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Chinese Philosophy III. Daoism 道 . Geir Sigurðsson Icelandic Centre for Asian Studies, University of Akureyri 14.12.2006. Laozi (6th c. BCE). Zhuangzi (3rd c. BCE). The great masters of Daoism. Dao: way of the world. Classic on the Way and its Virtue ( Dao de jing 道德经 )

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Chinese Philosophy III. Daoism 道

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Chinese PhilosophyIII. Daoism 道

Geir Sigurðsson

Icelandic Centre for Asian Studies, University of Akureyri


Laozi (6th c. BCE)

Zhuangzi (3rd c. BCE)

The great masters of Daoism

Dao: way of the world

  • Classic on the Way and its Virtue (Dao de jing 道德经)

  • Worldview comparable with the Confucian view – constant change

  • But respond differently to social dissolution

  • Traditions, values, customs and distinctions of society rejected

  • Criticism and mockery of Confucian activism and social orientation

Embracing boundless nature


  • “Free and easy wandering” 逍遥游 (Zhuangzi)

  • “do non-action”, wei wu wei 为无为 (DDJ 3)

  • Sages, shengren 圣人, those who can maintain stillness in the changes

  • Let things take their own route

  • Aspiration to simplisity, baby as „uncarved block“, Cook Ding, old swimmer

  • Aim is to broaden perspective

  • Things taken on their own terms, e.g. animals

  • Contra human perspectivism


  • Avoid absolute valuation (Zhuangzi and useless trees)

  • Acceptance of limited destiny – embrace “heaven’s (nature’s 天) order”, e.g. aging

  • Life for life’s own sake

  • But no reason to fear death – let life run its course and participate in the “great transformation” (Zhuangzi and old men)

  • Besides, it is not comparable (Zhuangzi and skull)

The power of softness

  • The softest substance of the world Goes through the hardest. That-which-is-without-form penetrates that-which-has-no-crevice; Through this I know the benefit of taking no action. The teaching without words And the benefit of taking no action

    Are without compare in the universe. (DDJ 43)

More softness

  • When man is born, he is tender and weak;    At death, he is hard and stiff. When the things and plants are alive, they are soft    and supple; When they are dead, they are brittle and dry.    Therefore hardness and stiffness are the companions of death,    And softness and gentleness are the companions of life.

  • Therefore when an army is headstrong, it will lose in a battle. When a tree is hard, it will be cut down.    The big and strong belong underneath.    The gentle and weak belong at the top. (DDJ 76)

Grazie mille!

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