The Chuang Tzu

Chuang Tzu. Chapter 9. Argument: Superiority of the natural over the artifical. Application of this principle to government.*

Horses have hoofs to carry them over frost and snow; hair, to protect them from wind and cold. They eat grass and drink water, and fling up their heels over the fields. Such is the real nature of horses. Palatial dwellings are of no use to them.

One day Poh Loh appeared, saying, 'I understand the management of horses.'

So he branded them, and clipped them, and pared their hoofs, and put halters on them, tying them up by the head and shackling them by the feet, and disposing them in stables, with the results that two or three in every ten died. Then he kept them hungry and thirsty, trotting them and galloping them, and grooming, and trimming, with the misery of the tasselled bridle before and the fear of the knotted whip behind, until more than half of them were dead.

The potter says, 'I can do what I will with clay. If I want it round, I use compasses; if rectangular, a square.'

The carpenter says, 'I can do what I will with wood. If I want it curved, I use an arc; if straight, a line.'

But on what grounds can we think that the natures of clay and wood desire this application of compasses and square, of arc and line? Nevertheless, every age extols Poh Loh for his skill in managing horses, and potters and carpenters for their skill with clay and wood. Those who govern the empire make the same mistake.

Now I regard government of the empire from quite a different point of view.

The people have certain natural instincts; ‹ to weave and clothe themselves, to till and feed themselves. These are common to all humanity, and all are agreed thereon. Such instincts are called 'Heaven-sent'.

And so in the days when natural instincts prevailed, men moved quietly and gazed steadily. At that time, there were no roads over mountains, nor boats, nor bridges over water. All things were produced, each for its own proper sphere. Birds and beasts multiplied; trees and shrubs grew up. The former might be led by the hand; you could climb up and peep into the raven's nest. For then man dwelt with birds and beasts, and all creation was one. There were no distinctions of good and bad men. Being all equally without knowledge, their virtue could not go astray. Being all equally without evil desires, they were in a state of natural integrity, the perfection of human existence.

But when Sages appeared, tripping people over charity and fettering with duty to one's neighbour, doubt found its way into the world. And then with their gushing over music and fussing over ceremony, the empire became divided against itself.

Were the natural integrity of things left unharmed, who could make sacrificial vessels? Were white jade left unbroken, who could make the regalia of courts? Were Tao not abandoned, who could introduce charity and duty to one's neighbour? Were man's natural instincts his guide, what need would there be for music and ceremonies? Were the five colours not confused, who would practise decoration? Were the five notes not confused, who would adopt the six pitch-pipes?

Destruction of the natural integrity of things, in order to produce articles of varius kinds, this is the fault of the artisan. Annihilation of Tao in order to practise charity and duty to one's neighbour, ‹ this is the error of the Sage.

Horses live on dry land, eat grass and drink water. When pleased, they rub their necks together. When angry, they turn round and kick up their neels at each other. Thus far only do their natural dispositions carry them. But bridled and bitted, with a plate of metal on their foreheads, they learn to cast vicious looks, to turn the head to bite, to resist, to get the bit out of the mouth or the bridle into it. And thus their natures become depraved, the fault of Poh Loh.

In the days of Ho Hsü the people did nothing in particular when at rest, and went nowhere in particular when they moved. Having food, they rejoiced; having full bellies, they strolled about. Such were the capacities of the people. But when the Sages came to worry them with ceremonies and music in order to rectify the form of government, and dangled charity and duty to one's neighbours before them in order to satisfy their hearts, ‹ then the people began to develop a taste for knowledge and to struggle one with the other in their desire for gain. This was the error of the Sages.

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* Translated from the Chinese by Herbert A. Giles. First edition, 1889; second edition, 1923.


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