Editor’s Note: Bracketed entries within Zhuangzi passages are the author’s additional comments.
The Zhuangzi ranks amongst the greatest Chinese literary masterpieces. Written in China’s Warring States period (475–221 BCE), its vivid allegories have profoundly influenced the most preeminent of Chinese thinkers for over two millennia. In this essay, I present a sample of the Zhuangzi’s key ideas on life and death, language and knowledge, and time and the universe that will interest the twenty-first century student. I will also provide the classical allegories behind these learning points so that teachers can facilitate lively discussions on Zhuangzi excerpts.
An excellent English translation of the Zhuangzi has been composed by Burton Watson in his The Complete Works of Zhuangzi (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013). A shorter translation of selected chapters has also been done by the same translator in Zhuangzi: Basic Writings (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003).
In China, a comic book version of the Zhuangzi—illustrated by the prominent cartoonist C. C. Tsai—is a very popular educational resource. This resource has been translated into English and is titled Zhuangzi: The Way of Nature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019).
Lastly, an accessible overview of philosophical Daoism can be found at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (https://www.iep.utm.edu/daoism/).