There are a few points to consider here: Zhuang Zhou is not a butterfly, dreaming is not awakening, and knowledge is not ignorance. Yet, these distinct situations interdepend and interchange to the point of where Zhuang Zhou is uncertain of where he is. The two contrasting moments correspond to the Confucian concept of li, ‘ritual’ and yue, ‘music’. The essense of li is control, and that of yue is ‘harmony’. Control holds back, while harmony blends. They correspond to Zhuang Zhou’s two moments in the dream of distinction then interchange, which also pervades our everyday life.
The Confucian texts show us that we can learn from water, especially still water because the stillness of water provides us with a mirror to reflect on the nature of reality, and in this reflection, we have the opportunity to embody stillness and calmness of mind. The importance of water and stillness highlights the importance of wu-wei, the art of doing nothing. Translated as effortless action, skilled inactivity, or action through non-action, wu-wei calls for passivity, quietude, and the absence of contentiousness in order to smoothly accommodate the other. Such action takes discipline and strength, much like how a professional swimmer effortlessly glides across the water. Thus, rather than interpreting wu-wei as a strategy to control and influence others indirectly, wu-wei can literally mean doing nothing, waiting, and reflecting as still water.
The original phrasing in chapter 4, section 4.2 uses “to attack” rather than “to govern” to mean that only when the people are attacked and thereby weakened can strong governance be established. The Book of Lord Shang puts forward the argument that people will only follow state order out of fear and so to create a strong and functioning state, a strong army should be created to deter people from doing wrong by inflicting heavy punishment.
The Book of Lord Shang is one of the most important, yet least studied, texts in Chinese philosophy and political culture. Along with the Analects, it is one of the foundational texts of early Chinese political thought that provides lengthy chapters about land management, state-society relations, historical evolution, and human nature. The book is the earliest surviving text from the Legalist School and is largely attributed to the thoughts of Shang Yang (Gongsun Yang or Lord of Shang), the successful politician whose state reforms allowed the Qin Empire to prosper during the tumultuous Warring States period. The Qin vision for long lasting governance was to empower the state by establishing total control over its material and human resources, an idea that is repeatedly put forward in chapter 4.
Throughout the fourth chapter, the moral norms of Chinese traditional culture, including rites and music, goodness and self-cultivation, are ridiculed with calls for the creation of a regime in which “villains…rule [the] good” (4.3); and an army that wins by doing “whatever the enemy is ashamed of” (4.1). Moreover, the textual style of using short and energetic sentences creates a “take it or leave it” approach to the text, where policies are proclaimed, but the justification for such action is rarely ever elaborated on. Despite the provocative ideas and lack of explanation in some sections, the text gives much insight into the Warring States period and the formation of the Chinese empire.
In this episode, the role and function of the Confucian Sage is examined. Much like the psychotherapist in the West, the Sage purposely uses silence to allow individuals to reflect on their selves, their conceptions of personhood, and on their community of relationships. The mirror-like quality of the sage in this encounter provides an alternative to examining one’s life through self-perception or through the perception of others which can be biased and full of judgement. But while the psychotherapist tends to use silence strategically or as a tool that masks psychotherapeutic theories, definitions and diagnoses, the Confucian Sage continues to be passive and non-intrusive to send back an image of what is given. Thus, the emptiness and stillness of the Sage’s mind is a required part of providing people with self-insight and hopefully, moral betterment.
This episode opens with a passage from the Zhuangzi that talks about water that is so still that it forms a mirror-image that can be used to reflect on human behaviour and relationships. The stillness and reflection of the mirror can be compared to the still and silent mind of the Sage, whose complete clarity of the world can accurately reflect on the nature of reality. By looking into the mind of the Sage, you can see yourself and your relationships as they really are, despite what might be thought or said by others. This idea of the mirror image is similarly explored in Western philosophy through the Greek and Roman myth of Narcissus, in Plato’s writings, as well as by St. Paul and Lacan, where the mirror can both reinforce hubris and act as a means of self-recognition and self-understanding.
In the Analects, dao or the Way is always being communicated: it is heard (as in the passage above, 4:8), spoken and studied (6:12), corrected (1:4), walked (5:7), and wasted or absent (3:24). The dao can be born (1:2), can be strengthened (15:29), and it can be great or small (19:4).
While dao is a ‘general’ mass term (for example, X can be dao and Y can be dao, yet these two dao-things can still be distinct), this mass-like behaviour has led many in the West to translate dao as ‘being’ or “condition, state, circumstance, presence”. However, the way that dao is interpreted in Chinese is more practical than metaphysical, where writers change the usage of dao regularly. For example, certain people can be said to have dao (Confucius has a dao; kings can have dao; some villages have dao). Heaven or nature also has dao, and there can be different dao depending on the period of history.
For Hansen (1989), it is more appropriate to think of the general mass term of dao as the English noun ‘discourse’. Just like dao, the inner structure of discourse remains indeterminate. Similarly, X can be a discourse and Y can be a discourse that together form a combined discourse, while apart they remain as separate discourses. This interpretation provides a framework to understand the relation between dao and action and behaviour so that dao acts as a guiding or prescriptive discourse. That is, a ‘way’ to do something. A particular way of hearing, for example, where one listens but does not pass judgement of right and wrong, good and bad, beautiful or ugly.