Sociopolitical Solution #1
Zhuangzi’s “Individualist” Perspective
Sociopolitical Solution #2
The Advantage of Doing Nothing
wanted to cede the empire to Xu You.
“When the sun and moon have already come
out,” he said, “it’s a waste of light to
go on burning the torches, isn’t
it? When the
seasonal rains are falling,
it’s a waste of water to go on irrigating the fields. If you took the throne,
the world would be
well ordered. I go
on occupying it, but
all I can see are my failings. I
turn over the world to you.”
Xu You said, “You govern the world [but] the world is
already well governed. Now if I take your place, will I be doing it for a name? But name is only the guest of reality — will I be doing it so I can play the part of a guest? ...
Go home and forget the matter, my lord. I
have no use for the rulership of the world! Though the cook may not run
his kitchen properly, the priest and the impersonator of the dead at
the sacrifice do not leap over the wine casks and sacrificial stands
and go take his place.” (The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, 32-3 [Zhuangzi, Chapter 1]; word change in square brackets, transliterations changed to pinyin)
Wu said to Lian Shu, “I was listening to Jie Yu’s talk — big and nothing
to back it up, going on and on without turning around. I was completely dumbfounded
at his words — no more end than the Milky Way, wild and wide of the mark, never
coming near human affairs!”
were his words like?” asked Lian Shu.
said that there is a Holy Man living on faraway Gushe Mountain, with skin like
ice or snow, and gentle and shy like a young girl. He doesn’t eat the five grains,
but sucks the wind, drinks the dew, climbs up on the clouds and mist, rides a
flying dragon, and wanders beyond the four seas. By concentrating his spirit,
he can protect creatures from sickness and plague and make the harvest plentiful.
I thought this was all insane and refused to believe it.”
would!” said Lian Shu. “We can’t expect a blind man to appreciate beautiful
patterns or a deaf man to listen to bells and drums. And blindness and deafness
are not confined to the body alone — the understanding has them too, as your words
just now have shown. This man, with this virtue of his, is about to embrace the
ten thousand things and roll them into one. Though the age calls for reform, why
should he wear himself out over the affairs of the world? There is nothing that
can harm this man. Though flood waters pile up to the sky, he will not drown.
Though a great drought melts metal and stone and scorches the earth and hills,
he will not be burned. From
his dust and leavings alone you could mold a Yao or a Shun! Why should he consent
to bother about mere things?” (The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, 33-4 [Zhuangzi, Chapter 1]; transliterations changed to pinyin)
learning means increasing day by day;
Devotion to the Way means decreasing day by day.
Decreasing, and decreasing still more,
one arrives at doing nothing.
And in doing nothing, nothing remains undone.
If one would take control of all-under-Heaven
one should always refrain
One who is engaged in activity
is unworthy to control all-under-Heaven.
(Sources of Chinese Tradition, 89-90)
The Way is constant: by doing nothing,
nothing is left undone [wu wei er wu bu
If lords and kings can hold to it, all
of themselves, be transformed.
If, as they are transformed, desires arise,
I suppress them by means of
the nameless uncarved wood.
From the nameless uncarved wood
Through not desiring one becomes tranquil,
And the empire, of itself, becomes settled.
(Sources of Chinese Tradition, 87)
Sociopolitical Solution #3
The “Primitivist” Perspective
exalt the worthy,
the people will not compete.
not value goods that are hard to come by,
the people will not steal.
not display objects of desire,
the people’s minds will not be disturbed.
the ordering of the sage empties their
always causes the people to be
knowledge, without desire,
causes the wise ones [i.e. “those who know”]
not to dare to act.
does nothing (wuwei),
and there is
nothing that is not brought to order.
(Sources of Chinese Tradition, 80-81)
Do away with sageliness, discard knowledge,
And the people will benefit a hundredfold.
Do away with humaneness, discard rightness,
And the people will once more be filial and
Dispense with cleverness, discard profit,
And there will be no more bandits and
These three, to be regarded as ornaments, are
Therefore let the people have something to
Embrace uncarved wood,
(Sources of Chinese Tradition, 84-5)
The Ideal Primitivist State
Daodejing, Chapter 80
state be small and the people be
may be ten or even a hundred times as many
they should not be used.
the people, regarding death as a weighty
not travel far.
they have boats and carriages, none shall
ride in them.
they have armor and weapons, none shall
the people return once more to the use of
them savor their food and find beauty in
peace in their dwellings, and joy in their
neighboring states are within sight of one
the sound of cocks and dogs is audible from
one to the other,
will reach old age and death and yet not
visit one another.
(Sources of Chinese Tradition, 94)