Chinese Taoist philosopher (c. 369–286 BC)

莊子 Zhūangzi (c. 369 BC – c. 286 BC), literally Master Zhuang, was a Chinese philosopher, who is supposed to have lived during the Warring States Period, corresponding to the Hundred Schools of Thought. His name is also transliterated as Zhuang Zi, Zhuang Zhou, Chuang Tzu, Chuang Tse. Chuang was his surname and Tse indicates master; so he would be referred to as Master Chuang. You will also see his name given as "Chuang Chou" or "Zhuang Zhu", this was his proper name, first and last, not an alternate spelling of "Chuang Tzu" or "Zhuangzi".

Only after the great awakening will we realize that this is the great dream. And yet fools think they are awake, presuming to know that they are rulers or herdsmen. How dense!


Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.
After ten thousand generations there may be a great sage who will be able to explain it, a trivial interval equivalent to the passage from morning to night...
Quotations sourced to the book known as Zhuangzi:
  • 昔者庄周梦为蝴蝶,栩栩然蝴蝶也,自喻适志与,不知周也。俄然觉,则戚戚然周也。不知周之梦为蝴蝶与,蝴蝶之梦为周与?周与蝴蝶则必有分矣。此之谓物化。
  • 昔者莊周夢為蝴蝶,栩栩然蝴蝶也,自喻適志與,不知周也。俄然覺,則戚戚然周也。不知周之夢為蝴蝶與,蝴蝶之夢為周與?週與蝴蝶則必有分矣。此之謂物化。 (traditional)
    • Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.
    • Alternative translations
    • Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, a veritable butterfly, enjoying itself to the full of its bent, and not knowing it was Chuang Chou. Suddenly I awoke, and came to myself, the veritable Chuang Chou. Now I do not know whether it was then I dreamt I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man. Between me and the butterfly there must be a difference. This is an instance of transformation.
      • As translated by James Legge, and quoted in The Three Religions of China: Lectures Delivered at Oxford (1913) by William Edward Soothill, p. 75
    • Once Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a fluttering butterfly. What fun he had, doing as he pleased! He did not know he was Zhou. Suddenly he woke up and found himself to be Zhou. He did not know whether Zhou had dreamed he was a butterfly or a butterfly had dreamed he was Zhou. Between Zhou and the butterfly there must be some distinction. This is what is meant by the transformation of things.
    • One night, Zhuangzi dreamed of being a butterfly — a happy butterfly, showing off and doing things as he pleased, unaware of being Zhuangzi. Suddenly he awoke, drowsily, Zhuangzi again. And he could not tell whether it was Zhuangzi who had dreamt the butterfly or the butterfly dreaming Zhuangzi. But there must be some difference between them! This is called 'the transformation of things'.
    • Once upon a time, Chuang Chou dreamed that he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting about happily enjoying himself. He didn’t know that he was Chou. Suddenly he awoke and was palpably Chou. He didn’t know whether he were Chou who had dreamed of being a butterfly, or a butterfly who was dreaming that he was Chou.
  • How do I know that enjoying life is not a delusion? How do I know that in hating death we are not like people who got lost in early childhood and do not know the way home? Lady Li was the child of a border guard in Ai. When first captured by the state of Jin, she wept so much her clothes were soaked. But after she entered the palace, shared the king's bed, and dined on the finest meats, she regretted her tears. How do I know that the dead do not regret their previous longing for life? One who dreams of drinking wine may in the morning weep; one who dreams weeping may in the morning go out to hunt. During our dreams we do not know we are dreaming. We may even dream of interpreting a dream. Only on waking do we know it was a dream. Only after the great awakening will we realize that this is the great dream. And yet fools think they are awake, presuming to know that they are rulers or herdsmen. How dense! You and Confucius are both dreaming, and I who say you are a dream am also a dream. Such is my tale. It will probably be called preposterous, but after ten thousand generations there may be a great sage who will be able to explain it, a trivial interval equivalent to the passage from morning to night.
  • '"To the most trivial actions, attach the devotion and mindfulness of a hundred monks. To matters of life and death, attach a sense of humor."'
  • Right is not right; so is not so. If right were really right it would differ so clearly from not right that there would be no need for argument. If so were really so, it would differ so clearly from not so that there would be no need for argument.
    • "Discussion on Making All Things Equal"; Variant: If right were really right, it would be so different from not-right that there would be no room for argument. If so were really so, then it would be so different from not-so that there would be no room for argument.
  • Forget the years, forget distinctions. Leap into the boundless and make it your home!
    • "Discussion on Making All Things Equal".
  • 知止乎其所不能知,至矣。若有不即是者,天鈞敗之。
    • To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven.
    • Book XXIII, ¶ 7,as rendered in the epigraph to Ch. 3 of The Lathe of Heaven (1971) by Ursula K. Le Guin, based upon the 1891 translation by James Legge, Le Guin was subsequently informed that this was a very poor translation, as there were no lathes in China in the time of Zhuangzi. The full passage as translated by Legge reads:
He whose mind is thus grandly fixed emits a Heavenly light. In him who emits this heavenly light men see the (True) man. When a man has cultivated himself (up to this point), thenceforth he remains constant in himself. When he is thus constant in himself, (what is merely) the human element will leave him, but Heaven will help him. Those whom their human element has left we call the people of Heaven. Those whom Heaven helps we call the Sons of Heaven. Those who would by learning attain to this seek for what they cannot learn. Those who would by effort attain to this, attempt what effort can never effect. Those who aim by reasoning to reach it reason where reasoning has no place. To know to stop where they cannot arrive by means of knowledge is the highest attainment. Those who cannot do this will be destroyed on the lathe of Heaven.
  • 荃者所以在魚,得魚而忘荃;蹄者所以在兔,得兔而忘蹄;言者所以在意,得意而忘言。吾安得忘言之人而與之言哉!
    • A trap is for fish: when you've got the fish, you can forget the trap. A snare is for rabbits: when you've got the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words are for meaning: when you've got the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find someone who's forgotten words so I can have a word with him?...
    • Variant: "Where can I find a man who has forgotten words? He is the one I would like to talk to."
    From 莊子/外物 (External Things).
  • The wise man looks into space and does not regard the small as too little, nor the great as too big, for he knows that, there is no limit to dimensions.
    From 莊子/秋水.
  • Whether you point to a little stalk or a great pillar, a leper or the beautiful Hsi-shih, things ribald and shady or things grotesque and strange, the Way makes them all into one. Their dividedness is their completeness; their completeness is their impairment. No thing is either complete or impaired, but all are made into one again. Only the man of far-reaching vision knows how to make them into one. So he has no use [for categories], but relegates all to the constant. The constant is the useful; the useful is the passable; the passable is the successful; and with success, all is accomplished. He relies upon this alone, relies upon it and does not know he is doing so. This is called the Way.
    • Ch. 2 (tr. Burton Watson, 1964, p. 41)
  • Those in positions of power spend day and night plotting and pondering about what to do. The body is treated in a very careless way. People live their lives, constantly surrounded by anxiety. If they live long before dying, they end up in senility, worn out by concerns: a terrible fate.
    • Ch. 18 (Martin Palmer/Elizabeth Breuily, Penguin Publishing 1996)
  • Perfect happiness is keeping yourself alive, and only actionless action can have this affect.
    • Ch. 18 (Martin Palmer/Elizabeth Breuily, Penguin Publishing 1996)
  • Chuang Tzu's wife died and Hui Tzu came to console him, but Chuang Tzu was sitting, legs akimbo, bashing a battered tub and singing. Hui Tzu said, 'You lived as man and wife, she reared your children. At her death surely the least you should be doing is to be on the verge of weeping, rather than banging the tub and singing: this is not right!' Chuang Tzu said, 'Certainly not. When she first died, I certainly mourned just like everyone else! However, I then thought back to her birth and to the very roots of her being, before she was born. Indeed, not just before she was born but before the time when her body was created. Not just before her body was created but before the origin of life's breath. Her life's breath wrought a transformation and she had a body. Her body wrought a transformation and she was born. Now there is yet another transformation and she is dead. She is like the four seasons in the way that spring, summer, autumn and winter follow each other. She is now at peace, lying in her chamber, but if I were to sob and cry it would certainly appear that I could not comprehend the ways of destiny. This is why I stopped.'
    • Ch. 18 (Martin Palmer/Elizabeth Breuily, Penguin Publishing 1996)

Quotes about Zhuangzi

  • Chuangtse said that he once dreamed of being a butterfly, and while he was in the dream, he felt he could flutter his wings and everything was real, but that on waking up, he realized that he was Chuangtse and Chuangtse was real. Then he thought and wondered which was really real, whether he was really Chuangtse dreaming of being a butterfly, or really a butterfly dreaming of being Chuangtse. Life, then, is really a dream, and we human beings are like travelers floating down the eternal river of time, embarking at a certain point and disembarking again at another point in order to make room for others waiting below the river to come aboard. Half of the poetry of life would be gone, if we did not feel that life was either a dream, or a voyage with transient travelers, or merely a stage in which the actors seldom realized that they were playing their parts.
    • Lin Yutang, The Importance Of Living (1937), Ch. 3, III. 'On Being Mortal', p. 41
  • I saw a man's bones lying in the squelchy earth,
    Black rime-frost over him; and I in sorrow spoke
    And asked him, saying, "Dead man, how was it?
    Fled you with your friend from famine and for the last grains
    Gambled and lost? Was this earth your tomb,
    Or did floods carry you from afar? Were you mighty, were you wise,
    Were you foolish and poor? A warrior, or a girl?"
    Then a wonder came; for out of the silence a voice—
    Thin echo only, in no substance was the Spirit seen—
    Mysteriously answered, saying, "I was a man of Sung,
    Of the clan of Chuang! Chou was my name.
    Beyond the climes of common thought
    My reason soared, yet could I not save myself;
    For at the last, when the long charter of my years was told,
    I too, for all my magic, by age was brought
    To the Black Hill of Death.
    Wherefore, O Master, do you question me?"
    Then I answered:
    "Let me plead for you upon the Five Hill-tops,
    Let me pray for you to the Gods of Heaven and the Gods of Earth,
    That your white bones may arise,
    And your limbs be joined anew.
    ... Would you not have it so?"
    The dead man answered me:
    "O Friend, how strange and unacceptable your words!
    In death I rest and am at peace; in life I toiled and strove.
    Is the hardness of the winter stream
    Better than the melting of spring?
    All pride that the body knew
    Was it not lighter than dust?
    What Ch'ao and Hsu despised,
    What Po-ch'eng fled,
    Shall I desire, whom death
    Already has hidden in the Eternal Way—
    Where Li Chu cannot see me
    Nor Tzu Yeh hear me,
    Where neither Yao nor Shun can praise me
    Nor the tyrants Chieh and Hsin condemn me,
    Nor wolf nor tiger harm me,
    Lance prick me nor sword wound me?
    Of the Primal Spirit is my substance; I am a wave
    In the river of Darkness and Light.
    The Maker of All Things is my Father and Mother,
    Heaven is my bed and earth my cushion,
    The thunder and lightning are my drum and fan,
    The sun and moon my candle and my torch,
    The Milky Way my moat, the stars my jewels.
    With Nature am I conjoined;
    I have no passion, no desire,
    Wash me and I shall be no whiter,
    Foul me and I shall yet be clean.
    I come not, yet am here;
    Hasten not, yet am swift."
    The voice stopped, there was silence.
    A ghostly light
    Faded and expired.
    I gazed upon the dead, stared in sorrow and compassion.
    Then I called upon my servant that was with me
    To tie his silken scarf about those bones
    And wrap them in a cloak of sombre dust;
    While I, as offering to the soul of this dead man,
    Poured my hot tears upon the margin of the road.
    • Zhang Heng, "The Bones of Chuang Tzu", as translated by Arthur Waley; in Poems from the Chinese (1920), pp. 12–14

See also

Social and political philosophy
Ideologies Anarchism ⦿ Aristocratic Radicalism (NietzscheBrandes...) ⦿ Autarchism ⦿ Ba'athism (• Aflaqal-AssadHussein) ⦿ Communism ⦿ (Neo-)Confucianism ⦿ Conservatism ⦿ Constitutionalism ⦿ Dark Enlightenment ⦿ Environmentalism ⦿ Fascism (• Islamo-Eco-Francoism...) vs. Nazism ⦿ Feminism (• Anarcha-RadicalGender-criticalSecond-wave...) ⦿ Formalism/(Neo-)cameralism ⦿ Freudo-Marxism ⦿ Gaddafism/Third International Theory ⦿ Legalism ⦿ Leninism/Vanguardism ⦿ Juche (• Kim Il-sungKim Jong IlKim Jong Un...) ⦿ Liberalism ⦿ Libertarianism/Laissez-faire Capitalism ⦿ Maoism ⦿ Marxism ⦿ Mohism ⦿ Republicanism ⦿ Social democracy ⦿ Socialism ⦿ Stalinism ⦿ Straussianism ⦿ Syndicalism ⦿ Xi Jinping thought ⦿ New Monasticism (• MacIntyreDreher...)
Modalities Absolutism vs. Social constructionism/Relativism ⦿ Autarky/Autonomy vs. Heteronomy ⦿ Authoritarianism/Totalitarianism ⦿ Colonialism vs. Imperialism ⦿ Communitarianism vs. Liberalism ⦿ Elitism vs. Populism/Majoritarianism/Egalitarianism ⦿ Individualism vs. Collectivism ⦿ Nationalism vs. Cosmopolitanism ⦿ Particularism vs. Universalism ⦿ Modernism/Progressivism vs. Postmodernism ⦿ Reactionism/Traditionalism vs. Futurism/Transhumanism
Concepts Alienation ⦿ Anarcho-tyranny ⦿ Anomie ⦿ Authority ⦿ Conquest's Laws of Politics ⦿ Duty ⦿ Eugenics ⦿ Elite ⦿ Elite theory ⦿ Emancipation ⦿ Equality ⦿ Freedom ⦿ Government ⦿ Hegemony ⦿ Hierarchy ⦿ Iron law of oligarchy ⦿ Justice ⦿ Law ⦿ Monopoly ⦿ Natural law ⦿ Noblesse oblige ⦿ Norms ⦿ Obedience ⦿ Peace ⦿ Pluralism ⦿ Polyarchy ⦿ Power ⦿ Propaganda ⦿ Property ⦿ Revolt ⦿ Rebellion ⦿ Revolution ⦿ Rights ⦿ Ruling class ⦿ Social contract ⦿ Social inequality ⦿ Society ⦿ State ⦿ Tocqueville effect ⦿ Totalitarian democracy ⦿ War ⦿ Utopia
Government Aristocracy ⦿ Autocracy ⦿ Bureaucracy ⦿ Dictatorship ⦿ Democracy ⦿ Meritocracy ⦿ Monarchy ⦿ Ochlocracy ⦿ Oligarchy ⦿ Plutocracy ⦿ Technocracy ⦿ Theocracy ⦿ Tyranny

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