Jesus was followed by St. Paul, Socrates by Plato, Confucius by Mencius,
and Laotse by Chuangtse. In all four cases, the first was the real teacher
and either wrote no books or wrote very little, and the second began to
develop the doctrines and wrote long and profound discourses. Chuangtse,
who died about 275 B.C., was separated from Laotse's death by not quite
two hundred years, and was strictly a contemporary of Mencius. Yet the
most curious thing is that although both these writers mentioned the other
philosophers of the time, neither was mentioned by the other in his works.
On the whole, Chuangtse must be considered the greatest prose writer of
the Chou Dynasty, as Ch'u: Yu:an must be considered the greatest poet.
His claim to this position rests both upon the brilliance of his style
and the depth of his thought. That explains the fact that although he was
probably the greatest slanderer of Confucius, and with Motse, the greatest
antagonist of Confucian ideas, no Confucian scholar has not openly or secretly
admired him. People who would not openly agree with his ideas would nevertheless
read him as literature.
Nor can it be said truly that a pure-blooded Chinese could ever quite
disagree with Chuangtse's ideas. Taoism is not a school of thought in China,
it is a deep, fundamental trait of Chinese thinking, and of the Chinese
attitude toward life and toward society. It has depth, while Confucianism
has only a practical sense of proportions; it enriches Chinese poetry and
imagination in an immeasurable manner, and it gives a philosophic sanction
to whatever is in the idle, freedom-loving, poetic, vagabond Chinese soul.
It provides the only safe, romantic release from the severe Confucian classic
restraint, and humanizes the very humanists themselves; therefore when
a Chinese succeeds, he is always a Confucianist, and when he fails, he
is always a Taoist. As more people fail than succeed in this world, and
as all who succeed know that they succeed but in a lame and halting manner
when they examine themselves in the dark hours of the night, I believe
Taoist ideas are more often at work than Confucianism. Even a Confucianist
succeeds only when he knows he never really succeeds, that is, by following
Taoist wisdom. Tseng Kuofan, the great Confucian general who suppressed
the Taiping Rebellion, had failed in his early campaign and began to succeed
only one morning when he realized with true Taoist humility that he was
"no good," and gave power to his assistant generals.
Chuangtse is therefore important as the first one who fully developed
the Taoistic thesis of the rhythm of life, contained in the epigrams of
Laotse. Unlike other Chinese philosophers principally occupied with practical
questions of government and personal morality, he gives the only metaphysics
existing in Chinese literature before the coming of Buddhism. I am sure
his mysticism will charm some readers and repel others. Certain traits
in it, like weeding out the idea of the ego and quiet contemplation and
"seeing the Solitary" explain how these native Chinese ideas were back
of the development of the Ch'an (Japanese Zen) Buddhism. Any branch of
human knowledge, even the study of the rocks of the earth and the cosmic
rays of heaven, strikes mysticism when is reaches any depth at all, and
it seems Chinese Taoism skipped the scientific study of nature to reach
the same intuitive conclusion by insight alone. Therefore it is not surprising
that Albert Einstein and Chuangtse agree, as agree they must, on the relativity
of all standards. The only difference is that Einstein takes on the more
difficult and, to a Chinese, more stupid work of mathematical proof, while
Chuangtse furnishes the philosophic import of this theory of relativity,
which must be sooner or later developed by Western philosophers in the
A word must be added about Chuangtse's attitude toward Confucius. It
will be evident to any reader that he was one of the greatest romanticizers
of history, and that any of the anecdotes he tells about Confucius, or
Laotse or the Yellow Emperor must be accepted on a par with those anecdotes
he tells about the conversation of General Clouds and Great Nebulous, or
between the Spirit of the River and the Spirit of the Ocean. It must be
also plainly understood that he was a humorist with a wild and rather luxuriant
fantasy, with an American love for 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.
The extant text of Chuangtse consists of thirty-three chapters, all
of them a mixture of philosophic disquisition and anecdotes or parables.
The chapters containing the most virulent attacks on Confucianism (not
included here) have been considered forgery, and a few Chinese "textual
critics" have even considered all of them forgery except the first seven
chapters. This is easy to understand because it is the modern Chinese fashion
to talk of forgery. One can rest assured that these "textual critics" are
unscientific because very little of it is philological criticism, but consists
of opinions as to style and whether Chuangtse had or had not enough culture
to attack Confucius only in a mild and polished manner. (See samples of
this type of "criticism" in my long introduction to The Book of History.)
Only one or two anachronisms are pointed out, which could be due to later
interpolations and the rest is a subjective assertion of opinion. Even
the evaluations of style are faulty, and at least a distinction should
be made between interpolations and wholesale forgery. Some of the best
pieces of Chuangtse are decidedly outside the first seven chapters, and
it has not even occurred to the critics to provide an answer as to who
else could have written them. There is no reason to be sure that even the
most eloquent exposition of the thieves' philosophy, regarded by most as
forgery, was not the work of Chuangtse, who had so little to do with the
"gentlemen." On the other hand, I believe various anecdotes have been freely
added by later generations into the extremely loose structure of the chapters.
I have chosen here eleven chapters, including all but one of the first
best seven chapters. With one minor exception, these chapters are translated
complete. 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." Some of Chuangtse's
parables in the other chapters will be found under "Parables of Ancient
Philosophers" elsewhere in this volume.
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.