Yangism: Noble or Ignoble

I found out about Yangism through reading this book. And I found this book while searching for information about Zhuangzi in my school's library.
I found out about Yangism through reading this book. And I found this book while searching for information about Zhuangzi in my school’s library.

    Ever heard of Yang Chu, the founder of the school of thought called Yangism? I haven’t heard of him until recently and I found his thought to parallel loosely Zhuangzi’s thought (which would mean that I find it more or less agreeable). But Yang and I do find some implications of it to be in need of more thought so that we may understand it more so, instead of the readily seen superficial meaning. He taught three major tenets: Keeping one’s nature intact, Not letting the body be tied by other things, and Protecting one’s genuineness.

    The second, I’d say, is the most important because being bounded is the last thing you want to do on a journey to sagehood. But, let’s discuss the first tenet: why keep one’s nature intact? One reason is because shoes are for feet, not feet shoes. The other reason is that there is a danger in diverging from one’s nature, i.e. trading one’s feet for shoes. I’m more inclined to the first reason being sufficient to conclude that one should keep her nature intact. The first reason implies that the use of things are bound by man and man shouldn’t be bound by these things. If man should be bound by things, the things are directly opposing the use they have for man. The second reason I believe is implausible; it is questioned by an argument about  trading a hair to save the world, and therefore, it seems to be the less likely of the two for being the main reason that led to Yang Chu’s tenet. 

    The second tenet, though most important, is controversial. The second tenet of not letting the body be tied by other things seems to “reek” of selfishness. Notice, that reek has a negative connotation and for good reason. If I were to tell you that you should keep food to yourself because it’s for the benefit of your own sake, regardless of others’ and your mother’s starving (in this case, the thing tying you or your body may be your conscience), you might think that I’m depraved. Or if I say that I’d rather live out my years than be bothered with others’ affairs, I’m seemingly indolent. These considerations lead many readers to reject Yang Chu’s thoughts. But, as is the case for the first premise, I think that this is a misinterpretation of the tenet. It is more likely, with the first tenet also in mind, that he thought one should not seek ties to the body, but whether the body is tied or not is up to more external matters; just as a tie to the body is like tenet one’s bind to the body, one should not voluntarily be bound or tied to things as this would be contrary to the natures (or intrinsic properties) of both man and the things concerned. Derivatively, (it’s most likely that) Yang Chu had no notion in mind about whether one should actively seek not to tie the body. My guess is that Yang Chu thought that one should not seek ties, instead of one seeking not to tie the body. What does this mean? Let’s say that he who seeks is already bound.

    What do you readers think? Am I off the mark in my understanding? Does this even make sense? If you have questions or criticism, comments or feedback, feel free to email us or post a comment.


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Locke Ho

I attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and major in philosophy. I'm taoist; having boxed for 6 years, I've been a USA Boxing Certified Coach since 2016; I contribute to taopracticed.wordpress.com and straight2boxing.com.

5 thoughts on “Yangism: Noble or Ignoble”

  1. The concept of binding, of attachment, of co-gravitation, might also benefit from R.D. Laing’s psychotherapeutic work on “double-bind” communication and other relational issues.


  2. I haven’t read Disputers of the Tao and I can’t say I’d ever really heard of Yangism before this post but it seems like you have a pretty strong understanding of the concepts.

    I agree that the three tenets should be considered as a three, not separately and I find most aspects of Eastern philosophy work better with their counterparts rather than on their own. As for the second tenet, and of course I’m influenced by my own study of the Tao here, I wouldn’t say it reeks of selfishness, I think that ‘not letting the body be tied by other things’ is a reference to the Taoist philosophies of stillness and ridding the self of desire rather than being completely inward. A lot of the inward-ness of Taoism seems to be less harsh than selfishness, well in the Tao Te Ching anyway, and more about stillness and the ability not to be pulled away from the natural way of everything by distractions.

    Those are just my thoughts about it anyway, remember there is no right or wrong with Taoism; it’s all quite individualised.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have similar thoughts about the second tenet. When I first read about it, the author had to mention that Yangism was perceived as selfish for me to realize the same (but if I had thought about what others would think of it, I’d probably say that people thought the philosophy was full of selfishness). Anyway, I think that the second tenet is a necessary one for following the Tao, especially concerning the external aspects of following the Tao.

      Liked by 2 people

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