Revisiting the Exchange between Zhuangzi and Huizi on Qing


In this article we focus on the famous dialogue between Zhuangzi 莊子 and Huizi 惠子 concerning the question whether or not ren 人 (in particular the shengren 聖人) have qing 情. Most scholars have understood qing in this exchange as referring to “feelings” or “emotions.” We take issue with such readings. First, we demonstrate that, while Huizi probably understands qing as something like feelings or emotions, Zhuangzi’s view is that having qing is connected with making shifei 是非 judgments whereas having no qing means that shifei has no grip on those ren, especially the shengren. What follows is that the expression wuqing 無情 should not be identified as a “doctrine of nonemotion.” Instead, wuqing implies that Zhuangzi advises us to lead a life of tranquility, calmness, and stillness. We show that these peaceful attitudes are associated with the idea of wuwei 無為 in the Zhuangzi.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. Bradley, Scott P. 2015. All Is Well in the Great Mess. Bradenton, FL: BookLocker.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Cao, Chuji 曹礎基, trans. 2000. A Didactic Annotation to the Zhuangzi 莊子淺注. Beijing 北京: Zhonghua Shuju 中華書局.

  3. Chai, David. Forthcoming. “Zhuangzi’s Doctrine of No-Emotion” (pre-production draft). In Dao Companion to the Philosophy of the Zhuangzi, edited by Kim-chong Chong and Kai-Yuan Cheng. (last accessed on October 12, 2020).

  4. Chen, Guying 陳鼓應, trans. 2007. Contemporary Annotations and Translations of the Zhuangzi 莊子今注今譯. Beijing 北京: Shangwu Yinshuguan 商務印書館.

  5. ______. 2014. “Zhuangzi on Qing: Lack of Qing, Giving Free Reign to Qing, and Setting Qing at Rest 莊子論情:無情任情與安情.” Philosophical Researches 哲學研究 4: 50–59.

  6. ______. 2015. “The Tradition of Emotive Writing in the Zhuangzi and Its Echoes in Later Generations.” Frontiers of Philosophy in China 10.3: 340–352.

  7. ______. 2016. The Philosophy of Life: A New Reading of the Zhuangzi. Leiden: Brill.

  8. Cheng, Anne. 2004. “The Status of Qing in Philosophical Texts of Ancient China.” In Expressions of States of Mind in Asia, edited by Paolo Santangelo. Napoli: Università degli Studie di Napoli “L’Orientale.”

  9. Chong, Kim-chong. 2010. “Zhuangzi and Hui Shi on Qing 情.” Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies, New Series 40.1: 21–45.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Despeux, Catherine. 2004. “Feeling in Zhuangzi: From Joy to Serenity.” In Expressions of States of Mind in Asia, edited by Paolo Santangelo. Napoli: Università degli Studie di Napoli “L’Orientale.”

  11. Eifring, Halvor. 2004. “Introduction: Emotions and the Conceptual History of Qing 情.” In Love and Emotions in Traditional Chinese Literature, edited by Halvor Eifring. Leiden: Brill.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Eno, Robert, trans. 2010. Zhuangzi: The Inner Chapters. (last accessed on November 27, 2020).

  13. Feng, Youlan, trans. 1928/1989. Chuang-Tzu. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.

  14. Fraser, Chris. 2011. “Emotion and Agency in Zhuangzi.” Asian Philosophy: An International Journal of the Philosophical Traditions of the East 21.1: 97–121.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Giles, Herbert A., trans. 1889. Chuang Tzu. London: Bernard Quaeitch.

  16. Graham, A. C. 1981. “The Background of the Mencian Theory of Human Nature.” Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies 6.1–2: 215–271.

  17. ______, trans. 1981/2001. Chuang-Tzu: The Inner Chapters. Indianapolis: Hackett.

  18. Guo, Xiang 郭象, and Cheng Xuanying 成玄英, annot. 2011. Commentary and Subcommentary on the Zhuangzi 莊子注疏. Beijing 北京: Zhonghua Shuju 中華書局.

  19. Hansen, Chad. 1995. “Qing (Emotions) 情 in Pre-Buddhist Chinese Thought.” In Emotions in Asian Thought: A Dialogue in Comparative Philosophy, edited by Joel Marks and Roger T. Ames. Albany: SUNY Press.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Kjellberg, Paul, trans. 2001. Zhuangzi. In Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, edited by Philip J. Ivanhoe and Bryan W. Van Norden. New York: Seven Bridges Press.

  21. Klein, Esther. 2010. “Were There ‘Inner Chapters’ in the Warring States? A New Examination of Evidence about the Zhuangzi.” T’oung Pao 96.4/5: 299–369.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Legge, James, trans. 1891. The Writings of Kwang-Tze. In The Sacred Books of the East, edited by F. Max Müller. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  23. Lenehan, Katia. 2013. “Theory of Non-Emotion in the Zhuangzi and Its Connection to Wei-Jin Poetry.” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 40.2: 340–354.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Levi, Jean, trans. 2010. Les œvres de Maître Tchouang. Paris: Éditions de l’encyclopédie des nuisances.

  25. ______, trans. 2012. Écrits de Maître Wen 文子, 道玄真經. Paris: Les belles lettres.

  26. Lin, Yutang 林語堂, trans. 1957. Chuangtse 莊子. Taipei 台北: Shijie Shuju 世界書局; (last accessed on October 12, 2020).

  27. Liu, Qingping. 2011. “Emotionless in Confucianism and Daoism: A New Interpretation.” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 38.1: 118–133.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Liu, Xiaogan. 2010. “Daoism: Laozi and Zhuangzi.” In World Philosophy, edited by Jay L. Garfield and William Edelglass. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Lynn, Richard John. 2015. “Wang Bi and Xuanxue.” In Dao Companion to Daoist Philosophy, edited by Xiaogan Liu. Dordrecht: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Ma, Lin, and Jaap van Brakel. 2016. Fundamentals of Comparative and Intercultural Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  31. ______. 2019. Beyond the Troubled Water of Shifei: From Disputation to Walking-Two-Roads in the Zhuangzi. Albany: State University of New York Press.

  32. Machek, David. 2015. “‘Emotions That Do Not Move’: Zhuangzi and Stoics on Self-Emerging Feelings.” Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 14.4: 521–544.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Mair, Victor H., trans. 1994. Wandering on the Way. New York: Bantam Books.

  34. Middendorf, Ulrike. 2008. “Again on Qing: With a Translation of the Guodian Xing Zi Ming Chu.” Oriens Extremus 47: 97–159.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Morgan, Jeffrey. 2018. “Zhuang Zi and the Education of the Emotions.” Comparative Philosophy 9.1: 32–46.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Puett, Michael J. 2003. “‘Nothing Can Overcome Heaven’: The Notion of Spirit in the Zhuangzi.” In Hiding the World in the World: Uneven Discourses on the Zhuangzi, edited by Scott Cook. Albany: State University of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  37. ______. 2004. “The Ethics of Responding Properly: The Notion Qing 情 in Early Chinese Thought.” In Love and Emotions in Traditional Chinese Literature, edited by Halvor Eifring. Leiden: Brill.

  38. Qin, Xuqing 秦旭卿, and Sun Yongchang 孫雍長, trans. 2003. Zhuang Zi 莊子. Changsha 長沙: Hunan Renmin Chubanshe 湖南人民出版社.

  39. Reding, Jean-Paul. 1985. Les fondements philosophiques de la rhétorique chez les sophistes grecs et chez les sophiste chinois. Neuchâtel: Peter Lang.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Ren, Songyao. 2018. “The Zhuangist Views on Emotions.” Asian Philosophy 28.1: 55–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Roth, Harold D. 1991. “Psychology and Self-Cultivation in Early Taoistic Thought.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 51.2: 599–650.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Schipper, Kristofer, trans. 2007. Zhuang Zi: De volledige geschriften: Het grote klassieke boek van het Taoïsme Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Augustus.

  43. Shun, Kwong-loi. 2015. “On Anger: An Essay on Confucian Moral Psychology.” In Returning to Zhu Xi: Emerging Patterns within the Supreme Polarity, edited by David Jones and Jinli He. Albany: State University of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Si, Lü 思履, trans. 2013. The Complete Work of the Zhuangzi 莊子全書. Beijing 北京: Zhongguo Huaqiao Chubanshe 中國華僑出版社.

  45. Tang, Yijie. 2003. “Emotion in Pre-Qin Ruist Moral Theory: An Explanation of ‘Dao Begins in Qing’.” Philosophy East and West 53.2: 271–281.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Virág, Curie. 2014. “Early Confucian Perspectives on Emotions.” In Dao Companion to Classical Confucian Philosophy, edited by Vincent Shen. Dordrecht: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Wang, Rongpei, trans. 2003. Zhuangzi. Changsha: Hunan Renmin Chubanshe.

  48. Watson, Burton, trans. 1968. The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu. New York: Columbia University Press.

  49. Wieger, Léon, trans. 1913/1983. Œvres De Tchoang-Tzeu. In Les pères du système Taoïste. Paris: Cathasia, 2e tirage.

  50. Wilhelm, Richard, trans. 1920. Dschuang-Dsi. Das wahre Buch vom südlichen Blütenland. Jena: Diederichs.

  51. Xu, Bing 徐冰. 2005. “Emotions and Genuineness in Chinese Native Thinking: A Response to Graham and Hansen 中國本土思想中的情感與真實(續完):對葛瑞漢和漢森的回應.” Journal of Beijing Youth Politics College 北京青年政治學院學報 14.1: 48–52.

  52. Zhang, Gengguang 張耿光, trans. 1993. A Complete Translation of the Zhuangzi [in modern Chinese] 莊子全譯. Guiyang 貴陽: Guizhou Renmin Chubanshe 貴州人民出版社.

  53. Zhang, Mosheng, 張默生, trans. 2003. A New Commentary on the Zhuangzi [in modern Chinese] 莊子新釋. Ji’nan 濟南: Qilu Shushe 齊魯書社.

  54. Ziporyn, Brook, trans. 2009. Zhuangzi: The Essential Writings. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lin Ma.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Ma, L., van Brakel, J. Revisiting the Exchange between Zhuangzi and Huizi on Qing. Dao 20, 133–148 (2021).

Download citation


  • the Zhuangzi 莊子
  • Qing
  • Shifei 是非
  • Wuwei 無為
  • Wuqing 無情