The fû ( ) consisted in the earliest times of two slips of bamboo made with certain marks, so as to fit to each other exactly, and held by the two parties to any agreement or covenant. By the production and comparison of the slips, the parties verified their mutual relation; and the claim of the one and the obligation of the other were sufficiently established. 'Seal' seems the best translation of the character in this title.
By 'virtue' ( ) we must understand the characteristics of the Tâo. Where those existed in their full proportions in any individual, there was sure to be the evidence or proof of them in the influence which he exerted in all his intercourse with other men; and the illustration of this is the subject of this Book, in all its five paragraphs. That influence is the 'Seal' set on him, proving him to be a true child of the Tâo.
The heroes, as I may call them, of the first three paragraphs are all men who had lost their feet, having been reduced to that condition as a punishment, just or unjust, of certain offences; and those of the last two are distinguished by their extraordinary ugliness or disgusting deformity. But neither the loss of their feet nor their deformities trouble the serenity of their own minds, or interfere with the effects of their teaching and character upon others; so superior is their virtue to the deficiencies in their outward appearance.
Various brief descriptions of the Tâo are interspersed in the Book. The most remarkable of them are those in par. 1, where it appears as 'that in which there is no element of falsehood,' and as 'the author of all the Changes or Transformations' in the world. The sentences where these occur are thus translated by Mr. Balfour:--'He seeks to know Him in whom is nothing false. He would not be affected by the instability of creation; even if his life were involved in the general destruction, he would yet hold firmly to his faith (in God).' And he observes in a
note, that the first short sentence 'is explained by the commentators as referring to Kän Zâi ( ), the term used by the Tâoist school for God.' But we met with that name and synonyms of it in Book II, par. 2, as appellations of the Tâo, coupled with the denial of its personality. Kän Zâi, 'the True Governor or Lord,' may be used as a designation for god or God, but the Tâoist school denies the existence of a Personal Being, to whom we are accustomed to apply that name.
Hui-dze, the sophist and friend of Kwang-dze, is introduced in the conclusion as disputing with him the propriety of his representing the Master of the Tâo as being still 'a man;' and is beaten down by him with a repetition of his assertions, and a reference to some of Hui-dze's well-known peculiarities. What would Kwang-dze have said, if his opponent had affirmed that his instances were all imaginary, and that no man had ever appeared who could appeal to his possession of such a 'seal' to his virtues and influence as he described?
Lû Fang-wäng compares with the tenor of this Book what we find in Mencius, VII, i, 21, about the nature of the superior man. The analogy between them, however, is very faint and incomplete.