Lieh Tzu Criticism - Essay

Lionel Giles (essay date 1912)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Introduction to Wisdom of the East, Taoist Teachings: From the Book of Lieh Tzu, translated by Lionel Giles, John Murray, 1912, pp. 9-16.

[In the essay that follows, Giles locates the book of Lieh Tzu in the more general context of Taoist philosophy, including the thought of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu.]

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 Tzŭ, whose birth is traditionally assigned to the year 604 B.C. Some would place the...

(The entire section is 1802 words.)

Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki (essay date 1914)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Monism," in A Brief History of Early Chinese Philosophy, Probsthain & Co., 1914, pp. 25-33.

[In the following excerpt, Suzuki characterizes Lieh Tzu as belonging to the mystical and monistic tradition of Taoism, which stood in opposition to the more practical Confucianism.]

… There were not lacking, however, in the Ante-Ch'in period certain tendencies that counterbalanced the ultra-practical, positivistic train of thought as represented in Confucianism. Though these tendencies did not attain a full manifestation at any time in the history of Chinese thought, they showed a strong front at this incipient stage to their antagonistic systems. It was quite...

(The entire section is 2909 words.)

H. G. Creel (essay date 1956)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "What Is Taoism?," in Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 76, No. 3, July-September, 1956, pp. 139-43, 150-52.

[In the following excerpt, Creel argues for a distinction between philosophical Taoism, exemplified by the ideas of Lieh Tzu, and Hsien Taoism, a doctrine oriented toward achieving physical immortality.]

If anyone is apprehensive that I am going to give an answer to the question posed by the title of this paper, let me reassure him at once. I shall not be so foolish as to try to propound a single, sovereign definition of what Taoism is. In fact, the more one studies Taoism, the clearer it becomes that this term does not denote a school, but...

(The entire section is 5255 words.)

Holmes Welch (essay date 1957)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Taoist Movement," in The Parting of the Way: Lao Tzu and the Taoist Movement, Beacon Press, 1957, pp. 88-97.

[In the essay that follows, Welch discusses the rise of philosophical Taoism, with particular consideration of its connections to medical and scientific beliefs.]

Lists of the world's principal religions usually include "Taoism." We might therefore suppose that "Taoism" was a religion comparable to Christianity, Buddhism, or Islam. We might suppose that like them it could be traced back to a founding prophet—in its case, Lao Tzu—whose followers set up a church—the Taoist church; that various branches of Taoism developed as the church divided...

(The entire section is 4247 words.)

A. C. Graham (essay date 1960)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: The Book of Lieh-Tzu, translated by A. C. Graham, John Murray, 1960, pp. 1-17, 32-3, 58-61, 74-5, 92-4, 118-21, 135-37, 158.

[In the following excerpt, Graham examines the teachings of Lieh Tzu in relation to other formulations of Taoism and provides an introduction to each chapter of the Book of Lieh Tzu.]

Taoism is the greatest philosophical tradition of China after Confucianism. From its first maturity in the 3rd century B.C. we find references to a certain Lieh-tzu, who travelled by riding the wind. His historicity is doubtful, and it is not even clear when he is supposed to have lived; some indications point to 600, others to 400 B.C. The book which...

(The entire section is 10412 words.)

Derek Bryce (essay date 1992)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Translator's Preface," in Ch'ung-Hu-Ch'en-Ching or The Treatise of the Transcendent Master of the Void, translated by Leon Wieger, Llanerch Publishers, 1992, pp. 7-9.

[In the following excerpt, Bryce introduces the Book of Lieh Tzu by briefly recounting what is known of the author's life and teaching. He specifically warns against taking the characters presented in the work as realistic portrayals of historical figures.]

Whereas the Tao-te-ching of Lao-tzu, the most famous of the Taoist (or Daoist) writings, is concise to the point of being difficult to understand, the book of Lieh-tzu proceeds at a more leisurely pace with many points explained by means of anecdotes.

Lieh-tzu, Master Lieh, from the name Lieh-yü-k'ou, lived some forty years in obscurity and poverty in the Principality of Cheng. He was driven away by famine in 398 B.C. At that time his disciples could have written down the substance of his teaching. This is according to the Taoist tradition; it has often been strongly attacked, but the critics of the bibliographic index, Ssu-k'u-ts'uan Shu, judged that the writing should be upheld. However the book as we now know it no doubt includes interpolations, some of which are non-Taoist, and it has suffered from the accident which muddled so many old Chinese writings, the breaking of the tie of a bundle of laths, and the mixing up of the latter. The present arrangement into chapters is the work of later collators who brought together parts which were more or less similar. None of the facts alleged by Lieh-tzu are of historical value. The men he names are no more real than the personified abstractions he puts on stage. They are oratory procedures, and nothing more. Above all one should guard oneself from taking the assertions of Confucius, which have been invented at will, as real. Likewise the paragons of Confucianism, the Yellow Emperor, Yü the Great, Yao, Shun, and others, are shown in three postures.—First, abhorred as authors or falsifiers of artificial civilization; these are authentic texts.—Second, praised for a particular point, common to Confucians and Taoists; these texts also are authentic.—Third, praised in general without restriction; these are Confucian interpolations. In 742 A.D., Emperor Huan-chung, of the T'ang dynasty, gave the treatise of Lieh-tzu the title of Ch'ung-hu-ch'en-ching, or Treatise of the Transcendent Master of the Void.…