The Difference Between Zhuangzi and the Confucian Ideal of Inner Sage and Outer King

Abstract: Since ancient times, there has been continuous controversy over the distinction between "internal sage and external king" in Zhuangzi and Confucianism. As a term originally used in Daoism and later widely adopted by Confucianism, it is believed that the ideals and goals of Confucianism can be summarized by the phrase "internal sage and external king" in the chapter "Tianxia" (All Under Heaven). As Nan Huaijin said, "Don't think that the cultivation of Confucius and Mencius is different from that of Buddhism and Daoism. Their principles and theories are in line with Buddhism and Daoism. This is what is called the study of 'internal sage and external king'." Through research and investigation, it can be known that although the idea of "internal sage and external king" will eventually be perfectly explained in Confucianism, there are essential differences in the background and structure of the idea.

Keywords: Zhuangzi, Confucianism, internal sage and external king

The phrase "internal sage and external king" first appeared in the chapter "Tianxia" in Zhuangzi: "Therefore, the way of the internal sage and external king is dark and not clear, hidden and not revealed. People in the world each do as they wish, following their own ways." By studying this sentence alone, it is difficult to summarize the true meaning of "internal sage and external king" in Zhuangzi. It is necessary to consider the background and historical context of the chapter "Tianxia". Through argumentation and analysis, it is found that the chapter "Tianxia" and other chapters such as "Tiandi" (Heaven and Earth) and "Tiandao" (The Way of Heaven) in the Outer Chapters are all attributed to the Huang-Lao school, which indirectly indicates the close connection between the idea of "internal sage and external king" and the Huang-Lao school. From the perspective of the Huang-Lao school, it is more appropriate and accurate to analyze it. Zhuangzi's proposition of "following the Way of Heaven" and Laozi's "governing by doing nothing" have a similar meaning. If human morality goes against the Way of Heaven, it should take a detour, and Laozi's Way of Heaven seems to be more distant and unreachable. In the chapter "Qi Wu Lun" (Discussion on Making All Things Equal) of the Inner Chapters, it is stated: "When the spring dries up, fish are left stranded on land. Instead of splashing each other with water, they should forget each other in the rivers and lakes. Instead of praising Yao and criticizing Jie, they should both forget and transform their ways." Both Zhuangzi and Laozi believe that Yao and Shun violated the Way of Heaven by placing fish on the ground. The overall evaluation of the Way of Heaven and the Way of Man in Laozi is: "The Way of Heaven is to diminish the excessive and supplement the insufficient; the Way of Man is to diminish the insufficient and supplement the excessive." This kind of Way of Man separates the privileged class from the common people, undoubtedly violating the Way of Man. It corresponds to the term "internal sage" in Zhuangzi's "internal sage and external king". Some scholars also believe that Zhuangzi inherited Laozi's Way of "internal sage". Zhuangzi's "external king" means that the emperor and anyone else are the same. It is also a violation of the Way of Heaven to enter the high hall and become an official. The emperor should not interfere with and hinder officials too much. People should follow the natural course and conform to social development.

The Confucian idea of "internal sage and external king" borrowed for reference has undergone many changes and adaptations with the development of the times. Confucianism, as the mainstream ideology, has dominated Chinese ancient culture for thousands of years, adapting to changes in dynasties and economic development. The interpretations in the academic community in the past were mainly focused on the "Three Guiding Principles and Eight Virtues" in the "Da Xue" (Great Learning), as well as the interpretations of the later Song-Ming Neo-Confucianism framework. Self-cultivation, family harmony, state governance, and world peace are the four realms of "internal sage and external king". However, many scholars have different interpretations of "internal sage and external king". Liang Qichao in his "Explanations of Zhuangzi's Tianxia Chapter" interprets "internal sage and external king" as "being sufficiently cultivated internally and sufficiently capable of governing externally". He said, "When one's self-cultivation reaches the extreme, it is internal sage; when one's ability to govern others reaches the extreme, it is external king." "When one's character is refined to purity, it is internal sage; when one's character expands universally, it is external king." In terms of extension, "external king" in Confucianism includes sociology, political science, economics, and more; "internal sage" in Confucianism includes education, psychology, anthropology, and more. Xiong Shili believes that a sage is a person who possesses courage, kindness, and both virtue and talent. The emperor's desire is to long for peace. Feng Youlan believes that a sage is a person who embodies great righteousness and is also a person of moderation. The emperor's "king" is the highest leader... The development of Confucianism has given "internal sage and external king" different meanings, which are far from the original meaning of Zhuangzi. The so-called interpretations of Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and other schools being in harmony are just a way of integrating and understanding.

Zhuangzi's way of "internal sage and external king" is a comprehensive embodiment of the ideology of Daoism, reflecting the mature and unique development of Zhuangzi's thought. The later development of Confucianism's "internal sage and external king" has surpassed the original meaning of Zhuangzi, and different thought structures have given rise to different theoretical flowers.


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