Zhuangzi and the Becoming of Nothingness

By David Chai

Subjects: Asian Religion And Philosophy, Philosophy, Taoism, Comparative Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Hardcover : 9781438472676, 216 pages, January 2019
Paperback : 9781438472683, 216 pages, January 2020

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents


1. Nothingness and Dao: A Time before Being
The Nature of Nothingness
The Language of Nothingness
The Oneness of Dao
Returning to Dao, Overcoming Nihilism

2. Dao, the One, and the Question of Being
Original Being qua the Thing
The Thing’s Unveiling
The Trace and the Traceless Sage
Wandering in the Harmony of Dao

3. Dao and the Time of Nothingness
Dao and Cosmological Time
Human Measured Time

4. Zhuangzi and the Life Praxis of Being Useless
Useless by Proxy and the Proxy of Usefulness
Learning from the Useless Tree

5. Discovering Dao through Self-Forgetting
The Mundaneness of Forgetting
Losing Oneself in Forgetfulness
Sitting in Forgetfulness
A Taste of Spiritual Freedom: Composing the Heart-Mind

6. Wandering Carefree in Nothingness
Cosmological Freedom
Three Heavenly Principles of Freedom
Nothingness the Great Harmonizer
Freedom as Carefree Wandering


Investigates the cosmological and metaphysical thought in the Zhuangzi from the perspective of nothingness.


Zhuangzi and the Becoming of Nothingness offers a radical rereading of the Daoist classic Zhuangzi by bringing to light the role of nothingness in grounding the cosmological and metaphysical aspects of its thought. Through a careful analysis of the text and its appended commentaries, David Chai reveals not only how nothingness physically enriches the myriad things of the world, but also why the Zhuangzi prefers nothingness over being as a means to expound the authentic way of Dao. Chai weaves together Dao, nothingness, and being in order to reassess the nature and significance of Daoist philosophy, both within its own historical milieu and for modern readers interested in applying the principles of Daoism to their own lived experiences. Chai concludes that nothingness is neither a nihilistic force nor an existential threat; instead, it is a vital component of Dao's creative power and the life-praxis of the sage.

David Chai is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.


"Grappling with a plethora of ancient commentaries swirling around the essence of Dao, David Chai treats readers to deep and perceptive translations while highlighting the subtle meaning of wuwu as the 'non-being of nothingness.' Unequivocally, his book stands proudly as the foremost leader in a new generation of Zhuangzi studies." — Journal of Chinese Philosophy

"…a compelling work … The book is an outstanding and innovative commentary on one of the most valued ancient Chinese wisdom texts that skillfully summarizes centuries of exegetical literature and finds a balance in presenting contrasting and complementary views." — Religious Studies Review

"Chai provides an elaborate philosophical meontological interpretation of the ontology/cosmology found in the Zhuangzi and the implications for existential practice. It's a close, careful, but in many respects quite original reading of the classic that contributes significantly to the field of philosophical Daoist studies." — Geir Sigurðsson, author of Confucian Propriety and Ritual Learning: A Philosophical Interpretation