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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

Chinese PhilosophyIII. Daoism 道

Geir Sigurðsson

Icelandic Centre for Asian Studies, University of Akureyri


The great masters of daoism

Laozi (6th c. BCE)

Zhuangzi (3rd c. BCE)

The great masters of Daoism

Dao way of the world
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


  • “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 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
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)