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Learning from ancient book Zhuangzi

 by Nataša Pantović

The Zhuangzi is an ancient Chinese text that is one of the two foundational texts of Taoism, alongside the Tao Te Ching. It was written during the late 200 BC.

Zhuangzi_Tian_Yun_Ms CHinese text

Zhuangzi_Tian_Yun_Ms Chinese text

The Zhuangzi and Tao Te Ching are considered to be the two fundamental texts in the Taoist tradition. The Zhuangzi uses the word "Tao" (道) less frequently than the Tao Te Ching, with the former often using 'heaven' (天) in places the latter would use "Tao".

Inner chapters 

1               "Carefree Wandering"   逍遙遊; Xiāoyáo yóu

2              "On the Equality of Things"          齊物論; Qí wù lùn

3              "Essentials for Nurturing Life"    養生主; Yǎngshēng zhǔ

4              "The Human World"       人間世; Rénjiān shì

5              "Symbols of Integrity Fulfilled"  德充符; Dé chōng fú

6              "The Great Ancestral Teacher"  大宗師; Dà zōngshī

7              "Responses for Emperors and Kings"      應帝王; Yìng dì wáng

Outer chapters

8              "Webbed Toes"                駢拇; Piān mǔ

9              "Horses' Hooves"             馬蹄; Mǎtí

10           "Ransacking Coffers"      胠篋; Qū qiè

11           "Preserving and Accepting"         在宥; Zài yòu

12           "Heaven and Earth"        天地; Tiāndì

13           "The Way of Heaven"    天道; Tiān dào

14           "Heavenly Revolutions"                天運; Tiān yùn

15           "Ingrained Opinions"      刻意; Kè yì

16           "Mending Nature"          繕性; Shàn xìng

17           "Autumn Floods"             秋水; Qiū shuǐ

18           "Ultimate Joy"   至樂; Zhì lè

19           "Understanding Life"     達生; Dá shēng

20           "The Mountain Tree"     山木; Shān mù

21           "Sir Square Field"             田子方; Tiánzǐ fāng

22           "Knowledge Wanders North"     知北遊; Zhī běi yóu

Misc. chapters  

23           "Gengsang Chu"               庚桑楚; Gēngsāng Chǔ

24           "Ghostless Xu"  徐無鬼; Xú wúguǐ

25           "Sunny"               則陽; Zé yáng

26           "External Things"             外物; Wài wù

27           "Metaphors"     寓言; Yùyán

28           "Abdicating Kingship"     讓王; Ràng wáng

29           "Robber Footpad"           盜跖; Dào zhí

30           "Discoursing on Swords"               說劍; Shuō jiàn

31           "An Old Fisherman"        漁父; Yú fù

32           "Lie Yukou"         列禦寇; Liè Yùkòu

33           "All Under Heaven"        天下; Tiānxià

Zhuangzi believed the key to true happiness was to free oneself from worldly impingements through a principle of 'inaction' - wu wei

Zhuangzi rejects the distinction between the human and natural world.

Zhuangzi Quotes



Once, Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering about, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know that he was Zhuang Zhou.


Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuang Zhou. But he didn't know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that he was Zhuang Zhou. Between Zhuang Zhou and the butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.

— Zhuangzi

The Death of Wonton


The emperor of the Southern Seas was Lickety, the emperor of the Northern Sea was Split, and the emperor of the Centre was Wonton. Lickety and Split often met each other in the land of Wonton, and Wonton treated them very well. Wanting to repay Wonton's kindness, Lickety and Split said, "All people have seven holes for seeing, hearing, eating, and breathing. Wonton alone lacks them. Let's try boring some holes for him." So every day they bored one hole [in him], and on the seventh day Wonton died.

— Zhuangzi

The Debate on the Joy of Fish

Chapter 17 contains a well-known exchange between Zhuangzi and Huizi, featuring a heavy use of wordplay; it has been compared to a Socratic dialogue.


Zhuangzi and Huizi were enjoying themselves on the bridge over the Hao River. Zhuangzi said, "The minnows are darting about free and easy! This is how fish are happy."


Huizi replied, "You are not a fish. How[a] do you know that the fish are happy?" Zhuangzi said, "You are not I. How do you know that I do not know that the fish are happy?"


Huizi said, "I am not you, to be sure, so of course I don't know about you. But you obviously are not a fish; so the case is complete that you do not know that the fish are happy."


Zhuangzi said, "Let's go back to the beginning of this. You said, How do you know that the fish are happy; but in asking me this, you already knew that I know it. I know it right here above the Hao."

— Zhuangzi

Drumming On a Tub and Singing


Zhuangzi's wife died. When Huizi went to convey his condolences, he found Zhuangzi sitting with his legs sprawled out, pounding on a tub and singing. "You lived with her, she brought up your children and grew old," said Huizi. "It should be enough simply not to weep at her death. But pounding on a tub and singing—this is going too far, isn't it?"


Zhuangzi said, "You're wrong. When she first died, do you think I didn't grieve like anyone else? But I looked back to her beginning and the time before she was born. Not only the time before she was born, but the time before she had a body. Not only the time before she had a body, but the time before she had a spirit. In the midst of the jumble of wonder and mystery a change took place and she had a spirit. Another change and she had a body. Another change and she was born. Now there's been another change and she's dead. It's just like the progression of the four seasons, spring, summer, fall, winter."


"Now she's going to lie down peacefully in a vast room. If I were to follow after her bawling and sobbing, it would show that I don't understand anything about fate. So I stopped."

— Zhuangzi

Zhuang Death


When Master Zhuang was about to die, his disciples wanted to give him a lavish funeral. Master Zhuang said: "I take heaven and earth as my inner and outer coffins, the sun and moon as my pair of jade disks, the stars and constellations as my pearls and beads, the ten thousand things as my funerary gifts. With my burial complete, how is there anything left unprepared? What shall be added to it?"


The disciples said: "We are afraid that the crows and kites will eat you, Master!" Master Zhuang said: "Above ground I'd be eaten by crows and kites, below ground I'd be eaten by mole crickets and ants. You rob the one and give to the other—how skewed would that be?"

— Zhuangzi

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