The forger: the use of things

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Although most stories of skill (skill stories) in the Zhuangzi are recorded in chapter 19, “ Da sheng ” ( 達生 , “Fathoming Life”), an often-overlooked story on the same topic is found in chapter 22, “ Zhi bei you ” ( 知北遊 , “Knowledge Roaming North”). It is about a forger working under the grand marshal. 2 Chapter 12 of the Huainanzi records a slightly different version of the story, but we focus on their similarities here. Zhuangzi 3 uses the story to illustrate the process of skill cultivation and its relationship with things ( wu 物 ). Of all the skill stories in the text, this is the only one to discuss the relationship between use ( yong 用 ) and non-use ( bu yong 不用 ). Whilst it is generally agreed that the value of uselessness ( wu yong 無用 ) is a recurring theme in the Zhuangzi , the forger emphasises that he “leaves nothing unused” ( wu bu yong 無不用 ), 4 leading one to wonder how these two ideas can be reconciled when thinking about skill. Against this backdrop, this chapter offers a detailed interpretation of the forger’s words. I argue that they contain at least three messages. First, every improvement to skill is accompanied by concentration, leading to proficiency but possibly also blind spots. Second, ordinary skill improvement is “surpassed” if one can achieve the state of “leaving nothing unused”. Third, attaining this extraordinary state enables one to support all things, and perhaps to be simultaneously supported by them. After explaining these messages in detail, I articulate a possible sociopolitical implication of the story, namely that emptiness and flexibility are regarded as key to the art of governance.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSkill and mastery : philosophical stories from the Zhuangzi
EditorsKaryn LAI, Wai Wai CHIU
PublisherRowman & Littlefield
ISBN (Electronic)9781786609144
ISBN (Print)9781786609120, 9781786609137
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2019

Publication series

NameCEACOP East Asian Comparative Ethics, Politics and Philosophy of Law
PublisherRowman & Littlefield


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