Manyul Im’s Chinese Philosophy Blog

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What Would Zhuangzi Do?

Over on Facebook, Hagop Sarkissian dropped the question: WWZZD (what would Zhuangzi do)? That of course made me think, first, “He would do nothing” but I immediately realized that I was confusing WWZZD with WWLZD. My second thought, and the one I trust more, was that WWZZD isn’t really formulated correctly. It should be HWZZDT–“How would Zhuangzi do this (or that, depending on perspective)?” As far as I can see, Zhuangzi isn’t concerned so much with aims as much as methods. Does anyone read Zhuangzi differently? ‘Zhuangzi’ here refers to the nonhistorical persona that haunts the Zhuangzi text; maybe there’s more than one such specter.

(HWZZDT seems to roll off the tongue so much better than HWCTDT, doesn’t it?)

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December 2, 2008 - Posted by | Chinese philosophy, Daoism, Taoism

7 Comments

  1. Hi Manyul,

    I agree that a major emphasis of the Zhuangzi is a second-order dao about how, as you put it, to follow the various first-order dao we find ourselves in.

    But I think parts of the anthology endorse a few very general values, such as “harmony” (和), “calm” or “peace” (安), and the form of freedom embodied in “wandering” (遊).

    One might certainly argue, though, that these values are so general that they fit under the label of “how” instead of “what.”

    Comment by Chris Fraser | December 3, 2008

  2. Hi Manyul,

    While I agree that how one does things is probably more to the point with regards to Zhuangzi, I think there’s a number of things he would or wouldn’t engage in, so “WWZZD” is not totally inappropriate.

    I agree with Chris Fraser about Zhuangzi’s value of harmony and peace, both within and without.

    Comment by Bao Pu | December 3, 2008

  3. It’s not clear to me that a strict distinction between “what” and “how” makes sense here. It certainly wouldn’t make sense for Zhuang Zi, given his resistance to analytic distinctions generally. For example, Zhuang Zi seems to tell us to accept death, don’t resent it, just let physical decline come and embrace the transformation. Is that a “what” or a “how”? If we think of “how” as expressed by verbs or adverbs, and “what” represented by nouns, it might come down to the difference of “to accept” and “acceptance.” But that’s not much of a difference….

    Comment by Sam | December 9, 2008

  4. How would Zhuangzi blog? Would he blog? And if so, would he enable the falling-snow effect around the holidays? :)

    Comment by Dave Bonta | December 9, 2008

  5. Far away on the hill of Gu Ye there dwelt a Spirit-like man whose flesh and skin were (smooth) as ice and (white) as snow; that his manner was elegant and delicate as that of a virgin; that he did not eat any of the five grains, but inhaled the wind and drank the dew; that he mounted on the clouds, drove along the flying dragons, rambling and enjoying himself beyond the four seas; that by the concentration of his spirit-like powers he could save men from disease and pestilence, and secure every year a plentiful harvest.

    Comment by Manyul Im | December 9, 2008

  6. Interesting reactions. Chris, Bao Pu, and Sam: you’re all right; there are fuzzy borders between how and what one does. Maybe I should say this: no matter what one is trying to accomplish (the “what”), on a view that runs throughout the Zhuangzi, there are considerations of form (the “how”) that are recommended to be upheld–harmonious, peaceful, and calm action. I might add something like “ironically joyous attitude” to the list.

    I don’t know; did I just make a distinction or further muddle things?

    There are things Zhuangzi is depicted as not willing to do–the one that comes to mind is the refusal to serve Chu Wang. But that seems significantly different from answering WWZZD. That answers WWZZND.

    Comment by Manyul Im | December 9, 2008

  7. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of WWZZD, rather along the lines of your “ironically joyous attitude,” is: laugh…

    Comment by Sam | December 9, 2008


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