Also found in: Dictionary, Wikipedia.




(both: jwäng-dzŭ), c.369–c.286 B.C., Chinese Taoist writer. Little is known about his life. He was a native of the state of Meng, on the border of present-day Shandong and Henan provinces, and is said to have lived as a hermit. The collection of essays attributed to him, called the Chuang-tzu, is distinguished by its brilliant and original style, with abundant use of satire, paradox, and seemingly nonsensical stories. Chuang-tzu emphasizes the relativity of all ideas and conventions that are the basis of judgments and distinctions; he puts forward as the solution to the problems of the human condition freedom in identification with the universal Tao, or principle of Nature. He is less political in his orientation than the earlier Taoist Lao TzuLao Tzu
, fl. 6th cent. B.C., Chinese philosopher, reputedly the founder of Taoism. It is uncertain that Lao Tzu [Ch.,=old person or old philosopher] is historical. His biography in Ssu-ma Ch'ien's Records of the Historian (1st cent. B.C.
..... Click the link for more information.
. He is also called Chuang Chou.


See his complete works, tr. by B. Watson (1968).



Born circa 369 B.C.; died circa 286 B.C. Author of the ancient Chinese classic Taoist treatise Chuang-tzu (c. 300 B.C.).

Very little is known about the life of Chuang-tzu. It has been established that he deliberately refused to occupy any civil service posts. His treatise, written in the form of parables, short stories, and dialogues, harshly criticizes Confucianism and the teachings of Mo Tzu and preaches fusion with the tao, a certain inexpressible totality of universal life. Chuang-tzu contrasts nature, in which the tao is embodied, with human beings and the world created by them—government, culture, and morality, all of which are based on force.


“Chuang-tzu chi shih.” In Chu-tzu chi-ch’eng. (Collection of Works of Ancient Thinkers), vol. 3. Peking, 1957.
In Russian translation:
Ateisty, materialisty, dialektiki Drevnego Kitaia. Introductory article, translation, and commentary by L. D. Pozdneeva. Moscow, 1967.



The classical Chinese philosophy of Taoism is a way of looking at the world in terms of a unified whole. The separate actions of the parts reflect and correspond to the larger actions of the whole. This union is depicted in the concept of the yin and the yang, the opposed yet inseparable “poles” of everything that is—male and female, positive and negative, up and down.

The dynamic link between opposites, in which yin is continually changing into yang and vice versa, is an appropriate perspective for understanding an oft-repeated story of Chuang-tzu, an ancient Taoist philosopher. It is said that Chuang-tzu once dreamed that he was a butterfly. Upon awakening, he asked himself if he was a man dreaming that he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that he was a man.

This story has frequently been cited in the context of discussions of the reality of the world as we experience it, as well as in discussions of the felt reality of dreams. With respect to the latter line of thought, it has often been observed that while we are dreaming we rarely question the reality of our dreams, accepting the most absurd situations as fact, until we awaken. And it is usually only from the perspective of waking consciousness that we can judge our dreams to have been bizarre or ridiculous.

As important as this point is, it nevertheless ignores the importance of Taoism as a perspective for understanding Chuang-tzu’s statement. While this ancient sage undoubtedly was remarking on the seeming reality of dreams, he was also picturing his waking self as a man and his sleeping self as a butterfly to a dynamic yang-yin relationship. As the seasons cyclically alternate from hot to cold and back again, as night alternates with day, and so on, so do we alternate back and forth between sleeping and waking. This being so, a Taoist might say, Why should we call one real and the other an illusion? Both seem to be necessary to human life, so why depreciate dreams (yin) at the expense of so-called waking consciousness (yang) This seems to be the deeper import of Chuang-tzu’s story.

References in periodicals archive ?
This book originated as a dissertation on how an early T'ang commentator, Ch'eng Hsuan-ying, explained the Taoist text, Chuang-tzu.
With effort, one ascertains that Yu here argues as follows: previous commentators, like Kuo Hsiang, "explained" the Chuang-tzu, in "commentaries" (chu); Ch'eng, however, "interpreted" the Chuang-tzu, in a "subcommentary" (shu).
Yu admits that "there is no direct mention of (Ch'eng) teaching the Chuang-tzu," but cites a Japanese scholar to the effect that the Buddhist pilgrim Ennin (794-864) mentions that Taoists had lectured on Chuang-tzu at abbeys in Ch'ang-an sometime previously.
107), significantly contributes to the understanding of Chuang-Tzu within the context of comparative mysticism.
The key to Herman's argument is Buber's identification of the Chuang-Tzu as a parable that expresses the ineffable and pervasive Lehre (teaching) of oneness.
Such a hermeneutics, if framed cautiously and without an inherent rejection of historicism and contextualism, can immensely enrich the comparative discourse as Buber's reading of the Chuang-Tzu has done.
64 The butterflies allude to Chuang-tzu's famous dream; Chuang-tzu, 2.
One thinks in this connection, for example, of books such as Merton's Mystics and Zen Masters (1) or The Way of Chuang-Tzu.
It is also a reading that robs Su Shih's essay of some of the mystery that makes it, when read with the "Ch'ien Ch'ih-pi fu", "superior to the entire Chuang-tzu.
Above, I suggested that the examiners had, in the case of this rhapsody, set a trap for the unwary exam candidate: the Chuang-tzu passage from which the title is taken says only that the "wooden gamecocks" do not respond when other cocks crow, and never mentions their own crowing.
11 Setting the scene, this opening section adds little to the Chuang-tzu anecdote of Chi Hsing-tzu, trainer of cocks wooden and immovable in their perfection.
15 "To pierce through at the joints" may perhaps be an oblique reference to the Chuang-tzu story of Cook Ting, who was able to slice up an ox, without even looking at it, by instinctually finding the "joints".