Rowman and Littlefield International

Skill and Mastery

Philosophical Stories from the Zhuangzi

Edited by Karyn Lai and Wai Wai Chiu

1 Review

This valuable collection of illuminating analysis of skill stories from the Zhuangzi, a 4th century BCE Daoist text opens up new lines of inquiry in comparative East-West philosophical debates on skill, cultivation and mastery, as well as cross-disciplinary debates in psychology, cognitive science and philosophy.

Hardback ISBN: 9781786609120 Release date: Jul 2019
£80.00 €112.00 $120.00
Paperback ISBN: 9781786609137 Release date: Jul 2019
£23.95 €33.95 $34.95
Ebook ISBN: 9781786609144 Release date: Jul 2019
£22.95 €32.95 $33.00

Skill and Mastery: Philosophical Stories from the Zhuangzi presents an illuminating analysis of skill stories from the Zhuangzi, a 4th century BCE Daoist text. In this intriguing text that subverts conventional norms and pursuits, ordinary activities such as swimming, cicada-catching and wheelmaking are executed with such remarkable efficacy and spontaneity that they seem like magical feats. An international team of scholars explores these stories in their philosophical, historical and political contexts. Their analyses’ highlight the stories’underlying conceptions of agency, character and cultivation; and relevance to contemporary debates on human action and experience. The result is a valuable collection, opening up new lines of inquiry in comparative East-West philosophical debates on skill, cultivation and mastery, as well as cross-disciplinary debates in psychology, cognitive science and philosophy.

Introduction (Karyn Lai and Wai Wai Chiu)

Part I Reflections on Skill

1 Skilful Performances and the Zhuangzi’s Lessons on Orientation (Wai Wai Chiu)

2 Skill and Nourishing Life (Franklin Perkins)

3 Skill and Emotions in the Zhuangzi (David Machek)

4 Zhuangzi’s Politics from the Perspective of Skill (Timothy Connolly)

5 Elusive Masters, Powerless Teachers and Dumb Sages: Exploring Pedagogic Skills in the Zhuangzi (Romain Graziani)

6 Skill and Embodied Knowledge: Zhuangzi and Liezi (Steven Coutinho)

7 The Unskilled Zhuangzi: Big and Useless and Not So Good at Catching Rats (Eric Schwitzgebel)

Part II The Stories

8 Cook Ding: A Meditation in Flow (James Sellman)

9 Wheelwright Bian: A Difficult Dao (Lisa Raphals)

10 The Cicada-Catcher: Learning for Life (Karyn Lai)

11 The Ferryman: Forget the Deeps and Row! (Chris Fraser)

12 The Unresponsive Fighting Cocks: Mastery and Human Interaction in the Zhuangzi (Wim De Reu)

13 The Swimmer: (Albert Galvany)

14 Woodworker Qing: Matching Heaven with Heaven (Kim-chong Chong)

15 The Naked Scribe: The Skill of Dissociation in Society (Hans-Georg Moeller)

16 The Forger: The Use of Things (Wai Wai Chiu)

Karyn Lai is Associate Professor of Philosophy in the School of Humanities and Languages. She specialises in comparative Chinese-western philosophical research, drawing insights from Chinese philosophies to engage in debates in areas including moral philosophy, environmental ethics, reasoning and argumentation, and epistemology.


Wai Wai Chiu is Assistant Professor at Lingnan University. His interests include pre-Qin Daoist and Mohist philosophy, especially epistemology and ethics. He has published articles on Zhuangzi’s conception of knowledge, language and efficacious action; as well as Mozi’s conception of benefit.

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1 Review

The essays assembled in this outstanding and unusually well-integrated volume all address the role played by “skill” across many chapters of the Zhuangzi, drawing both on evocative stories and on more explicit theorizing. Collectively, the chapters establish a new state-of-the-art understanding of this central theme, relevant not just to China scholars but also to all students of performance, embodied knowing, and the cultivation of good lives.

Stephen C. Angle, Professor of Philosophy and East Asian Studies, Wesleyan University

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