Editors’ Introduction

In: The Humanist Spirit of Daoism
Chen Guying
Search for other papers by Chen Guying in
Current site
Google Scholar
Hans-Georg Moeller
Search for other papers by Hans-Georg Moeller in
Current site
Google Scholar
Free access

Chen Guying 陳鼓應 is one of China’s foremost voices of Daoist philosophy. In the 1990’s, he almost singlehandedly brought forward the awareness of the fact that Daoism was indeed China’s national religion and philosophy. Such an accomplishment is underscored by a statement made by the celebrated historian of Chinese philosophy Zhang Dainian 張岱年 (1909–2004). In the introduction to his translation of Zhang Dainian’s Key Concepts in Chinese Philosophy, Edmund Ryden recounts a conversation he had with Professor Zhang: “Professor Chen Kuying [Guying] suggested that Zhang Dainian be considered the founder of New Daoism, but, when I put this to Professor Zhang in 1996, he replied that the title should go to Chen.”1 Throughout his illustrious career and the many challenges his spirited work has spawned, Chen Guying has been a consistent and strong voice advocating the living role of Daoist philosophy in the evolution of Chinese thought and culture and its contemporary significance. Although the role of Confucius and what has come to be known in the West as Confucianism is not denied by Chen Guying, but he is adamant they have supplanted the magnitude of contributions made by Daoism. In this regard, he argues steadfastly for recognition of the contributions of classical Daoist thinkers from Laozi to Zhuangzi to the Huang-Lao School. Even though the School of Laozi, School of Zhuangzi, and the Huang-Lao School differ in degree and approach to social matters, it is argued they all keep a close watch on the process of society’s transformation. In other words, Daoist philosophy always had a reverent respect for moral excellence and societal stability.

This view is often at odds with the views of most contemporary historians. His image of ancient Daoism differs substantially from others because Chen Guying’s committed project is to reinstate Daoism’s presence as China’s first philosophy, a presence that had been appropriated, even misappropriated, by Confucianism. At times, his writing is unapologetically aggressive, but never is he offensive toward Confucius or Confucians. He writes as only an ardent believer can, but nevertheless displays an abiding respect for the Confucian project, which he sees in many ways as the same as Daoism’s, albeit lesser in philosophical stature. Daoists too were concerned with the significance of li (禮 ritual propriety), especially Laozi, and Chen Guying is insistent this aspect of his thinking be acknowledged. By recognizing the human and societal dimensions of Daoist thinkers, allows a more integrated accounting of the tradition where Daoism and Confucianism (as well as Mohism) are conjoined and promote a more honest and truthful account of the evolution of Chinese philosophy—this is one of his goals as a scholar and philosopher. Chen Guying is keen on situating the fundamental aspects, such as xiao (孝 filial responsibility or reverence), de (德 power, virtue, or excellence), and ren (仁 consummate conduct or benevolence), of Confucius’ thought as part of a grander philosophic mosaic. By first showing the development of li in pre-Qin philosophy from the time of standardized codes and ethical norms of the clan-based feudal society to all the philosophical schools, Chen Guying’s work illustrates through a textual exegesis the requisite grounding needed by placing such practices in the context of the natural world. This grounding, he claims, is what makes Daoism a genuine philosophy and rescues it from the “fixed heart” (cheng xin 成心) often displayed in the practice of Confucianism. Zhuangzi’s philosophy is relied on for this emancipation.

This is the place for his departure to not only advance Daoism to the foreground of Chinese culture and philosophy, but for his analysis of the evils of contemporary Western culture, the degradation of environmental systems around the world, hegemonic militarization, homogenization of culture in the age of globalization, religious intolerance, and the general malaise of human dignity worldwide. Although these issues remain on the sidelines in this book and there is no real attempt to connect them systematically to each other or to Daoist philosophy itself, they remain a vital concern for Chen Guying—he does embrace Daoist solutions as a cure for the poisonous maladies of the world that are destroying human and other forms of life on our planet. His work is always a reflection of his philosophy of life, a philosophy informed by Daoist principles, his caring, and compassionate spirit for all others.

The various strands of Western humanist thought are determined in a manner dissimilar to the way in which Chen Guying expresses this notion in the Chinese tradition. For example, the classical humanist pedagogy of Erasmus included recommending study of language, literature and history, as well as what was considered to be moral philosophy. But this appears in an approach that is distinctive from what we find in the Chinese tradition. In the Western tradition, humanism developed alongside a primary concern with human freedom and notions of an individual’s contribution to fulfilling progress (formerly conceived in terms of divine providence). Although the humanism of Confucius placed the utmost value on education as crucial to self and societal development, the emphasis was not placed on human agency (either on the individual or collective level). The Confucian humanist spirit can therefore be understood more through the idea of a continuum between the individual mind and body and the ensuing harmony between one’s self and others, and further still, in the harmonizing (he) of society as a whole. This unity was also seen to extend to the harmony of heaven (tian) and humanity (ren) and carried with it both a profound historical-cultural consciousness and the notion that the human self belongs to something greater than what it is individually. Chen Guying applies this broader Chinese conception of the humanist spirit to Daoism because Daoist thought has largely been interpreted as more or less concerned exclusively with the natural world. Not only does Chen wish to lend a corrective to this interpretative imbalance, he also wishes to show that the self-same Confucian project was long established by Daoists as well, and to his mind this establishment was prior to Confucianism and that such a conception of the relation between humans, nature, and heaven should be realized as the central philosophical identity of Chinese culture.

None of the chapters presented in The Humanist Spirit of Daoism have been translated into English before. In many ways, this book represents Chen Guying’s Daoist blueprint of his philosophical views and provides readers with a clear exposition of one of China’s most important philosophers at work in bringing his tradition into a seamless dimensionality of organization, while at the same time looking beyond and offering the world its wisdom. The fact that so few Western readers ever get a chance to read his work translated into English is disheartening in an age where we pride ourselves on being able to interact and integrate with others from different cultures and nations. This is especially true in Chinese philosophy, which now enjoys an increasingly robust life in some areas of the discipline of philosophy. Although some of Chen’s more philosophical essays have found their ways into English, particularly his work on Nietzsche and Daoist philosophy (such as his “Zhuang Zi and Nietzsche: Plays of Perspectives” translated by James D. Sellmann in Graham Parkes’ Nietzsche and Asian Thought), the number available in translation remains minimal. Most recently, in The Philosophy of Life, A New Reading of the Zhuangzi (translated by Dominique Hertzer) published in Brill’s series “Humanities in China Library,” Chen elaborates Zhuangzi’s philosophy of life and on occasion draws parallels to various aspects of Nietzsche’s philosophy.

Several of Chen Guying’s philological and philosophical commentaries have been translated into English, but far too few have been seen by English readers given the expanse of his output and influence on interpreting ancient philosophical texts in China. Throughout his career, Chen has published new translations and extensive commentaries of the Laozi and the Zhuangzi in modern Chinese. Roger T. Ames and R. Y. W. Young’s 1977 English translation of his Laozi: Text, Notes, and Comments was the first to be made available to English readers. More recently, Paul D’Ambrosio has translated Rediscovering the Roots of Chinese Thought: Laozi’s Philosophy in which Chen argues that the Laozi text does indeed originate with a single author and places the author as an older contemporary (and even a teacher) of Confucius, as some of the Chinese “myths” have traditionally alleged. Such findings and interpretation contrast with standard Western scholarship that places Confucius first in the chronological order of the great Chinese thinkers. The Analects, the primary text of all of Confucian philosophy, would then fall after the Laozi making the latter the originary work of Chinese thought in the Classical period. Such a position offers a radical hagiographic re-visioning of the entire history of Chinese thought, with Daoism as its grounding philosophy. In essence, Laozi would then become China’s “First Sage.” In some ways, this is a main part of the thesis of The Humanist Spirit of Daoism, along with showing that the Daoist tradition does have significant humanist dimensions and applications for social existence. Regardless of one’s position on the issue of chronology, Chen’s ideas provide a background for rethinking the relevance of Daoism in a contemporary context.

Surprisingly, Chen Guying’s first philosophical publication was not a study on Laozi or Zhuangzi, as might be expected from a scholar with his philosophical dispositions, but was on Nietzsche. Nietzsche: The Tragic-Philosopher (Beiju zhexuejia Nicai 悲劇哲學家尼采) was written under the supervision of Dongmei Fang (Thomé H. Fang, 1899–1977), the renowned Chinese philosopher, while he was teaching at National Taiwan University. After the fourth East-West Philosophers Conference in 1964 at the University of Hawai‘i, Charles Moore said of Fang “Not until now do I know who is the greatest philosopher of China.” This “greatest philosopher of China” would have a lasting influence on his student and appears throughout the Humanist Spirit of Daoism. Readers may be somewhat puzzled by Chen Guying’s references to Nietzsche and why he feels the need to so regularly refer to Nietzsche’s work while discussing Daoist philosophy. The answer is essentially of an autobiographical nature—it was through Nietzsche’s work that Chen first developed a philosophical interest in Daoist thought and a return to his own tradition. Nietzsche provided him with a lens of interpretation into the Chinese worldview while he was in “exile” from his native land. This hermeneutical irony doesn’t escape Chen and moves him to pay his respects to the one who brought him home.

Chen Guying was one of the first, even perhaps the first, to hear the resonances between Nietzsche’s philosophical themes and those of Daoism. No doubt his reading of Daoism is thus informed by an undercurrent of interest in Nietzschean themes, especially to the extent that he wants to explore the relevance of Daoism in a contemporary and intercultural context. On the flipside, it is through his comparative engagement with Daoist philosophy that we see him develop a unique focus on the more socially oriented elements of Nietzsche’s thinking. In contemporary China he is widely acknowledged and read as a Nietzsche interpreter, as much as he is a Daoist thinker.

His interest in comparisons between Nietzsche and Daoist thinkers, particularly Zhuangzi, represents one of the first insights for doing comparative philosophy in the modern Chinese context. Chen simply saw this as a natural way of philosophizing and his entire intellectual life reflects this practice. He is therefore respected as one of the first truly comparative philosophers. In particular, he regularly revisits the intriguing affinities between Nietzsche’s thought and Daoist philosophy, which have been of notice only relatively recently for Western philosophers. Some of his ideas on how both philosophical approaches can be brought into dialogue through a comparative framework appear in the present book.

Chen Guying was born in southeastern Fujian province in 1935. As a young boy he was taken by his parents to Taiwan because of the turmoil of war. As a young man in Taiwan, he spent most of his time on university campuses and eventually his thinking became increasingly politicized in a number of areas, including his studies in philosophy. Within the confines of the academy, he would come to the conclusion that Confucian orthodoxy ideologically restricted people’s thoughts. Academically, this would lead Chen to develop a deeper love and appreciation for Daoist thinking. He received his degree in philosophy from National Taiwan University where he later spent most of his teaching life.

Eventually, his time in Taiwan would come to an abrupt end as he became increasingly critical of the ruling Guomindang (China’s National People’s Party) that survived in Taiwan under the control of Chiang Kai-shek. After some time in the United States at the University of California, San Diego in the 1970s, Chen Guying would later become more active in Taiwan again and also teach on occasion at the University of California, Berkeley. He returned to live in China in 1984. To this day, he teaches at the Center for Daoist Studies at Beijing Daxue (Beijing University).

The Humanist Spirit of Daoism is ably translated by Hans-Georg Moeller. Throughout the book he has rendered some Chinese terms in different ways depending on their context and intended meaning. On the editorial side, almost all chapter titles of Chinese texts were added after the translation and are afforded through translations by: John S. Major, Sarah Queen, Mark Edward Lewis, Paul Goldin, Wiebke Denecke, James D. Sellman, Roger T. Ames, Henry Rosemont Jr., Xing Lu, Edward L. Shaughnessy, Eric Hutton, and Carine Defoort. When possible, Brook Ziporyn’s chapter translations of the Zhuangzi are used. The book has undergone a series of edits; first by Sarah Flavel and subsequently by David Jones. To bring Chen Guying’s voice into greater clarity and interest for the English reader, we have taken some liberties in the rendering of expressions, enlivening the language a bit, as well as eliminating some of the more glaring repetitions. Nevertheless, we have committed ourselves to allowing the voice of Chen Guying its fullest expression and not force Western forms of philosophical and scholarly practice to overshadow a faithful expression of his style of philosophizing. Hence, readers should expect some recurrence in the conveyance of his expressed thoughts, but these reiterations usually articulate ideas and points in different ways and augment previous discussions. Such a manner of presentation is not intended to merely replicate, but is to rather strengthen ideas by returning to them in a variety of ways. We wish readers to keep this characteristically distinctive way of doing philosophy in mind.

In the first chapter, “The Social Concern of Daoism,” the schools of Laozi, Zhuangzi, and Huang-Lao (the various currents within philosophical Daoism) are presented in light of their social concerns. The chapter argues that these three branches of Daoism are more or less exclusively concerned with the two principal themes of ordering the person and organizing the state. Although the schools differ in degree and approach to social matters, they all keep vigilance on the process of society’s transformative process. An investigation of the differences and commonalities of the schools is also offered.

As the title of Chapter 2 indicates, the focus moves to the “Daoist Notion of Harmony.” Beginning with Bertrand Russell’s distinction of three kinds of conflict (humans and nature, humans and other humans, and humans within themselves), Chen Guying identifies how Daoists had recognized these conflicts, but had more positively focused on their harmonious aspects. In this regard, he begins with Zhuangzi’s idea of the three kinds of harmony characterizing these three relations: natural harmony (tian he 天和), human harmony (ren he 人和), and the harmony of the heart-mind (xin he 心和). Ultimately, the dimension of harmony between humankind and nature found in the Zhuangzi is the most refined formulation reached in a Chinese philosophy of life. This is the case because at this level human harmony and the harmony of the heart-mind achieve their fullest degree of mutual integration. Noting the disputes between the various Pre-Qin philosophical schools and their different views, they nevertheless all ardently promoted the attainment of harmony. However, the dissimilarities in their approaches of establishing and preserving harmony differed with Confucians discussing harmony within the normative framework of ritual propriety; likewise, they differed from the Mohists addressing harmony when attempting to advance a cooperative spirit of “encompassing affection” (jian ai 兼爱) and the Legalists appealing to harmony as a matter of enforcing compliance with laws and regulations. In spite of their differences, they were all concerned with answering the socio-political challenge of achieving harmonious coexistence in terms of human harmony. The Daoists, however, were not only concerned with this type of harmony. They extended this harmony to natural harmony because human harmony should spring from natural harmony, just as social order was to be derived from natural order. Hence, human harmony, although it appears rooted in the socio-political landscape, is actually embedded within a philosophy of nature and proffered prescriptions for the spiritual life of the individual. Thus, the three kinds of harmony—natural, human, and the harmony of the heart-mind—constituted a primary field of philosophical inquiry for Daoism.

Chapter 3, “The Notion of ‘Ritual Propriety’ in Early Daoism,” advances the claim that ritual propriety was not exclusively a Confucian province of concern and that li (ritual propriety 禮) was one of the most prominent discussion topics in pre-Qin philosophy. Arguing against scholars who assume that Confucians and Daoists represented two diametrically opposed perspectives on the culture of ritual in the classical age, Chen argues such a conclusion is far too simple and even misleading and that conceiving them in terms of two contradictory philosophies of culture is misguided. At the beginning of the chapter, it is pointed out that li harkened back to the standardized codes and ethical norms of the clan-based feudal society of the time and was a topic inherited by all philosophical schools. This chapter turns to the ideas and value systems that constituted the background of these codes and discusses in greater detail Daoism’s, especially Laozi’s, reverence and concern for ritual propriety.

Reflections on ritual regulation varied among the different strands of Pre-Qin Daoism. Therefore, the Daoist perspective on li should by no means be regarded as uniform or static. From the time from Laozi to Zhuangzi and to the Huang-Lao Daoists of the Jixia Academy, Daoist ritual philosophy steadily broadened. This chapter offers a detailed account of the respective positions on ritual of these three types of Daoism.

The next chapter, “Harmony in a World of Conflict and Crises: What We Can Take from Laozi’s Notion of Harmony,” is primarily a discussion on the contemporary significance of the philosophy of Laozi. The chapter avails itself to the application of Laozi’s wisdom to remedy the turmoil and unrest found in the present world. Such topics as climate change, terrorism, over-population, and war are confronted with Daoist prescriptions offered as remedies for much of the world’s maladies. This chapter is a prelude to later subsequent chapters that address similar concerns. Additionally, Chapter 4 engages scholars from both the East and the West in a broader cultural and philosophical dialogue.

With Chapter 5, “Dao: A Spiritual Home,” readers move into Part 2 of the book that focuses more directly on the humanist thought of Laozi and Zhuangzi. Chen accepts the traditional claim that Laozi was an older contemporary of Confucius and as contemporaries they both continued the cultural tradition that had been passed down from the eras of the Yin and Zhou. It is argued that although Laozi’s thought is decidedly innovative, it nevertheless entails the highest continuity. Laozi continues, just as Confucius does, the humanist spirit of the Yin and Zhou, but his novelty as a thinker is in the creation of a new philosophical theory of Dao, one which entails a rich humanist spirit. In order to reveal the meaning of Laozi’s and Zhuangzi’s humanism, the chapter looks at some of their major tenets, such as Laozi’s “Dao follows the natural” (Chapter 25) and his notion of “generating without possessing, acting without depending, letting grow without commanding” (Chapter 10), as well as Zhuangzi’s dictum “Who, in their self-choosing, is impelling force into all things?” (Book 2.1). These views are contrasted with the Western conception of a God who commands all things as an illustration of the advantage of the immanent philosophy of Daoism. The final part of the chapter, The Dao as process and totality, briefly engages Whitehead and Heidegger, two western philosophers who stand against their tradition and more closely align with Daoist thinking.

“The Humanist Spirit of Daoism: Tracing the Origins of Humanist Philosophy in Early China” chapter takes an even more comparative turn and focuses on three key issues. First, it is argued that Western thought is essentially based on the monotheistic concept of God as the source of all values—this is the case even though traditional Western philosophy displayed a prodigious proclivity to rationality; however, it could never rid its systems of thought from the concept of a creator at its core. From Plato to Spinoza and Kant, no one in the West was able to avoid the “illness of idolatry” until Nietzsche who dared to pronounce the “death of God” in the nineteenth century and who fulminated that all Western philosophy has “theological blood in its veins.”2 In contrast, the Chinese philosophical spirit is characterized by a diverse humanism. Beginning with Laozi and Zhuangzi, Chinese philosophy had excluded ideas of heavenly deities or a highest God from its metaphysical theories of Dao. Moreover, the chapter maintains the debates among the various philosophical schools were characterized by the primary concern with the human. Second, the emergence of humanist thought in ancient China was a unique phenomenon in the cultural history of the world. In the Western world, anti-supernatural humanism only arose in modernity, whereas Pre-Qin Chinese humanism flourished between the sixth and third centuries bce. Third, the Pre-Qin schools of Daoism, Confucianism, Mohism, and Legalism all developed specific forms of humanist thought, but it was Daoism that was responsible for elevating the humanist spirit from a cultural level to the echelon of philosophical theory.

Chapter 7, “Laozi and Zhuangzi’s Humanist World: The Humanist Perspective of the Dao” picks up the theme of the transformation of cultural humanism into a philosophical humanism. Laozi was the first thinker to accomplish this task and both he and Zhuangzi were unique in their contexts because they conceived human existence within a universal framework. For Laozi, Dao was the theoretical foundation for understanding human existence in the world. His starting point was to make use of the Dao of heaven (tian) to illuminate human affairs and relate the Dao of humans to the Dao of heaven as its underlying basis. In this way, the reflections on the Dao of humans and the Dao of heaven were united into a metaphysical system of Dao. The chapter addresses the following major philosophical questions stemming from the first chapter of the Laozi: 1) the relation between the Dao and the things in the world, 2) the origin of the world, and 3) the ineffability of the Dao. This discussion leads into further explorations of Dao’s naturalness that manifests spontaneity and freedom for humans. The naturalness of the Dao displays three consequences for the naturalness of humans. First, Dao’s naturalness fosters human freedom. Second, Dao’s naturalness enables human authenticity. Three, Dao’s naturalness promotes creativity of the human will and lacks the will to control.

The second half of the chapter considers “The Humanist World of Zhuangzi.” The transformation and development of Laozi’s philosophy in the Zhuangzi is described and the depths and the specific characteristics of Zhuangzi’s humanist thinking are outlined. Zhuangzi altered Laozi’s notions of being and nothingness (particularly nothingness) in several ways. First, Zhuangzi emphasized the nothingness of Dao and included being within the plurality of all existence. Second, Zhuangzi developed Laozi’s understanding of being and nothingness from his use as concepts for a theory of origination and generation into a theory of the limitlessness of time and space. Through this transformation of Laozi’s concept of nothingness, Zhuangzi elaborated Laozi’s concern with fundamental reality into a more subjective concern of the human and the elevation of the dimension of human life. Hence Zhuangzi’s philosophy of dimensions not only represented the peak of Pre-Qin philosophy, but also profoundly inspired later developments in philosophy.

Taking up the transformation of Laozi’s political notion of non-action (wuwei 為) into a notion of living at ease as a directive against the prevalence of unruly abuses of power, the issue of “inward sageliness” and “outward kingliness” is discussed. Zhuangzi’s effort toward inward sageliness culminates in cultivating open-mindedness and attaining an aesthetic dimension in life. The Dao of outward kingliness culminates in cultivating the spirit of mutual respect and shared inclusion among all people, in letting “ten suns arise together,” that is, the promotion of pluralist thinking. The spirit of the equalization of things and broad pluralism are founded on open-mindedness and what Chen calls an “aesthetic mind-set.” Open-mindedness fosters a multi-colored world, and an aesthetic mind-set brings about a beautiful world full of sympathy and harmony.

The next chapter is titled “A Daoist Perspective on the Humanist Spirit of Religion” and moves the discussion to religion and what the Daoist perspective on the humanist spirit of religion contributes to the contemporary political context. Although written some years before our current moment, this chapter retains contemporary relevance. Today, it is contended, many of the conflicts around the world are caused by cultural differences and that these conflicts are often based on religious antagonisms. A case in point is the ongoing American involvement in the Middle East. A call for more research on world religions is made, one that leads to further dialogue, which is of paramount contemporary importance. In this climate, it can be asked what contributions the Chinese philosophical and religious tradition can offer to our collective crises.

Humanist religion from the perspective of the philosophy of Laozi and Zhuangzi is approached from three viewpoints, beginning with some of the author’s personal observations from various stages in his life. These memories led to an analysis of the Christian Testament. Although the ultimate conclusion that all kinds of religions show a capacity for a this-worldly and humanitarian side as well as an affectionate spirit, such a religious spirit often turns totalitarian in nature. In positive instances, they can be understood as movements toward a humanist religiosity, but the shift from totalitarian religiosity to humanist religiosity will be a long and slow process. The chapter asserts that during the past decades we have seen how powerful nations rely on militaristic dispositions and assert, or even demand, what other nations should do. On the one hand, powerful nations preach freedom and democracy, while, on the other hand, they bolster their militaries. It is concluded that the historical roots of such hegemonic power can be found in totalitarian religiosity.

Chinese religiosity, however, is humanist by its nature and has a history as long as totalitarian religiosity does elsewhere. The earliest historical records from the age of the Yin and Zhou Dynasties already show the practice of a unique ancestral religion among the religions of the world. Oracle bone inscriptions contain the words for filial responsibility (xiao 孝), power, virtue, or excellence (de 德), and other moral concepts of ancestral religion. The cultural tradition of the Yin Dynasty was further developed in the Zhou Dynasty with the Duke of Zhou’s regulation of the codes of ritual and music that broadened the application of clanship ethics from the realm of politics to society in general.

Compared to the Great Flood depicting divine punishments of humankind, ancient Chinese mythological and historical stories have more human assisting legends, such as those of the sage emperor Yu who regulates the waters as primarily serving human needs. In these traditional stories, the importance of human agency is emphasized and the human capacity to cope with natural disasters is commonly affirmed. Chinese myths, as distinct from the “totalitarian religiosity” of other traditions, have expressed a strong recognition of what is essentially human and by this means have attempted to transmit the spirit of the Dao of humans.

In this chapter, there are additional humanist aspects of Chinese ancestral religion concerning respecting heaven, filial responsibility toward one’s predecessors, and the protection of humans. Focusing particularly on the latter two ideas and discussing the moral value of filial responsibility from the perspective of Laozi and Zhuangzi illustrates the humanist religiosity element of Chinese culture. The close relation between ancestral religion and Confucianism is noted and readers are reminded that both Confucius and Laozi respected ghosts and spirits and kept their distances from them and subordinated them under Dao. Although the Daoist and Confucian approaches toward ancestral religion and filial responsibility are in some ways similar, it is argued Daoists discuss these issues in closer proximity to human nature and nature in general—Laozi and Zhuangzi’s Dao emerges from within the life-world. To study Dao for humans means to develop productive intentionality and to minimize willful impulses. This creative, non-selfish, and non-dominating spirit is seen in contradistinction to more totalitarian forms of religiosity.

The last chapter is “On Intercultural Dialogue.” In this chapter, it is suggested in the present era of globalization Zhuangzi’s perspectivism and its deconstruction of egocentrism (from individual egocentrism and ethnocentrism to anthropocentrism) is meaningful in an intercultural dialogue between East and West. Nietzsche’s philosophy and Zhuangzi’s philosophy are brought into conversation. The pursuit of inward sageliness and outward kingliness is emphasized in this regard with the discourse shifting gradually toward the teachings of the “fasting of the heart” and “using the heart as a mirror” toward outward kingliness. As such, both relate to human life practice and to the life of the individual. This is an obvious place for an intersection with Nietzsche, which is returned to toward the end of the chapter. Drawing conclusions from Zhuangzi’s and Hui Shi’s dialogue on the bridge above the Hao River, it is suggested the passage addresses the core philosophical question of the relation between subject and object with Zhuangzi representing the position of perceptual penetration and Hui Shi representing the position of rational analysis. The idea of a sympathetic harmony between humans and nature is also expressed in the chapter with Zhuangzi’s articulated appreciation of natural beauty in Chapter 22.2: “There is the great beauty of heaven and earth and it does not speak.” The major difference between Chinese culture with its focus on Dao and Western culture with its focus on Logos is alluded to and the proposal that Chinese culture places greater emphasis on the confluence of humans and nature. In this aspect, Chinese philosophy is enabled to contribute a nonpareil outlook and new perspective for intercultural dialogue in our current age. At present, intercultural dialogue is dominated by rational analysis and although this mode of thinking is considered important, Zhuangzi’s perceptual penetration is presented as a complement to the rational approach. It is only through such a complementary perspective that a truly intercultural dialogue becomes possible. The dialogue on the bridge above the Hao demonstrates the general significance of dialogue and the discovery of commonality in difference. Both similar and dissimilar cultures the chapter argues need to engage in dialogue, but the dialogue between dissimilar cultures is denoted as being even more crucial.

The comparative project is resumed in the last sections beginning with “Convergences between Nietzsche and Zhuangzi: The Plurality of Moral Attitudes and Value Judgments among the People of the World.” The case is made for the difference of moral attitudes and value judgments in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra and that these different sets of values and moral ideas create different articulations of the will. Various value judgments of different peoples are based on four major factors: the kinds of difficulties people face, terrain, climate, and the relation with neighbors. These conditions need to be understood before any group of people can elevate itself. Moreover, moral norms are human made and are not divinely originated or inspired. Hence, distinctions between good and evil conflict drastically between peoples making divisions and disharmonies emerge. For this reason, a new outlook is needed that will allow the joint pursuit toward a common goal.

The book closes with the “Unlikely Convergences between Russell and Zhuangzi: The Deconstruction of Eurocentrism and Anthropocentrism” and picks up threads from Bertrand Russel’s political views. An emphasis on race is closely related to religious fanaticism and exclusivism and as Russell evinces, differing beliefs are not sufficient causes for violent conflict and only become so when combined with fanatical intolerance. The historical reasons for this are related to Western religiosity.

Intolerance and exclusivism are what incite violent persecutions, massacres, and other atrocities and the corrective to this violence is to be found in Zhuangzi’s ancient wisdom, which sheds light on the Western diseases of what Chen calls racialism and religious intolerance. Zhuangzi warned against such forms of one-sidedness and bias as seen in the first chapter of the Zhuangzi: “Little knowledge is not as good as great knowledge. Short experience is not as good long experience.” This passage encourages opening our minds and broadening our views. Those restricted by “little knowledge” will tend to be prejudiced against what is different from them, and thus these groups will neither understand nor accept or welcome difference and diversity. With the rise of isolationism and nationalism throughout many sectors of the world (and most vividly in the United States), we see evidence of what Zhuangzi called a “heart where the shoots grow up tangled”3 (Chapter 1.6) and how one falls into the trap of “daily clashes of the minds” (Chapter 2.2). Misunderstanding between people is the result, which in turn, is the cause of strife and conflict, that is, the state of a “fixed heart” that Zhuangzi talks about in the Qi Wu Lun Chapter (2.4).

In order to counter a “fixed heart,” Zhuangzi proposed the cultivation of an “illuminated heart.” This is the state where purification of the heart-mind enters a dimension of clear vacuity, that is, the bringing about of open-mindedness, which broadens perspective to accommodate a plurality of values and viewpoints. Zhuangzi’s notion of the “illuminated heart” and the “universal perspective” continued the humanist tradition of considerateness as expressed in Laozi’s image of the one hundred rivers flowing into one ocean (Laozi, Chapter 66) and the Confucian idea that “the courses of the Dao are pursued without any collision among them” (Zhongyong, 31). Concluding with how this tradition during the Han Dynasty and afterward exhibited an openness to Buddhism’s arrival in China, Chen Guying points out how this is far from religious intolerance and its consequence of racism. This is the model we need to assume for a global intercultural dialogue to be occasioned. China’s voice, and in particular its Daoist intonation, needs to be heard and accompanied by critical reflections on the prevailing Eurocentrism permeating much of today’s world.

We are very pleased and most honored to bring Chen Guying’s Humanist Spirit of Daoism to English readers. He is the author of numerous works and is a legendary scholar of Daoist philosophy. Chen Guying is one of the most influential living scholars of Chinese thought. The Humanist Spirit of Daoism will bring an encapsulated outline of his thinking to English readers in accessible fashion and challenge the thinking many have about Chinese philosophy in general and the Daoist tradition in particular. This book supports the increasing recognition of Chen Guying’s contribution to modern Chinese philosophy in English-language scholarship. The Humanist Spirit of Daoism is also of historical value by giving readers an insight into the experiences of modern Chinese thinkers that developed alongside drastic changes in the social and intellectual landscape of the twentieth and twenty-first century China.

The completion of this project would have been prolonged considerably if not for the generous support of David Jones’ work by Huang Chun-chieh before his retirement as Dean of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences at the National Taiwan University. His Associate Dean, Kirill O. Thompson, has also been most supportive. Robin Wang was instrumental in her assistance in preparation of the manuscript and we are most grateful to her. Likewise, the kind assistance from the always munificent Professor Chen Guying himself and The Center for Daoist Studies at Beijing University remains deeply appreciated.

David Jones and Sarah Flavel


Key Concepts in Chinese Philosophy, translated and edited by Edmund Ryden. Yale University Press, 2013, xvii.


See Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist, section 8.


A. C. Graham. Chuang-Tzu: The Inner Chapters. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2001, 47.