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Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings


4.27  ·  Rating details ·  2,525 ratings  ·  90 reviews
The basic writings of Chuang Tzu have been savored by Chinese readers for over two thousand years. And Burton Watson's lucid and beautiful translation has been loved by generations of readers.

Chuang Tzu (369?-286? B.C.) was a leading philosopher representing the Taoist strain in Chinese thought. Using parable and anecdote, allegory and paradox, he set forth, in the book th
Paperback, 160 pages
Published May 9th 1996 by Columbia University Press (first published -350)
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Jan 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book contains the "inner chapters," not the entire Chuang Tzu, but generally considered the essential and least corrupt chapters. It's one of my favorite books, and after reading Watson's translation I'm unable to read anyone else's - it's wonderful (and there are quite a few weak versions, and weaker paraphrases). Of the Chinese classics I've read this is not only the most subtle and profound, it's sometimes absolutely hilarious. His parodies of Confucianism are a riot, his magical unreali ...more
Akemi G.
Aug 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-nonfiction
GR keeps asking me if I've read this book because I've read Tao Te Ching. Well, I have read Chuang Tzu's writings in Japanese translation that comes with the original Chinese texts and footnotes. (Chinese characters represent not only the phonetics but also the meanings, and many modern Japanese translations of Chinese classics contain the original text to assist deeper understanding--even though I don't speak Chinese, I know the meanings of the characters. We've been reading such classics for g ...more
Andrew Yuen
Feb 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
I can't decide if I learnt something, or nothing at all.

This book has a mystic's tone, in just the same way that Wittgenstein's TLP does. As a translation, Burton Watson makes a great companion and the foreword provides the necessary context to read the work, illuminative for those who are unfamiliar with Eastern philosophy. His many footnotes were helpful in understanding the text as well.

As a philosophy, readers from the western analytic tradition might be left uncomfortable. The work is a bit
Sharon Barrow Wilfong
I am probably the wrong sort of person to read this sort of book.

I felt the philosopher made a lot of nebulous and unrelated metaphors in an attempt to explain universal truths. And also I did not agree with what the philosopher regarded as truth. It felt more like being numb to truth.

However, it is useful to read the philosophies that shaped other cultures, because it enables us to connect with people we might not otherwise understand.
I've read this a number of times and I've read other translations ... for me Burton Watson is the best ... the humor shines through and the language Watson uses in his translation is clear and precise. He also provides useful footnotes which are located on the same page as the text

Here's a famous sample using the famous cleaver illustration: "However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I'm doing, work
Sep 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I almost felt like putting this on the "fantasy" shelf, so much of it was so purely fanciful. Chuang-tzu is, in the words of my prof, "a wild literary ride." Daoist in affiliation, this book is actually pretty drastically different from Lao-tzu's, and much more of the mystical side. The only reason why it's at 4 and not 5 stars is the lack of cohesiveness which plagues these +2000 year old texts. It can be a little hard to focus your attention at times when the thing is jumping all over the plac ...more
Nov 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy
I didn't finish it. I got about halfway through and just couldn't take another damn parable. (I think I hate parables.) I actually agree with the basic messages of the book (e.g., constantly striving for happiness can make you unhappy, so just be), but there were some parts that I just couldn't take. For example, you need a non-horse to show you that a horse is not a horse. So, yes, a non-horse is good to have around so you can tell what is a horse, but why would that be helpful in showing you t ...more
William Cheek
Feb 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Them that likes to think a bit
It doesn't matter what your worldview is - Chuang Tzu is good food for the mind.

The basic allure is in the concept of casting off...everything. Our deepest thoughts and considerations are almost always blocked by certain premises that we are unable to see through. Chuang Tzu escapes these barriers, in a thrilling and powerful way.

At its basic level, The Way according to Chuang Tzu is not anchored in anything. Physical circumstance, metaphysical reality - these do not, well, MATTER. The Way is a
Jan 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those interested in Taoism
Recommended to Adam by: Freshman Studies
I found this to be a nice discussion of Taoism, worlds easier to extract meaning from than the Tao Te Ching, though not quite as clear as the Tao of Pooh. It has all the trappings of ancient philosophy: parables, dialogues, and very poor logical constructions (though, unlike in Plato, these are essentially irrelevant for Zhuangzi; the point is never expressed in logical terms, but rather by illustration in analogy and parable).

The parables are somewhat repetitious, both in tone and in ideas, an
Dec 23, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very trippy. I opened to the first page and was immediately confronted with a story about a bird who became a pig who became a flower. But once you get into it and understand it intuitively, its stories and principles about the "Dao" or the flow of nature, will just begin to make sense to you. That said, sometimes, you'll still want to put your head down and cry from baffled confusion, but overall, it's a good read that leaves you with a greater sense of connection to the world and nature and Da ...more
Alec MacDonald
Jan 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
3.9 stars--rounded up. An interesting, short read that has some food for thought, but I've enjoyed and gained more from other books I've read on Taoism. Could be the translation that was the hurdle for me. I'll try a different translation later. ...more
Nov 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Words won't do this book justice. This short volume is brilliant and I shall return to it regularly. A wonderful exposition of the Tao and the principles of Wu Wei. ...more
Jan 30, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Zhuangzi has been labeled a "Taoist" since the 2nd century B.C., but what the hell does that mean? Sima Qian started this whole thing of calling Laozi and Zhuangzi "Taoists", like they shared the same world view and argued the same ideas. Wrong! Laozi and Zhuangzi really need to be taken as separate representations of different ways of thought, distinct not only from each other but from the wave of "Confucians" (another label courtesy of Sima Qian in the 2nd century BC) to come after Confucius h ...more
Joshua Buhs
Oct 20, 2015 added it
Shelves: b12
I don't really have any idea of what I just read.

(Which is why I'm not giving it a star rating--that wouldn't be fair.)

Chuang-Tzu is the lesser known Taoist writer--possibly as much of a legend as his more famous--and possible peer--Lao Tzu. This is a collection of his writings, not the entire surviving corpus.

Burton Watson, the translator, provides an excellent overview of the early history of Taoism and the place of these writings in it. Still, it was hard for me to make sense of. This is a bo
Brian Wilkerson
Aug 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Chuang Tzu is a book on Taoist philosophy. This particular translation is part of the Basic Writing series from Burton Watson.

The introduction written by him advises the reader against systematic analysis of the work itself because it is a mystic text. It is not to be analyzed and studied but reflected upon and understood. I agree with him.
Looking for meaning in each line, paragraph, page etc. is bound to be frustrating. I don't see it as written that way. It's more of gestalt sort of thing.
Erik Moron
Apr 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Reading In the World of a Man from this book really made me wonder on what life truly means to me. Zhuangzi's way of portraying to the reader what life would be like if they were as free spirited as he was, made me really wonder. Zhuangzis uses this book to show different ways of Daoism and truly believes in his ethics. "When you haven’t yet settled what’s within you yourself, what leisure have you to concern yourself with the conduct of tyrant?" This is an example that really hit me. It is true ...more
Hieu Cao
Jan 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: tao, cultivation
I don't understand several first chapters; however, the text gradually makes sense by itself. Chuang Tzu attempts to show us a perspective completely different from conventional thinkings but perfectly harmonious. A must-read!

03/12/2011, Sat
This is my second reading. I will make some statements about my insights gained from this book:
- All 'words' are relative but points to one absolute truth of nothingness.
- There must be something in order to have nothingness.
- Life as well as the whole wor
Richard Thompson
Sep 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book and the Tao Te Ching are the two great books of Taoism. I liked the Tao Te Ching better, but then I realized that until I could rid myself of the sentiment of thinking that my relative like or dislike of the two books was important, I certainly could not claim to have absorbed the teachings of the Tao. This book is a beautiful, complex and infuriating poem, which uses repetition, contradiction, and a structure like a Jackson Pollack painting to develop its themes in a way that simple e ...more
Jun 29, 2019 rated it liked it
A corrupted text far too obfuscated with the intentions of it’s scribes and rewriters passed through the millennia . Some stories are in the spirit of Tao: the stories involving trees and uselessness, the story of the bird and offerings of men, of Confucius’s student attempting to help a corrupt king, of the butcher cleaving livestock, of the White Sea turtle appearing as an envoy in dream, and some discourses on the limited expectations of smaller men, but that’s it.

The exaggerated singing at t
Tony duncan
May 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
After reading the Tao Te Ching, I discovered Chuang Tzu and it blew me away. This was an actual historical person that is documented and these are his writings.

The main thing is that his points are made in a style that is completely n harmony with the philosophy. Some of the passages are very funny, and the emotional connection fo the humor makes the point being made affect you. It is the connection to the idea, and the making it a part of oneself, rather than the intellectual understanding that
Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson
Jul 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: the-classics
This is one of those books that I always have with me. I am not a Chinese scholar but I've studied and practiced Tai Chi and traveled in China immediately after the cultural revolution in the early 1980's. That gave me a chance to see a culture and a way of life that I suspect hardly exists anymore. Chuang Tzu's Taoist writings are one of the basic tenets of Chinese philosophy and anyone interested in China, martial arts or philosophy should read this book. Like any ancient book shrouded in myst ...more
Aug 15, 2014 rated it liked it
So far this was the most entertaining philosophy book I have had to read for my class, and the most relatable to my life. There are practices in Taoism I am too selfish to attain. However, there was one aspect that I totally related to: Woodworker Ch'ing on pages 126-127 would only carve from a tree if he saw the bell stand within. I used to be a costumer for a historic site, and I tried to only buy fabric if I could imagine it in garment form - and the fabrics I bought without this "vision" lan ...more
Kennedy Okafor
Apr 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
After reading this book i realized that Zhuang Zhou is trying to tell us so much about ourselves but first i have to say that this book is confusing and it would make you think really deep. In my opinion Zhuang is trying to emphasis that figuring out who you are is more important than anything and also having the right ethics as well to back it up. Also doing good and getting a reward for it is actually not doing any good at all because you are trying to get praised for doing good but the good t ...more
Feb 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A slightly rough diamond but a diamond all the same. Much of why I picked up this book in the first place was to better acquaint myself with Taoism, specifically as it formed one of the key influences on Buddhism in China. Chuang Tzu I chose, I admit, in big part because he was one of the folks John Cage name-checked directly in his work, and I wanted to see the rest of what was there apart from the few snippets Cage quoted in "Indeterminacy" and "Silence". This particular edition is only a smal ...more
Mar 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: kung-fools
the good word...
4th century BCE... comedian, poet, story teller, and trickster..
a book i continually aspire to understand and hold myself to,
With a satchel of quirky stories... he single handedly undermined the institution of rational thought in ancient China..
(who knows if that's true.. it just has a ring to it...)

Burton Watson... is an excellent translator, a famous scholar... ive read four other translations.. only his manages to begin to capture all the multitudes... (though others are be
Aug 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People Interested In Taoism
Over the years I have read many books about Tao, and I'm more than a little embarrassed to admit that this is the first book I have read by Chuang Tzu. Chuang Tzu was one of the earliest and most prolific writers on Tao/Taoism. Several of the stories in this book I have heard/read versions of in other books. Some of my favorites are “The Useless Tree”, “3 In The Morning”, and “Training a Cock to Fight”. Even though these stories along with several others were already known to me it was nice to r ...more
Apr 22, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: philosophy kids and eastern religion types.
in a nutshell, this book offers a fairly loose translation of the Chuang Tzu, and offers a bit of philosophical difference from the works of Confucius. The book is sometimes a bit difficult to grasp, until you remember what the prologue suggests doing, and then the tales of pages begin, once again, to come together as they were intended to do.

Personally, I think that Confucius had a better way than the Chuang Tzu.

Then again... maybe it's just the frame of mind that I read it from?

all in all- w
May 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
As a Chinese,the time(Spring and Autumn Periods)Chuang Tsu,Sun Tsu,Lao Tsu,etc lived is always fascinating to me,it's one of few periods in the long history that actually make me proud.Of course,Chuang Tsz is a must read for me,though I find it difficult and I haven't finished it in the years,the ideas Chuang Zhou brought in his works inspired me so much that I mentioned him here and there from time to time.What he said more than 2000 years ago always remind me that out of the suffering and mean ...more
Dan Domanski
May 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
There is a three-star rating for saying "I liked it." There is a one-star rating for saying "I did not like it." There is a two-star rating which is a not yet three-star rating. There is a two-star rating which is a more than one-star rating. If a book has received a two-star rating, the reviewer did not like it, otherwise the book would receive a three-star rating. If a book has received a two-star rating, the reviewer did not did not like it, otherwise the book would receive a one-star rating. ...more
Apr 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-again
An excellent counterpoint to the mysterious poetry of the Tao Te Ching, this offers prose which is somewhat more comprehensible yet just as difficult to truly grasp. Both are wonderful ways of communicating the Taoist principles, both are books which I can always return to in times when I lose the way.

One particular thing I love about the writings of Zhuangzi is the humor- a key element for my practice of this kind of philosophy... not just accepting the world, but getting to laugh along with i
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庄子 or 莊子 Zhūangzi (c. 369 BC - c. 286 BC).
Zhuangzi, or “Master Zhuang” (also known in the Wade-Giles romanization as Chuang-tzu) was, after Laozi, one of the earliest thinkers to contribute to the philosophy that has come to be known as Daojia, or school of the Way. According to traditional dating, he was an almost exact contemporary of the Confucian thinker Mencius, but there appears to have been

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