The Chuan Tzu

Translated by Lin Yutang


Introduction [ 1 ]

1] A Happy Excursion

2 ] On Leveling All Things

3 ] The Preservation of Life

4 ] This Human World

5 ] Deformities, or Evidence of a Full Character (23)

6 ] The Great Supreme

7 ] Joined Toes

8 ] Horses' Hooves

9 ] Opening Trunks, or a Protest against Civilization

10 ] On Tolerance

11 ] Autumn Floods (64)


















Joined Toes

Joined toes and extra fingers seem to come from nature, yet, functionally speaking they are superfluous. Goiters and tumors seem to come from the body, yet in their nature, they are superfluous. And (similarly), to have many extraneous doctrines of charity and duty and regard them in practice as parts of a man's natural sentiments is not the true way of Tao. For just as joined toes are but useless lumps of flesh, and extra fingers but useless growths, so are the many artificial developments of the natural sentiments of men and the extravagances of charitable and dutiful conduct but so many superfluous uses of intelligence. People with superfluous keenness of vision put into confusion the five colors, lose themselves in the forms and designs, and in the distinctions of greens and yellows for sacrificial robcs. Is this not so? Of such was Li Chu (the clear-sighted). People with superfluous keenness of hearing put into confusion the five notes, exaggerate the tonic differences of the six pitch-pipes, and the various timbres of metal, stone, silk, and bamboo of the Huang-chung, and the Ta-lu. (39) Is this not so? Of such was Shih K'uang (the music master). People who abnormally develop charity exalt virtue and suppress nature in order to gain a reputation, make the world noisy with their discussions and cause it to follow impractical doctrines. Is this not so? Of such were Tseng and Shih. (40) People who commit excess in arguments, like piling up bricks and making knots, analyzing and inquiring into the distinctions of hard and white, identities and differences, wear themselves out over mere vain, useless terms. Is this not so? Of such were Yang and Mo (41). All these are superfluous and devious growths of knowledge and are not the correct guide for the world. He who would be the ultimate guide never loses sight of the inner nature of life. Therefore with him, the united is not like joined toes, the separated is not like extra fingers, what is long is not considered as excess, and what is short is not regarded as wanting. For duck's legs, though short, cannot be lengthened without dismay to the duck, and a crane's legs, though long, cannot be shortened without misery to the crane. That which is long in nature must not be cut off, and that which is short in nature must not be lengthened. Thus will all sorrow be avoided. I suppose charity and duty are surely not included in human nature. You see how many worries and dismays the charitable man has! Besides, divide your joined toes and you will howl: bite off your extra finger and you will scream. In the one case, there is too much, and in the other too little; but the worries and dismays are the same. Now the charitable men of the present age go about with a look of concern sorrowing over the ills of the age, while the non-charitable let loose the desire of their nature in their greed after position and wealth. Therefore I Suppose charity and duty are not included in human nature. Yet from the time of the Three Dynasties downwards what a commotion has been raised about them! Moreover, those who rely upon the arc, the line, compasses, and the square to make correct forms injure the natural constitution of things Those who use cords to bind and glue to piece together interfere with the natural character of things. Those who seek to satisfy the mind of man by hampering it with ceremonies and music and affecting charity and devotion have lost their original nature. There is an original nature in things. Things in their original nature are curved without the help of arcs, straight without lines, round without compasses, and rectangular without squares; they are joined together without glue. and hold together without cords. In this manner all things live and grow from an inner urge and none can tell how they come to do so. They all have a place in the scheme of things and none can tell how they come to have their proper place. From time immemorial this has always been so, and it may not be tampered with. Why then should the doctrines of charity and duty continue to remain like so much glue or cords, in the domain of Tao and virtue, to give rise to confusion and doubt among mankind? Now the lesser doubts change man's purpose, and the greater doubts change man's nature. How do we know this? Ever since the time when Shun made a bid for charity and duty and threw the world into confusion, men have run about and exhausted themselves in the pursuit thereof. Is it not then charity and duty which have changed the nature of man? Therefore I have tried to show (42) that from the time of the Three Dynasties onwards, there is not one who has not changed his nature through certain external things. If a common man, he will die for gain. If a scholar, he will die for fame. If a ruler of a township, he will die for his ancestral honors. If a Sage, he will die for the world. The pursuits and ambitions of these men differ, but the injury to their nature resulting in the sacrifice of their lives is the same. Tsang and Ku were shepherds, and both lost their sheep. On inquiry it appeared that Tsang had been engaged in reading with a shepherd's stick under his arm, while Ku had gone to take part in some trials of strength. Their pursuits were different, but the result in each case was the loss of the sheep. Po Yi died for fame at the foot of Mount Shouyang. (43) Robber Cheh died for gain on the Mount Tungling. They died for different reasons, but the injury to their lives and nature was in each case the same. Why then must we applaud the former and blame the latter? All men die for something, and yet if a man dies for charity and duty the world calls him a gentleman; but if he dies for gain, the world calls him a low fellow. The dying being the same, one is nevertheless called a gentleman and the other called a low character. But in point of injury to their lives and nature, Robber Cheh was just another Po Yi. Of what use then is the distinction of 'gentleman' and 'low fellow' between them? Besides, were a man to apply himself to charity and duty until he were the equal of Tseng or Shih, I would not call it good. Or to savors, until he were the equal of Shu Erh (famous cook), I would not call it good. Or to sound, until he were the equal of Shih K'uang, I would not call it good. Or to colors, until he were the equal of Li Chu, I would not call it good. What I call good is not what is meant by charity and duty, but taking good care of virtue. And what I call good is not the so-called charity and duty, but following the nature of life. What I call good at hearing is not hearing others but hearing oneself. What I call good at vision is not seeing others but seeing oneself. For a man who sees not himself but others, or takes possession not of himself but of others, possessing only what others possess and possessing not his own self, does what pleases others instead of pleasing his own nature. Now one who pleases others, instead of pleasing one's own nature, whether he be Robber Cheh or Po Yi, is just another one gone astray. Conscious of my own deficiencies in regard to Tao, I do not venture to practise the principles of charity and duty on the one hand, nor to lead the life of extravagance on the other.


Translator's notes

(39) - Huang-chung and ta-lu: were the standard pitchpipes.

(40) - Tseng Ts'an and Shih Yu:, disciples of Confucius.

(41) - I Yang chu and Motse (Mo Ti).

(42) - Beginning with this phrase there is a marked change in style and vocabulary in this part.

(43) - Because he refused to serve the new dynasty.