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This is a partial Chuang Tzu in the translation of Dr. Lin Yutang, somewhat modernised. Some comments are added.

Lin considers Chuangtse (c. 369 BCE – 286 BCE) the greatest prose writer of the Chou [Zhou] Dynasty (1050-256 BC). This position rests both on his brilliant style and the depth of his thought, Lin asserts - also telling that people may read Chuang Tzu as literature, and that his mysticism will charm some:

"He was a humorist with a wild and rather luxuriant fantasy, [a flair] for [superb] exaggeration and for the big. One should therefore read him as one would a humorist writer knowing that he is frivolous when he is profound and profound when he is frivolous." (1942:626-27)

Lin Yutang goes on to tell that some of the best pieces of Chuangtse are outside the first seven chapters, and believes various anecdotes have been freely added by later generations into the very loose structure of the chapters.

Yutang chose eleven chapters for his work, including all but one of the first best seven chapters. With one minor exception, these chapters are translated in full. He informs that

The philosophically most important are the chapters on "Levelling All Things" and "Autumn Floods." The chapters, "Joined Toes," "Horses' Hooves," "Opening Trunks" and "Tolerance" belong in one group with the main theme of protest against civilization. The most eloquent protest is contained in "Opening Trunks," while the most characteristically Taoistic is the chapter on "Tolerance." The most mystic and deeply religious piece is "The Great Supreme." The most beautifully written is "Autumn Floods." The queerest is the chapter on "Deformities" (a typically "romanticist" theme). The most delightful is probably "Horses' Hooves," and the most fantastic is the first chapter, "A Happy Excursion." (Lin 1948:627-28)

Lin Yutang based his translation on that of Herbert A. Giles, and shows how:

I have based my translation on that of Herbert A. Giles. It soon became apparent in my work that Giles was free in his translation where exactness was easy and possible, and that he had a glib, colloquial style which might be considered a blemish. The result is that hardly a line has been left untouched, and I have had to make my own translation, taking advantage of whatever is good in his English rendering. But still I owe a great debt to my predecessor, and he has notably succeeded in this difficult task in many passages. Where his rendering is good, I have not chosen to be different. In this sense, the translation may be regarded as my own. It should be noted that throughout the text, Giles translates "Heaven" as "God" where it means God. On the other hand, the term "Creator" is an exact rendering of chao-wu, or "he who creates things." I will not go into details of translation of other philosophic terms here. (Yutang 1942:628)

More on Chuang-tzu

There is just meagre information about Chuang-tzu (also: Chuang Tzu, Chuang Tze, Zhuangzi). He is thought to have been a native of the state of Meng. His personal name was Chou. As a minor official at Ch'i-yüan in his home state, he lived during the reign of Prince Wei of Ch'u (d. 327 BC). If so, he lived at the same time as the philosopher Mencius.

Chuang-tzu is best known through the book the Chuang Tzu (or the Zhuangzi). It has been generally agreed that the first seven chapters of it, called the "inner books," for the most part are genuine.

The book's basic attitude may be 'enlightened fatalism', which may not suit anyone - but here and there the work transcends (go beyond) that.

The Ignorant Simpleton or Man of Sung

Chuang-tzu's brand of Taoism differs in some ways from what is expounded in the Tao Te Ching of Lao-tzu, tells Burton Watson. He also shows that Chuang-tzu's branch of the Taoist school is marked by the settings of the state of Sung - and interestingly, the "man of Sung" appears in the literature of late Chou (conquerors) as the ignorant simpleton.

However, men of Sung might have been severely tied up in networks of status, with very little personal freedom: In the later Sung state of China (960-1279 AD), family relations determined social status locally and in the capital. Social position and status shaped personal relationships, and the other way round, states Beverly J. Bossler. [Watson 1968:8, 2; Bossler 1998]

Others have praised the art of the man of Sung: Some of Chuang-tzu's whirling words might hint at some true Way that had been found and handed over. The Huai-nan Tzu, an eclectic work from the court of Liu An (d. 122 BCE), the king of Hai-nan, includes many excerpts from the Chuang-tzu with the highest praise for the teachings of the Taoist school of thinking. [Watson 1968:6, 9]

Learned Insights

The dominant schools of thought, the Legalists, the Taoists, and the Confucians, were established from the sixth to the fourth centuries BCE. The latest-comers, the Legalists, believed in maximal power to the state, and advised rulers how to increase that power. The Confucians differed little from the Legalists in actual practice. And the most interesting of the Chinese political philosophers were the Taoists. They believed in virtually no interference by the state in economy or society.

Lao Tzu worked out the view that the individual and his happiness was the key unit of society. Government, in sum, must be properly limited. Lao Tzu, after referring to the common experience of mankind, came to his penetrating conclusion: "The more artificial taboos and restrictions there are in the world, the more the people are impoverished . . . The more that laws and regulations are given prominence, the more thieves and robbers there will be."

The worst of government interventions, according to Lao Tzu, was heavy taxation and war. The wisest course is to keep the government simple and inactive. Lao Tzu counseled the now familiar Taoist path of withdrawal or retreat.

In comparison, the highly learned Chuang Tzu, an influential stylist who wrote in allegorical parables, was an anarchist or a kind. When Chuang Tzu's fame had spread far and wide throughout China, King Wei of the Ch'u kingdom sent an emissary to Chuang Tzu bearing great gifts and urging him to become the king's chief minister of state. Chuang Tzu laughed and said:

A thousand ounces of silver is a great gain to me; and to be a high noble and minister is a most honorable position. But have you not seen the victim ox awaiting to be sacrificed at the state's royal shrine? It is well cared for and fed for a few years, caparisoned with rich brocades, so that it will be ready to be led into the Great Temple. At that moment, even though it might want to be a little calf again, it cannot.

So, quick, be off with you! Don't sully me. I would rather amuse and enjoy myself in a muddy ditch, at my awn amusement, than to be put under the restraints that the ruler would impose. I will not take any official service, and prefer the freedom to do as I will.

(Cf. Watson 1968, section 32; cf. Palmer 1996, 293-94. Herbert Giles noted earlier that "The passage is quoted, with variants, by the historian Ssu-ma Ch'ien, in his biographical notice of Chuang Tzu." (Giles 1889, 434)

Chuang Tzu also saw the state as a brigand writ large: "A petty thief is put in jail. A great brigand becomes a ruler of a State." He devotes a whole chapter, called Robber Chih, to this theme, The main difference between state rulers and out-and-out robber chieftains is the size of their depredations. This theme of ruler-as-robber was repeated by Christian thinkers in the Middle Ages independently, and echoes in proverbs of many countries.

Salient Points

Like-minded persons try to gain harmony, and if relationships don't work, they may end up striving for solitude.

The ancient text contains ideas one may come to ponder for a long time.


Yutang's translation of eleven chapters of the Chuang Tzu is in The Wisdom of China and India. (New York: Random House, 1942, p. 625-91) and in The Wisdom of China first published by Michael Joseph Ltd in 1944 - and later by New English Library in London 1963. Section headings in the following are added by me. - T. K.


Chuang Tzu, Zhuangzi, Lin Yutang translation, the Zhuangzi by Master Chuang ie Master Zhuang, tr Yu-tang Lin, Literature  

The translations by Watson, Palmer and Mair are all complete translations. The "inner chapters" in Graham's translation are the first seven of the thirty-four chapters in the complete work.


Bossler, Beverly J. 1998. Kinship, Status, and the State in Sung China (960-1279). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 1998.

Giles, Herbert, tr. 1889. Chuang Tzu: Taoist Philosopher and Chinese Mystic. London: John Murray.

Graham, Angus Charles. 1989. Chuang-Tzu: The Inner Chapters. Reissue ed. London: Unwin Paperbacks.

Kirby, Christopher C. 2008. Naturalism in the Philosophies of Dewey and Zhuangzi: The Live Creature and the Crooked Tree. Doctoral Dissertation, Department of Philosophy, College of Arts and Sciences. Tampa, FL: University of South Florida.

Legge, James, tr. 1891. The Sacred Books of China: The Texts of Taoism. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Mair, Victor Henry, tr. 1994. Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu. New York: Bantam Books.

Maslow, Abraham. 1987. Motivation and Personality. 3rd ed. New York, HarperCollins, 1987, chap. 11.

Palmer, Martin with Breuilly, Elizabeth, trs. 1996. The Book of Chuang-tzu. London: Penguin Arkana Books.

Pregadio, Fabrizio. 2008. The Encyclopedia of Taoism. Vols 1 and 2. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Rothbard, Murray N. 1995. An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought. Vol 1. Cheltenham Glos: Edward Elgar: Chapter 1, Section 10, called "Taoism in Ancient China".

Watson, Burton, tr. 1968. Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings. New York: Columbia University Press.

Yutang, Lin, tr. 1963. The Wisdom of China. London: New English Library.

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