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Marriage From the Perspective of Zhuangzi’s Philosophy


China has produced some of the most famous philosophers in the world. One of them is Zhuang Zhou. Also referred to as Zhuangzi, the philosopher wrote some of his most popular books in the 4th century. One of his popular writings is “Zhuangzi”. In this text, he writes about the philosophy of skepticism. He argues that life is by nature limited. However, the knowledge that humans can gather from their experiences in life has no limits (Hansen 150).

In “Zhuangzi: Basic Writings”, Burton Watson analyses Zhuangzi’s philosophy and way of life. For example, Watson evaluates how Chuang recovers from the death of his wife (34). The philosopher argues that maybe his late wife will have a better life in death than in the world. As such, he sees no need to worry about her. Similarly, Zhuangzi addresses a number of ethical questions in his writings. They include issues to do with vegetarianism, abortion, marriage, adoption, and friendship. In this paper, the author will analyze Zhuangzi’s views on marriage. To this end, his arguments about sexuality in marriage, gender and gender equality, and family life will be analyzed.

The Ethical Issue of Marriage from the Perspective of Zhuangzi

Zhuangzi’s View on Sexuality within Marriage

Sexuality is one of the ethical issues revolving around the marriage institution. Zhuangzi addresses this topic from the perspective of Daoistic culture. It is difficult to define Daoists’ attitudes towards sex life. Despite this, the culture has rules and regulations regarding marriage and sexuality. For example, sexuality can only be understood from a metaphysical view of the world. It plays a major role in establishing harmony and order in the universe (Hansen 155).

It is important to note that Daoism incorporates both cultural and religious ways of life among the Chinese. The philosophy has specific ethics on sexuality, which are viewed as an extension of cosmic principles. Men and women are considered embodiments of earth and heaven. Consequently, Daoists view sexual organs and relations as cosmic elements. For example, the genitals and the heart are compared to fire. On its part, sexual arousal is viewed as the rising sun (Watson 33). Varying sexual positions are also described using the names of animals and landscapes. Daoists believed that hatred, sorrow, greed, and possessiveness result from starvation of love and sex (Kleinjans 102).

According to Zhuangzi, man and woman are separate and independent human beings. When they unite, they create new things and beings. They also transform themselves. The act of sexual intercourse, according to Zhuangzi ethics, is meant to strengthen, rather than weaken, the bond between the two persons (Watson 45). Both man and woman should harmonize their energy before intercourse. If there is no harmony, then they should not go to bed. For this reason, both of them should know each other’s desires before the act. In some areas of Daoist tradition, it is stipulated that sex heals various illnesses. Consequently, a significant portion of Daoist code of ethics focuses on the benefits of sex. Daoists and Confucians agree that it is an offense to leave one’s wife. Such desertion is against the harmony of earth, heaven, and human beings (Berling 125).

Zhuangzi’s Gender and Gender Equality in Marriage

The philosopher views gender and gender equality as a complex concept because of the interaction between Daoism and Confucianism. The two schools of thought seek justifications from cosmic principles. As such, they work on a number of assumptions. For example, they believe that if spring is followed by summer, then there must be weak and strong, as well as high and low (Watson 99).

According to Zhuangzi, Daoism principles go against the traditional mentality that gives man the powers to lead the family (Maki 12). On the contrary, the philosophy gives woman more cosmic significance than man. The reason is that she is believed to be closer to Dao, the primary power of the universe, than man. The perception gives women special roles in family, society, and sex (Maki 12). Some of the later schools of thought even claim that women are superior to men, just like the way water is to fire. It is on these bases that affection towards female deities is founded. For example during the Qin and the Han Dynasties, there was consistent worship of Queen mother of the west (Xi Wangmu). In addition, the male Bodhisattva Avalokitesvora was replaced by Guan Yin, the goddess of compassion (Maki 13).

Zhuangzi’s perception of females does not correspond to the modern view of women within the matrix of power in marriage. Women are expected to be submissive to their men. Submissiveness is considered as a weakness (Carr and Ivanhoe 40).

The Family Life and Zhuangzi’s View of Marriage

Man and woman must be interrelated to benefit one another both physically and spiritually. Zhuangzi’s philosophy is reflected in his own marriage life. He had a wife and children, just like any other man (Watson 45). However, his wife died. He mourned briefly and started rejoicing. His friends were shocked. However, Zhuangzi told them that his wife has returned to her cosmic sources. As such, continued mourning will be an indication that he does not understand how destiny works. He believed that his wife was at peace and lying in her chamber. Zhuangzi’s reaction expresses his convictions about family life and marriage. He argues that if one of the partners dies, the one left behind should let go (Kleinjans 124).

Daoism, which is closely related to Zhuangzi’s philosophy, promotes celibacy as a form of family life. The practice was influenced to a large extent by Buddhism and pressure from the state. For example, Lu Xiujing left his wife to practice Daoism celibacy (Hans-Georg and Leo 133). The analysis reveals that there is a conflict between Daoism and family life. To this end, some critics of Zhuangzi philosophy question how marriage and family life can help in personal ‘cultivation’ of Daoism. For example, when one engages in sexual acts within a polygamous setting, their chances of becoming immortal are lowered. They are encouraged to be keen to avoid endangering their life.

Zhuangzi’s philosophy on marriage can be understood well when one analyses events taking place in China before the end of the 16th century. Many Daoists had chosen a celibate lifestyle to cultivate Daoism. However, the cosmic principles could not retreat from this faith. The unity between yin and yang was interpreted by some Daoists as a justification for practicing more sex. Virgins were advised to have sex with strong men to become more immortal. However, Buddhists and Confucians condemned this practice, arguing that it was criminal (Hans-Georg and Leo 135).

Personal ‘cultivation’ and ‘misinformed’ sexual practices were replaced by polygamy. Yin and yang were united through a polygamous marriage. As such, Zhuangzi taught that family life and marriage are beyond sex. On the contrary, they entail raising children with virtue.

Weaknesses of Zhuangzi’s Views on Marriage

Zhuangzi’s concept of marriage, sexuality, and family life is associated with a number of weaknesses. For example, the philosopher argues that the man and the woman must connect spiritually for their union to work. In addition, women were given priority in the family set up. They were regarded as superior to men. The cosmos principle, which runs through Zhuangzi’s philosophy, stipulates that women hold primary powers in relation to the universe. As such, females are treated as deities in Zhuangzi’s philosophy (Maki 5). The problem with this is that these teachings may lead to disharmony within the family set up. The reason is that one partner is elevated on top of the other.

Another weakness is found on the issue of sex and immortality. Zhuangzi treats sex as a sacred institution. However, its application to immortality is in conflict with religious beliefs. For example, women are advised to have sex with more men to become strong. To this end, Zhuangzi appears to treat some members of the society as sex objects (Watson 23).

The other weakness of Zhuangzi’s philosophy in relation to marriage revolves around immortality. His theory stipulates that the people will become immortal. However, religion teaches that only gods can be immortal. Humans can die. A case in point is the death of Zhuangzi’s wife (Maki 6).

Conclusion: Remedying the Weaknesses of Zhuangzi’s View on Marriage

Zhuangzi could have strengthened his philosophy by eliminating the link between family life and religion. A family is formed when two organisms come together to perform the biological function of reproduction. To address the problem of the conflict between the genders, Zhuangzi should have adhered to the conventional view of man. The male figure is traditionally believed to be stronger than the woman. The issue of immortality can be dealt with by basing Zhuangzi’s philosophy on scientific reality. For example, given their biological composition, humans cannot be immortal.

Works Cited

Berling, Judith. “Paths of Convergence: Interactions of Inner Alchemy, Taoism and Neo-Confucians.” Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 6.2 (1979): 123-147. Print.

Carr, Karen, and Philip Ivanhoe. The Sense of Antirationalism: The Religious Thought of Zhuangzi and Kierkegaard, New York: Seven Bridges Press, 2002. Print.

Hansen, Chad. “The Relatively Happy Fish.” Asian Philosophy 13.2-3 (2003): 145-164. Print.

Hans-Georg, Moeller, and Stan Leo. “On Zhuangzi and Kierkegaard.” Philosophy East and West, 53.1 (2003): 130-135. Print.

Kleinjans, Everett. “The Tao of Women and Men Chinese Philosophy and the Women’s Movement.” Journal of Chinese philosophy 17.1 (1990): 99-127. Print.

Maki, Wilma. “Dewey’s Link with Daoism: Ideals of Nature, Cultivation Practices, and Applications in Lessons.” Educational Philosophy and Theory 23.1 (2014): 1-15. Print.

Watson, Burton. Zhuangzi: Basic Writings, New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. Print.

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