Chuang Tzu (or Zhuangzi)

02 Mar 2004 17:19

Supposedly, a Taoist philosopher of the Warring States period in China. Verifiably, a book traditionally attributed to him.

"Chuang Tzu" means "Master Chuang". If we are to believe traditional accounts (like those in the Records of the Historian, by Ssu-ma Ch'ian), he lived in the fourth century BC, contemporary with Plato and Aristotle. He was from a place called Meng, probably in the state of Sung, where he was "an official in the lacquer garden"; nobody knows what that means. Chuang Chou is also recorded as being a member of the Chi-Hsia academy maintained by the larger and more advanced state of Ch'i, along with many of his most famous philosophical contemporaries, like Mencius and Hui Shih. And that is about it, so far as Chuang Chou goes.

As for the book Chuang Tzu, some of it is brilliant, and some of it is dreadfully dreary, and the last chapter discusses Chuang Tzu as just one among many other philosophers. It may be the work of many hands, over many years, or one person with off days and a fondness for reviewing himself in the third person (as Stanislaw Lem does in A Perfect Vacuum). The first seven chapters, sometimes called the "inner chapters", are traditionally regarded as genuinely by Chuang Chou, and certainly are extremely good.