Office of Global Affairs

March 25, 2019

Chasing the butterfly dream: Zhuangzi and early medieval Chinese culture

Professor Ping Wang of the University of Washington Department of Asian Languages & Literature will give a special lecture as part of the “Culture Talk” series from the Confucius Institute of the State of Washington. She will provide further insight into the Zhuangzi. Foundational to the Taoism and considered a masterpiece of Chinese literature, the stories and anecdotes in this ancient text explore themes of spontaneity and freedom from human conventions.

CIWA Culture TalkThursday, May 23, 2019 from 4 – 5 PM
UW East Asian Library – Gowen Hall 2M
Free and open to the public

The Qi wu lun 齊物論 chapter is arguably the most important and at the same time an extremely difficult chapter from the Zhuangzi 莊子. Its enigmatic and elusive ending — the famous butterfly dream narrative— signifies something unattainable in human’s pursuit of life’s meaning and the cosmic truth.

In the centuries following the collapse of the Han Empire (202 b.c.e – 220 c.e.), Zhuangzi rose to be an essential text whose interpretations led to unprecedented explorations of cultural ideals that would ascribe meaning to the identity of the exiled Han population and, to a great extent, establish the genetics of Chinese culture. In other words, in order to understand modern China and contemporary Chinese society, we have to delve into the minds of Early Medieval Chinese thinkers. The way the educated elites lived their lives and pursued their dreams by negotiating the philosophical and spiritual dimensions of the Zhuangzi has much to teach us about our own “cultural selves.”