again; ‹ herein lay the Tao of the ancients.

Chuang Tzu became an enthusiastic follower of Tao. In strange terms, in bold words, in far-reaching language, he gave free play to his thoughts, without following any particular school or committing himself to any particular line.

He looked on the world as so sunk in corruption that it was impossible to speak gravely. Therefore he employed 'goblet words' which apply in various directions; he based his statements upon weighty authority in order to inspire confidence; and he put words in other people's mouths in order to secure breadth.

In accord with the spirit of the universe, he was at peace with all creation. He judged not the rights and wrongs of mankind, and thus lived quietly in his generation. Although his book is an extraordinary production, it is plausible and harmless enough. Although the style is most irregular, it is at the same time ingenious and attractive.

As a thinker, he is endlessly suggestive. Above, he roams with god. Below, he consorts with those who are byeond the pale of life and death, who deny a beginning and an end. In relation to the root, he speaks on a grand and extensive scale. In relation to Tao, he establishes a harmony between man and the higher powers. Nevertheless, he yields to the modifications of existence and responds to the exigencies of environment. His arguments are inexhaustible, and never illogical. He is far-reaching, mysterious, and not to be fully explored.

Hui Tzu was a man of many ideas. His works would fill five carts. But his doctrines are paradoxical, and his terms are used ambiguously.

He calls infinite greatness, beyond which there is nothing, the Greater One. He calls infinite smallness, within which there is nothing, the Lesser One. He says that that which is without dimensions cannot be piled up, yet it measures a thousand li. That heaven and earth are equally low. That mountain and marsh are equally level. That the sun at noon is the sun setting. That when an animal is born, it dies. That the likeness of things partly unlike is called the lesser likeness of unlikes. That southwards there is no limit, and yet there is a limit. That one can go to Yüeh today and yet be there before. That joined rings can be separated. That the middle of the world is north of Ye and south of Yüeh. That he loves all creation equally, just as heaven and earth are impartial to all.

Accordingly, Hui Tzu was regarded as a great philosopher and a very subtle dialectitian; and became a favourite with the other dialectitian of the day.

He said that there were feathers in an egg. That a fowl had three feet. That Ying was the world. That a dog could be a sheep. That a mare could lay eggs. That a nail has a tail. That fire is not hot. That mountains have mouths. That wheels do not press down the ground. That the eye does not see. That the finger does not touch. That the uttermost extreme is not the end. That a tortoise is longer than a snake. That a carpenter's square is not square. That compasses will not make a circle. That a mortise does not surround a tenon. That the shadow of a flying bird does not move. That there is a moment when a swiftly-flying arrow is neither moving nor at rest. That a dog is not a hound. That a bay horse and a dun cow are three. That a white dog is black. That a motherless colt never had a mother. That if you take a stick a foot long and every day cut it in half, you will never come to the end of it. And such was the stuff which dialecticians used to argue about with Hui Tzu, also without ever getting to the end of it.

Hua T'uan and Kung Sun Lung were of this class. By specious premises they imposed on people's minds and drove them into false conclusions. But though they won the battle in words, they did not carry conviction into their adversaries' heart. Theirs were but the snares of the sophist.

Hui Tzu daily devoted his intelligence to such pursuits, purposely advancing some preposterous thesis upon which to dispute. That was his characteristic. He had besides a great opinion of his own wisdom, and used to say, 'The universe does not hold my peer'.

Hui Tzu makes a parade of his strength, but is devoid of any sound system. An eccentric fellow in the south, named Huang Liao, asked why the sky did not fall and the earth sink; also, whence came wind, rain, and thunder.

Hui Tzu was not backward in replying to these questions, which he answered unhesitatingly. He went into a long discussion on all creation, and talked away without end, though to himself he seemed to be saying very little. He supplemented this with most extraordinary statements, making it his chief object to contradict others, and being desirous of gaining fame by defeating all comers. Thus, he was never popular. Morally, he was weak; physically, he was violent. His was a dark and narrow way.

Looked at from the point of view of the Tao of the universe, the value of Hui Tzu may be compared with the efforts of a mosquito or a gadfly. Of what use was he to the world? As a specialist, he might have succeeded. But to let him put himself forward as an exponent of Tao, would have been dangerous indeed.

He would not however be content to be a specialist. He must needs roam insatiably over all creation, though he only succeeded in securing the reputation of a sophist.

Alas for the talents of Hui Tzu. He is extravagantly energetic, and yet has no success. He investigates all creation, but does not conclude in Tao. He makes a noise to drown an echo. He is like a man running with his own shadow. Alas!
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* Translated from the Chinese by Herbert A. Giles. First edition, 1889; second edition, 1923.


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