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Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies
ISSN 0577-9170; DOI 10.6503/THJCS


Zhuang-zi and the Source of Humanism

Vol. 41 No. 4   06/2011    


Zhuang-zi and the Source of Humanism


Yang, Rur-bin 









Key words

Zhuangzi 莊子, humanism, chi-subject, goblet words, skill, Zhuangzi in the third phase 


     The meaning of classics has yet to attain completion because such meaning is focused on the author—and authors never die. Zhuangzi resembles the other authors of the classics in that his thought has continued to grow and develop. It can be interpreted from various perspectives, including that of shamanism or Buddhism, literature or history, and even that of the Western philosophers Sartre and Heidegger. Given this, it goes without saying that Zhuangzi’s thought can also be interpreted from a Confucian point of view. However, it is important to stress that Confucian interpretations of Zhuangzi are not simply reconstructions made by later Confucians, but rather are based on strong evidence found within the text itself. In the history of Zhuangzi studies, “Confucian theories of the Zhuangzi” are certainly not unfamiliar. Yet, in the late Ming Dynasty, the implications of these theories began to unfold. At that time, the main issue in “Confucian theories of the Zhuangzi” did not concern disputes over Zhuangzi’s sectarian identity, but rather centered on how to define the core meaning of Zhuangzi’s thought.
    This article starts from the viewpoint of original Confucian humanism, and points out that it did not focus exclusively on this-worldly social concerns, but instead was grounded in a primordial ontology, as illustrated in Liu Xie
劉勰’s statement: “The origin of human culture began with the Supreme Ultimate.” Confucian humanism assumed the continuality of being and the transcendent source of worldly order: from the hidden there emerged the manifest, and the manifest displays the source of the hidden. Zhuangzi emphasizes the nature of the subject’s transformative qi (氣化性) its language (語言性) its skill (技藝性) and its shared structure with reality (與世同構性). The energy that is produced from this daily transformation of the subject’s qi is precisely an uninterrupted cultivation, but it also represents the continual emergence of new principle, which brings with it a new “humanism.” Recently, those who question Zhuangzi’s humanism do so from the philosophical positions of either identity or deconstruction. However, this article suggests that identity, deconstruction and Zhuangzi’s humanism are not in conflict, and that the spirit of Zhuangzi’s humanism must be established on the foundation of both identity and deconstruction. The spirit of this type of deconstruction can also be viewed as increasing the white blood cell function of Confucian humanism’s spirit, but its degree of value cannot exceed that of Zhuangzi’s creative transformation. The trinity of Zhuangzi’s thought—humanism, super-humanism, and anti-humanism—can invigorate later Confucianism, which has been overly constrained by worldly morality, because the subject of qi transformation infused with creativity is the genuine foundation of Confucian humanism.



Author: Yang, Rur-bin
Genre: Article
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