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A History of China by Wolfram Eberhard

Then spoke Chuang Tz u Begone


1: _The Way of Acceptance_: a new version of Lao Tz[)u]'s _Tao Te Ching_, by Hermon Ould (Dakers, 1946), Ch. 57.]

[Footnote 2: _The Way of Acceptance_, Ch. 3.]

Lao Tz[)u] did not live to learn that such rule of good government would be followed by only one sort of rulers--dictators; and as a matter of fact the "Legalist theory" which provided the philosophic basis for dictatorship in the third century B.C. was attributable to Lao Tz[)u]. He was not thinking, however, of dictatorship; he was an individualistic anarchist, believing that if there were no active government all men would be happy. Then everyone could attain unity with Nature for himself. Thus we find in Lao Tz[)u], and later in all other Taoists, a scornful repudiation of all social and official obligations. An answer that became famous was given by the Taoist Chuang Tz[)u] (see below) when it was proposed to confer high office in the state on him (the story may or may not be true, but it is typical of Taoist thought): "I have heard," he replied, "that in Ch'u there is a tortoise sacred to the gods. It has now been dead for 3,000 years, and the king keeps it in a shrine with silken cloths, and gives it shelter in the halls of a temple. Which do you think that tortoise would prefer--to be dead and have its vestigial bones so honoured, or to be still alive and dragging its tail after it in the mud?" the officials replied: "No doubt it would prefer

to be alive and dragging its tail after it in the mud." Then spoke Chuang Tz[)u]: "Begone! I, too, would rather drag my tail after me in the mud!" (Chuang Tz[)u] 17, 10.)

The true Taoist withdraws also from his family. Typical of this is another story, surely apocryphal, from Chuang Tz[)u] (Ch. 3, 3). At the death of Lao Tz[)u] a disciple went to the family and expressed his sympathy quite briefly and formally. The other disciples were astonished, and asked his reason. He said: "Yes, at first I thought that he was our man, but he is not. When I went to grieve, the old men were bewailing him as though they were bewailing a son, and the young wept as though they were mourning a mother. To bind them so closely to himself, he must have spoken words which he should not have spoken, and wept tears which he should not have wept. That, however, is a falling away from the heavenly nature."

Lao Tz[)u]'s teaching, like that of Confucius, cannot be described as religion; like Confucius's, it is a sort of social philosophy, but of irrationalistic character. Thus it was quite possible, and later it became the rule, for one and the same person to be both Confucian and Taoist. As an official and as the head of his family, a man would think and act as a Confucian; as a private individual, when he had retired far from the city to live in his country mansion (often modestly described as a cave or a thatched hut), or when he had been dismissed from his post or suffered some other trouble, he would feel and think as a Taoist. In order to live as a Taoist it was necessary, of course, to possess such an estate, to which a man could retire with his servants, and where he could live without himself doing manual work. This difference between the Confucian and the Taoist found a place in the works of many Chinese poets. I take the following quotation from an essay by the statesman and poet Ts'ao Chih, of the end of the second century A.D.:

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