Chuang Tzu. Chapter 7. Argument: Princes
should reign, not rule. Rulers find their standards of right in
themselves. They thus coerce their people into obeying artificial
laws, instead of leaving them to obey natural laws. By action
they accomplish nothing. By inaction there is nothing which they
would not accomplish. Individuals think they know what the empire
wants. In reality it is the empire itself which knows best. *
Ye Ch'ueh asked Wang I four questions, none of which he could
answer. Thereat the former was greatly delighted, and went off
and told P'u Tzu.
'Have you only just found that out?' said P'u I Tzu. 'The Emperor
Shun was not equal to T'ai Huang. Shun was all for charity in
his zeal for mankind; but although he succeeded in government,
he himself never rose about the level of artificiality. Now T'ai
Huang was peaceful when asleep and inactive when awake. At one
time he would think himself a horse; at another, an ox. His wisdom
was substantial and above suspicion. His virtue was genuine indeed.
And yet he never sank to the level of artificality.'
Chien Wu meeting the eccentric Chieh Yü, the latter enquired,
saying, 'What did Jih Chung Shih teach you?'
'He taught me', replied Chien Wu, 'about the laws and regulations
which princes evolve, and which he said none would venture not
to hear and obey'.
'That is a false teaching indeed', replied Chieh Y¨ü.
'To attempt to govern mankind thus, as well try to wade through
the sea, to hew a passage through a river, or make a mosquito
fly away with a mountain!'
'The government of the truly wise man has no concern with externals.
He first perfects himself, and then by virtue thereof he is enabled
to accomplish what he wants.
'The bird flies high to avoid snare and dart. The mouse burrows
down below the hill to avoid being smoked or cut out of its nest.
Is your wit below that of these two creatures?'
T'ien Ken was travelling on the south of the Yin mountain. He
had reached the river Liao when he met a certain Sage to whom
he said, 'I beg to ask about the government of the empire'.
'Begone!' cried the Sage. 'You are a low fellow, and your question
is ill-timed. God has just turned me out a man. That is enough
for me. Borne on light pinions I can soar beyond the cardinal
points, to the land of nowhere, in the domain of nothingness.
And you come to worry me with government of the empire!'
But T'ien Ken enquired a second time, and the Sage replied, 'Resolve
your mental energy into abstraction, your physical energy into
action. Allow yourself to fall in with the natural order of phenomena,
without admitting the element of self, ‹ and the empire
will be governed.'
Yang Tzu Chü went to see Lao Tzu, and said, 'Suppose a man
were ardent and courageous, acquainted with the order and principles
of things, and untiring in the pursuit of Tao ‹ would he
be accounted a wise ruler?'
'From the point of view of a truly wise man', replied Lao Tzu,
'such a one would be a mere handicraftsman, wearing out body and
mind alike. The tiger and the pard suffer from the beauty of their
skins. The cleverness of the monkey, the tractability of the ox,
bring them both to the tether. It is not on such grounds that
a ruler may be accounted wise.'
'But in what, then', cried Yang Tzu Chü, 'does the government
of a wise man consist?'
'The goodness of a wise ruler', answered Lao Tzu, 'covers the
whole empire, yet he himself seems to know it not. It influences
all creation, yet none is conscious thereof. It appears under
countless forms, bringing joy to all things. It is based upon
the baseless, and travels through the realms of Nowhere.'
In the State of Cheng there was a wonderful magician, named Chi
Han. He knew all about birth and death, gain and loss, misfortune
and happiness, long life and short life, ‹ predicting events
to a day with supernatural accuracy. The people of Cheng used
to flee at his approach; but Lieh Tzu went to see him, and became
so infatuated that on his return he said to Hu Tzu, 'I used to
look upon your Tao as perfect. Now I know something more perfect
'So far', replied Hu Tzu, 'I have only taught you the ornamentals,
not the essentials, of Tao; and yet you think you know all about
it. Without cocks in your poultry-yard, what sort of eggs do you
lay? If you go about trying to force Tao down people's throats,
you will be simply exposing yourself. Bring your friend with you,
and let me show myself to him.'
So next day Lieh Tzu went with Chi Han to see Hu Tzu, and when
they came out Chi Han said, 'Alas! your teacher is doomed. He
cannot live. I hardly give him ten days. I am astonished at him.
He is but wet ashes.'
Lieh Tzu went in and wept bitterly, and told Hu Tzu; but the
latter said, 'I showed myself to him just now as the earth shows
us its outward form, motionless and still, while production is
all the time going on. I merely prevented him from seeing my pent-up
energy within. Bring him again.'
Next day the interview took place as before; but as they were
leaving Chi Han said to Lieh Tzu, 'It is lucky for your teacher
that he met me. He is better. He will recover. I saw he had recuperative
Lieh Tzu went in and told Hu Tzu; whereupon the latter replied,
'I showed myself to him just now as heaven shows itself in all
its dispassionate grandeur, letting a little energy run out of
my heels. He was thus able to detect that I had some. Bring him
Next day a third interview took place, and as they were leaving,
Chi Han said to Lieh Tzu, 'Your teacher is never one day like
another. I can tell nothing from his physiognomy. Get him to be
regular, and I will then examine him again.'
This being repeated to Hu Tzu as before, the latter said, 'I
showed myself to him just now in a state of harmonious equilibrium.
Where the whale disports itself, ‹ is the abyss. Where water
is at rest, is the abyss. Where water is in motion, ‹ is
the abyss. The abyss has nine names. These are three of them.'
Next day the two went once more to see Hu Tzu; but Chi Han was
unable to stand still, and in his confusion turned and fled.
'Pursue him!' cried Hu Tzu; whereupon Lieh Tzu ran after him,
but could not overtake him, so he returned and told Hu Tzu that
the fugitive had disappeared.
'I showed myself to him just now', said Hu Tzu, 'as Tao appeared
before time was. I was to him as a great blank, existing of itself.
He knew not who I was. His face fell. He became confused. And
so he fled.'
Upon this Lieh Tzu stood convinced that he had not yet acquired
any real knowledge, and at once set to work in earnest, passing
three years without leaving the house. He helped his wife to cook
the family dinner, and fed his pigs just like human beings. He
discarded the artificial and reverted to the natural. He became
merely a shape. Amidst confusion, he was unconfounded. And so
he continued to the end.
By Inaction, fame comes as the spirits of the dead come to the
boy who impersonates the corpse. By Inaction, one can become the
centre of thought, the focus of responsibility, the arbiter of
wisdom. Full allowance must be made for others, while remaining
unmoved oneself. There must be a thorough compliance with divine
principles, without any manifestation thereof. All of which may
be summed up in the one word passivity. For the perfect man employs
his mind as a mirror. It grasps nothing: it refuses nothing. It
receives, but does not keep. And thus he can triumph over matter,
without injury to himself.
The ruler of the southern sea was called Shu. The ruler of the
northern sea was called Hu. The ruler of the central zone was
called Hun Tun. Shu and Hu often met on Hun Tun's territory, and
being always well treated by him, determined to repay his kindess.
They said, 'All men have seven holes, for seeing, hearing, eating,
and breathing. Hun Tun alone has none. We will bore some for him.'
So every day they bored one hole; but on the seventh day Hun
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Translated from the Chinese by Herbert A. Giles. First edition,
1889; second edition, 1923.