- An Investigation of Wang Fuzhi's Study on the Zhuangzi: Focusing on the Zhuangzijie by Tan Mingran
Since being widely rediscovered in the beginning of the last century, Wang Fuzhi 王夫之 (d. 1692 CE) has been accepted as one of the most outstanding thinkers in Chinese history. His works are now attracting the eyes of many scholars in Mainland China. However, compared with others, Wang Fuzhi's commentary on the Zhuangzi 莊子 (Book of Master Zhuang), specifically his book the Zhuangzijie 莊子解 (An Explanation of the Zhuangzi), has not been thoroughly investigated. Tan Mingran, one of the scholars who has devoted himself to this field, has made a terrific contribution in a recent monograph on Wang Fuzhi, An investigation of Wang Fuzhi's study on the Zhuangzi: Focusing on the Zhuangzijie. This treatise discusses almost all of the philosophical topics illuminated in Wang Fuzhi`s commentaries, and is the first published book exclusively investigating Zhuangzijie in the mainland of China.
In the first chapter of this book, Tan examines why Wang Fuzhi decided to comment on the Zhuangzi. Firstly, Tan argues that Zhuangzi's thinking resonated with Wang Fuzhi's because both of them lived through disastrous eras. Secondly, Wang reflected on the limitations of Song-Ming Confucianism, and in light of those limitations, he supported some of Zhuangzi's criticisms of Confucianism. Last but not least, Wang Fuzhi found that it is possible to weave the way of benevolence (rendao 仁道) into Zhuangzi's thinking. Furthermore, with this in mind, Wang judged the authenticity of different passages in the Zhuangzi, concluding that those which seem most stridently anti-Confucian are likely the work of later brushes (p. 18). A detailed discussion of this issue is given by Tan in the second chapter of his book. The third chapter consists of an examination of the methods Wang employed in his commentary to the Zhuangzi. Tan finds that Wang Fuzhi insisted on the correlation between texts commonly associated with Daoism and Confucianism. With a pragmatic attitude, Tan says, Wang applied many aspects of Confucianism to concrete commentaries on the Zhuangzi for the explicit goal of making it more suitable for Confucian-based interpretations (pp. 33-60). [End Page 7]
In Chapter 4, Tan provides a detailed discussion of the relationship between heaven (tian 天) and humans (ren 人) as is depicted by Wang Fuzhi in the Zhuangzijie. Heaven is the chaos filled with qi 气 ("vital energy," "lifeforce," "stuff") and manifests itself in that very movement of qi as the process of change. Here, humans are but one of the myriad of things generated by heaven. In this way we see that heaven and humans are originally linked. Clearly Wang Fuzhi tried to interpret the Zhuangzi along the same lines that Zhang Zai 张载 (d. 1077 CE) read the Yizhuan 易傳 (Commentary to the Book of Changes). But in contrast to heaven, which is more closely associated with nonaction or nonintentional action (wuwei 無為), human behaviour involves discerning life from death and clinging to the physical body. In this way, humans are separate from heaven. This is the reason that humans apply cognition and knowledge to life. Passages found in the Zhuangzi suggest that all of this "trying" done by humans exerts a negative influence on their existence. But, Tan argues, Wang Fuzhi recognized the necessity of this "trying," and thereby goes against one of the more prominent themes in the Zhuangzi. For the sake of re-achieving a connectivity between heaven and human, humans should follow the patterns or principles (li 理) of things and weigh actual objects and/or affairs according to what is suitable given a particular situation (p. 86). In Tan's view, Wang Fuzhi borrows this argument from the Confucian theory called "assist the transforming and nourishing powers of heaven and earth (贊天地之化育)" (p. 90).
Shen 神 ("spirit") is one of the core philosophical concepts in the Zhuangzi, and a major theme in Chapter 5 where Tan focuses on...