Chuang Tzŭ (Giles)/Chapter 20

Chuang Tzŭ  (1889) 
Zhuang Zi, translated by Herbert A. Giles
Chapter XX. Mountain Trees

Bernard Quaritch, London, pages 245–260


Mountain Trees.

Argument:—The alternatives of usefulness and uselessness—Tao a tertium quid—The human a hindrance to the divine—Altruism—Adaptation—Destiny—Illustrations.

[This chapter is supplementary to chapter iv.]

CHUANG TZŬ was travelling over a mountain when he saw a huge tree well covered with foliage. A woodsman had stopped near by, not caring to take it; and on Chuang Tzŭ enquiring the reason, he was told that it was of no use.

"This tree," cried Chuang Tzŭ, "by virtue of being good for nothing succeeds in completing its allotted span."

When Chuang Tzŭ left the mountain, he put up at the house of an old friend. The latter was delighted, and ordered a servant to kill a goose and cook it.

"Which shall I kill?" enquired the servant; "the one that cackles or the one that doesn't?"

His master told him to kill the one which did not cackle. And accordingly, the next day, a disciple asked Chuang Tzŭ, saying, "Yesterday, that tree on the mountain, because good for nothing, was to succeed in completing its allotted span. But now, our host's goose, which is good for nothing, has to die. Upon which horn of the dilemma will you rest?"

"I rest," replied Chuang Tzŭ with a smile, "halfway between the two. In that position, appearing to be what I am not, it is impossible to avoid the troubles of mortality;

The text is here doubtful, and commentators explain according to the fancy of each. When a Chinese commentator does not understand his text, he usually slurs it over. He never says "I do not understand." Chu Fu Tzŭ alone could rise to this height.

though, if charioted upon Tao and floating far above mortality, this would not be so. No praise, no blame; both great and small; changing with the change of time, but ever without special effort; both above and below; making for harmony with surroundings; reaching creation's First Cause; swaying all things and swayed by none;—how then shall such troubles come? This was the method of Shên Nung and Huang Ti.

"If another guest had happened to arrive," says Lin Hsi Chung, "I fancy the chance even of the cackling goose would have been small."

"But amidst the mundane passions and relationships of man, such would not be the case. For where there is union, there is also separation; where there is completion, there is also destruction; where there is purity, there is also oppression; where there is honour, there is also disparagement; where there is doing, there is also undoing; where there is openness, there is also underhandedness; and where there is no semblance, there is also deceit. How then can there be any fixed point? Alas indeed! Take note, my disciples, that such is to be found only in the domain of Tao."

I Liao

A sage of the Ch'u State.

of Shih-nan paid a visit to the prince of Lu. The latter wore a melancholy look; whereupon the philosopher of Shih-nan enquired what was the cause.

"I study the doctrines of the ancient Sages," replied the prince. "I carry on the work of my predecessors. I respect religion. I honour the good. Never for a moment do I relax in these points; yet I cannot avoid misfortune, and consequently I am sad."

"Your Highness' method of avoiding misfortune," said the philosopher of Shih-nan, "is but a shallow one. A handsome fox or a striped leopard will live in a mountain forest, hiding beneath some precipitous cliff. This is their repose. They come out at night and keep in by day. This is their caution. Though under the stress of hunger and thirst, they lie hidden, hardly venturing to slink secretly to the river bank in search of food. This is their resoluteness. Nevertheless, they do not escape the misfortune of the net and the trap. But what crime have they committed? 'Tis their skin which is the cause of their trouble; and is not the State of Lu your Highness' skin? I would have your Highness put away body and skin alike, and cleansing your heart and purging it of passion, betake yourself to the land where mortality is not.


"In Nan-yüeh there is a district, called Established-Virtue. Its people are simple and honest, unselfish, and without passions. They can make, but cannot keep. They give, but look for no return. They are not conscious of fulfilling obligations. They are not conscious of subservience to etiquette.

Theirs is the natural etiquette of well-regulated minds.

Their actions are altogether uncontrolled, yet they tread in the way of the wise. Life is for enjoyment; death, for burial. And thither I would have your Highness proceed, power discarded and the world left behind, only putting trust in Tao."

"The road is long and dangerous," said the prince. "Rivers and hills to be crossed, and I without boat or chariot;—what then?"

"Unhindered by body and unfettered in mind," replied the philosopher, "your Highness will be a chariot to yourself."

"But the road is long and dreary," argued the prince, "and uninhabited.

This is a play on "where mortality is not," above.

I shall have no one to turn to for help; and how, without food, shall I ever be able to get there?"

"Decrease expenditure

Of energy.

and lessen desires," answered the philosopher, "and even though without provisions, there will be enough. And then through river and over sea your Highness will travel into shoreless illimitable space. From the border-land, those who act as escort will return; but thence onwards your Highness will travel afar.

"It is the human in ourselves which is our hindrance; and the human in others which causes our sorrow. The great Yao had not this human element himself, nor did he perceive it in others. And I would have your Highness put off this hindrance and rid yourself of this sorrow, and roam with Tao alone through the realms of Infinite Nought.

"Suppose a boat is crossing a river, and another empty boat is about to collide with it. Even an irritable man would not lose his temper. But supposing there was some one in the second boat. Then the occupant of the first would shout to him to keep clear. And if the other did not hear the first time, nor even when called to three times, bad language would inevitably follow. In the first case there was no anger, in the second there was; because in the first case the boat was empty, and in the second it was occupied. And so it is with man. If he could only roam empty through life, who would be able to injure him?"

With his mind in a negative state, closed to all impressions conveyed within by the senses from without.

Pei Kung Shê, minister to Duke Ling of Wei, levied contributions for making bells. An altar was built outside the city gate;

For purposes of sacrifice.

and in three months the bells, upper and lower, were all hung.

The bell-chime consisted of a frame with bells swung on an upper and lower bar.

When Wang Tzŭ Ch'ing Chi

Minister to the ruling House of Chou.

saw them, he asked, saying, "How, Sir, did you manage this?"

"In the domain of one," replied Shê, "there may not be managing. I have heard say that which is carved and polished reverts nevertheless to its natural condition. And so I made allowances for ignorance and for suspicion. I betrayed no feeling when welcomed or dismissed. I forbade not those who came, nor detained those who went away. I showed no resentment towards the unwilling, nor gratitude towards those who gave. Every one subscribed what he liked; and thus in my daily collection of subscriptions, no injury was done.—How much more then those who have the great way?"

If my success was due to the simple principle above enunciated, what a success would result from Tao, which is the infinite extension of such principles into every phase of existence!
The Chinese word here used for "way," as a synonym of Tao, settles the original meaning of the latter in the sense of "road." Thus Lao Tzŭ is said to have explained that the Way he taught was not the way which could be walked upon.

When Confucius was hemmed in between Ch'ên and Ts'ai, he passed seven days without food.

The minister Jen went to condole with him, and said, "You were near, Sir, to death."

"I was indeed," replied Confucius.

"Do you fear death, Sir?" enquired Jen.

"I do," said Confucius.

"Then I will try to teach you," said Jen, "the way not to die.

"In the eastern sea there are certain birds, called the i-êrh. They behave themselves in a modest and unassuming manner, as though unpossessed of ability. They fly simultaneously: they roost in a body. In advancing, none strives to be first; in retreating, none ventures to be last. In eating, none will be the first to begin; it is considered proper to take the leavings of others. Therefore, in their own ranks they are at peace, and the outside world is unable to harm them. And thus they escape trouble.

"Straight trees are the first felled. Sweet wells are soonest exhausted. And you, you make a show of your knowledge in order to startle fools. You cultivate yourself in contrast to the degradation of others. And you blaze along as though the sun and moon were under your arms; consequently, you cannot avoid trouble.

See p. 243.

"Formerly, I heard a very wise man say, Self-praise is no recommendation. In merit achieved there is deterioration. In fame achieved there is loss. Who can discard both merit and fame and become one with the rest? Tao pervades all things but is not seen.

This is "virtue," the expression of Tao.

moves through all things but its place is not known. In its purity and constancy, it may be compared with the purposeless. Remaining concealed, rejecting power, it works not for merit nor for fame. Thus, not censuring others, it is not censured by others.

"And if the perfect man cares not for fame, why, Sir, should you take pleasure in it?"

"Good indeed!" replied Confucius; and forthwith he took leave of his friends and dismissed his disciples and retired to the wilds, where he dressed himself in skins and serge and fed on acorns and chestnuts. He passed among the beasts and birds and they took no heed of him. And if so, how much more among men?

An unquestionably spurious episode.

Confucius asked Tzŭ Sang Hu,

See ch. vi.

saying, "I have been twice expelled from Lu. My tree was cut down in Sung. I have been tabooed in Wei. I am a failure in Shang and Chou. I was surrounded between Ch'ên and Ts'ai. And in addition to all these troubles, my friends have separated from me and my disciples are gone. How is this?"

See p. 180.

"Have you not heard," replied Sang Hu, "how when the men of Kuo fled, one of them, named Lin Hui, cast aside most valuable regalia and carried away his child upon his back? Some one suggested that he was influenced by the value of the child;—but the child's value was small. Or by the inconvenience of the regalia;—but the inconvenience of the child would be much greater. Why then did he leave behind the regalia and carry off the child?

"Lin Hui himself said, 'The regalia involved a mere question of money. The child was from God.'

"And so it is that in trouble and calamity mere money questions are neglected, while we ever cling nearer to that which is from God. And between neglecting and clinging to, the difference is great.

"The friendship of the superior man is negative like water. The friendship of the mean man is full-flavoured like wine. That of the superior man passes from the negative to the affectionate. That of the mean man passes from the full-flavoured to nothing. The friendship of the mean man begins without due cause, and in like manner comes to an end.

"I hear and obey," replied Confucius; and forthwith he went quietly home, put an end to his studies and cast aside his books. His disciples no longer saluted him as teacher; but his love for them deepened every day.

On another occasion. Sang Hu said to him again, "When Shun was about to die, he commanded the Great Yü as follows:—Be careful. Act in accordance with your physical body. Speak in accordance with your feelings. You will thus not get into difficulty with the former nor suffer annoyance in the latter. And as under these conditions you will not stand in need of outward embellishment of any kind, it follows that you therefore will not stand in need of anything."

Also an episode of doubtful authorship. The commentators, however, have nothing to say against its genuineness.

Chuang Tzŭ put on cotton clothes with patches in them, and arranging his girdle and tieing on his shoes,

To keep them from falling off.

went to see the prince of Wei.

"How miserable you look, Sir!" cried the prince.

"It is poverty, not misery," replied Chuang Tzŭ. "A man who has Tao cannot be miserable. Ragged clothes and old boots make poverty, not misery. Mine is what is called being out of harmony with one's age.

"Has your Highness never seen a climbing ape? Give it some large tree, and it will twist and twirl among the branches as though monarch of all it surveys. Yi and Fêng Mêng

An ancient archer and his apprentice.

can never catch a glimpse of it.

"But put it in a bramble bush, and it will move autiously with sidelong glances, trembling all over with fear. Not that its muscles relax in the face of difficulty, but because it is at a disadvantage as regards position, and is unable to make use of its skill. And how should any one, living under foolish sovereigns and wicked ministers, help being miserable, even though he might wish not to be so?

"It was under such circumstances that Pi Kan was disembowelled."

See ch. iv. The above episode is too much even for Chinese critics, and has been condemned accordingly.

When Confucius was hemmed in between Ch'ên and Ts'ai and had gone seven days without food, then, holding in his left hand a piece of dry wood and in his right hand a dry stick, he sang a ballad of Piao Shih.

An ancient ruler.

He had an instrument, but the gamut was wanting. There was sound, but no tune. The sound of the wood accompanied by the voice of the man yielded a harsh result, but it was in keeping with the feelings of his audience.

Yen Hui, who was standing by in a respectful attitude, thereupon began to turn his eyes about him; and Confucius, fearing lest he should be driven by exaltation into bragging, or by a desire for safety into sorrow,

As a result of hearing the song.

spoke to him as follows:—

"Hui! it is easy to escape injury from God; it is difficult to avoid the benefits of man. There is no beginning and there is no end. Man and God are one. Who then was singing just now?"

"Pray, Sir, what do you mean," asked Yen Hui, "by saying that it is easy to escape injury from God?"

"Hunger, thirst, cold, and heat," replied Confucius, "are but as fetters in the path of life. They belong to the natural laws which govern the universe; and in obedience thereto I pass on my allotted course. The subject dares not disregard the mandates of his prince. And if this is man's duty to man, how much more shall it be his duty to God?"

"What is the meaning of difficult to avoid the benefits of man?" asked Yen Hui.

"If one begins," replied Confucius, "by adaptation to surroundings, rank and power follow without cease. Such advantages are external; they are not derived from oneself. And my life is more or less dependent upon the external. The superior man does not steal these; nor does the good man pilfer them. What then do I but take them as they come?

"Therefore it has been said that no bird is so wise as the swallow. If it sees a place unfit to dwell in, it will not bestow a glance thereon; and even though it should drop food there, it will leave the food and fly away. Now swallows fear man. Yet they dwell among men. Because there they find their natural abode."

In the same way, man should adapt himself to the conditions which surround him.

"And what is the meaning," enquired Yen Hui, "of no beginning and no end?"

"The work goes on," replied Confucius, "and no man knoweth the cause. How then shall he know the end, or the beginning? There is nothing left to us but to wait."

"And that man and God are One," said Yen Hui. "What does that mean?"

"That man is," replied Confucius, "is from God. That God is, is also from God. That man is not God, is his nature.

Sc. that which makes him man.

The Sage quietly waits for death as the end."

Which shall unite him once again with God.

When Chuang Tzŭ was wandering in the park at Tiao-ling, he saw a strange bird which came from the south. Its wings were seven feet across. Its eyes were an inch in circumference. And it flew close past Chuang Tzŭ's head to alight in a chestnut grove.

"What manner of bird is this?" cried Chuang Tzŭ. "With strong wings it does not fly away. With large eyes it does not see."

Or it would not have flown so near.

So he picked up his skirts and strode towards it with his cross-bow, anxious to get a shot. Just then he saw a cicada enjoying itself in the shade, forgetful of all else. And he saw a mantis spring and seize it, forgetting in the act its own body, which the strange bird immediately pounced upon and made its prey. And this it was which had caused the bird to forget its own nature.

And approach so close to man.
This episode has been widely popularised in Chinese every-day life. Its details have been expressed pictorially in a roughly-executed woodcut, with the addition of a tiger about to spring upon the man, and a well into which both will eventually tumble. A legend at the side reads,—"All is Destiny!"

"Alas!" cried Chuang Tzŭ with a sigh, "how creatures injure one another. Loss follows the pursuit of gain."

Those who would prey on others are preyed upon in turn themselves.

So he laid aside his bow and went home, driven away by the park-keeper who wanted to know what business he had there.

For three months after this, Chuang Tzŭ did not leave the house; and at length Lin Chü

A disciple.

asked him, saying, "Master, how is it that you have not been out for so long?"

"While keeping my physical frame," replied Chuang Tzŭ, "I lost sight of my real self. Gazing at muddy water, I lost sight of the clear abyss. Besides, I have learnt from the Master as follows:—"When you go into the world, follow its customs."

This saying is attributed, in uncanonical works, to Confucius. But if any one was "Master" to Chuang Tzŭ, it would of course be Lao Tzŭ.

Now when I strolled into the park at Tiao-ling, I forgot my real self. That strange bird which flew close past me to the chestnut grove, forgot its nature. The keeper of the chestnut grove took me for a thief. Consequently I have not been out."

When Yang Tzŭ

Yang Chu. See ch. viii.

went to the Sung State, he passed a night at an inn.

The innkeeper had two concubines, one beautiful, the other ugly. The latter he loved; the former, he hated.

Yang Tzŭ asked how this was; whereupon one of the inn servants said, "The beautiful one is so conscious of her beauty that one does not think her beautiful. The ugly one is so conscious of her ugliness that one does not think her ugly."

"Note this, my disciples!" cried Yang Tzŭ. "Be virtuous, but without being consciously so; and wherever you go, you will be beloved."