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Ancient Harmony for the New Age:

The Wisdom of Zhuangzi

Zhongzhi (Harry) Huo
Category: Illustration
Location: Beijing

A man raised monkeys for a living. One time, when he was feeding the monkeys, he said to them: “I will feed you three acorns in the morning and four in the evening.” The monkeys were furious. Then he said: “I will feed you four acorns in the morning and three in the evening.” The monkeys are now happy.

There was a cica
da singing and drinking the morning dew, without realizing that there was a mantis behind, leaning toward him and trying to eat him. The mantis was so intent on catching the cicada that it did not realize there was an oriole at its side, leaning toward him and trying to eat him.

The book Zhuangzi is an ancient Chinese text from the late Warring States period (476–221 BC) which contains stories and anecdotes that exemplify the carefree nature of the ideal Taoist sage. Named for its traditional author, "Master Zhuang" (Zhuangzi), the book is one of the two foundational texts of Taoism, along with the Tao Te Ching.


The artist Zhongzhi (Harry) Huo is an educator and illustrator from Beijing, China. He thinks of his art as a way of speaking: the most important thing is not how pretty one's voice is but how compelling the content is. Zhuangzi is one of Zhongzhi’s favorite philosophers, and he grew up reading the stories Zhuangzi wrote. He admired Zhuangzi’s mode of expression, using the form of the story, through which any wisdom becomes easier to absorb. 


“Nowadays, people's perceptions are fragmented, especially in Eastern and Western societies. People look at different information, disagree on the meaning of a word, and a piece of news can bring conflicting judgments. Without consensus, the world will be chaotic. So I hope to bring the wisdom of Zhuangzi to the world through this series of artworks. Using a more modern and universal language— art —to tell the story of Zhuangzi, language and culture no longer become barriers. I hope that consensus will be built by bringing Eastern wisdom to the world and that all humankind will collaborate to create a better future.”

In ancient times, an emperor wanted to invade another country for their land. All the ministers were against the idea, so one told the emperor a story. “Once there were two countries built on a snail’s antenna; they constantly fought over land, and countless people were killed.” The emperor was confused; the minister said: “Compared to all the land in the world, is there really any difference between our country and the countries on the snail’s antennae?”

An emperor loved cockfighting, so he asked a trainer to train the strongest chicken. The emperor constantly checked to see if the chicken was ready. The first time, he asked the trainer: “Is he ready?” The trainer answered: “No, his eyes are fierce.” A few days later, the emperor came again and asked: “Is he ready?” “No, he still wants to fight.” said the trainer. After a few more days, the emperor came and saw that the chicken standing like a wooden chicken; there was only numbness in his eyes.  “Now he is ready.” said the trainer. At cockfighting, all the other chickens ran away in fear when they saw him. As a result, the chicken triumphed in every cockfight.

Once upon a time, a dexterous butcher was a master at butchering oxen. People were curious about how he reached such height. He said: “When I started cutting up oxen, I could only see the whole ox. After three years, I no longer saw the ox. Now, I stopped using my eyes and started using my spirit to feel. Following the natural structure of the oxen’s body, guiding my knife through the gaps between muscles and bones, the ox will be cut effortlessly. I’ve had my knife for nineteen years without sharpening and have cut thousands of oxen, yet the blade is as good as new.”

A self-righteous river meets the sea and realizes its limitations. The sea tells him that you cannot tell a frog living in a well the size of the sea because it is limited by its environment; you cannot tell a summer bug about ice in winter because it is limited by time. Now, since you see me, we can start talking about the Tao— patterns of this world.

Inspired by Zhuangzi’s stories, this piece expresses my feelings when creating the Zhuangzi series. The process is much like meditation, with my mind shuttling through the various characters from the stories. Sometimes I become a mantis, and sometimes I become the sea. Ruminating on the philosophy of the stories, my brain shoots out images and ideas like fireworks.

Inspired by Zhuangzi’s stories, I started learning his way of expression. This is a story I wrote; it is about a snail warrior who tries to save his princess from the huge flower castle. Time and height are the warrior’s biggest enemies.

This is a story I wrote during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is more like a wish. People dance and sing in front of disasters and viruses. Singing becomes a barrier, and dancing becomes energy. Calming the anger of nature, we receive the blessing from the sky, the earth, and the sea.

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