"Chuang Tzu": The Evolution of a Taoist Classic

Dissertation, Harvard University (2002)
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Abstract

Although the Chuang Tzu has been revered as a classic of Taoist wisdom for over two thousand years, the question of the text's origins have remained largely unexplored until recent times. The book was traditionally attributed to a figure named Chuang Chou who was active in the latter half of the fourth century B.C.E., though modern scholarship has demonstrated that Master Chuang himself wrote only the first seven chapters, the remaining material being written over a period of approximately two centuries. Particularly important in this regard is the work of A. C. Graham, who argues that the text can be divided into five strata with varying degrees of proximity to the philosophy of Chuang Tzu. According to Graham, the latest stratum was written by a group which he calls the Syncretists, who are also credited with compiling the earliest edition of the text. However, since Graham finds no evidence of an organized school surviving Chuang Tzu's death he believes that the Syncretists compiled the text from a variety of different sources, whereas I argue that it evolved through a process of accretion whereby successive generations of Chuang Tzu's disciples appended their own writings to those of their Master. Thus, while I agree that the Syncretists were responsible for bringing the text to completion, I use textual and philosophical analysis to show that they merely edited a previously existing collection of writings by Chuang Tzu and his lineal descendants. I further use the Syncretists' own discussion of Chuang Tzu's philosophy to demonstrate that they were primarily interested in his mystical vision of the Tao, which served as the foundation for their "syncretic" perspective, as well as the unifying principle behind their organization of the text

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