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Though primarily known as a philosophical work, the Zhuangzi is regarded as one of the greatest literary works in all of Chinese history, and has been called "the most important pre-Qin text for the study of Chinese literature." A masterpiece of both philosophical and literary skill, it has significantly influenced writers for more than 2000 years from the Han dynasty (206 BC–AD220) to the present.
Many major Chinese writers and poets in history—such as Sima Xiangru and Sima Qian during the Han dynasty, Ruan Ji and Tao Yuanming during the Six Dynasties (222–589), Li Bai during the Tang dynasty (618–907), and Su Shi and Lu You in the Song dynasty (960–1279)—were heavily influenced by the Zhuangzi.
Some are completely whimsical, such as the strange description of evolution from "misty spray" through a series of substances and insects to horses and humans (chapter 18), while a few other passages seem to be "sheer playful nonsense" which read like Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky".
In the introduction to his Zhuangzi translation, the American scholar Burton Watson concluded his comments about the paucity of the historical information on Zhuangzi by saying: "Whoever Zhuang Zhou was, the writings attributed to him bear the stamp of a brilliant and original mind." It is generally accepted that the middle and later Zhuangzi chapters are the result of a subsequent process of "accretion and redaction" by later authors "responding to the scintillating brilliance" of the inner chapters.220) are largely unknown.
The Zhuangzi consists of a large collection of anecdotes, allegories, parables, and fables, which are often humorous or irreverent in nature.
Its main themes are of spontaneity in action and of freedom from the human world and its conventions.
You rob the one and give to the other—how skewed would that be?
" The stories and anecdotes of the Zhuangzi embody a unique set of principles and attitudes, including living one's life with natural spontaneity, uniting one's inner self with the cosmic "Way" (Dao), keeping oneself distant from politics and social obligations, accepting death as a natural transformation, showing appreciation and praise for things others view as useless or aimless, and stridently rejecting social values and conventional reasoning.