Thoughts on Reading "A Brief Introduction to Zhuangzi" I recently finished reading "A Brief Introduction to Zhuangzi" and it left a deep impression on me.

Life Section#

"Zhuangzi's Shallow Explanation" is divided into three parts: the Life Section, the Life and Death Section, and the Thought Section, with a total of 18 subsections.

In the Life Section, Zhuangzi came from a poor background and lived in a time when unscrupulous people prospered. Through the fable of the "strange magpie," he informs people that seeking other things with single-mindedness will inevitably lead to the destruction of everything, commonly known as "the mantis stalks the cicada, unaware of the oriole behind." Zhuangzi advocates for a natural way of life, believing that intentionally seeking other things will only attract harm from other things. Only by eliminating calculations and schemes can one break free from this cycle of struggle. Nowadays, it is also an era where unscrupulous people prosper and everything is in conflict, so people are living with some vigilance.

When the King of Chu sent officials to invite Zhuangzi to come out of seclusion and offer political advice, Zhuangzi replied, "I have heard that Chu has a divine turtle that has been dead for three thousand years. The king wraps it in silk and hides it in the temple. Is it better for this turtle to die and leave its bones or to be honored?" Regardless of high-ranking officials, the bones of the dead have no meaning. Zhuangzi would rather live and crawl in the mud. He believed that the meaning of life does not lie in official positions, but in the value left behind. There are many people who forget everything in order to seek official positions, but there are very few who can truly worry about the people while occupying high positions. Even if Zhuangzi were to offer political advice, he might not be able to achieve these ideals, so he chose to never serve in government.

Zhuangzi also had a close friend named Huizi. They always looked at problems from different perspectives but could still have enjoyable conversations. Zhuangzi empathized with things and had a sense of unity with them, emphasizing that "heaven and earth are one with me, and all things are one with me." Huizi, on the other hand, always analyzed things from a rational perspective.

Zhuangzi said, "The minnows swim about so freely, following the openings wherever they take them. Such is the happiness of fish." Huizi said, "You are not a fish, so how can you know the happiness of fish?" Zhuangzi said, "You are not me, so how can you know that I do not know the happiness of fish?" Huizi said, "I am not you, so I certainly do not know you. But you must know that I do not know the happiness of fish." Zhuangzi said, "Please, let us go back to the beginning. You said, 'How do you know the happiness of fish?' Since you already knew that I know it when you asked the question, it was because you knew that I knew it from up above the Hao."

When Zhuangzi's wife passed away, he drummed on a basin and sang. He believed that everything is made of qi, and qi transforms into form, form transforms into destiny, and now it has transformed into death. Just like the changing seasons, it follows the natural order. Compared to the fake mourning performed according to rituals, Zhuangzi's expression of grief was more sincere.

Why was Zhuangzi sad when his friend died but drummed on a basin and sang when his wife died? Huizi's death left Zhuangzi in a lonely situation, with one less friend who shared deep friendship and understanding. It was painful for him. On the other hand, when his wife left, Zhuangzi must have also felt pain, but upon reflection, it was just a change in form of existence, similar to Lin Yun in "The Three-Body Problem: Ball Lightning."

Thought Section#

When I saw the phrase "In the Northern Sea, there is a fish called Kun," it felt like I was back in high school. At that time, I resisted Chinese class. I only had a superficial understanding of many texts I studied, and I still owe a lot of knowledge...

Kunpeng and Sparrows#

Zhuangzi's ideal character is someone with the character of Kunpeng. Deep and profound like Kun, soaring high like Peng. This also indicates that the cultivation of talent requires a superior environment and self-preparation. Who knew that eighteen years of hard study only kept us sitting at the desk, waiting for opportunities...

When Peng flew to the south, it was mocked by sparrows, saying, "Why do you need to fly so far?" The higher the perspective, the farther one can see. The lofty ambitions of the great Peng are beyond the small thoughts of sparrows.

The Way of Dealing with the World#

When I was in school, we learned about Pao Ding Jie Niu, where skillful mastery and diligent study would lead to the best results. But in this book, there are some different interpretations.

  1. Understanding the natural patterns. Although affairs may be complex, as long as we can plan and find methods to deal with them, they can be easily resolved.

  2. Skillful and unassuming. This mainly reflects two points: in chaotic times, the most important thing is to be mentally alert and to behave with restraint.

For those with talent and wisdom, it is necessary to be cautious in chaotic times and not to boast about one's abilities. Revealing one's abilities will invite jealousy from others, which can lead to conflicts.

The Use of Uselessness#

Waste is actually defined by society and others. People and things that do not conform to the mainstream will eventually be accepted. Li Si, when he served as the prime minister of the Qin Dynasty, achieved great wealth, fame, and success, but in the end, he fell in political struggles.

Ideal Characters#

Here, five types of people are mentioned, in simple terms:

  1. The disillusioned person who is talented but unrecognized.
  2. The person who upholds benevolence, righteousness, loyalty, and trust in a well-governed world.
  3. The person who discusses great achievements and maintains the harmony between ruler and minister in the court.
  4. The person who lives in seclusion in the mountains and is ignorant of worldly affairs.
  5. The person who pursues extreme self-cultivation and cherishes life.

Based on these five types of people, Zhuangzi introduces another type of person: the Heavenly Person/Sage.

Without feelings of gain or loss, without regret for missed opportunities, not overly pleased with smooth progress. Climbing high without feeling dizzy, entering water without feeling wet, entering fire without feeling hot. Not dreaming while sleeping, not worrying while awake.

Being able to not be pleased by external things and not be saddened by oneself is rare. The Heavenly Person mentioned here is an idealized concept.

Criticizing Benevolence and Affirming True Knowledge#

Benevolence and righteousness, which bind human nature, will always be criticized. It is mentioned that great benevolence is not benevolence, and the ultimate benevolence has no personal attachments.

Zhuangzi suggests that for things beyond our control, we should be content with not knowing. His rejection of knowledge is also a rejection of limited knowledge.

Pursuing infinite knowledge with limited life will only lead to exhaustion.

Natural Inaction and the Beauty of Nature#

Taoist philosophy believes in "the naturalness of all things" and "governing without action." The Tao is natural. Zhuangzi witnessed the chaotic times of the Spring and Autumn period and the Warring States period, where the country was in turmoil and destruction due to the disturbing policies of the ruling class. Contemporary society contradicts Taoist philosophy. Throughout history, Confucianism has been highly respected, and the long-lasting influence of Confucian culture eventually led to the downfall of the Southern Song Dynasty. It was precisely because of the downfall of the Southern Song Dynasty that the Yuan Dynasty emerged, the largest dynasty in Chinese history.

The beauty of nature mainly contrasts the different views of natural philosophy in different periods and regions. The content involves philosophy and history, and I am still learning and have limited knowledge. I will end with two quotes from the book.

British philosopher Bertrand Russell once pointed out that humans are always immersed in three basic conflicts: the conflict between humans and nature, the conflict between humans and others, and the conflict within oneself. The West focuses on natural issues, China focuses on social issues, and India focuses on personal issues.

Liang Shuming divided human cultures into three types: Western culture, Chinese culture, and Indian culture. Westerners value material life, Chinese value social life, and Indians value spiritual life.

The Paradox of Debate and the Paradox of the Tao#

In the early Warring States period, the Hundred Schools of Thought competed with each other, which is now seen as a good phenomenon. But in Zhuangzi's view, it was a "confusion and chaos" of debates. Both sides accused each other, excluded each other, and got involved in disputes. This led to the theory of "debate without victory" that "the winner is not necessarily right, and the loser is not necessarily wrong." So how can we establish an objective standard? "The Tao."

(To be continued)

Dealing with and Unity#

Dealing with refers to the flexibility and diversity in dealing with things, while unity refers to seeing everything as a whole and emphasizing the interconnectedness and interdependence of things.

In summary, the main points are:

  1. Embrace diversity.
  2. Approach with an open mindset and adaptability.
  3. Unify as a whole.


I have been writing this article intermittently for several days, simply summarizing the main ideas without adding too much personal subjectivity. The end of the year has been busy, and my mind has become increasingly restless. But often, the more anxious we are, the more likely we are to encounter the wrong people and go astray.

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