How do we understand the statement that “the sage manages affairs without action (wu-wei)”?

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Zhuangzi, who was particularly fond of paradox and inversion, even by the standards of Chinese philosophers, said that the chief business of the governor, whether civil service bureaucrat or emperor, was to do nothing, since "there is no such thing as governing mankind, only leaving mankind alone." This encapsulates the idea of wu wei, which literally means "no action" and is often translated as "inaction" or "inexertion." Although this concept seems diametrically opposed to the earnest public service ethos of Confucianism, it seems to have emerged from Confucian thought, in which it meant something like the concept of "effortless superiority" which the British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith associated with Balliol College, Oxford.

The idea of this effortless superiority in Confucianism was that one achieved results without fuss or without appearing to work hard. In Taoism, however, wu wei came to mean not just the appearance of inactivity but an actual policy of non-interference and non-resistance. The ideal form of government would be so harmonious that it would simply be a form of benign and inactive supervision. The ideal governor would be spontaneously aligned with the people and with nature and would therefore not have to keep interfering for the purpose of correcting errors. The best government imaginable, therefore, would be one that does nothing at all because it never needs to do anything.

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