Zhungzi and Huizi roamed on the bridge over River Hao. Zhuangzi said, “The tiao fish come out roaming, free and at ease (chuyou congrong). This is the joy of fish!.”


Huizi said, “You are not a fish, how can you know the joy of fish?”


Zhuangzi said, “You are not me, how can you know that I do not know the joy of fish?”

Huizi said, “I am not you, indeed I do not know you. You, indeed, are not a fish, that you do not know the joy of fish is completely clear.”

Zhuangzi said, “I beg to seek the beginning. For you have to have said ‘How can you know the joy of fish,’ it is as if you already knew that I know it and thus asked me. I know it by standing on the river Hao.”

Two modes of knowledge and reasoning are juxtaposed here. Huizi’s certainty is based on the logic of difference: analogous distinctions or disjunctions between man and fish, and between himself and Zhuangzi. Zhuangzi, by contrast, plays on the logic of fluid boundaries and claims to overcome the division of self and other. Instead of meeting Huizi’s logical argument on its own terms, he radically redefines it and affirms intuitive communion: he knows the joy of fish by standing on River Hao. Huizi concedes to not knowing Zhuangzi; Zhuangzi for his part must presume to know Huizi’s mind, even as he knows the fish. He attributes motives and emotions to Huizi’s question: implicit recognition of Zhuangzi’s own knowledge, possibly envy and irritation. The key word is you (roam, wander, play), which describes the movement of both Zhuangzi and Huizi, as well as that of the fish: the repetition here marks empathic continuity. Roaming is associated with the state of being free, at ease, and disinterested, whereby the mind can be most creative and best apprehend the world. To roam, wander, or play is also to overcome boundaries, to move from one state of being to another, to achieve the self –transformation in Daoist transcendence of the opposites of self and other, dreaming and waking, life and death.

Wai-Yee Li (On Becoming a fish, Paradoxes of immortality and enlightenment in Chinese literature)