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Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings Reprint Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0231105958
ISBN-10: 0231105959
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Editorial Reviews


Burton Watson... possesses all the qualities which distinguish a master translator.


From the Back Cover

The basic writings of Chuang Tzu have been savored by Chinese readers for more than two thousand years. And Burton Watson's lucid and beautiful translation has been loved by generations of readers. Chuang Tzu (369?-286? B.C.) was a leading philosopher representing the Taoist strain in Chinese thought. Using parable and anecdote, allegory and paradox, he set forth, in the book that bears his name, the early ideas of what was to become the Taoist school. Central to these is the belief that only by understanding Tao (the Way of Nature) and dwelling in its unity can man achieve true happiness and freedom, in both life and death. Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings includes the seven "inner chapters", which form the heart of the book, three of the "outer chapters", and one of the "miscellaneous chapters". Watson also provides an introduction, which places the philosopher in relation to Chinese history and thought. Witty and imaginative, enriched by brilliant imagery, and making sportive use of both mythological and historical personages (including even Confucius), this timeless classic is sure to appeal to anyone interested in Chinese religion and culture.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; Reprint edition (April 15, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231105959
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231105958
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #19,234 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Anyone who may be coming to Chuang Tzu for the first time is in for a treat. Although Chuang Tzu is sometimes described as the most brilliant of all Chinese philosophers, what we find in him isn't what we normally understand by 'Philosophy' and isn't technical at all.
His appeal is not so much to the intellect as to the imagination, and he chose as a vehicle for his philosophical insights, not tedious and lengthy abstract treatises, but brief and witty anecdotes and dialogues and tales. His humor, sophistication, literary genius, and philosophical insights found their perfect expression in his brilliant fragments, and once having read them you never forget them.
Not much is known about Chuang Tzu, other than that he seems to have lived around the time of King Hui of Liang (370-319 B.C.). The received text of his book, which is sometimes referred to as 'the Chuang Tzu' (CT), is made up of thirty-three Chapters. Most scholars seem to feel that the CT is a composite text, and that only the first seven - the Inner Chapters - plus a few bits from the others are Chuang Tzu's own work, the remainder being by others.
Among the better known of his translators, all of them excellent, are Arthur Waley, Burton Watson, and A. C. Graham, though only the latter two translated the complete text. An abridged version of Watson's complete translation has now been made available for those who want to confine themselves mainly to the Inner Chapters.
Watson has always struck me as an eminently civilized scholar and as a brilliant translator. Unlike certain others, he wears his scholarship lightly, and doesn't overburden the text with extraneous matter.
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Format: Paperback
Most people have heard of Lao Tzu, the alleged author of the Tao Te Ching. However, cognoscenti know that the writings attributed to the Chinese "Taoist" Chuang Tzu are at least as interesting, challenging, and profound.
Chuang Tzu shows his mastery of almost every form of writing in this work: parable, humor, philosophial dialogue, even what seem like brief philosophical essays. Sometimes the net effect is quite dizzying: what are we to make of the story of how Chuang Tzu was dreaming that he was a butterfly, and then awoke, but was unsure whether he was Chuang Tzu who had been dreaming that he was a butterfly, or a butterfly who was now dreaming that he was Chuang Tzu?! And how is a butcher who carves an ox carcass with seemingly supernatural grace and ease a model for how we should lead our lives? Understand this book or not, you'll have fun reading it!
The eponymous book, the _Chuang Tzu_ is actually a collection of writings by different authors from different periods. However, many scholars believe that the so-called "Inner Chapters" are by one hand. Watson's translation includes all of these, as well as selections from some of the other portions of the text. (Watson has also published separately a complete translation, although it is rather expensive.) Watson is a very gifted translator, and his love for this text shows. This is one of the standard translations, and for good reason. (One tidbit: Watson seems to translate into English, not from the original Chinese, but from Japanese translations of the Chinese. Surprisingly, the result is very good.)
There is much disagreement over how to interpret Chuang Tzu, so you may want to compare how different translators do different things with the same text. A.C.
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The Chuang Tzu (rendered Zhuangzi in pinyin, which is becoming the standard transliteration these days) is second only to Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching in its popularity and veneration in the Taoist world. If you've not heard of or read this book before, you're in for a real treat! The first time I read the Inner Chapters of the Chuang Tzu was like a revelation--the thoughts and ideas expressed in these passages still resonate today for their acuity, humor, satire, stabbing profundity, and life-changing potential. Indeed, after better understanding the thought this book expresses, I felt like so many loose ideas and insights I'd gleaned from other philosophy, literature, music, and poetry had been tied up together and formulated into a concise and elegant package that is urgently relevant to every day life--pretty amazing for a text that is well over 2000 years old!

I recently completed reading the last of three complete translations of the Chuang Tzu, and I decided to wait until I read all of them before reviewing any of the three. Since this text is written in ancient Chinese, a language that was reserved for the intellectual and cultural elite two thousand years ago and has been considered effectively "dead" (like Latin) for quite a while, even understanding what the author(s) were trying to say is difficult, let alone translating the words from Chinese to English. So I figured reading a few different translations is probably the best way to get a broad and deep understanding of the text, and the cumulative effect would make up for each translation's weaknesses. This proved a good strategy--the other translations I chose were Victor Mair's
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