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Reviewed by:
  • Zhuangzi's Critique of the Confucians: Blinded by the Human by Kim-chong Chong
  • Deborah Sommer (bio)
Kim-chong Chong. Zhuangzi's Critique of the Confucians: Blinded by the Human. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2016. xiv, 195 pp. Hardcover $80.00, isbn 978-1-4384-6285-1. Paperback $22.95, isbn 978-1-4384-6284-4.

The title Zhuangzi's Critique of the Confucians promises an analysis of the Zhuangzi's views on "Confucians," but most chapters in this volume are devoted to exploring ideas internal to the Zhuangzi itself rather than examining that text's critiques of other thinkers. This review focuses on those sections of Zhuangzi's Critique that address so-called Confucian ideas. For author Kim-chong Chong, the term "Confucian" refers primarily to the Analects, the Mencius, and the Xunzi. His understanding of pre-Han intellectual history is informed by Sima Qian's categorizations of schools of thought. Recent discoveries from excavated texts have caused many scholars to revisit Sima's views, but space does not allow here a critique of Han notions of what might have been considered "Confucian" in pre-Han times. Neither is there space to ask whether the Analects, Mencius, and Xunzi can indeed be understood as a cohesive unit philosophically.

Chong actually spends relatively little time comparing the Zhuangzi with the Analects and even less with the Mencius. Three chapters—chapter 1, "Blinded by Heaven," chapter 2, "The Pre-established Heart-Mind," and chapter 7, "Conclusion: Self, Virtue (De), and Values in the Zhuangzi"—are the chapters most closely focused on the subject indicated in the book's title, although chapter 7 strays into a discussion of contemporary Confucian discourse. The remaining chapters often wander freely (a move Zhuangzi would no doubt applaud) into topics largely unrelated to Zhuangzi's critiques of Confucians. As one might surmise from their chapter titles alone, chapter 4, "Zhen—Some Normative Concerns" and chapter 6, "Metaphor in the Zhuangzi [End Page 54] and Theories of Metaphor," are not concerned with Zhuangzi's responses to other thinkers. When Chong does explore Confucian texts, he focuses primarily on the Xunzi. The subtitle Blinded by the Human plays on Xunzi's comment that "Zhuangzi was blinded by heaven and did not know the human" (Chong's translation, p. 1). This emphasis on the Xunzi gives one pause, since the Xunzi is generally considered to be later than the Zhuangzi. Chong's book retroactively defends Zhuangzi from Xunzi's critique.

As a collection of largely previously published articles, this volume is more of a mosaic than a cohesive whole. Each of its chapters may nonetheless be appreciated on its own merits, but arguments continued across chapters are sometimes choppy. As Chong notes in the acknowledgments, four of the volume's seven chapters (chapters 2, 4, 5, and 6) are revised versions of journal articles that appeared between 2006 and 2011. Only the first chapter, the last chapter, and chapter 3 are entirely new. A further detraction from cohesiveness is the author's reliance on a range of different English-language translations of the Zhuangzi. Chong often provides his own translations, but he quotes just as frequently from translations by D.C Lau, Burton Watson, A.C. Graham, and others, sometimes on the same page. This creates inconsistencies in translation. The term qi 氣, for example, appears variously as the romanized and italicized qi (p. 52, the author's translation), as "spirit" (p. 28, following Watson), and as "vital energy" (p. 77, following Livia Kohn). Passages from the Zhuangzi are frequently accompanied by Chinese text, in whole or in part; passages from the Analects, Mencius, and Xunzi are few to begin with and are less likely to be accompanied by Chinese text.

The figure of Confucius would at first glance seem to be a much more likely target for this volume than Xunzi, since Confucius (or at least bizarre caricatures of him) appears in many anecdotes in the Zhuangzi, whereas Xunzi of course appears in none. The various Confuciuses of the Zhuangzi are different creatures than the Confuciuses of the Analects, the Mencius, or the Xunzi. Yet one has the sense that Chong does not...


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