Friday, December 08, 2006

The meanness of Zhuangzi?

If you are an ardent follower of Zhuangzi, one suggests that you skip this entry as what is written below could upset you.

While it may be fun to ridicule another doctrine or religion, it was really mean (Xiao) of Zhuangzi to defame and slander illustrious ancients and paragons of virtue. The meanness of the minor sage can be seen when he implied in Chapter 29 of his book about the wrong doings of sage kings and it could well have misled uninformed followers and admirers of his down the ages. Since only those familiar with ancient Chinese history can know for sure that what Zhuangzi had painted about the ancient sage kings was not true.

Could his not so well informed followers differentiate between falsehood and truth? One has on occasions found that some of them accept everything Zhuangzi wrote about the Confucians to be true. It had been an uphill struggle trying to convince some Western Daoists in Tao forums that Zhuangzi can be wrong and that Daoists do cultivate virtues similar to those of the Confucians. The virtues emanated from the sage kings, not Confucius. Confucius merely compiled them (Analects).

The narrow-mindedness of Zhuangzi by rejecting the Confucians’ belief in the cultivation of virtues probably proved costly to him in his never ending search for perfection. He did not attain the Way. How could anyone attain Tao without dual cultivation? Little wonder the Han literati styled themselves followers of the Huang-Lao tradition (Shiji) and not that of Zhuangzi. Perhaps what he had written transgressed the tolerance of most learned Daoists and Confucians or literati of the times and probably even today?

Let us examine what Zhuangzi said in the chapter which was used to mock the Confucians and in so doing gone beyond what is considered just and right. The extract is after Robber Chih had seemingly worsted ‘Confucius’ in a discourse on virtues:

“Dze-kang said, 'If you do not follow the usual course of what is held to be right, but observe no distinction between the near and remote degrees of kin, no difference between the noble and the mean, no order between the old and the young, then how shall a separation be made of the fivefold arrangement (of the virtues), and the six parties (in the social organisation)?'

Mân Kâu-teh replied, 'Yâo killed his eldest son, and Shun banished his half-brother :--did they observe the rules about the different degrees of kin? Tang deposed Kieh; king Wu overthrew Chou:--did they observe the righteousness that should obtain between the noble and the mean? King Kî took the place of his elder brother, and the duke of Zhou killed his :--did they observe the order that should obtain between the elder and the younger?

The Literati make hypocritical speeches; the followers of Mo hold that all should be loved equally:--do we find in them the separation of the fivefold arrangement (of the virtues), and the six parties (in the social organisation)? And further, you, Sir, are all for reputation, and I am all for gain; but where the actual search for reputation and gain may not be in accordance with principle and will not bear to be examined in the light of the right way,” [James Legge]

Without the relevant knowledge of the actual historical events, many students of Zhuangzi can easily be misled by his misrepresentation(s) merely to mock the Confucians. Perhaps it is timely to clarify, since Zhuangzi emphasized clarity as the way to understand the teachings of ancient sages.

Yao and Shun were the two illustrious sage kings who passed over their own sons to hand over the reign to the virtuous and worthy. Based on such merits, Yao passed the reign to Shun who in turn passed it to Da Yu who went on to found the Xia Dynasty. According to Yao, his own son and heir was an unworthy man who was insincere and quarrelsome (Shujing - Book of History). Therefore he was bypassed. Shun also had his own sons bypassed.

Despite what Zhuangzi indicated, there was no record whatsoever that Yao killed his son, in fact his son was very much alive when Yao died. Shun did not banish his half brother even after several futile attempts to kill Shun (Book of Mencius). Both Yao and Shun had displayed exemplary conduct in their respective reigns, what made Zhuangzi maligned them is up to readers (of this entry) to deduce. Did Zhuangzi ignored his roots, or was he bias, just to vilify the Confucian paragons of virtue?

Both Tang and Wu had overthrown the respective tyrants Kieh and Chou to bring relief to the oppressed people. Which was of more importance, loyalty to one’s ruler, or benevolence (Ren) and righteousness (Yi) for the common good? (Even Guan Yu, a Han general – before he became the God of War – chose righteousness when he released his ruler’s enemy, Cao Cao.)

Exactly the same question on Tang and Wu was put to Mencius by King Hsuan of Chi, and Mencius replied: “He who outrages the benevolence proper to his nature, is called a robber; he who outrages righteousness, is called a ruffian. The robber and ruffian we called a mere fellow. I have heard of the cutting off of the fellow Chou, but I have not heard of putting a sovereign to death, in his case.” (Mencius 2.8 Legge)
(I wonder if King Hsuan had also read this Chapter 29 or have heard the question from Zhuangzi, a contemporary of Mencius.)

King Ki (Jili), the father of King Wen, was the most capable son and was given the throne by his father. This bypassed the eldest son, the elder brother of Jili. Three brothers of the Duke of Zhou colluded with a prince of Yin and revolted against their own nephew, King Zheng of Zhou. After three years of fighting and finally subduing the uprising, the Duke of Zhou killed one of his own brothers and the Yin prince, and banished the others.

Does propriety (Li) come before benevolence (Ren) and justice (Yi)? Did Zhuangzi ever consider the ill intention of the three brothers who colluded with a powerful outsider to overthrow their own kin, and the effect on the common people who suffered during the revolt?

Since the Confucians and Daoists have probably contended over what Zhuangzi said about Confucian virtues for the past two thousand or more years, what is one more ‘cut and thrust’ over this contentious issue? After all one is not a sage. One has already faced some contention over the issue in a Daoist forum, TaoSpeaks. If truth grates on their ears or they wish to whitewash or cover it up without substantiated evidence to the contrary, what can one do? Maybe with a friend like me, they will no longer need enemies.

If we study and follow the ancients, we must also take a look at their intent. If they have to malign other sages and established ways of life to promote their own ways, it transgresses what is just and right.

My Daoist friend has this to add to this entry: “If readers compare how many Chinese had followed the way of Zhuangzi and how many had followed Confucius, they can determine for themselves whether Zhuangzi or Confucius had found the correct way towards life.”

The billion or more Chinese over the past two thousand years that chose to follow the Confucian way of life cannot be wrong. Can they? Borrowing a famous phrase from Zhuangzi, “How would I know?”


According to Legge, Sima Qian had also referred to Robber Chih and ascribed Chapter 29 to Zhuangzi in the Shiji (Records of the Historian). Legge noted: “Sima Qian seems to have been acquainted with them all. In his short biographical notice of Zhuangzi, he says, 'He made the Old Fisherman, the Robber Chih, and the Cutting Open Satchels, to defame and calumniate the disciples of Confucius.'”

After several attempts to convince me that Zhuangzi had inferred other things than what one read, one has lately been told in TaoSpeak that Legge is outdated, and one could be jumping to conclusions. Well, anything is possible, it could be this or it could be that. With their over eagerness to defend Zhuangzi, perhaps they missed my point that Zhuangzi was wrong to defame and slander the sage kings and to mislead the uninformed, if indeed he wrote Chapter 29. Did one just build a house of cards or made an informed criticism of Zhuangzi? With my limited knowledge of historical facts and Zhuangzi, how would I know?

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