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Reviewed by:
  • Wandering at Ease in the Zhuangzi
  • John Allen Tucker (bio)
Roger T. Ames , editor. Wandering at Ease in the Zhuangzi. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998. viii, 239 pp. Hardcover $73.50, ISBN 0-7914-3921-6. Paperback $24.95, ISBN 0-7914-3922-4.

In the last two decades, Western scholarship on the Zhuangzi has exploded. Remotely, this boom in Zhuangzi studies can be traced to the early, unabridged English translations by James Legge (1815-1897) in The Sacred Texts of Taoism1 and Herbert Allen Giles (1845-1935) in Chuang tzu: Mystic, Moralist, and Social Reformer (1889).2 More recently, the translations of Burton Watson (1925-) in Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings (1964) and The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu (1968)3 have contributed significantly to the popularity of Zhuangzi studies among undergraduates and graduates alike. Most recently, however, the boom has been fueled by successive rounds of more linguistically and philosophically attuned translation-studies of the Zhuangzi. In this regard, Angus C. Graham's Chuang-tzu: The Seven Inner Chapters and Other Writings from the Book Chuang-tzu (1981)4 has undoubtedly been the pivotal work, prompting any number of subsequent studies with its sophisticated linguistic, historical, and intensely philosophical examinations of various layers of the text, in both translation and the analytic engagement of it. Several volumes by Victor Mair, including Experimental Essays on Chuang-tzu (1983), Introduction and Notes for a Complete Translation of the Chuang Tzu (1994), and Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu (1994),5 have notably furthered the proliferation of Zhuangzi studies, through both groundbreaking analyses and insightful translation work.

Equally, if not more important, have been the multifaceted contributions of the SUNY Series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture, edited by David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames. Indeed, the SUNY Series has been instrumental in sponsoring the lion's share of new publications on the Zhuangzi, including works such as Robert E. Allinson's Chuang-tzu for Spiritual Transformation: An Analysis of the Inner Chapters (1989), Kuang-ming Wu's The Butterfly as Companion: Meditations on the First Three Chapters of the Chuang Tzu (1990), Jonathan R. Herman's I and Tao: Martin Buber's Encounter with Chuang Tzu (1996), and Paul Kjellberg and Philip J. Ivanhoe's Essays on Skepticism, Relativism and Ethics in the Zhuangzi (1996). Now, with Wandering at Ease in the Zhuangzi, edited by one of the coeditors of the SUNY Series, Roger Ames, the field of Zhuangzi studies has been taken to new heights, especially in terms of insightful thematic penetration of the text.6

True to the philosophical smorgasbord of the Zhuangzi, Wandering at Ease offers its readers a diverse hermeneutics—philosophical, literary, and semantic— [End Page 57] and thus provides the grounds for fruitful understandings of this, one of the most pregnant texts in the Chinese literary tradition. Ames' Introduction leads the way, explaining how the text, primarily geared toward personal realization rather than political theorizing, addresses the relationship between the "Authentic Person" (zhenren), the consummate human being in the Zhuangzi, and that person's "contributions to the ethos or total character" of their world. Ames emphasizes here that the Daoism of the Zhuangzi promotes "self-disclosure" (ziran), where the "self" is understood not as a "superordinated agent" but rather "in context," as "a particular focus (de) in the ongoing 'field' of experience (dao) that is sponsored by, and ultimately reflects in itself, the full consequences of existence" (p. 2). By explaining these themes and others with exceptional sensitivity and clear textual expertise, Ames' Introduction well provides readers with the much needed jolt from ordinary hermeneutics and toward the kind of overall, highly original interpretive perspective necessary for appreciating the remainder of the volume, filled as it is with pioneering essays on topics that will only be treated fully in monographs, hopefully forthcoming.

The first essay, Kirill Ole Thompson's "What Is the Reason of Failure or Success? The Fisherman's Song Goes Deep into the River: Fishermen in the Zhuangzi" (pp. 15-34), explains how fishermen are representatives of "practical" sages (shengren), the "Perfect Man," and "the man of the dao." Thompson notes that...


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