In the earthen-colored image shown above, artist Lu Zhi (1496–1576) recreated one of the more famous stories written by the 4th and 3rd century BCE Daoist philosopher and theologian, Chuang Chou—better known as Chuang Tzu, or Master Chuang. Lu Zhi, the artist, lightly brushed the philosopher’s sleeping shape onto the bottom right corner of the artwork. While Chuang Tzu almost blends into the background, the surrounding flora and fauna remains vibrant. The butterfly above the sleeping figure’s head is of special importance, as it and the philosopher play the leading roles within the tale. In a story which questions existence, reality and identity, Chuang Tzu wrote:
“Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Chou. But he didn’t know if he was Chuang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou. Between Chuang Chou and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things” (The Chuang Tzu, section 2).
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1964.