Zhuangzi’s idea of ‘spirit’ : acting and ‘thinging things’ without self-assertion

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


In contrast to his contemporaries who take the heart–mind as the ruler of a person, Zhuangzi suggests that one’s action is guided by the spirit (shen 神). Questions arise as one articulates the function of spirit and its relationship with the heart–mind. In this article, I articulate the relationship between heart–mind and spirit to show three points: first, spirit is a kind of qi 氣 that can be tied or run smoothly, or rather the mechanism triggered by the functioning of smooth qi. This reading brings the skill passages together with the fasting of heart–mind (xin zhai 心齋) passage. Second, the proceeding of spirit admits no fixed ways and is not confined to any particular organ or faculty, so it avoids the problem of self-assertion mentioned in Qiwulun. Third, the proceeding of spirit implies that one’s practice takes as many particularities of the context as possible into account, so the person has a higher chance to reduce conflict in interacting with things and other people and bring out their potential. This is a reason why skilful practices are related to Zhuangzi’s ideal of nourishing life, both physiologically and psychologically.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-51
Number of pages14
JournalAsian Philosophy: An International Journal of the Philosophical Traditions of the East
Issue number1
Early online date29 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Zhuangzi
  • heart-mind
  • qi
  • self
  • spirit


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