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Liezi - Chapter Introduction

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I will share the eight chapters of Liezi.  I'll provide two online links to Giles but he openly admits to not including the chapter on Yang Zhu.   I'll provide something else when we get there.

1  Liezi by Giles, online

Liezi by Giles, online


As I will follow Giles, his work has  "*         *         *" in certain parts of the text.  This is a section break and I'll follow the Library of Classical Chinese edition that simply uses:  1.1, 1.2, 1.3 etc.


Also, Giles has editorial notes mixed in with the translation, and I'll try to put that in brackets [like this].


I plan to put each chapter in its own thread.  To try and keep the sections back to back, I will likely get the sections consolidated and then create that thread. 


Liezi Chapters:


Giles:  (1912)




Giles presents the simple phrase, "Follow Nature" as the terse injunction of Laozi. Giles is not making the argument that Nature is Tao but rather that "Laozi, interpreting the plain facts of Nature before his eyes, concludes that behind her manifold workings there exists an Ultimate Reality which in its essence is unfathomable and unknownable , yet manifests itself in laws of unfailing regularity."


"To this Essential Principle, the Power underlying the sensible phenomena of Nature, he gives, tentatively and with hesitation, the name of "Tao", "Way", though fully realizing the inadequacy of any name to express the idea of that which is beyond all power of comprehension."


"It was man's business, he thought, to model himself as closely as possible on the great Exemplar, Tao. It follows as a matter of course that his precepts are mostly of a negative order, and we are led straight to the doctrine of Passivity or Inaction, which was bound to be fatally misunderstood and perverted."


Giles mentions a date for Liezi near 400 BC due to references of the prime minister Tzu Yang.  He also notes that Zhuangzi mentioned him and thus should pre-date him, but the Grand Historian Sima Qian does not.


Giles said, "Lieh Tzu, who surpasses Chuang Tzu himself as a master of anecdote. His stories are almost invariably pithy and pointed. Many of them evince not only a keen sense of dramatic effect, but real insight into human nature. "



Graham: (originally in 1960; second preface in 1990 )


Chapter    Chinese    Pinyin    Translation
1    天瑞    Tian Rui    Heaven's Gifts
2    黃帝    Huang Di    The Yellow Emperor
3    周穆王    Zhou Mu Wang    King Mu of Zhou
4    仲尼    Zhong Ni    Confucius
5    汤问    Tang Wen    The Questions of Tang
6    力命    Li Ming    Endeavor and Destiny
7    楊朱    Yang Zhu    Yang Zhu
8    說符    Shuo Fu    Explaining Conjunctions


Graham remarks on the historical date ranges put forth as from 600bc to 300ad; the latter would place it closer to the first known commentary by Chang Chan in 370. Graham admits that at the time of his first publication in 1960, his position of the later date was not universally accepted by western authors.  In his 1990 second edition preface, he mentions that his research on dating was published in 1961 and by now it is the prevailing dating in the west.   


See his works: 
The Date and Composition of Lieh-Tzu:
Being in Western Philosophy Compared with Shih-Fei and Yu-Wu in Chinese Philsophy:


Graham comments, "the Lieh-tzu has the merit of being by far the most easily intelligible of the classics of Taoism. For a Westerner it is perhaps the best introduction to this strange and elusive philosophy of life; for however obscure some of it may look, it does not present the infinite possibilities of divergent interpretation and sheer misunderstanding offered by the Tao-te-ching itself." 


Graham notes a prominent characteristic of the books is 'spontaneity', (tzu jan, literally being so of itself).  Tracing how "Heaven and earth operate without thought or purpose" that man should likewise following this Way.  Graham states, "Wu-wei is less prominent in the Lieh-tzu, which directly discusses the principle of conquering by yielding only in a single passage) With the growing stress on spontaneity, 'knowing nothing' tends to usurp the place of doing nothing."


He goes on: "the ideal in the Lieh-tzii is a state, not of withdrawal, but of heightened perceptiveness and responsiveness in an undifferentiated world: 
My body is in accord with my mind, my mind with my energies, my energies with my spirit, my spirit with Nothing. Whenever the minutest existing thing or the faintest sound affects me, whether it is
far away beyond the eight borderlands, or close at hand between my eyebrows and eyelashes, I am bound to know it. However, I do not know whether I perceived it with the seven holes in my head and my four limbs, or knew it through my heart and belly and internal organs.
It is simply self-knowledge".


Library of Classical Chinese: Liezi  (2005)

1 Revelation
2 The Yellow Emperor
3 King Mu of Zhou
4 Confucius
5 The Inqueiries of Tang
6 Power and Destiny
7 Yang Zhu
8 Causality


"... Liezi is undoubtedly a pseudograph of the Wei and Jin Period.  Textual researches reveal taht Liezi is a collection made from Guanzi, yanzi Chun Qiu, Lun Yu, Shan Hai Jing, Mozi, Zhuangzi, Shizi, Hanfeizi, Lu Shi Chun Qui, Han Si Wai Zhuan, Huainanzi, Shuo Yuan, Xin Xu, Xin Lun, and other classics since the Pre-Qin period. Some sections were also copied from the Buddhist books itnroduced shortly before from the Western Regions and India, e.g. the tale of Yan SHi's making in 'the Queries of Tang' is almost identical to a story told in the third volume of Jaktaka-nidana translated by Dharmaraksa of the Western Jin... 

As a representative work of Taoism, Liezi derives its thouhts mainly from Laozi and Zhuangzi. it advocates modesty, inaction, and void, urging people to get rid of the bondage of status, fame and profit. It is chiefly composed of folklores, fables, adn fairy tales which contain rich and profound philosophy and thinking and are of great power of enlightenment."


Edited by dawei
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moved here from original posted area:


Liezi 列子 , was also called 列禦寇 Lie Yukou.




According to Giles:

Lieh-Tzü was major Taoist sage who lived c. 350 BCE. His writings use stories and fables to elucidate the Taoist philosophy of cooperating with nature; they illustrate the magical powers of the ancient sages who were so 'in the Tao' that they were able to prolong life, walk through solid rock, and levitate.

A.C. Graham's introduction to his translation, The Book of Lieh-Tzû, which he says was probably written about 300 AD.

 According to the Library of Chinese Classics book, Liezi:

Liezi was recorded to have been written in the Warring States Period by Liezi (alias Lie Yukou) of the state of Zheng, a contemporary of Duke Mu. According to Li Dai Zhen Xian Ti Dao Tong Jian Volume 6, as a man from Zheng, he lived at Bu for forty years without any fame. he followed Guan Yin for the Tao, and became a disciple of Huqiu first and then of Laoshang and Bogao, from whom he learned tehir teachings. Nine years later he was able to ride on the wind. This was most probably a legend told afteer his deification by Taoists.

 Liezi lived before Zhuangzi, therefore he is described a few times in Zhuangzi, which contains a chapter titled "Lie YuKou" and sometimes calls him Master Liezi. In the first year of Tianbao of Tang (742), he was conferred the title of Immortal of the Profound Void and regarded as one of the Taoist ancestors. His book was treated as one of the "true scriptures" together with Laozi and Zhuangzi and for this reason the book of Liezi wsa rename Chong Xu Zhen Jing ("The True Scripture of the Profound Void"). In the fourth year of Jingde of Song (1007), an imperial order was issued to add in the word of Zhi de ("highest virtue") so he became Immortal of the Highest Virtue of the Profound Void and his book was changed accordingly into Chong Xu Zhi De Zhen Jing ("The True Scripture of the Highest Virtue of the Profound Void"). When Emperor Huizong of Song was on the throng, a court academician was specially appointed to be in charge of Liezi and the book was placed in Dao Zhang ("The Collection of Taoist Scriptures").







 “The history of Taoist philosophy may be conveniently divided into three stages: the primitive stage, the stage of development, and the stage of degeneration. The first of these stages is only known to us through the medium of a single semi-historical figure, the philosopher Lao Tzu, whose birth is traditionally assigned to the year 604 B.C. Some would place the beginnings of Taoism much earlier than this, and consequently regard Lao Tzu rather as an expounder than as the actual founder of the system ; just as Confucianism  that is, a moral code based on filial piety and buttressed by altruism and righteousness- may be said to have flourished long before Confucius.”

 Condensed into a single phrase, the injunction of Lao Tzu to mankind is, "Follow Nature."  This is a good practical equivalent for the Chinese expression," Get hold of Tao," although " Tao " does not exactly correspond to the word Nature, as ordinarily used by us to denote the sum of phenomena in this ever-changing universe. It seems to me, however, that the conception of Tao must have been reached, originally, through this channel. Lao Tzu, interpreting the plain facts of Nature before his eyes, concludes that behind her manifold workings there exists an ultimate Reality which in its essence is unfathomable and unknowable, yet manifests itself in laws of unfailing regularity. To this Essential Principle, this Power underlying the sensible phenomena of Nature, he gives, tentatively and with hesitation, the name of Tao, " the Way," though fully realizing the inadequacy of any name to express the idea of that which is beyond all power of comprehension.

 A foreigner, imbued with Christian ideas, naturally feels inclined to substitute for Tao the term by which he is accustomed to denote the supreme Being" God. But this is only admissible if he is prepared to use the term " God " in a much broader sense than we find in either the Old or the New Testament. That which chiefly impresses the Taoist in the operations of Nature is their absolute impersonality. The inexorable law of cause and effect seems to him equally removed from active goodness or benevolence on the one hand, and from active evil or malevolence on the other. This is a fact which will hardly be disputed by any intelligent observer. It is when he begins to draw inferences from it that the Taoist parts company from the average Christian. Believing, as he does, that the visible Universe is but a manifestation of the invisible Power behind it, he feels justified in arguing from the known to the unknown, and concluding that, whatever Tao may be in itself (which is unknowable), it is certainly not what we understand by a personal God " not a God endowed with the specific attributes of humanity, not even (and here we find a remarkable anticipation of Hegel) a conscious God. In other words, Tao transcends the illusory and unreal distinctions on which all human systems of morality depend, for in it all virtues and vices coalesce into One.

 The Christian takes a different view altogether. He prefers to ignore the facts which Nature shows him, or else he reads them in an arbitrary and one-sided manner. His God, if no longer anthropomorphic, is undeniably anthropopathic.  He is a personal Deity, now loving and merciful, now irascible and jealous, a Deity who is open to prayer and entreaty. With qualities such as these, it is difficult to see how he can be regarded as anything but a glorified Man. Which of these two views the Taoist or the Christian it is best for mankind to hold, may be a matter of dispute. There can be no doubt which is the more logical.  

 The weakness of Taoism lies in its application to the conduct of life. Lao Tzu was not content to be a metaphysician merely, he aspired to be a practical reformer as well. It was man's business, he thought, to model himself as closely as possible on the great Exemplar, Tao.

Very little is known of our author beyond what he tells us himself. His full name was Lieh Yu-k'ou, and it appears that he was living in the Cheng State not long before the year 398 B.C., when the Prime Minister Tzu Yang was killed in a revolution. He figures prominently in the pages of Chuang Tzu, from whom we learn that he could " ride upon the wind." On the insufficient ground that he is not mentioned by the historian Ssu-ma Ch'ien, a certain critic of the Sung dynasty was led to declare that Lieh Tzu was only a fictitious personage invented by Chuang Tzu, and that the treatise which passes under his name was a forgery of later times. This theory is rejected by the compilers of the great Catalogue of Ch'ien Lung's Library, who represent the cream of Chinese scholarship in the eighteenth century.



A.C. Graham wrote his original work in 1960 and 30 years later had this re-publication preface:


Preface to the Morningside Edition

A significant change since this book was first published in 196o is that we have learned to see philosophical Taoism in a new historical perspective. At that time it was already recognized that Lao-tzu, traditional founder of the School of the Tao (Way') and supposed contemporary of Confucius (551—479 B.C.), is probably legendary, and that the Tao-te-ching ascribed to him may be as late as 250 B.C., later than the authentic writings of  the other great Taoist, Chuang-tzu (c. 320 B.C.). But it was still taken for granted that the Hundred Schools competing during this period did include the one called Taoist, the only one of them to survive throughout Chinese history side by side with the Confucian. Its doctrine was assumed to be the philosophy o f the Tao-te-ching and Chuang-tzu, a philosophy which rejects the competing ways' formulated as ethical and political principles by other schools for an ineffable Way on which the sage finds himself in ceasing to judge between alternatives and in returning to the spontaneity of the non-human to unite with heaven and earth. On this assumption it was puzzling that what has generally passed as Taoism for the last two thousand years isa mixture in varying proportions of Yin-Yang cosmology, ritual, meditation, magic, sexology, and alchemy, and that it still has an organized church with Lao-tzu as its central deity, traditionally said to have been founded by Chang Tao-ling in AM.

How is one to reconcile its cult of physical immortality with the ecstatic welcoming of death as one of the inevitable transformations of nature which startles us in the writings of Chuang-tzu? No doubt one may think of this church like others as debasing the pure doctrine of its founder, but the Christian churches never departed quite as far from the gospel as this.

We were forgetting what inside our own tradition we know very well that labels such as idealist' and materialist', rationalist' and ' empiricist’, are applied retrospectively, and reshuffled as the focus of philosophical interest shifts elsewhere. The thinkers of ancient China came to be grouped as Taoists, Legalists, Sophists, Yin-Yang, but only the Confucians and Mohists are known to have been organized schools. Down to the 2nd century B.C. Lao-tzu, with his art of ruling by Doing Nothing, and Chuang-tzu, for whom rulership and office are burdens to be cast off, are never classed together; this attracts attention especially in the last chapter of Chuang-tzii itself, which sketches the oldest surviving history of the early thinkers. At the end of the classical age of Chinese philosophy, about 200 B.C., various eclectic movements were emerging, one of them centered on meditative and physical exercises to develop both daimonic powers and bodily health and longevity; it claimed the authority o f Laotzu.
When Ssu-ma T'an (died Ito B.C.) retrospectively classified the thinkers in Six Schools, it was this contemporary movement that he named Tao chia, ' School of the Way', as Hal Roth shows in Chinese Texts and Philosophical Contexts, ed. by Henry Rosemont, Jr. (La Salle, 111., 1990). The tradition of supposedly degenerate Taoism has had first right to the name from the very beginning.

In the retrospective apportioning of thinkers between schools, Chuang-tzu was classified with Lao-tzu as Taoist, but being irrelevant to the serious business of government, he was long neglected. It was from about A.D. 200, when the ancient books were being viewed in a changed perspective, that the distinctive attitude to spontaneity and the Way common to the Tao-to-ching and Chuang-tzii attracted the attention of literati disillusioned with politics. It became known as Lao-Chuang, the teaching of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu. The accepted modem label for it is philosophical Taoism'; but as a way of life for the unworldly or the tired of office it remained largely dissociated from Taoist alchemy and magic, and had an offshoot in Chinese Buddhism as Ch'an or Zen. Its third great document, Lieh-tzu, although written in the name of an ancient sage mentioned by Chuangtzu, is now generally dated to this period, not much earlier than its commentary by Chang Chan (c. A.D. 370). We may see it as the only one of the three books whose author would actually be thinking of himself as a philosophical Taoist.

Although in 1960 most scholars in China already recognized the late date of Lieh-tzu, most Westerners were still disinclined to question its antiquity. My own textual studies, not yet completed when this translation first appeared, supported the Chinese dating, which by now prevails also in the West. The 'evidence for my opinions on the still controversial question of the date of Lieh-tzu mentioned in the original preface as unpublished, appeared in ' The Date and Composition of Lieh tzu', Asia Major vol. 8/2 (1961). This, as well as the ' Being in Western Philosophy Compared with shih/jei and yu/wu in Chinese Philosophy’ also mentioned, re-appeared in my Studies in Chinese Philosophy and Philosophical Literature (Institute of East Asian Philosophies, National University of Singapore, 1986).

One result of the textual investigation came as a surprise to me. The present book describes the hedonist' Yang Chu’ chapter as ' so unlike the rest of Lieh-tzu' that it must be from another hand (p. 135 below). The thought is certainly very different, and it does show the signs of editing and interpolation by the Taoist author which are noticed on p. 136 below. But although close scrutiny generally reveals marked differences in style between the body of the book and passages borrowed from earlier sources, I could find none to distinguish the hedonist chapter from the rest. It seems likely that the Taoist is incorporating an earlier writing by himself, from a hedonist phase in his own thought. From the contrasting episodes which introduce the 'Yellow Emperor’ and 'King Mu’ chapters (cf. pp. 6o f below), one is tempted to guess that the author, like the Yellow Emperor, had a hedonistic youth and then a Confucian career in government, before finally settling for Lao-Chuang. But to read autobiography into these episodes cannot of course be more than an attractive conjecture.

There also turned out to be internal evidence (and external evidence as well; see Studies, p. 271—an addition to the original paper) that the discussion of the finite and the infinite in the first three exchanges of the 'Questions o f T’ang’ comes from a lost part of Chuang-tzu. This adds greatly to the importance of a fascinating but obscure passage my treatment of which has left me with an uneasy conscience. The interpretation, and to some extent therefore the choice of words in translation, depended on the assumption that Chang Chan's commentary implies something missing in the text, which now seems to me very doubtful; in the neighbourhood of the supposed lacuna I was fooling myself when I claimed to be translating very literally' (p. 96 below). In more recent work I have translated it more conservatively, substantially as follows.

As for nothing it is limitless, as for something it is inexhaustible: how would I know it? [i.e., know of their limitedness and exhaustibility, referring back to the preceding question and answer.]
But outside the limitless there is nothing else that is limitless, inside the inexhaustible there is nothing else that is inexhaustible.  There is no limit but also nothing else that is limitless, no exhaustion but also nothing else that is inexhaustible. This is why I know of their limitlessness and inexhaustibility, and do not know of their limitedness and exhaustibility. [ The last chapter of Chuang-tzu records paradoxes of Hui Shih (and of the sophists in general, including the ' If you daily takeaway half which I carelessly ascribed to Hui Shih himself on p. 95 n2 below), but without their explanations. The importance of the redating of this passage is that if it does come from Hui Shih's friend Chuang-tzu, we can confidently accept it as a summary of the case for Hui Shih's paradox The South is boundless yet does have bounds'.  But what are the missing steps in the argument, which Chuang-tzu, as an intimate of sophists, could take for granted as common knowledge? A rather feeble explanation, which was the best I could offer until recently, is that things go on generating to infinity inside infinite space, but there can be no infinite inside the infinite. We need a stronger explanation which fits symmetrically the contrasting pairs 'nothing/something, limitless/inexhaustible, outside/inside’. As may be seen from the notes on p. 95 below, the sophists appreciated that a division however small will have inside it 'the absolutely small’, the point, also called the Lou hou, 'dimensionless'. Assuming that the point is still 'something', there can be a much neater explanation:
(1) The non-existent, Nothing, is infinite, yet there is no second infinite outside the infinite (as should follow if the infinite is what has nothing outside it).
(2) The existent, Something, is infinitely divisible, yet there is no second infinitely-divisible inside the infinitely-divisible (as should follow if the point is something). It seems to follow that, although space cannot be finite, it cannot be infinite either.

A. C. GRAHAM, 1990

See his works mentioned above:

The Date and Composition of Lieh-Tzu: (1961)

Being in Western Philosophy Compared with Shih-Fei and Yu-Wu in Chinese Philosophy:


Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in East Asian Languages & Cultures
in the Graduate College of the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2012


The Liezi is regarded the third of the Daoist classics following the Laozi and the Zhuangzi. A philosophical treatise attributed to the pre-Qin philosopher Lie Yukou 列御寇 (ca. fifth century B.C.) and recomposed during the Han (206 B.C.- 220 A.D.) and the Jin (265-420 A.D.) dynasties, the Liezi not only stands in the line of classical Daoist thought represented by Laozi (sixth or fifth century B.C.) and Zhuangzi (ca. 369-286 B.C.), but also incorporates later traditions including the Huang-Lao Daoism and Neo-Daoism. More than a philosophical treatise, the Liezi is also a revered Daoist religious scripture. During the Tang dynasty (618-907 A.D.), the book of Liezi is entitled “True Scripture of Emptiness” (沖虛真經) by the Tang Emperor Xuanzong (685-762 A.D.), and the philosopher Liezi was honored with the title “True Man of Emptiness” (沖虛真人). Furthermore, the Tang  Emepror Xuanzong selected the four major Daoist classics of the Laozi, the Zhuangzi, the Liezi, and the Wenzi to be textbooks for civil service examination. During the Song dynasty (A.D. 960-1279), the book of Liezi was further honored “True Scripture of the Highest Virtue of Emptiness” (沖虛至德真經), and the philosopher Liezi “Perfect Sovereign of Emptiness and Sublime Contemplation” (沖虛觀妙真君) by the Song Emperor Zhenzong (968-1022 A.D.). In the Daozang (道藏), the official collection of Daoist texts complied by the Ming court (1368-1644 A.D.), the Liezi was placed with the Laozi (also known as the Daodejing) and the Zhuangzi as the major Daoist canons.

 I. The Text

1. The Philosopher Liezi and the Book of Liezi

The Book of Liezi is attributed to the Daoist philosopher Lie Yukou 列御寇, who lived around the fifth century B.C. and was senior to Zhuangzi (between 399 and 295 B.C.). The historical figure Liezi is recorded in several ancient texts including the Zhanguo ce 戰國策the Lü shi chunqiu 呂氏春秋, the Shizi 尸子, etc., among which the Zhuangzi 莊子 includes twenty two accounts of Liezi. Hence the Book of Han bibliography section 漢書藝 文志 suggests, based on the fact that Zhuangzi quotes Liezi, Liezi must have lived before Zhuangzi. As recorded in the Zhanguo ce 戰國策 (Strategies of the Warring States), an ambassador of the Han  state named Shi Ji 史疾 was sent to the Chu  state. The king of Chu was troubled by banditry in the country so he consulted Shi Ji about his policy. Shi Ji answered, “I followed the words of Master Lie Yukou, who honors propriety (zheng ).”

Qian Mu comments this passage in his Textual Research of Pre-Qin Philosophers, “This account proves that Lie Yukou was a historical figure. Shi Ji heard and learned his theory, which followed the Confucian idea of rectifying names and signifies the beginning of the Daoist and Legalist schools.”  It is notable that Master Lie’s first name is “Yu-kou” 御寇which means “guarding against bandits.” It is possible that Liezi was known for his success in maintaining social security. Concerning Liezi’s Daoist orientation, the Lü shi chunqiu 氏春秋 (Mister Lu’s Spring and Autumn Annals) and the Shizi 尸子 both records that “Liezi honors emptiness (xu ).”


According to Gao You’s commentary, Liezi is a Daoist adept, who emptied the worldly thought and desires in his mind until it is in accordance with the Way.



I, Robot: Self as Machine in the Liezi
Jeffrey L. Richey


Q. I thought you were dead.
A. Technically I was never alive, but thanks for your concern.ii

 [ii Human detective Del Spooner to robot Sonny in I, Robot (dir.
Alex Proyas, 20th Century Fox, 2004).]

The commitment of early Taoist thought to so#called “natural” values has been much remarked upon, and it is not difficult to understand why this is so. Organic metaphors permeate texts such as Laozi 老子and Zhuangzi 莊子. Contrasts between the “artificial” realm of culture (wen 文) and the “authentic” realm of the Tao 道 are frequently drawn, and organisms such as fishes and trees are favorite representations of the “perfected person” (zhenren 眞人).iii “Nature,” of course, is a semantically slippery term in any language, but it may be said that what early Taoists mean by “nature” is expressed in the term ziran 自然: “what is so of itself”
or “spontaneity.” According to these early texts, that which is so of itself is “natural,” while that which alters its original pattern is not.

It may come as a surprise, then, to discover within the Liezi 列列 (a fourth#century CE text eponymously titled after the thinker who is supposed by pious Taoists to have lived six or seven hundred years earlier) two tales that celebrate embodiments of artificiality: an uncannily lifelike mechanical man, and an actual man who moves like a “machine” (xie 械). In the first episode, King Mu of Zhou 周周周 (r. 900s BCE) is first entertained, then scandalized, and finally wonderstruck by a man#made humanoid contraption that performs music and dances for his court. In the second, a quotation from the apocryphal “Book of the Yellow Emperor” (Huangdi zhi shu 黃黃黃黃) describes the “highest man” (zhiren 至至) as one “like a machine” (ruoxie 若械), whose actions are autonomous and
unconscious. Why did the compiler(s) of the Liezi choose to tell these stories? What position do these perfectly unnatural figures occupy within the work as a whole? Finally, what can their appearance in the Liezi tell us about Taoist thought about the self and embodiment on the cusp between the classical and medieval periods?


Additional information from the Library of Chinese Classics book, Liezi, written in 2005:


Liezi consists of eight chapters:



The Yellow Emperor

King Mu of Zhou


The Queries of Tang

Power and Destiny

Yang Zhu



Revelations serves as the purport of the book... everything in the world is in constant change; the change is permanent... all things start from immateriality and to materiality and their development may be divided into four groups called:

1. The Great Change

2. The Great Conception

3. The Great Beginning

4. The Great simplicity


The Yellow Emperor is made up of 19 short stories to tell people the way to health preservation and self-cultivation; man should follow the laws of nature instead of going against it.

King Mu of Zhou scientifically explains dreams, holding that what one dreams at night is closely related to what one sees and thinks during the day and that different dreams results from different states of health.  


Confucius stresses the unique rules of nature and the understanding of world by means of the Tao so as to not violate the natural world.  Meanwhile it offers the the theory that "things will develop in opposite direction when they become extreme". 


The Queries of Tang holds that all things of the world are mutually dependent in motion and meanwhile are found in a state of balance and that all things and events are different in nature, and therefore, man should not consider himself always right or persistent in his opinions.  


Power and Destiny claims that the completion of affairs rests with heaven, the change of natural environment is beyond the power of man and therefore man has no alternative but to follow its rules of change.  At the same time, it holds that the decision of good or evil, nobility or humility, and poverty or wealth rests with destiny instead of human power. 


Yang Zhu thinks that man lives for fame and profit, the pursuit exhausts both his body and mind; therefore the best way to keep body and soul pleasant is moderation.  


Causality explains the destiny of man and nation by the extent to which natural laws are understood and the corresponding actions taken and advises man to understand these laws and make use of them.  



Edited by dawei

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Type: Master thesis
Title: Transcending Destiny in the Liezi 列子
Author: Lindenmann, Tanja
Issue Date: 2019
Keywords: Liezi
Daoism, Xuanxue, Neo-Daoism
Abstract: The Liezi is often regarded as the most important Daoist document after the Laozi and the Zhuangzi (both dating from the Warring States period; 475-221 BCE), yet the existing academic literature leaves a large gap on the philosophical significance of the Liezi, mainly because it is widely considered a forgery of the fourth or fifth century. Philosophically, the Liezi applies Daoist principles to human destiny by example of the Daoist sage, who despite his humanness, is said to be invulnerable. This is contrasted with ordinary people, who perceive their life as a series of fortunate and/or unfortunate events that either were happening as a result of their free will or were determined by forces beyond human control. Whereas for ordinary people free will and determinism are two separate entities, sages unify the manifestations of both concepts within themselves, realizing free will and determinism to be the same but two viewpoints on life which arise naturally due to the duality of existence. By examining the interrelationship between destiny and the sage based on its Daoist metaphysics, this study on the Liezi shows how the seemingly paradoxical relation between free will and determinism is reconciled in personal freedom and happiness through Daoist self-cultivation.


This is a short, interesting work:



The Liezi establishes the seemingly paradoxical relationship between determinism and free will in reference to the Daoist sage and the ordinary person and demonstrates how to find “a constant Way behind the changing and conflicting ways of life.”
. . .
The problem that arises with a concept such as determinism, is our strong belief in man’s freedom to choose. Yet in the Liezi, the sage represents both, determinism and free will. This thesis attempts to reconcile the paradoxes between determinism and free will based on the Liezi by examining the relationship between the sage and the concept of destiny. I argue that – if the Liezi is considered in its entirety – the text shows that determinism and free will are merely two different viewpoints on life. The relationship between the two may seem paradoxical. Yet, when applied to human life, determinism and free will are shown compatible, and even inextricably bound to one another. According to the Liezi’s cosmogony, this is because destiny and the nature of each individual originate from the primordial Dao 道 and follow the divine laws which are based on the complex systems of nature. Dao means ‘the Way’ and is considered the ultimate reality and creative power in Chinese philosophy. The Dao is nature and the cosmos, it is the process of how everything manifests, the infinite and inexhaustible source of change, and therefore, inseparable from all organisms, things and events. It has cosmological as well as ontological qualities and alludes to the intangible and the tangible, the transcendent and immanent, the internal and external.6 The Dao is called the Way because “the way things move and events take place cause or determine what they are or what they become.”7 Therefore, the Way represents the human
condition as well as destiny. 
. . .
Chapter 1 elucidates what destiny is according to the Liezi’s understanding of destiny.

In Chapter 2, I show the Liezi’s view on life and human nature based on its cosmogony and ontology, which explains the metaphysics of destiny, and correlate the established principles to the Way of the sage in contrast to ordinary people.

Chapter 3 answers the question of why there is no conflict between destiny and the sage by expounding on how sages apply the cosmogonic and ontological principles in order to transcend destiny.

The conclusion consists of a summary and discusses my findings in regard to why free will and determinism are the same but two different viewpoints on life.



Edited by dawei

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This is a great introduction. I am curious about your thoughts, if any, on the Yang Zhu chapter as you've chosen Giles' translation as the working text for Liezi section of the sub-forum. 


While Giles is my preferred and agree with his interpretation of the controversial chapter, Graham makes his own point of "seeing a connection" in theme to the previous chapters. 


So my question is what are your personal thoughts about the Yang Zhu chapter, dawei?

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