A man has his place among other men in the world; he is a member, while he lives, of the body of humanity. And as he has his place in society, so also he has his special duties to discharge, according to his position, and his relation to others. Tâoist writers refer to this Book as a proof of the practical character of the writings of Kwang-dze.
They are right to a certain extent in doing so; but the cases of relationship which are exhibited and prescribed for are of so peculiar a character, that the Book is of little value as a directory of human conduct and duty. In the first two paragraphs we have the case of Yen Hui, who wishes to go to Wei, and try to reform the character and government of its oppressive ruler; in the third and fourth, that of the duke of Sheh, who has been entrusted by the king of Khû with a difficult mission to the court of Khî, which is occasioning him much anxiety and apprehension; and in the fifth, that of a Yen Ho, who is about to undertake the office of teacher to the son of duke Ling of Wei, a young man with a very bad natural disposition. The other four paragraphs do not seem to come in naturally after these three cases, being occupied with two immense and wonderful trees, the case of a poor deformed cripple, and the lecture for the benefit of Confucius by 'the madman of Khû.' In all these last paragraphs, the theme is the usefulness, to the party himself at least, of being of no use.
Confucius is the principal speaker in the first four paragraphs. In what he says to Yen Hui and the duke of Sheh there is much that is shrewd and good; but we prefer the practical style of his teachings, as related by his own disciples in the Confucian Analects. Possibly, it was the object of Kwang-dze to exhibit his teaching, as containing, without his being aware of it, much of the mystical character of the Tâoistic system. His conversation with the duke of Sheh, however, is less obnoxious to this charge than what he is made to say to Yen Hui. The adviser of Yen Ho is a Kü Po-yü, a disciple of Confucius, who still has a place in the sage's temples.
In the conclusion, the Tâoism of our author comes out in contrast with the methods of Confucius. His object in the whole treatise, perhaps, was to show how 'the doing nothing, and yet thereby doing everything,' was the method to be pursued in all the intercourses of society.