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The Dao of Rhetoric

SUNY Series in Communication Studies

Dudley D. Cahn, editor
The Dao of Rhetoric

Steven C. Combs
Published by
State University of New York Press, Albany
2005 State University of New York
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Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Combs, Steven C., 1957
The Dao of rhetoric / Steven C. Combs.
p. cm. (SUNY series in communication studies)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-7914-6281-1 (alk. paper)
1. Rhetoric. 2. RhetoricChina. 3. Taoism. 4. Motion picturesMoral and
ethical aspects. I. Title. II. Series.
PN175.C53 2005
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
To my wife,
Kerry Ann Causey,
for the balance and harmony
you bring to my life.
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Acknowledgments ix
Introduction: Rhetoric East and West 1
1. Culture, Text, and Context 9
2. Laozi and the Natural Way of Rhetoric 23
3. Zhuangzi and the Rhetoric of Evocation 37
4. Sunzi and the Rhetoric of Parsimony 53
5. Daoist Rhetorical Criticism 73
6. Is The Tao of Steve Really The Way? 87
7. Values East and West in Antz and A Bugs Life 101
8. Shrek as the Daoist Hero 115
9. The Future of the Past 137
Notes 151
References 155
Index 163
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This project is the result of the generous support of the universe, without
whose opportunities, none of this would have been possible. Id like to
foreground and thank those who teach me rhetorical criticismespecially
Karlyn, Walt, and Randy; those who teach me the Daoespecially Robin
and Jeff; and those who teach me whats most important in lifeespecially
Kerry, Ryan, Hayley, Cody, and Mom. I have been fortunate to receive
tremendous enrichment from Loyola Marymount University, whose sup-
port includes research grants, release time from teaching, and funding for
research assistants. My colleagues at LMU have been incredibly generous
with their time and ideasthank you all, especially Annika, Kyra, and
Nina, whose comments on drafts were very helpful. A special thank you to
Gale, Aubrey, Nisha, and my silent partners. My work has been greatly
enlivened by my studentswho inspire me in so many ways. Id also like to
thank my colleagues in NCA, PACA, ACCS, and IAICS, who gave me
opportunities to present my work and shared their ideas and energy.
Three of my previously published works, listed below, have provided
materials for this book. Elements of each of them are included in the
introduction and chapter 1. In addition, I wish to thank and credit the fol-
lowing publications individually:
Sun-zi and the Art of War: The rhetoric of parsimony, The Quarterly
Journal of Speech, 86 (2000), 27694, copyright by the National Communi-
cation Association, was used extensively in chapter 4. The website for the
journal is
The Dao of communication criticism: Insects, individuals, and mass
society, Social Semiotics, 12 (2002), 18399, copyright by Taylor and Francis
Ltd., was used extensively in chapter 7. The website for the journal is
The Dao of rhetoric: Revelations from The Tao of Steve, Intercultural
Communication Studies, 11 (2002), 11736, was used extensively in chapter 6.
Finally, a version of Chapter 8 will appear in the forthcoming book
Heroes in a Global World, G. Gumpert and S. Drucker (Eds.), Cresskill, NJ:
Hampton Press.
Rhetoric East and West
Rhetorical theory is often purported to have arisen from the demands of
democracies in ancient Greece, and many scholars view the development
of rhetorical theory as a decidedly European enterprise. While some make
minor mention of non-Western rhetoric, others ignore it or exclude it
from discussion. For example, Murphy and Katula (1995) contend, the
study of human discourse is an entirely Western phenomenon (p. x).
Bizzell and Herzberg (1990) say that to speak of classical rhetoric is thus
to speak of Aristotles system and its elaboration by Cicero and Quintilian
(p. 3).
Greece and Rome, while highly significant, were not the sole sites for
rhetoric in antiquity.
Rhetoric, especially when conceived as persuasive
communication, has been practiced around the world. Furthermore, rhet-
oric is actualized through its practice and thus takes its particular forms
from its cultural contexts (Kennedy, 1999b). When these cultural contexts
are sufficiently different, the practice of rhetoric within a culture may, to
outsiders, look like something other than rhetoric. Perhaps that is why
some scholars maintain that rhetoric is a unique product of Western cul-
ture. It would be more appropriate to say that other cultures conceptual-
ize rhetoricits explicit theorizing and applicationsso differently from
the West that, by traditional Western standards, rhetoric is a vastly differ-
ent enterprise. Rather than define away non-Western approaches as some-
thing other than rhetoric, it is worthwhile to look more closely at their
unique perspectives. If we take seriously the task of understanding human
communication in all its forms, then it is essential to examine non-Euro-
pean cultures and their approaches to rhetoric.
Scholars have become increasingly interested in classical China as a
site for rhetoric because it provides rich insights on Asian culture and the
communication process.
Classical Chinese rhetoric is particularly impor-
tant in understanding human communication because it developed with-
out any significant influence from the West. In fact, there was no
influence of Western ideas of rhetoric on ancient China (Kennedy, 1998,
p. 167). Consequently, studies of classical Chinese rhetoric offer the
potential for clear comparisons between Western and Chinese rhetorical
traditions and the opportunity to challenge questionable Eurocentric
assumptions about communication and culture.
One of the most significant components of classical and contempo-
rary Chinese cultural values is Daoism.
Daoism has been a central and
pervasive factor in Chinese society (Clarke, 2000, p. 4), having perme-
ated every area of Chinese life (Lu, 1998, p. 228), including religion,
government, art, medicine, even cooking (Nagel, 1994, p. 8). Daoism
continues to affect all Asian countries influenced by China (Chan, 1963;
I-ming, 1986; Lu, 1986; Sun, 1995). Its further study has the potential to
provide tremendous insight about Chinese cultural and rhetorical tradi-
tions. In addition, Daoist rhetoric offers a challenging and productive
alternative to Western rhetorical theory.
Daoism is an intriguing subject for rhetorical studies because it
seems to devalue persuasion and argumentation, making it antithetical to
the early European rhetorical tradition. Oliver (1971) claims, any
attempt to discover in Asia prototypes of the Western rhetorical canons
would be unavailing. It would resemble trying to measure the salinity of
water with a ruler (p. 3). Indeed, earlier explorations of Daoist views on
rhetoric stressed their strange and exotic nature (Jensen, 1987, 1992;
Oliver, 1961, 1971). While these studies contribute to an awareness of
Daoist thought on communication, their treatments are overly simplistic.
Lu (1998) maintains that Western scholars must study Chinese rhetoric
on its own terms, with an analysis rooted in ancient Chinese cultural texts
and contexts (p. 33).
This book engages the vastness of Daoism as an alternative to West-
ern conceptions of rhetorical theory and criticism. In so doing, it offers a
unique vantage point for revisioning social theory and action. It also
answers the call for culturally sensitive approaches to Chinese rhetoric by
grounding its ideas in readings of pivotal texts by key Daoist theorists,
which are informed by the philosophical, political, and cultural landscape
of classical China.
Throughout this book I maintain a focus on Daoism, rather than
attempt a strict, point-by-point comparison to Western scholarship,
because I believe Daoism is significantly underdeveloped in rhetorical
studies. At the same time, I hope that my analysis creates space for theo-
rists to engage Daoism in the development of their own projects; thus
some level of comparison is inevitable. Consequently, I will next summa-
rize basic differences and implications of those differences, which are
attenuated throughout the first five chapters, in order to help Western
readers situate Daoism.
Classical Greek theorizing posits a two-world notion of reality that
distinguishes a highly variable world of appearances from a stable world of
essences. Knowledge is the proper alignment of human perception with
the underlying realitythe ability to distinguish the real from the per-
ceived or conceived. Reason is celebrated as central to an understanding
or recognition of what is real. Language is an attempt to represent or
symbolically capture reality.
The Greeks attempted to distinguish the various entities of the world
by sorting them into categories based on their innate and unique quali-
ties, such as genus, species, and phylum in the case of living creatures. For
example, Aristotle defined rhetoric so as to distinguish it from philosophy
and poetry, delineated artistic and inartistic proofs, and subdivided artistic
proofs into ethos, pathos, and logos.
In contrast, Daoism holds a one-world view of reality, a world that
is created by the opposing forces of yin and yang. These forces create
ongoing patterns of interaction that both unify and distinguish the enti-
ties of the universe in a constant, interdependent flow of events. Nothing
is inherently stable or distinct from anything else, although reality con-
stantly presents facets of itself that give the illusion of distinction and sta-
bility. Perceptions are inherently incomplete, because one cannot grasp
the entirety of the universe. Hence, one always perceives a sense of the
truewhat is the case at this moment to the perceiveras well as the
falsewhat is beyond an individuals vantage point. Reason is one way to
sort through cognitions, but it is highly susceptible to error and less reli-
able than experience and holistic intuition in discerning the nature of
things. Language cannot possibly represent reality, because it is finite and
perspectival. Any attempts to distinguish or categorize violate the underly-
ing unity of all things, but distinctions, like language, can nonetheless be
useful in navigating the everyday world.
Daoism was originally offered as a challenge to prevailing views in
classical China and its unique perspectives and traditions are even more
challenging to basic Western concepts. Interestingly, while the Western
philosophical inheritance from classical Greece is vastly different from
classical China, Daoism anticipates a great deal of contemporary theoriz-
ing in the Westparticularly postmodernism
and seems, over time, to
move closer to current iterations of Western thought. Of course, Daoism
Introduction 3
has not moved toward the West as much as Western thought has moved
toward Daoism. I indicate throughout this book that Daoism, approxi-
mately twenty-five hundred years ago, espoused views that are compatible
with postmodern critiques that deny objective foundations for knowl-
edge, essential meanings and identities, universal truths, and deprivilege
reason and rationality. Daoism shares postmodern views of the plurality
and instability of meanings and identities, and the decentered, perspecti-
val text.
Daoist perspectives on rhetoric are conditioned by its worldview and
are thus highly divergent from classical Western rhetoric. Consequently,
one should not expect a treatment of Daoist rhetoric to situate itself neatly
within traditional Western rhetorical constructs. In fact, I believe that
readers will see far more possibilities for Daoism if they are able to engage
it with as few expectations as possible. While certain comparisons to the
West are appropriate, one will not find an explicit definition of rhetoric or
an inventory of the rhetorical canons of the Daoist sages. Daoists never
treat rhetoric as a distinct subject, but incorporate ideas on language and
communication in their overall philosophy. Furthermore, persuasion, in
general, is not an end for rhetoric. Rhetoric is used to serve Daoism, and
its persuasiveness is designed to make Daoist views accessible and appeal-
ing to potential adherents. The Dao of Rhetoric is thus a perspective on
rhetoric that defies simple categorization or definition. It emphasizes
spontaneity and creativity in an interdependent and unified universe that
always presents itself novelly and incompletely. I foreground its unique
moves, momentums, and implications, which empowers interrogation and
interpretation not only of society, but also of rhetoric itself.
I endeavor to honor the generative nature of Daoism as a living
philosophy that recognizes that reality is not preformed and the future is
not preordained but is informed and shaped by ongoing practice. I
attempt to invoke the roots of Daoism while bringing it to life in my con-
temporary, non-Asian world. Elements of the works of Daoist sages will be
highlighted as groundings for rhetorical theory, which I then use to
inform a methodology for rhetorical criticism. Finally, I apply Daoist
rhetorical criticism to contemporary texts in order to enrich perspectives
on both Daoism and rhetoric.
In chapter 1, I situate classical Daoist thought within its historical
milieu. I note that Daoism takes an arbitrary, yet productive, approach to
the text/context interplay. I note some of the challenges of working with
ancient Chinese texts, the key personae identified as the authors of these
works, and outline the political and philosophical context in which
Daoism emerged. The next three chapters explore, respectively, the pri-
mary works attributed to Laozi, Zhuangzi, and Sunzi.
Chapter 2 analyzes the Dao de jing in order to indicate the basic
architecture of Daoism and the rhetorical principles that can be discerned
in Laozis work. Laozi introduces the substance of Daoist rhetoric by a phi-
losophy that is comfortable with changing permanence, blended opposi-
tion, and the celebration of the low, weak, and soft. It notes Laozis basic
strategic approach, to speak naturally, and his primary methods for com-
municating Daoism. The analysis indicates that Laozis rhetoric is consis-
tent with his philosophy. His rhetoric is conditioned by the limitations of
language and the ineffability of the Dao. Yet he uses a strategy and meth-
ods that are consistent with his natural way of communication.
In chapter 3, I analyze the Zhuangzi and note its elaborations and
revisions of basic Daoist principles found in the Dao de jing. Zhuangzi uses
fanciful ideas, intriguing imagery, and striking humor to suggest that lan-
guage cannot represent meanings, one cannot particularize or hold a
point of view, and one must not try to persuade. Yet, these admonitions
appear in a text that does exactly those things, using language to persuade
others to accept Daoist principles. These views are reconciled in a rhetoric
that relies on evoking the participation of the audience in the persuasion
In chapter 4, I expand the scope of Daoist rhetoric by examining
Sunzi, famous for the Art of War. Laozi and Zhuangzi promote principles
of communication that are predicated on conflict avoidance and mini-
mization, however, these principles may lack utility for twenty-first-century
Westerners. Conflict, disagreement, or choice is often the starting point
for Western communication. Using war as a metaphor for rhetoric, Sunzi
provides a parsimonious approach to conflict communication. His per-
spective offers abundant tactical advice and advances keen insights on
knowledge, strategy, and responsiveness. Art of War thus adds richness to
rhetorical Daoism, making it especially relevant in the contemporary
In chapter 5, I advance the idea that the rhetorics of Laozi,
Zhuangzi, and Sunzi can be fused into a coherent genre, which I term
Daoist rhetoric, which can then form a methodology for Daoist rhetorical
criticism. I begin by considering whether Daoism can be used as a basis for
criticism without violating its basic principles. Next, I argue that Daoism
constitutes a unique genre of rhetoric, one that challenges traditional
notions of discourse categories, characterized by substantive and strategic
elements that are bound together by the internal dynamic of the Dao. I
then examine the applicability of Daoism for criticism and detail sug-
gested approaches to the critical process.
The next three chapters use this genre to examine contemporary
films from a critical perspective in order to promote a deeper understand-
Introduction 5
ing of Daoism and offer insights on various social practices. While Daoist
rhetoric can potentially be used for any rhetorical artifact, I argue that
contemporary films provide a particularly useful framework for analysis.
The chosen films are readily accessible, winners of awards from film festi-
vals and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Consequently,
they have the potential to encourage broad audiences to engage in critical
viewing practices. It must be noted, however, that I analyze these films not
as a way to investigate popular culture, but to further explore Daoism.
These films have significant moral implications, and the application of
Daoism promotes thinking about proper conduct for our nations, busi-
nesses, families, and selves. These artifacts are easily accessed by large and
diverse audiences, speak to broad social themes and ideas that transcend
particular historical moments, and illuminate Daoism as a critical
response to these issues.
Chapter 6 examines The Tao of Steve because it is, ostensibly, the story
of Daoism put into practice in the West. If Daoist rhetoric can function as
a method for rhetorical criticism, then it must, at the least, prove useful in
the consideration of texts that purport to be Daoistic. Analysis of the film
reveals that the hero uses a number of strategies and tactics found in
Sunzis Art of War, yet fails to comprehend and enact the substantive ele-
ments of the philosophy. This story may thus be seen as a metaphor for
the potential pitfalls that occur when westerners attempt to appropriate
Eastern thought.
Chapter 7 extends the project beyond the consideration of Daoist
texts to determine if Daoist rhetoric is a viable approach for texts that are
not readily identifiable as Daoist. The chapter looks at two animated
films, A Bugs Life and Antz, as a test of Daoism as a critical method. The
analysis demonstrates that A Bugs Life and Antz are not merely animated
films, but important statements about the appropriate role of the individ-
ual in a mass society. The films reflect clear value orientations of Western
and Eastern cultures respectively, providing very different answers to the
question of how an individual can live a meaningful life in a mass society.
Chapter 8 considers the prospect of using Daoist rhetoric in con-
junction with other analytical tools. The chapter examines the Academy
Award winning film Shrek as an example of the Hero Archetype
advanced by Joseph Campbell. The critique questions the purported uni-
versality of the hero myth. It argues that Shrek induces audiences to iden-
tify with a new vision of the hero, one that challenges the traditional
Western hero by valorizing the individual who focuses on being content,
living simply, and avoiding conflict. It celebrates living harmoniously with
nature and using the natural flow of the universe to accomplish ones
The concluding chapter suggests possibilities for Daoist rhetoric to
further contribute to rhetorical theory and criticism, and how it might be
deployed as a condition for social action. I explore the potential for
Daoism to provide a lens for viewing limitations of current Western rhetor-
ical theorizing. The analysis begins by focusing on ideas of Kenneth
Burke, arguably the most central figure in contemporary Western rheto-
ric, and responding to those views from a Daoist perspective. It then con-
siders Daoist rhetoric as a potent critical perspective in the contemporary,
postmodern world. I maintain that Daoist rhetoric opens exciting avenues
for theory, criticism, and social action, is energized when it is put into
practice, and can be valuable at the most mundane levels of existence. I
believe that the future of rhetorical studies lies, in part, in the past. The
intellectual path that is being followed in the West would benefit by con-
sidering the path not taken.
Introduction 7
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Culture, Text, and Context
Daoists believe that texts are not created in isolation but are products of a
vibrant, interactive environmental field. An account of the historical envi-
ronment or context for the works of the sages, which are analyzed specifi-
cally in the next three chapters, adds richness to the potential meanings
and applications of Daoism for rhetoric. Insights about context may help
distinguish aspects of the texts that are situation-specific, bound by con-
text in such a way as to be irrelevant in other contexts, from elements that
espouse timeless wisdom. Examining the historical environment or milieu,
therefore, can assist our understanding of these ancient texts and how
their views of Daoism might be applicable to rhetorical theory and
Exploring the historical context for these texts also engages a theoret-
ical issue of the text/context distinction.
It thereby provides an opportu-
nity to investigate important philosophical underpinnings of Daoist
rhetoric and contrast those with philosophical suppositions inherent in
classical Western rhetoric. I begin this chapter by elaborating on dominant
features of classical Greek and Daoist worldviews in order to articulate a
Daoist view of text and context. I then consider contextual elements, fac-
tors outside of the texts, which I believe interacted most significantly in
their assemblage. These factors include the translation process, rhetorical
personae, and the political and philosophical environment.
In order to distinguish classical Greek and Daoist rhetorical perspectives
on text and context, and thereby delineate the unique Daoist perspective
on this issue, one must begin with their respective fundamental world-
views. At a cosmological level, Ames (1993) characterizes the Greek view
as a two-world theory while the Chinese espouse a one-world view. To
the Greeks, there is a permanent real world that stands behind appear-
ance. This view is starkly exemplified by Platos distinction between the
true world of forms and the seductive pseudoreality of the sensual world,
and later by the Christian distinction between heaven and earth.
By virtue of the belief in an underlying objective reality, knowing to
the Greeks means discovering the mirroring correspondence between an
idea and an objective world (Ames, 1993, p. 57). To know something,
therefore, is to discover its true reality. Within this conception, reason
plays a paramount role. Reason is thought of as a human faculty independ-
ent of experience that can discover the essence of things (pp. 5556), and
rational explanation lies in the discovery of some antecedent agency or
the isolation and disclosure of relevant causes (p. 56).
The Western notion of dualism is also apparent in conceptions of
the self. Individuals are thought to look a certain way or behave in certain
ways, but what one exhibits or how one acts at a particular time may be
distinct from ones fixed nature, essence, or core self. The idea of mani-
fest and latent self, as well as body and soul, communicates a dualistic
sense of the individual that is foreign to Daoists.
In Daoism, there is one world, and it alone constitutes reality. There
is no independent agent, such as a god, to provide order and life. The
worlds order results from a continuous interaction of the opposing forces
of yin and yang. Reality is a ceaseless alternation between rising and
falling, emerging and collapsing, moving and attaining equilibrium that is
occasioned by its own internal energy of transformation. This movement
is not cyclical in the sense of reversibility and replication, but is rather a
continuing spiral that is always coming back upon itself and yet is ever
new (Ames & Hall, 2003, p. 28). The order in the universe is not created
by a grand design but is the natural consequence of the dynamic interac-
tion of all life formsthe many making one. There are no essences that
define, stabilize, and make unique the entities of reality. Instead, every-
thing in the universe is constantly changing, developing, and interacting.
The inherent nature of reality is change and novelty.
In contrast to the Greek notion that reality is a permanent structure
to be discovered behind a changing process, the classical Chinese view is
that knowledge is a perceived intelligibility and continuity that can be
mapped within the dynamic process itself (Ames, 1993, p. 55). Knowing,
then, rests on the ability to perceive the connections and interactions, the
comprehensiveness, which constitute the world:
Without an assumed separation between the source of order in
the world and the world itself, causal agency is not so immedi-
ately construed in terms of relevant cause and effect. All condi-
tions interrelate and collaborate in greater or lesser degree to
constitute a particular event as a confluence of experiences.
Knowing is thus being able to trace out and manipulate those
conditions far or near that will come to affect the shifting con-
figuration of ones own place. (p. 56)
Reason is viewed as coherencethe pattern of things and functions. One
who knows can see the relationship between all things and break them
down into the collaborative elements that explain events and phenomena.
Rational explanation lies in mapping out the local conditions that col-
laborate to sponsor any particular event or phenomenon (p. 56). One
must understand the connections between all things, integrating the per-
ceptions of both mind and body in order to see the unity of the universe.
The Chinese, lacking the notion of a unique identity for things and
people that stands apart from the experiential thing or person, would say
that a persons identity is grounded in her or his relationships with other
things. A person has no unique essence, but is simply a part of the many.
An individual exists and is defined in relation to everything else, by his or
her roles and relationships with others, meaning that the human is irre-
ducibly communal (p. 64). A person may therefore be known as the man
who lives next to the butcher, the father of Qi, or the son of Wu. It is the
association of things that constitutes all things. Nothing stands apart from
everything else because the many make the one.
The classical Western tendency to emphasize the uniqueness and sta-
bility of the elements of reality conditions views of rhetoric. Rhetorical
action involves three distinct elements: rhetor, message, and audience.
The message (text) responds to a preexisting situationthe mind of the
rhetor, the historical circumstances, and the predispositions of the audi-
enceor context. The text is thus a product of the context, and it, in
turn, affects the attitudes and beliefs of the audience. Artful rhetoric, as
Aristotle suggests, is the faculty of observing the available means of persua-
sion in a given case. Rhetoric becomes a quasi-scientific enterprise, as
rhetors apply reason to divine the underlying aspects of the context and
then fashion texts that produce desired audience responses. This
approach clearly identifies component parts of the rhetorical process and
specifies, in a linear way, the movement from preexisting situation to text
to audience effect. It also makes it encumbent on rhetors and critics to
account for contextual factors in crafting and/or critiquing a text.
Culture, Text, and Context 11
Daoists believe, contrarily, that reality is a unified whole and the indi-
vidual is not distinct from the rest of the universe. As I will further explore
in chapter 2, the temporary assemblage of elements into a body, message,
or physical object creates the illusion of stability and uniqueness, but only
because one is looking at that assemblage from a particular vantage point
at a particular time. Over time, elements in the universe generate a body
that alternately degenerates and regenerates, before ultimately returning
its elements to the environment. The assemblage of that body over the
course of what we term a lifespan is actually temporary and indistinct
from the grand mix that constitutes the universe. Accordingly, distinctions
such as text and context are not true distinctions but rather arbitrary and
time-bound labels. A text is simply a temporary assemblage of symbols
whose meaning interacts cyclically with everything else in the environmen-
tal field: Particular things are in fact processual events, and are thus
intrinsically related to the other things that provide them context. Said
another way, these processual events are porous, flowing into each other
in the ongoing transformations we call experience (Ames & Hall, 2003,
p. 15). Meanings and identities change and are never fully formed or
stable. In fact, change and interaction produce the identity and meaning
of things in the world. Text and context, like rhetor and audience, are
Distinguishing text and context, then is an arbitrary imposition on
the fundamental nature of reality. It is nonetheless useful and necessary.
The Daoist view that context is both an important and arbitrary category
appears contradictory, but as we shall learn, in Daoism opposites do not
negate or repel but complement. Context is important because rhetorical
artifacts are situated historicallythere is a spatial and temporal dimen-
sion that is relevant when a text is created and has some bearing on mean-
ing. Texts are connected to time and place because, in Daoism, nothing
stands apart from the world. The artifact is a product of all aspects of the
environmental field, and the more we know about the interconnected
aspects of the environment, the more we can understand. Of course, when
we refer to something as a distinct entity or product of a particular set of
circumstances we are speaking of how it presents itself at a particular time.
We can propose an arbitrary historical context, as long as we recognize
that claims regarding context, while important, are provisional: Sages
envision a world of changing events that they can, for whatever reason,
choose to freeze momentarily into a distinct pattern of discrimination, but
that they recognize, when they see clearly, as being beyond such distinc-
tion (p. 43). Articulating a historical context temporarily places events in
the foreground amid the background of reality.
As a practical matter, we must be able to isolate events and individu-
als from time to time so that we can communicate and organize activities.
For example, the distinctions between the four seasons are arbitrary.
There have been blizzards in the middle of summer and heat waves in the
depths of winter. There have been epochs where weather stayed relatively
stable from season to season for centuries. Furthermore, spring is not
discrete but is a blend of winter and summer. At the same time, farmers
are wise to teach their children to follow the seasons regarding when to
plant, when to fertilize and water, when to harvest, and when to leave the
soil fallow. We pull things into the foreground and speak of them as
though they are discrete in order to do business. When we do this, which
includes any instance when we use language, we create artificial distinc-
tions because they are useful.
Daoists use language and create categories, such as context, as a way
of foregrounding. They see no problem in this because they do not think
that they are making statements about the ultimate reality or an individ-
uals essence, and recognize that the parts we focus on are actually facets
of a larger whole. It can serve a practical purpose to create categories or
distinctions and label them so that we can act in this world. As long as we
recognize what we are doing, there is no harm or issue. In fact, we must
do these sorts of things in order to survive.
When we isolate text and context we are using them as a basis for
understanding, not positing a claim about the nature of reality. Specifying
a context foregrounds the elements in the fieldhistorical and cultural
events, rhetors, audiencesthat seem to be of great importance in their
interaction with each other. If a Daoist were to talk about a rhetorical
interactant, text, or context it would be assumed that the conversation is
not treating these elements as fixed or stable entities that exist in isolation
from one another or anything else.
Furthermore, context does not imply causation. Daoists reject linear
explanations of events. Texts are not caused by situations but are part of
them. There is an interactive flux that dynamically conditions all features
in the environmental field. Situating Daoism within a time frame in which
certain events took place does not mean that those events caused the sages
to say what they did in a linear sense. It is more appropriate to say that
Daoist thought influenced historically situated events just as those events
affected Daoist thought.
To treat Daoism with an appreciation for its texts and contexts is to
recognize its fluid and dynamic presence in the world. Locating a context
or historical framework for the crafting of key texts does not tell us what
Daoism is, but what it might have been to emerging identities at one time.
Culture, Text, and Context 13
Of course, I cannot claim definitively that the aspects or events that I focus
on were necessarily on the minds of the crafters of those texts, nor can I
say, even if they were, that the rhetors were interpreting these contextual
elements in the same way that I do. My examination of historical context
indicates, from my vantage point, what I think was in play during the con-
struction of the texts. While we cannot contain Daoist thought or objectify
its teachings, situating Daoism contextually may help us understand
Daoist thought not as timeless prescriptions but as living events. We may
even discern how these lessons might be meaningful in our unique
Chinese is a highly contextual language that demands a great deal of
interpretation. For example, because Chinese contains neither definite
nor indefinite articles, no recorded distinction could be made between
references to Lao Tzu, the person, or to the Lao Tzu, the writings (Grigg,
1995, p. 125). The translation problems of which I speak are not simply
encountered in moving from Chinese to English but originate in translat-
ing classical Chinese, which has not been used for centuries, to modern
Classical Chinese, the form in which the various versions of the
Lao Tzu are recorded, is simply long columns of uninterrupted
characters with no indication of chapters, stanza/paragraphs,
or even sentences. Sentences are determined by what appears
to be meaningful units of thought. The present chapter divi-
sions have simply evolved by convention. There is no textual
basis for dividing them as they are; the stanza/paragraphs are
still discretionary, even in modern Chinese. For translators and
readers alike, the meaning of the text is undoubtedly influ-
enced by these divisions. (p. 121)
The grammatical structure and paucity of characters in classical Chinese
make the language compressed and cryptic (Clarke, 2000, p. 52). Grigg
(1995) proclaims that translating the Lao Tzu is so difficult that intelli-
gent guessing rather than translating is often the rule rather than the
exception (pp. 11112).
Because of the difficulties in translating classical Chinese works, the
Dao de jing has been translated in Chinese several hundred times and
continuously reinterpreted throughout Chinese history (Clarke, 2000,
pp. 5051). Interestingly, there are no extant copies of the original ver-
sion. Existing traditional renditions are rife with errors.
Of the traditional texts that do exist, most scholars now agree
that some of the characters are incorrect and the meanings of
others are uncertain. Still other charactersindeed, whole
lines of themare incorrectly placed. And some characters
and lines are missing entirely. This has been confirmed by the
recently discovered Ma-wang-tui texts, which have filled in as
many as three lines in one so-called chapter. (Grigg, 1995, p.
While some of these errors were wholly inadvertent, some were deliberate,
most likely made by Confucians who adjusted the Taoist texts to accom-
modate their own particular purposes (p. 119). Daoism is certainly
affected by the politics of translation.
One might wonder to what extent translation politics may have
affected Western versions of the text. For example, the Western appropria-
tion of Hinduism during the colonial period helped both to reinforce
European hegemony over India and at the same time to construct a
nationalist Indian ideology (Clarke, 2000, p. 7). In this case, however, the
study of Daoism in the West came largely after the primary colonial
period. Hence, Daoism has neither helped to shape the mentality of
colonial rulers nor been a focus of anti-imperialist struggle. More
recently, Western encounters with Daoism have been diverse and compli-
cated, indicating that the recently emerging relationship with Daoism
cannot be understood simply in terms of Western power over a passive
and subjugated Orient (p. 7). Thus, while there is always a certain politi-
cization of texts, in the case of Daoism this has not been particularly per-
vasive. Nonetheless, as we read these germinal works we must remain
aware that all translations are perspectival interpretations.
Many traditional approaches to textual analysis make the seemingly obvi-
ous assumption that it is valuable to examine the author, or rhetor, as a
central contextual factor. If nothing else, identifying authorship provides a
historical time frame for the text that can point to significant social forces
that may have interacted with the rhetorical act or artifact. Situating the
texts upon which I rely, however, is complicated by the fact that there were
no extant or systematic historical records of China until centuries after the
Culture, Text, and Context 15
deaths of the Daoist sages; the lack of clear records makes it difficult to
separate folklore from fact. Grigg (1995) points out there is no definitive
evidence that Lao Tzu himself even existed (p. 123). The book Dao de jing
was originally titled Laozi, in accordance with the Chinese custom of
attributing philosophical texts to a named figure thought to have origi-
nated or popularized the ideas (Kaltenmark, 1965). The most prevalent,
and I think credible, view is that Dao de jing is a composite work. Ames and
Hall (2003) agree: It would seem that a great many hands across an
expanse of time set down, sorted, re-sorted, edited, and collated the Daode-
jing and the materials that constitute it (p. 7). While the precise compila-
tion dates for Dao de jing are unknown, Ames and Hall, in a recent and
impressive translation and commentary, maintain that the book was
born during the Warring States Period (circa 403221 B.C.E.). The text is
also referred to in Zhuangzi, indicating the order in which those works
were rendered.
Like the Dao de jing, the authorship of the Zhuangzi is uncertain. The
text is widely considered to be a composite of several works by different
authors from different periods of time (Clarke, 2000). The book is divided
into three sectionsthe Inner Chapters (17), the Outer Chapters
(822), and the Miscellaneous Chapters (2333). The Inner Chapters are
thought to be composed by a single individual, most likely the historical
Zhuang Zhou (Chuang Chou), during the Warring States period (Clarke,
2000; Graham, 1986; Roth, 1991). The Inner Chapters, which are my
focus in chapter 3, contain all the major themes for which the Chuang
Tzu has been renowned (Roth, 1991, p. 80).
The core text of Art of War, consisting of thirteen chapters, was proba-
bly written by Sun Wu or his disciples (Ames, 1993; Griffith, 1963; Huang,
1993; Sawyer, 1994). Because of questions regarding the accuracy of histor-
ical records, and the possibility that Art of War was compiled by adherents
of Sun Wu after his death, there are conflicting ideas regarding when it was
written. According to Ames, the historical Sun Wu is estimated to have
lived circa 544-496 B.C.E., making him a contemporary of Confucius at the
end of the Spring-Autumn period (p. 18). Most scholars date the compila-
tion of Art of War somewhere between the end of the Spring-Autumn
period and the late Warring States period (Ames, 1993; Griffith, 1963;
Huang, 1993; Sawyer, 1994). Regardless of its exact date of compilation, Art
of War responds to major philosophical perspectives and political events
that occurred during the intense military campaigns of the latter Spring-
Autumn period (circa 770481 B.C.E.), and the text informed military
strategists during the brutal Warring States period (circa 403221 B.C.E.).
In sum, all three texts upon which I rely were most likely compiled
between the fifth and third centuries B.C.E., during the Spring-Autumn
and Warring States periods. Sunzis teachings appear first, followed by
Laozi and Zhuangzi, who were preceded by and highly aware of Confu-
Furthermore, it is likely that many hands, either original authors
and/or translators, have crafted the works of these sages. They are not
the heroic inventions of a single originating author but redactions created
over periods of time out of a variety of sources, shaped by a mixture of
influences and interpreted in widely different ways (Clarke, 2000, p. 50).
Consequently, I treat Laozi, Zhuangzi, and Sunzi as rhetorical personae
and not necessarily actual historical figures solely responsible for particu-
lar texts.
The political climate of the Spring-Autumn and Warring States periods is
a critical spur to not only Daoism but also many of Asias most profound
thinkers, writers, and artists. The years of chaos spawned a free and
diverse intellectual environment that laid the foundation for subsequent
literary forms, philosophical thinking, and cultural formation (Lu, 1998,
p. 66). This era, the Golden Age of Chinese literature, includes the life
and works of Confucius, as well as Laozi, Zhuangzi, and Sunzi. Graham
(1989) observes in reference to the ancient scholars that their whole
thinking is a response to the breakdown of the moral and political order
which had claimed the authority of Heaven (p. 3).
This political context is rooted in the Zhou (Chou) dynasty, which
was formed around 1100 B.C.E. While the early years of Zhou rule are
thought of as a Golden Age that unified the world, the dynasty gradually
disintegrated to a point where city-states operated on an independent
basis with little or no acceptance of, let alone deference to, the house of
Zhou kings were plagued by the problem of controlling a vast
empire of disparate peoples and far-flung territories with only a small
Chou population (Sawyer, 1994, p. 48). Barbarians to the north and west
presented an ongoing danger to the dynasty. The kings countered these
threats by granting fiefs and monetary rewards to feudal lords who
pledged loyalty to the Zhou. As the feudal lords became more powerful,
the central government became increasingly ineffectual. Within a few gen-
erations, the power of the western Zhou began to erode precipitously.
In 770 B.C.E., after years of barbarian attacks, the Zhou lost their
western capital. The Zhou capital was retrenched in the east, and the loss
of political power by the Zhou royal house allowed the city-states, ruled by
feudal lords, to exert increasing power. Lords of some of the more power-
Culture, Text, and Context 17
ful states were eager to fill the power vacuum left by the weak central gov-
ernment, but no city-state was strong enough to control the others. The
result was a period of continual battle for conquest and survival. In the
period from 722464 B.C.E., at least 110 states were conquered or annexed
(Sawyer, 1994). Eventually, a permanent imbalance of power prevailed:
The conflicts of the Spring and Autumn period had segmented
China into seven powerful survivor-states, each contending for
control of the realm, and fifteen weaker states for them to prey
upon. The feudal lords had by then evolved into despotic mon-
archs who were compelled to nurture the development of
extensive economic and political bureaucracies just to survive.
(Sawyer, 1994, p. 53)
No state was immune, and even the most powerful state, should it fail to
prepare its defenses and train its soldiers, could be vanquished (Sawyer,
In the following centuries, from 464222 B.C.E., wars were even
longer and larger (Hsu, 1965, p. 77), so much so that 403221 B.C.E.
became known as the Warring States period (Ames, 1993; Sawyer, 1994).
This era was noted for its political and emotional turmoil, constant war-
fare, treachery, and personal danger (Major, 1975, p. 265). According to
Sawyer (1994), the scale of conflict surged phenomenally (p. 53). Even
the minor states easily fielded armies of 100,000 and the strongest . . .
reportedly maintained a standing army of nearly a million, mobilizing
600,000 for a single campaign (Sawyer, 1994, p. 54). As the size of war-
fare increased so did its brutality:
The art of warfare progressed from swarming militia to the
efficiency of phalanx-like fixed troop formations. At every level
of innovation, from the introduction of cavalry, to standard
issue crossbows, to siege engines, these instruments of aggres-
sion made a folly of defense. Cities were walled and fortified
only to be breached; borders were drawn up only to be redrawn;
alliances were formed only to be betrayed; treaties were signed
only to be reneged upon. (Ames & Hall, 2003, p. 1)
The ability to project these powerful armies into battle constituted an
enormous threat to all: In the race to empire, the game was zero-sum.
And to lose was to perish utterly (p. 1).
Constant offensive warfare, political betrayal, and official corruption
dominated life in classical China. Ames and Hall (2003) point out that
for generation after generation, death became a way of life, so that moth-
ers gave birth to sons with the expectation that they would never reach
majority (p. 1). Tremendous energy was devoted to coping with the
uncertainty and brutality of everyday life.
The political context in classical China had significant philosophical
implications. The central authority, both politically and spiritually, was dis-
rupted during the Spring-Autumn and Warring States periods and China
was divided into independent feudal territories ruled by various lords.
These rulers tended to the ceremonial needs of spiritual practice, but
because of the decentralization of political power, spiritual authority had
also been scattered. Rulers were desperate for sources of philosophical
insight, political ideas, and military strategies that would ensure peace
and prosperity to their people, increased power for themselves and hege-
mony over the whole land (Smith, 1980, p. 3). This invigorated the shih,
or scholar class, who found themselves with valuable opportunities to
influence rulers and thus increase their own prestige.
The rulers, with but little understanding of the arts of govern-
ment, sought the advice of learned men of various schools of
thought. In return they offered positions of prestige and dig-
nity, and lavished wealth and honours on those whom they
trusted. To these blandishments of the rulers the Taoist mystics
turned a deaf ear. (p. 3)
These philosophers proliferated, traveling from one court to another,
gathering adherents, propounding their theories and arguing them in open
debate, each seeking a prince who would put their way in practice (Par-
rinder, 1983, p. 317). The various philosophical perspectivesincluding
Mohist, Legalist, Sophist, and Logician, as well as Daoist and Confucian
have been described as the Hundred Schools of philosophy.
Daoism and Confucianism arose from the debates of the Hundred
Schools as Chinas two principal philosophies and indigenous religions.
From its beginnings in the Dao de jing, Daoism is offered as an alterative to
Confucianism. Hence, Daoism is seen in a richer light when juxtaposed
with Confucianism as competing responses to challenging social, political,
and philosophical conditions in ancient China.
Confucius was the founder of the earliest of the Hundred Schools.
By the year 100 B.C.E. Confucianism became the official philosophy of
Culture, Text, and Context 19
China, emerging as final and permanent victor of the battle for religious
dominance. Furthermore, for nearly two thousand years the Confucian
canon was the mainstay of the curriculum in Chinese education (Par-
rinder, 1983, p. 305). The imperial house and the Chinese ruling estab-
lishment have been pre-eminently Confucian, and Confucianism as the
dominant philosophy of administrative classes became institutionalized in
official rites and ceremonies and in the imperial sacrifices. In this way, it
became part of the apparatus of government.
Classical Chinese philosophy is centered on the Dao, but Confucians
and Daoists view the Dao differently. While Daoists emphasize tian Dao,
the Way of Heaven, Confucians focus on ren Dao, the Way of Human. Con-
fucius was interested in the perfection of the human in society. He taught
what he believed was the correct, moral way to live, prescribing detailed
guidelines for behavior.
Confucius believed that the good order once existed in the two pre-
ceding dynasties and that the only hope for the future was to recapture
the past splendor by restoring the values and practices of a prior golden
age. Drawing on the authority of revered ancestors, and from a long and
sacred tradition of religious ceremony, Confucius created a system of
moral conduct governing virtually every aspect of life. His code for proper
conduct governed not only morality, but also dress, manners, demeanor,
and gesture (Parrinder, 1983). Enlightenment was achieved through study
of the classics and respectful participation in correct ritual, custom, and
tradition (Schwartz, 1985). This orientation allows everyone to know what
is expected of them and others as well as how to conduct oneself. Duty
and social propriety are clearly marked paths.
Daoists would agree with Confucians that the Dao had been lost and
that this explained the current problems in society. They disagree in the
notion of why the Dao was lost and where it may be discovered. For Con-
fucians, the problem was forgotten traditions and the solution was a strict
conduct code, the observance of rituals, and resurrection of practices of
sage monarchs. For Zhuangzi, the Dao had been lost because of the
humans alienation from nature. The answer was not duty to ancestral tra-
ditions but to align oneself with the eternal, universal force of the Dao by
living consistently with the natural world, recognizing the unity of things
rather than their distinctions, and transcending the material world.
Disillusioned by the scheming, intrigues and sycophancy of the
feudal courts, and highly critical of the social conventions,
elaborate ceremonial, moral precepts, and detailed rules of
behaviour which formed a veneer to cover hypocrisy and self-
seeking, the early Taoists contrasted the artificialities of man-
made institutions with the ordered sequences of natural
processes. (Smith, 1980, p. 4)
While Confuciuss superior man overcomes natural, base drives,
Zhuangzis pure man or true man adapts to nature and avoids impos-
ing human ways on the rhythm of the universe.
The Confucian solution to chaos, from the perspective of the
Daoists, entrenched the problem, by insisting on conformity with human-
made laws, and moved humans further from the Dao of Heaven. The nat-
ural way is thus trivialized by recourse to contrived rules and artificial
relationships that are dehumanizing, and by strategies for social regula-
tion that privilege an ordered uniformity over spontaneity (Ames & Hall,
2003, p. 32). While the Confucian perspective created order, it endorsed
humanism and hierarchy. To a Daoist, it is capable of leading socially to
nepotism, parochialism, and jingoism, and within the natural environ-
ment, to anthropocentrism, speciesism, and the pathetic fallacy (p. 32).
While the task of approaching classical Daoism with sensitivity toward con-
text might seem problematic, especially for an English speaker in the
twenty-first century, the dynamic, generative nature of Daoism deprob-
lematizes this issue. There is no inherent reason why a scroll penned by
Laozi himself would be more genuine or useful for us than an English
translation rendered over two thousand years later. The Dao itself is uni-
versal, but changing. The ways we perceive and talk about the Dao are
always reflections of our perspectives. Our discussions will always be tem-
pered by the inadequacy of language to account for the ineffable. Yet
these difficulties are no different from the ones Laozi faced, and they are
not insurmountable. In fact, what makes this book unique is that its objec-
tive is not only a deeper understanding of Daoism, but also a study of the
uses of rhetoric. What is of particular interest to rhetoricians, and will be
centered throughout this book, are the methods the sages used to com-
municate given these difficulties. A study in Daoist rhetoric is a study in
working with the fluctuating ineffable with imperfect tools. It is because of
these challenges that we can learn much from the rhetoric of the Daoist
Culture, Text, and Context 21
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Laozi and the Natural Way
of Rhetoric
According to legend, Laozi was the curator of the Royal Library and
keeper of the archives at the imperial court. Sometime after the age of
eighty, he became tired of his work, disgusted with the abuses of the court,
and saddened and disillusioned that people were unwilling to follow the
path to natural goodness. He attempted to flee from the kingdom, setting
out for the western border of China, toward what is now Tibet. The
warden of the frontier guard stopped him at the border and insisted that
he write down his teachings and ideas before he departed. Laozi then
composed in five thousand characters the Dao de jing.
While the legend behind the Dao de jing is highly disputable, there
is no question that the text has had a profound influence on the world.
Ames and Hall (2003) note that it has probably been translated into the
English language more often than any other piece of world literature
(p. ix). Lu (1998) says, one cannot truly understand the Chinese mind
without understanding the Daoist sensibilities embodied in the Dao De
Jing. The teachings have permeated every area of Chinese life (Lu,
1998, p. 228).
The central focus of Laozis philosophy is encapsulated in the terms
found in the title of his workDao and deand I will begin with the first
and end with the latter. In between are explorations of the concepts of
yin/yang polarity, the natural way, harmony, and wu-wei. These con-
cepts are key components of the substance of Daoist rhetoric. I will next
examine Laozis insights regarding language and appropriate communica-
tion as well as his own use of rhetoric. This analysis allows consideration of
the consistency of Laozis rhetoric with his philosophy and indicates prin-
ciples of rhetorical strategy and method.
Dao has been literally translated as way or path. Contextually, it can
also refer to a skillful, artful, or effective method or approach. Hence, we
can refer to the Dao of architecture, war, or wellness. Numerous books,
typically titled, The Dao of (blank), attempt to convey this sense of the Dao.
Dao can also mean a power or energy source. Consider, the next time you
watch Star Wars, substituting Dao whenever you hear a Jedi refer to the
Force. Using the Force, means surrendering to the universes energy
source in order to tap into it, then focusing that energy to accomplish
something. Dao also refers to an ultimate state of being. Athletes some-
times talk about being in a zone or the flow when they are playing
well. Their consciousness is so keenly attuned to the moment that every-
thing fades into the background. Time seems to slow down, and they are
able to move instinctively, without thinking, in just the right way. When I
bodysurf I sometimes lose track of everything except the ocean. I feel the
salt water moving, and know where to stand so that I can stroke into a
wave, glide almost effortlessly into the waves rhythm, and find myself car-
ried to shore like I am floating on air. Only later, when I lose my connec-
tion to natures rhythms and am no longer with the Dao, do I notice that I
am tired, thirsty, and sunburnt; only then do I reflect on where I am and
how long I was in the water.
Dao can also stand for the underlying reality of all things, as well as
the design that stands behind that reality. Wu (1989) translates the first
line of the Dao de jing thusly: Tao can be talked about, but not the Eternal
Tao (ch. 1, p. 3).
Similarly, Lau (1963) says, The way that can be spoken
of is not the constant way (ch. 1, p. 57). Hence the Dao that can be com-
municated is not the ultimate Dao. Is this because the ineffable Dao defies
linguistic description, language is limited and cannot adequately repre-
sent certain ideas, or both? While questions regarding language will be
taken up later, Dao de jing continues to distinguish the nameable and
nameless Dao: the nameless was the beginning of heaven and earth; the
named was the mother of myriad creatures (ch. 1, Lau, 1963, p. 57).
Thus, when we name the Dao we refer to the mother or creator of all
things, while the nameless Dao stands behind creation as the origin of the
universe. Of course, there is only Dao, although its forms and processes
seem divided and paradoxical:
Dao was considered both unchanging in its essences and
changing in its expression of that essence: unchanging in that
its principles were enduring and encompassing with the capac-
ity to transcend and reconcile opposites; changing in that all
things were said to undergo a perpetual cyclic movement from
birth to death to birth to death (25.3839). (Lu, 1998, p. 230).
The Daos processes are universal and unnamable. Its manifestations,
which can be named, are constantly changing. The Dao can and cannot
be named because it is eternal and universal, time-bound and particular.
We cannot find words to express the nameless Dao because we
cannot apprehend the universal. We can label Dao the ultimate reality,
or the grand design of the universe, but that does not tell us what is that
reality or design; no words can express the ultimate infinite. Furthermore,
we cannot use words for the Dao because naming something demarcates
its opposite. Is implies is not. Since the Dao is everything, it has no is
not. Thus, we cannot speak of the Dao since there is no not-Dao. To dis-
tinguish the Dao that can be named from the nameless Dao is also to say
that we can name certain aspects of the Dao. We have some ability to
describe what is with language. But the total and all-encompassing nature
of the Dao cannot be expressed in words.
It is the sense of the Dao as the ultimate design that I tend to think
of and refer to when I contemplate or attempt to communicate its mean-
ing. Yet, at the same time, I recognize that all of these meanings of the
Dao overlap to a certain extent, and can be appropriate. They are only dis-
tinguishable through a specific context, because the nature of the Dao is
the unity that is all. Tai chi exercise, Feng shui placement, and numerous
martial arts techniques are grounded in the Dao. Because the Dao is the
way, it makes available efficacious methods and approaches that tap into
the design of the universe. Furthermore, we can lose ourselves and
become one with the unity, allowing us to move with the rhythm of the
It is also important to remember that the Dao, because it is all,
includes the potential of all that is not. Consider the color black. It is an
undifferentiated void in the sense that it can be defined as the absence of
light. At the same time, black is a nonvoid containing and sustaining all
things because when all colors are combined together they become black.
Hence, black can be seen as a unification of all thingsthe result of
blending everything together. Furthermore, black does everything by
doing nothing because it is the completion of all things, the combination
of all colors; and it is the potential for all things because it takes no partic-
ular form. It has the boundless potential to be anything if light is intro-
duced. Similarly, the Dao is all that is and will be. It is the named, as
mother or creator of what is, and the nameless, as the boundless potential
of everything that can be. It does everything and nothing. It is the many
and the one.
Laozi and the Natural Way of Rhetoric 25
Reality is a flow of events that emanate from the constant interac-
tion of the opposing forces of yin and yang. Yin is passive energy
motionless and still, sometimes described as feminine, earthy, or dark.
Yang is active and overt energymale, fiery, or light. According to Laozi,
the Dao is the source of these two elements: Tao gave birth to One, One
gave birth to Two, Two gave birth to Three; Three gave birth to all the
myriad things (ch. 42, Wu, 1989, p. 87). Laozi goes on to explain that
everything is formed and harmonized by the interaction of the two: All
the myriad things carry the Yin on their backs and hold the Yang in their
embrace, deriving their vital harmony from the proper blending of the
two vital breaths (p. 87). Of course, nothing is entirely yin or yang. The
process of change places one or the other in ascendancy, but at its peak,
it recedes, just like the darkest moment of night is immediately followed
by a touch of light. Hence, the constant blending of opposites, the min-
gling of all things into the one thing, constitute the rhythm and design of
the universe.
In this view it does not make sense to think of things or creatures as
objects that have unchanging features, elements, or essences. All crea-
tures are constantly moving, and the sense of permanence, or at least con-
trol, which so often accompanies Western worldviews, is illusionary. We
may see ourselves, for example, as stable entities. In fact, at the molecular
level, our cells are constantly degenerating and regenerating.
In order to stay alive, your body must live on the wings of
change. At this moment, you are exhaling atoms of hydrogen,
oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen that just an instant before were
locked up in solid matter; your stomach, liver, heart, lungs,
and brain are vanishing into thin air, being replaced as quickly
and endlessly as they are being broken down. (Chopra, 1993,
p. 9)
We readily recognize that our hair and fingernails grow, but we are not as
cognizant of the fact that our entire bodiesskin, bones, and organsare
The skin replaces itself once a month, the stomach lining every
five days, the liver every six weeks, and the skeleton every three
months. To the naked eye these organs look the same from
moment to moment, but they are always in flux. By the end of
this year, 98 percent of the atoms in your body will have been
exchanged for new ones. (p. 9)
We might also be tempted to think of solid objects as stable or fixed, but at
a microscopic level they are being eroded and degraded. They may also
provide habitats for microscopic creatures. They breathe, in the sense
that they accumulate and discharge humidity, and their temperature
changes. Chopra (1993) notes, quantum physics tells us that every atom
is more than 99.9999 percent empty space, and the subatomic particles
moving at lightning speed through this space are actually bundles of
vibrating energy (p. 15). Thus, at a molecular level, solid objects are
mostly space, and the constant movement of vibrating particles of energy
enlivens the space.
All things come into existence from the one, by virtue of their inter-
action. Constant flux and transformation is the natural state, or nature, of
the process that makes everything as one. Hence, life itself, as well as indi-
vidual identity, is enabled by the natural way of things, and nature
becomes a crucial touchstone for conduct. Just like everything else, nature
has a oneness but it also can be differentiated or particularized. Nature
may thus be universal, as in this example from Laozi: for something to be
old while in its prime is called a departure from the way of things. And
whatever departs from the way of things will come to an untimely end
(ch. 30, Ames & Hall, 2003, p. 123). We can also consider particular quali-
ties that are natural for certain things: some move ahead while others
follow behind; some breathe to warm themselves while others breathe to
cool themselves down; some are strong while others are disadvantaged;
some accumulate while others collapse (ch. 29, p. 122). The sage under-
stands the natural way and attends to the universal and particularthe
one and the many.
When the world is in a state of equilibrium, it is harmonious and bal-
anced. And for the world to be harmonious, individuals, and all its con-
stituents, must be harmonious. Since identity inheres in the interactions
of reality, one is completed by all others. To be a balanced person, the uni-
verse must also be balanced. Harmony, in Daoism, is a paramount goal for
human activity.
The Dao created a natural equilibrium where everything blended
perfectly, but Laozi acknowledges that humans have the ability to follow
what is natural or defy the natural way and be governed by human con-
ventions. For example, it is natural to make minor adjustments to adapt to
different circumstances.
The way of tian is like archers drawing their bows. To hit some-
thing high in the air, they pull the string downward; to hit
something lower, they pull the string upward. When they have
Laozi and the Natural Way of Rhetoric 27
drawn the string too far back, they let some go, and when they
have not drawn it far enough, they pull harder. (ch. 77, p. 196)
But humans do not readily make the minor adjustments to sustain the
equilibrium of the world.
The way of human beings, on the other hand is not like this at
all. It is instead to take away from those who do not have
enough in order to give more to those who already have too
much. (p. 196)
Whether we act out of greed or benevolence, the outcome will be disas-
trous if we are motivated by our desire and not the natural way. Laozi
laments the shortcomings of the rulers of the Spring-Autumn and Warring
States periods and notes the solution to the problems of the world is for
rulers to stop acting out of personal desire and be guided by the larger,
universal way of things: in not desiring, they would achieve equilibrium,
and all the world would be properly ordered of its own accord (ch. 37, p.
134). In fact, much of Laozis advice is directed to rulers and his urging is
for them to restore the natural way.
What exactly is the natural way? After all, one can argue that it is nat-
ural for humans to try to conquer disease and fly to the moon, since
humans have done these things. By this reasoning it is also natural to
commit genocide and destroy the ability of the Earth to sustain its various
species, because our history includes genocide and we now have the
capacity for ecological destruction. In response, I suspect Laozi would
remind us of two things. First, the Earth, if not blown to bits, will retain a
capacity for life regardless of human activity. There was a time before
humans, and the future will not necessarily include human life. Species
die when the environmental field cannot enable and sustain them. Ulti-
mately, humans may tragically learn that the natural way stands above
human convention. It would seem wise to recognize that our ability to do
something does not make it natural or desirable. If humans wish to be a
part of the world, then Laozi believes they are at risk when they set them-
selves apart from it.
If someone wants to rule the world, and goes about trying to do
so, I foresee that they simply will not succeed. The world is a
sacred vessel, and is not something that can be ruled. Those
who would rule it ruin it; those who would control it lose it.
(ch. 29, p. 122)
Second, we can perhaps discern what is natural, even for humans, if we
use the overall state of nature, not just human tendencies, as a guidepost.
Human activity must coordinate with the workings of the rest of the world.
Laozi argues that the natural way is temperate and moderate. The
example of the archers micro adjustments indicates that nature moves
constantly but inexorably. Laozi says that is why the sages eschew the
excessive, the superlative, and the extravagant (p. 122). He suggests that
we pay attention to the small things, because they preempt large
It is easy to keep ones grip when things are subtle, it is easy to
plan for a situation that has yet to happen, it is easy to snap
something that is brittle, it is easy to break something up that is
just beginning. Deal with a situation before it happens; Bring it
under control before it gets out of hand. (ch. 64, p. 177)
Nature also affirms softness and flexibility:
While living, people are supple and soft, but once dead, they
become hard and rigid cadavers. While living, the things of this
world and its grasses and trees are pliant and fragile, but once
dead, they become withered and dry. Thus it is said: Things that
are hard and rigid are the companions of death; Things that are
supple and soft are the companions of life. (ch. 76, p. 195)
One of Laozis favorite metaphors to illustrate these principles is water.
Nothing in this world is as soft and weak as water and yet in
attacking what is hard and strong, there is nothing that can sur-
pass it. This is because there is nothing that can be used in its
stead. There is no one in the world that does not know that the
soft prevails over the hard and the weak prevails over the
strong, and yet none are able to act accordingly. (ch. 78, p.
The way of nature is balance and harmony that derives from diversity and
interdependence. Nature also moves slowly and is best adapted to with
minor changes made early and often. Life is affirmed by being soft and
flexible, while hardness and rigidity move toward death.
Nature also stands at the intersection of theory and practice. It is
understood theoretically as a manifestation of Daoist cosmology and
Laozi and the Natural Way of Rhetoric 29
expression of ontology. Practically, nature is the movement of the here
and now that we all experience. Its pragmatic sense is enlivened by the
concept wu-wei, which is the expression of the natural way in human activ-
ity. The presence of wu-wei in ones actions indicates that the individual is
aligned with the natural way of doing things. Wu-wei refers to effortless
actionthe ability to accomplish without coercion.
When one is aligned with the Dao it is possible to move like a leaf on
a stream of water. One abandons the Western sense of being goal ori-
ented, that is, driven to achieve something external, and instead attempts
to enact ones internal nature. To be moved by ones nature requires no
effort. A tree does not try to be a tree; it simply is one. Similarly, a Daoist
does not strategize and strive to achieve humanistic objectives but simply
moves in accordance with the natural coherence of the world. Once
again, water exemplifies a difficult concept: The softest things in the
world ride roughshod over the hardest things. Only the least substantial
thing can penetrate the seamless. This is how we know that doing things
noncoercively [wu-wei] is beneficial (ch. 43, p. 145).
To be with the Dao also means that one is thinking only of the
moment and what is at hand. The attention is so keenly focused on the
nature of the present that there is no planning per se. One simply
responds intuitively to the circumstances. When one knows well the prin-
ciples, structures, and trends of human and natural affairs then one uses
the least amount of energy in dealing with them (Watts, 1975, p. 76).
Hence, wu-wei combines comprehensive and innate intelligence with
taking the line of least resistance in all ones actions (p. 76). When one
accomplishes without exertion it indicates that one knows the Dao and is
attuned to the natural way of things. Action that is actionless (wu-wei)
entails the ability to flow with the stream of reality.
In the sense that wu-wei puts a human component to the natural way,
and signifies or marks its presence in an individual, de brings the eternal
and theoretical aspects of Daoism to the pragmatic human level. Dao is
the container word for the ineffable and it organizes cosmological aspects
of Daoism. De is the presence of the potency of the Dao within an individ-
ual. It is the fulfillment of the dao through wise speech and proper
action (Lu, 1998, p. 230).
De is frequently translated as virtue or power. For Confucians it is
pursued through ones full participation in the ritualized community,
where achieved excellence in the roles and relationships that constitute
ones person makes one an object of deference for others (Ames & Hall,
2003, p. 60). In the Daoist context de refers to efficacy or virtuality
inherent virtue or power to produce effects (p. 61). Laozi explains that
it does not result from cultivation of ritualized human conventions, but
from a communion with the Dao.
Way-making [dao] gives things their life, and their particular
efficacy [de] is what nourishes them. Events shape them, and
having a function consummates them. It is for this reason that
all things honor way-making and esteem efficacy. As for the
honor directed at way-making and the esteemed directed at
efficacy, it is really something that just happens spontaneously
without having ennobled them. (ch. 51, p. 156)
It must be remembered that de is not overtly powerful but quietly so. In
fact, the highest efficacy may be invisible or involve the use of proxies.
Those who are good as students are not militant; those who are
good at waging war are not belligerent; those who are good at
vanquishing their enemies do not join issue; those who are
good at employing others place themselves beneath them. This
is what is called having noncontentious efficacy [de]. It is what
is called making use of others. It is what is called an axis that is
as old as the heavens. (Ch. 68, pp. 18485)
This communion allows one to be highly productive. Those with de
can be thought of as paragons of achieved excellence (p. 61). Their de is
both generated by their character and the recognition conferred by those
around them (p. 60). Thus, those with de are efficacious because they
manifest qualities of the Dao and produce outcomes that engender grati-
tude and appreciation, which further enables their accomplishments. In
this sense, de is a marker for the Dao in an individual. When one has de,
one is with the Dao. We cannot see the Dao, but we can note its manifes-
tation in an individual as de. De gives a particularity to the Dao and indi-
cates that an individual is walking the path of the Dao.
While this overview of Daoism provides mere glimpses of its princi-
ples, it seems fair to ask if Daoism is valuable for those who do not under-
stand or accept it as a worldview. I believe that Daoist principles are
important even without Daoist metaphysics. Daoism highlights the conti-
nuity or connection between all things. We are reminded that we are part
of something that is larger than ourselves. Furthermore, things have come
before us and things will continue after our bodies leave the earth. We are
interdependent creatures who are invited to find our identities in interac-
tion, pay attention to the small details, and consider the ease with which
Laozi and the Natural Way of Rhetoric 31
we go through life. We are encouraged to reject human conventions that
are inconsistent with the bigger picture, accept the inevitability of change,
and avoid the dangers of conquest.
The Dao also forces us to question, discern, and discover. While
there is a sense of destiny, it is not predetermined. We can deny our
nature and make choices that are inconsistent with the natural flow for us.
These observations provide a foundation for discussions of equality, envi-
ronmentalism, and social justice. The issues are global, yet also abound in
communities, organizations, and individual relationships.
The indetermi-
nacy of the future, possibility for choice, and stakes involved in our deci-
sions also create a vital space for rhetoric.
Laozis views on rhetoric entail a philosophy of language woven into his
views on the use of language. As was noted earlier, Laozis philosophy of
language recognizes the inability of words, which are finite and temporal,
to express what is infinite. The Dao includes all things, even those for
which there are no words yet, as well as things that have not come into
material existence. Any use of language to express the Dao would inher-
ently devalue its magnitude.
But were way-making [dao] to be put into words: It could be
said to be so bland and insipid that it has no taste. Look for it
and there is nothing to see, listen for it and there is nothing to
hear, and yet in availing oneself of it, it is inexhaustible. (ch.
35, p. 132)
Laozis statement that the Dao that be put into words is not the universal
Dao suggests that universal statements are impossible, thus a linguistic
claim is always particular and projects the rhetors unique standpoint at a
given time.
Laozis precepts for effective use of language begin with recognition
of its shortcomings. He points out that those who understand it do not
talk about it, and those who really talk about it do not understand it (ch.
56, p. 164). In fact, rare are those in the world who reach an understand-
ing of the benefits of teaching that go beyond what can be said, and of
doing things noncoercively (ch. 43, p. 145). Logically, communicators
must resign themselves to the conditionality of their discourse or find
modes of expression that do not rely on words.
A consistent theme of Laozi is that we should avoid contentiousness.
The Dao de jing ends with the line, the way of sages is to do without con-
tending (ch. 81, p. 204). Earlier, Laozi says it is only because there is no
contentiousness in proper way-making that it incurs no blame (ch. 8, p.
87). Oliver (1971) maintains that this theme is the singular rhetorical
The rhetorical contribution in the writings derived from Lao-
Tzu is their insight concerning the futility of argument and
contention, their recognition that nobody wins an argument,
that he who appears to win actually loses more than he gains.
(p. 235)
Oliver (1971) believes that Laozis focus on the singular Dao and the futil-
ity of overt uses of force recommends a strategy of identification of the
contesting viewpoints with a higher good so inclusive of complementary
ideas that their true unity becomes evident (p. 236).
While I agree with much of what Oliver observes, it will be shown
that Laozi suggests additional implications besides the futility of argu-
ment. Furthermore, the notion of transcending and identifying with the
universal glosses over some of the nuances of interaction. If I say, the big
fish eat the little fish, someone can counter with piranhas eat bigger
fish. Yet this retort does not actually invalidate the original claim as much
as it reduces its generalizability. It can be the case sometimes, even most of
the time, that big fish eat little fish, but it can also be true that there are
exceptions, such as in the case of piranha. The second claim is thus addi-
tional information and not complete contradiction. The second claim
reveals the general, but nonuniversal, nature of the initial claim and/or
the unique vantage point of the person who utters the comment (and may
not know about piranha). One could argue that the move to see the two
claims as noncompetitive is an act of transcendence, but even then the
move does not rely on identification with a higher good. Both statements,
like all discourse, remain particularized and do not require reconciliation
through transcendence.
One cannot universalize particulars; hence claims that appear com-
petitive are not because they represent discrete statements of localized
actors at a given point in time. A strategic response might be transcen-
dence, but it is also viable to remain silent or reframe the seemingly dis-
puted claims. Thus Laozi not only points out the futility of arguing
because of the universality of reality, but also because of the particularity
of perception and limitations of language. He suggests further that a
Laozi and the Natural Way of Rhetoric 33
strategy for avoiding contention is to see the conditional or localized
nature of certain claims. Recognizing their limitations allows one to avoid
the need to contest them.
Laozi warns not only against arguing, but also excessive verbiage or
ornamentation. He sees verbosity as unnatural: It is natural to speak only
rarely. Violent winds do not last a whole morning and torrential rains do
not last a whole day (ch. 23, p. 111). Furthermore, those who are with the
Dao realize that their words are simply attempts to express the Dao. They
are part of the Dao, but are not the Dao itself. Words are markers of
meaning and not significant in themselves. Laozi suggests that able travel-
ers leave no ruts or tracks along the way; Able speakers make no gaffes
that might occasion reproach (ch. 27, p. 119). Communicators must not
draw too much attention to their words but must focus on the Dao. This
also suggests another approach for noncontentionavoiding mistakes,
perhaps over claims, thereby preempting further argument.
Because knowledge is an attunement with the natural workings of
the world, it is largely apprehended through the ongoing assessment of
the world itself. Words have very limited utility in this scheme, and a
reliance on words may indicate a lack of true insight. Words can also be
used to obscure the Dao and champion undesirable qualities.
Those who are not self-promoting are distinguished, those who
do not show off shine, those who do not brag have lots to show,
those who are not self-important are enduring. It is only
because they do not contend that none are able to contend
with them. (ch. 22, p. 110)
Hence, credible words are not eloquent; Eloquent words are not credi-
ble (p. 203).
Laozi recognizes the inadequacies of language and the nonproductivity of
argumentation, yet uses words to espouse a philosophy in opposition to
Confucianism in the Dao de jing. Notice that he does not advocate silence,
nor is he opposed to the use of language. His advice to communicators is
to speak naturally, that is, rarely and plainly. Furthermore, words must be
chosen very carefully. Communicators must focus on the Dao, and cycle
their linguistic choices through a lens that sees the particular and its con-
nection to or inclusion in the universal.
Scholars have analyzed the ways that Laozi operationalizes his philos-
ophy in his own use of rhetoric (Xiao, 2002; Chen & Holt, 2002). Consid-
ering Laozis rhetoric from these vantage points reveals the consistency of
his philosophy and rhetoric and the potential for additional insights about
Xiao (2002) notes that Laozi uses three methods to communicate
the Dao: negation, paradox, and analogy. Negation is a way of describing
the Dao by what it is not: as for this oneits surface is not dazzling nor
is its underside dark (ch. 14, Ames & Hall, 2003, p. 96). Since attributing
positive qualities to something indicates also what it is not, Laozi avoids
limiting the infinite Dao, by stating negatively what the Dao is not.
The second rhetorical strategy Xiao identifies is paradox. Laozi is
fond of using the seemingly contradictory to indicate that the Dao is nei-
ther one thing nor its opposite, but both simultaneously: The bright Way
looks dim. The progressive Way looks retrograde. The smooth Way looks
rugged. . . . Great sound is silent. Great Form is shapeless (ch. 41, Wu,
1989, p. 85). Paradox can also teach us how to conduct ourselves: Bend
and you will be whole. Curl and you will be straight. Keep empty and you
will be filled. Grow old and you will be renewed (ch. 22, p. 45). Paradox
functions rhetorically by forcing the audience to confront inconsistency
that is posed as consistent. The incongruity is meant to be uncomfortable,
spurring insight by challenging habitual assumptions. Furthermore,
Laozis methods are not discrete. For example, he combines negation with
paradox to invite new ways of thinking about the Dao: following behind
you will not see its rear; Encountering it you will not see its head (ch. 14,
Ames & Hall, 2003, p. 96).
Xiao argues that negation and paradox are destructive or negative
ways of communicating, and notes a final and positive method Laozi uses:
analogy and metaphor. Analogies and metaphors allow rhetors to move
beyond the limitations of language because their meaning is not literal
but is informed by context. Chen and Holt (2002) examine Laozis use of
the water metaphor in order to make its metaphysical principles mean-
ingful at the social and behavioral levels. Specifically, they demonstrate
ways that Laozi employs the water metaphor as a persuasive tool in Dao
De Jing for the purpose of reforming social life (p. 154). Water becomes
a proof of the value of vacuity, softness/weakness, and subordination/
To these insights I add an additional positive rhetorical method that
Laozi employs: the use of vague expressions to refer to the Dao. Words
such as indeterminate, empty, and bottomless, indicate what the Dao
is, but they do little to limit its vastness: Way-making [Dao] being empty,
Laozi and the Natural Way of Rhetoric 35
you make use of it but do not fill it up. So abysmally deepit seems the
predecessor of everything that is happening (ch. 4, Ames & Hall, 2003, p.
83). By using vague referents to positively describe the Dao, Laozi main-
tains an ambiguity that does not detract from the infinity of the negative.
This analysis of the Dao de jing suggests a number of implications for
rhetoric. First, it specifies the substance of Daoist rhetoric by outlining
basic Daoist principles. Second, it notes Laozis strategic approach, to
speak naturally, and indicates that the natural style is brief and plain.
Third, examinations of the rhetoric of Laozi reveal his use of four meth-
ods for communicating Daoism: negation and paradox (negative meth-
ods), as well as analogy/metaphor and vague expressions (positive).
Finally, the analysis suggests that Laozis rhetoric is consistent with his phi-
losophy. His rhetoric is conditioned by the limitations of language and the
ineffability of the Dao. Yet he uses a strategy and methods that are consis-
tent with his natural way of communication.
Zhuangzi and the Rhetoric
of Evocation
Zhuangzi stands with Laozi as the best known ancient Daoist philosophers.
His germinal work, Zhuangzi, has been lauded as a literary masterpiece
and philosophical classic (Schwartz, 1985; Graham, 1989). Creel (1970)
proclaims Zhuangzi the finest philosophical work known to me, in any
language (p. 55). Despite Zhuangzis literary and philosophical signifi-
cance, it has received little attention from rhetorical scholars.
Lu (1998) offers a notable exception to the scant treatment of
Zhuangzis rhetoric. She identifies six elements that characterize his rheto-
ric: (1) three models of speech; (2) paradoxical and oxymoronic sayings;
(3) fables or parables; (4) pseudodialogues; (5) reconstructed anecdotes;
and (6) glorification of the ugly and handicapped. The three models of
speech are imputed words, repeated words, and goblet words.
Imputed words were those put into the mouths of individuals
who were not followers of Zhuangzi. By using this strategy,
Zhuangzi could freely express himself through other persons.
Repeated words were those spoken by respected and estab-
lished elders, primarily Confucius and Laozi. This strategy
appealed to the Chinese cultural tendency to value the elders
and, in the process, also added to the credibility and persuasive
effect of Zhuangzis ideas. Goblet words were those used to
present all sides of an issue, giving equal treatment to different
schools of thoughts. (Lu, 1998, p. 251)
These language strategies, as well as other rhetorical elements, are fre-
quenly presented by Zhuangzi in the form of fables and parables.
This examination of the Zhuangzi is centered on a parable contained
in the fifth of the seven Inner Chapters, supplemented by other key pas-
sages from the Inner Chapters. The parable is particularly interesting
because it encapsulates the major ideas in the text. Furthermore, it exem-
plifies several of Zhuangzis rhetorical methods. Besides being a parable,
the story uses imputed words, repeated words, pseudodialogue between
Duke Ai and Confucius, paradox, and glorification of the ugly.
The analysis deepens our understanding of key elements of
Zhuangzis rhetoric delineated by Lu (1998). It demonstrates further that,
given the constraints of Daoism, Zhuangzi was a remarkably adept rhetori-
cian and his use of rhetoric provides valuable insights on rhetorical theory
and its relationship to Asian culture. I conclude that the defining charac-
teristic of Zhuangzis rhetorical strategy is evocativenessthe use of rheto-
ric designed to induce others to join in a communication interaction and
engage in self-persuasion.
The central action of the parable is found in a monologue delivered by
Duke Ai of Lu within a dialogue with Confucius. Duke Ai is recounting his
experiences with an unusual man:
In Wei there was an ugly man named Ai Tai-to. But when men
were around him, they thought only of him and couldnt break
away, and when women saw him, they ran begging to their
fathers and mothers, saying Id rather be this gentlemans con-
cubine than another mans wife!there were more than ten
such cases and it hasnt stopped yet. No one ever heard him
take the leadhe always just chimed in with other people. He
wasnt in the position of a ruler where he could save mens
lives, and he had no store of provisions to fill mens bellies. On
top of that, he was ugly enough to astound the world, chimed
in but never led, and knew no more than what went on right
around him. And yet men and women flocked to him. He cer-
tainly must be different from other men, I thought, and I sum-
moned him so I could have a look. Just as they saidhe was
ugly enough to astound the world. But he hadnt been with me
more than a month or so when I began to realize what kind of
man he was, and before the year was out, I really trusted him.
There was no one in the state to act as chief minister, and I
wanted to hand the government over to him. He was vague
about giving an answer, evasive, as though he hoped to be let
off, and I was embarrassed, but in the end I turned the state
over to him. Then, before I knew it, he left me and went away. I
felt completely crushed, as though Id suffered a loss and
didnt have anyone left to enjoy my state with. What kind of
man is he anyway? (ch. 6, Watson, 1964, p. 76)
In one sense this is a simple story. A common man, who follows the crowd,
has no extraordinary wealth, and is ugly, is nonetheless adored and
respected. The moral appears to be that beauty is only skin deep,
beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or one cannot judge a book by its
cover. These interpretations are appropriate, but they stop short of other
possible interpretations that may be more revealing.
On further reflection, the simplicity of the story masks its oddities.
Given what seemingly little the man had to offer to others, it is difficult to
understand why he is adored by all. Both the situation and the extent of
his ugliness, the exaggeration, are striking. The man is ugly enough to
astound the world yet women would rather be his concubine than be
married to someone else.
Duke Ai is around him for a month and then comes to realize what
kind of man he was. But we are never told what kind of man he is. What
does the Duke see? Apparently, he sees something good, because he
forces the control of government onto the unusual man. Again, one is
struck with the question why? The man chimed in but never led, and
knew no more than what went on right around him. What qualifies him
to lead a government? Finally, the man leaves and goes away. Why would
the man do this? Where did he go? No motive is discussed. And why is the
Duke left with the sense of being completely crushed, as though Id suf-
fered a loss and didnt have anyone left to enjoy my state with. The mans
initial reluctance to take the job should have tempered any illusions the
Duke might foster about the mans commitment to the position. The story
does not say, and one is left with the explicit question What kind of man
is he anyway? This is certainly a strange tale. All told, there are at least
three notable features of the story: the mans incredible ugliness, his unas-
sumingness, and his ambivalence about government office. Given these
three features, it is also interesting to consider the strange attachments
other people have for him.
Further contemplation of the parable evokes at least three additional
interpretations: the man personifies the Dao, exemplifying appropriate
Zhuangzi and the Rhetoric of Evocation 39
conduct for individuals; the story is a survival manual for peasants during
the Warring States period; and, the narrative suggests and enacts principles
for effective communication from a Daoist perspective. The richness of
these interpretations in themselves is evidence of the evocative nature of
Zhuangzis parable. I shall consider each of these interpretations in turn
before discussing their implications for rhetoric and culture.
An interpretation of the story, based on its philosophical context, is that
the man personifies the elusive qualities of the Dao, exemplifying the
ideal person or True Man. By making a metaphorical connection between
a common man and the divine Dao, Zhuangzi helps his audience to find
the Dao in their own lives. The unusual man can be seen as the enactment
of the Dao when one considers his looks, unassumingness, and effortless-
ness. These qualities demonstrate that the man epitomizes the Dao by
manifesting its fundamental and essential elements.
Recall that the man was ugly enough to astound the world (a line
which is repeated twice), yet people flocked to him and women threw
themselves at his feet, begging their parents to allow them to be his con-
cubines. Obviously, people were attracted to the man because they saw
something in addition to, or instead of, his physical appearance. What
they saw in him was the Dao.
Because the Dao is the unification of all things, Daoists are loath to
make distinctions in or particularize about the natural world. By making
distinctionsperceiving something as good or bad, or defining a person
by particular characteristicsone violates the very essence of the Dao.
Whether you point to a little stalk or a great pillar, a leper or the beauti-
ful Hsi-shih, things ribald and shady or things grotesque and strange, the
Way makes them all into one (ch. 2, Watson, 1964, p. 36). For Zhuangzi,
posing alternatives and attempting to label things as right or wrong is the
fundamental error in life (Graham, 1989, p. 186). Consequently, the sage
must approach the Dao in the way of the Dao. One must integrate the
powers of mind, body, and spirit in order to see the underlying unity and
creativity in all things (Blofeld, 1985).
Usually, standards that preference particular physical features assess
what is judged to be beautiful. Zhuangzi would focus on the universal Dao
and not in a particular combination of superficial features:
Men claim that Mao-chiang and Lady Li were beautiful, but if
fish saw them they would dive to the bottom of the stream, if
birds saw them they would fly away, and if deer saw them they
would break into a run. Of these four, which knows how to fix
the standard of beauty for the world? (ch. 2, Watson, 1964,
p. 41)
By making distinctions between things one loses the essence of the Dao. If
one judges the man to be ugly then one is committing a fundamental
error and indicating a profound alienation from the Dao. The fact that
the man does not acknowledge his physicality, let alone define himself by
his looks, shows that the man is whole. He personifies the Dao by avoiding
distinctions and being unified. While others perceive his particular char-
acteristics, they ultimately discover his de, further testifying to the mans
sagacity. Like the Dao, he can appear ugly or beautiful. Ultimately, he is
neither, because the Dao resides in him and makes him one.
The demeanor of the man is also an indication of his perfection. He
is unpretentious, offers no opinions, and displays no obvious talents.
These are the fundamental qualities Zhuangzi perceives in the True Man,
Perfect Man, or Great Man:
This was the True Man of old: his bearing was lofty and did not
crumble; he appeared to lack but accepted nothing; he was dig-
nified in his correctness but not insistent; he was vast in his
emptiness but not ostentatious. Mild and cheerful, he seemed
to be happy; reluctant, he could not help doing certain things;
annoyed, he let it show in his face; relaxed, he rested in his
virtue. Tolerant, he seemed to be part of the world; towering
alone, he could be checked by nothing; withdrawn, he seemed
to prefer to cut himself off; bemused, he forgot what he was
going to say. (ch. 6, Watson, 1964, p. 75)
The man moves effortlessly and makes no judgments. His de is apparent
and the man exemplifies the fundamental Daoist notion of wu-wei.
Lu (1998) describes wu-wei as the natural, spontaneous movement
that harmonizes everything. Thus, to live by the Tao is to function like
the Tao, to conform with that marvelously effortless way of getting all
things done, and to produce what is of use to others as the Tao produces
beneficial rains and dews with never a thought of praise or thanks, still less
reward (Blofeld, 1985, p. 44). In other words, one must release oneself
from an effortful life by engaging in the activities which are actionless
(Parrinder, 1983, p. 333). The man is the Dao because his demeanor dis-
plays the characteristics of virtuelimpidity, silence, emptiness, and inac-
tion (Lu, 1998, p. 243).
Zhuangzi and the Rhetoric of Evocation 41
The man recognizes what is fated or destined to be. He has been
given a deformity or imperfection of features, something over which he
has no control. The challenge for the man is to transcend his material self
and unify his total self, thus discovering the Dao: To know what you cant
do anything about, and to be content with it as you would with fateonly
a man of virtue can do that (ch. 5, Watson, 1964, p. 66). Concentrating
on certain aspects of persons is unnatural, since it renounces their fates.
Zhuangzi believed that the simplest things, including toads, insects,
snakes, and birds, can give insight because they live in nature (Lu, 1998).
Furthermore, the seemingly humblest person can serve as an example of
the divine. Great wisdom recognizes small without considering it paltry
(ch. 17, Watson, 1964, p. 98). Thus, Zhuangzi chooses as the hero of this
story a person who most people would consider insignificant. Yet, the man
is a unified spirit who moves effortlessly. He not only shows us the way by
example, he metaphorically is the way. Confuciuss prologue to the para-
ble explains that:
Now Ai Tai-to says nothing and is trusted, accomplishes noth-
ing and is loved, so that people want to turn over their states to
him and are only afraid he wont accept. It must be that his
powers are whole, though his virtue takes no form. (ch. 5,
Watson, 1964, pp. 6970)
This analysis indicates that the unusual man can be viewed as a
metaphor for and personification of the Dao. Despite the temptation to
judge people and things by their superficial features, perceptions regard-
ing ones appearance are antithetical to the Dao. The mans apparent
ugliness is thus a vehicle for perfection (Wu, 1982, p. 56). If a man of
extremely bad looks is capable of transcending his physicality then he
must surely be a True Man. He accepts what he cannot change and sees
no distinctions that would make him ugly. Hence, it is because of the
extreme nature of his gross features that he stands as proof of his own
sagacity. Having recognized the mingling of opposites and transcended
the material, the unusual man is evidently a personification of the Dao.
We learn that by avoiding distinctions, living easily, and being true to
nature and fate we may live with the Way. Further, we learn that our out-
ward appearance and the circumstances of the material world are unim-
portant. The sage recognizes that such matters are the concerns of the
The story also illustrates that the personification of abstract ideals
can be an important rhetorical strategy. Zhuangzi attempts to make the
Dao accessible to his audience by using a persona, the unusual man, to
concretize abstract, philosophical concepts. In the same way that Jesus
exemplifies goodness to Christians, and Socrates personifies the ideal
philosopher for Plato, the unusual man walks in the everyday world and
attempts to discover ultimate and profound meaning. Unlike Jesus and
Plato, Zhuangzis man does not discuss any of his ideas. In fact, he appears
devoid of original or profound thought. Instead, the man exhibits ideal
behavior, indicating the Dao need not be directly communicated. Rather,
one may infer the presence of the Dao through outward demeanor.
The historical, political context that dominated classical Chinese thought
also enlivens an account of the story of the unusual man and the bulk of
Zhuangzi. Analysis of this context and the text of Zhuangzi reveal that
Zhuangzi goes beyond Laozis advice for rulers and offers the common
peasant a manual for practical living during an incredibly dangerous
period in Chinese history. This advice also suggests principles for appro-
priate ways to communicate.
Hsu (1965) observes that the peasant in classical China was, on the
whole, a man of few rights, few opportunities, and few pleasures. He is
almost at the bottom of the social scale (p. 11). The effect of warfare on
the peasant class was significant, as war meant conscription and front-line
fighting or being killed as a deserter. Despite new opportunities for many
people as states were conquered, ancient China remained a place of wide-
spread illiteracy, official corruption, and cruelty.
Zhuangzi responded to the brutality of the Warring States period
with a message for all of humanity, particularly the peasant class, on how
to live harmoniously and in acceptance of ones lot in life. His goal is to
help all people become wise in the Dao, or True Men. The story of the
unusual man suggests that a sage goes along with the crowd, does not ven-
ture an opinion, and possesses nothing that may be deemed valuable by
others. Zhuangzi tells us to follow the middle; go by what is constant, and
you can stay in one piece, keep yourself alive, look after your parents, and
live out your years (ch. 3, Watson, 1964, p. 46). Zhuangzi also admon-
ishes us not to bring attention to ourselves, for it may be hazardous to
ones health:
Dont you know about the praying mantis that waved its arms
angrily in front of an approaching carriage, unaware that they
were incapable of stopping it? Such was the high opinion it had
of its talents. Be careful, be on your guard! If you offend him
Zhuangzi and the Rhetoric of Evocation 43
by parading your store of talents, you will be in danger! (ch. 4,
p. 59)
Notice also that when the Duke offered to make him the prime min-
ister the man did not accept. He was vague about giving an answer, but
in the end the state was turned over to him. After a short time, unexpect-
edly, he left me and went away. Given the political situation, it is not sur-
prising that we are warned to avoid working for a lord. Another chapter of
Zhuangzi tells of a time that Zhuangzi was offered a prime ministership:
Once, when Chuang Tzu was fishing in the Pu River, the king
of Chu sent two officials to go and announce to him: I would
like to trouble you with the administration of my realm.
Chuang Tzu held on to the fishing pole and, without
turning his head, said, I have heard that there is a sacred tor-
toise in Chu that has been dead for three thousand years. The
king keeps it wrapped in cloth and boxed, and stores it in the
ancestral temple. Now would this tortoise rather be dead and
have its bones left behind and honored? Or would it rather be
alive and dragging its tail in the mud?
It would rather be alive and dragging its tail in the mud,
said the two officials.
Chuang Tzu said, Go away! Ill drag my tail in the mud!
(ch. 17, p. 109)
When states were vanquished, members of the ruling family, leading citi-
zens, and military officers of a defeated state lost all social status. Hsu
(1965) notes, large numbers of people were forced to undergo this
humiliation (p. 77). Zhuangzi tells us that the prestige of office is short-
lived and hardly worth the nearly inevitable consequences.
Despite his lack of interest in government office, the unusual man
cannot resist when the Duke presses the office onto him. This is because
one must not attempt to control things or go beyond what one can
know. Instead, resign yourself to what cannot be avoided and nourish
what is within youthis is best (ch. 4, Watson, 1964, pp. 5758). The man
could no longer avoid the Duke and resigned himself to the imposition of
office. Of course, before anyone realized what was happening, the man
went away, leaving without confronting the Duke. Presumably the man
knew that his destiny lie elsewhere and quietly moved on.
A key idea that is embedded in the story is that one should avoid
communicating uncomfortable ideas. The man did not want the minister-
ship, yet he did not refuse it directly. When he left he did so without con-
fronting anyone with his decision because leaving would make many
people unhappy. The message to communicators is clear: do not use
words to draw attention to yourself. Avoid confrontation and conflict,
especially when one might be called upon to provide information that
would be viewed negatively. Never take the lead in a conversation; just
pleasantly chime in with everyone else.
A final strategy for coping with difficulties is to transcend them,
focusing only on our internal states and avoiding what goes on outside of
us. Zhuangzi is a mystic who advocates the use of introspection to reach
elevated states of awareness that allow one to transcend the everyday world
and align with the eternal, universal one. Being at one with the Dao frees
one from physical limitations and otherwise daunting circumstances and
allows one to enjoy longevity, perhaps even immortality (Thompson,
1989). Notice that the man in the story is unconcerned about anything
that went on around him because if you abandon the affairs of the world,
your body will be without toil (Ch. 19, Watson, 1964, p. 118). By living
easily and focusing on our inner strength we may live with the Dao. Our
ability to harmonize all gives us endless joy, regardless of our physical cir-
cumstances. This message must have been heartening to many of the
common people of China who led a miserable material existence.
The story of the unusual man advises peasants that long life is possi-
ble if one communicates in such a way as to blend in with the crowd, stay
out of the spotlight, and avoid conflict. Maintaining a focus on our inter-
nal states, avoiding what goes on outside of us, and being satisfied with
what fate has destined is a prescription for a satisfying life. By knowing the
Dao no human can harm us.
A final interpretation of the story, based on its rhetorical context, is that it
illustrates a Daoist view of appropriate ways to communicate persuasively.
Analyzing the communication principles at work in the Zhuangzi should
help scholars not only understand Zhuangzis theory of rhetoric but also
judge his use of rhetoric and ability to enact his own principles.
Communicating an idea in a manner that is consistent with Daoism
can be difficult given Daoist views on language and persuasion. Zhuangzi
agrees with his predecessor, Laozi, that language cannot fully express the
Dao, saying, if the Way is made clear, it is not the Way (ch. 2, Watson,
1964, p. 40). Hence, language must be thought of as a crude tool that
cannot literally represent meanings. Zhuangzi illustrates this by showing
words may capture meanings but they are not the things they represent.
Zhuangzi and the Rhetoric of Evocation 45
The fish trap exists because of the fish; once youve gotten the
fish, you can forget the trap. The rabbit snare exists because of
the rabbit; once youve gotten the rabbit, you can forget the
snare. Words exist because of meaning; once youve gotten the
meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find a man
who has forgotten words so I can have a word with him? (ch.
26, p. 140)
Language does not represent reality. At best, it can be a figurative spur
that goes beyond language and promotes deeper mental communion (Lu,
1998). Zhuangzi illustrates his preference for avoiding words by describ-
ing conversations that seem to end prematurely, either in silence or agree-
ment, because everyone understands:
Master Sang-hu, Meng-tzu Fan, and Master Chin-chang, three
friends, said to each other, Who can join with others without
joining with others? Who can do with others without doing
with others? Who can climb up to heaven and wander in the
mists, roam the infinite, and forget life forever and forever?
The three men looked at each other and smiled. There was no
disagreement in their hearts and so they became friends. (ch.
6, Watson, 1964, p. 82)
Notice in the parable the Duke says of the unusual man that he began to
realize what kind of man he was, yet we are never told what it is that he
sees. I suggest that the Duke implicitly acknowledges a limitation of lan-
guage. Recall also that the man says nothing of consequence, indicating
that his union with the Dao may be unrelated to his ability to verbalize.
Besides the fact that language is unable to fully represent reality,
Zhuangzi maintains that words create distinctions that can prevent attain-
ment of the Dao. For Laozi, to the extent that language classifies and
dichotomizes reality, it interferes with the natural order of things, or the
dao (Lu, 1998, p. 235). Zhuangzi took the problem of classification even
further. He believed that the use of language created distinctions and
value judgments that clouded peoples minds, preventing them from
seeing the unity, or Dao, of the universe. In other words, language, to the
extent it functions as a dichotomizing element, is an obstacle to truth and
knowledge (p. 244). Furthermore, the abuse of symbols led to the for-
mation of a hierarchical society, caused greed and fear to flourish, and
encouraged people to engage in endless disputations over truth and false-
hood (pp. 23839). Thus, words were not only lacking, but also caused a
number of problems in classical China.
A final constraint on language and rhetoric stems from Daoist prin-
ciples that valorize effortlessness (wu-wei) and nondistinction. Zhuangzi
muses that if there were a true perspective, which is impossible, it would
be so obvious that it would not require rhetoric:
If right were really right, it would differ so clearly from not
right that there would be no need for argument. If so were
really so, it would differ so clearly from not so that there would
be no need for argument. Forget the years; forget distinctions.
Leap into the boundless and make it your home. (ch. 2,
Watson, 1964, p. 44)
Given Zhuangzis loathing of distinction, right and wrong, and interfer-
ence with others, it is difficult to conceive how anyone could formulate
even an intention to persuade, let alone engage in persuasion, and remain
true to the nondirective wanderings of Daoism.
The claim that Daoism is antagonistic to rhetoric overgeneralizes
certain textual statements and fails to fully account for the philosophical
and cultural context in which the literature was written (Lu, 1998). Con-
trary to the positions taken by Jensen (1987) and Oliver (1971), Laozi did
not condemn speech and argumentation out of hand, but only in those
instances where they failed to conform to the virtues of nonaction, spon-
taneity, and noncontention (Lu, 1998, p. 234). Similarly, Zhuangzi points
out limitations of speech without rejecting it entirely. Of course, certain
speaking practices are highly correlated with ineffectiveness. For example,
flowery, and hollow expressions impose too much artificiality upon the
natural process (p. 234). But none of this analysis suggests the abandon-
ment of speech, merely the need for appropriate language and speaking
techniques, given their limitations.
While language can be used detrimentally, the Dao of language
would imply that it is both good/bad because it is part of the unity of all
things. The fact that Laozi and Zhuangzi use language to expound their
views demonstrates that their admonitions about language are not meant
to be taken as absolute indictments. Appropriate language use can be
enabling by illuminating the Dao, enhancing its accessibility to potential
adherents. Given the utility and limitations of language, one must use it
in a limited way, and rely on ones thoughts for more profound and
subtle exploration (p. 245).
Similarly, one can use rhetorical strategies that are consistent with
wu-wei. Wu-wei suggests that one must avoid doing anything that is effort-
ful, meaning unnatural, including striving to persuade others of a particu-
lar point of view. Wu-wei, however, does not necessarily prevent one from
Zhuangzi and the Rhetoric of Evocation 47
influencing others. The Dao of action implies that one may engage in per-
suasion if it is effortless and encompassing of all views.
The rhetorical challenges for Zhuangzi, and all Daoists, are to over-
come the inherent problems of language use and speaking technique,
communicate a philosophy that is based on the ineffable, and teach with-
out striving to uphold a particular point of view. Zhuangzis answer to
these challenges is to use imaginative rhetorical forms, such as parables, to
evoke contemplation about a universal point of view. It will be shown that
these forms can be consistent with Daoist admonitions against language,
striving, and particularizing. Zhuangzis parables place minimal reliance
on language, they are effortless because they flow naturally from
Zhuangzis fated role as a teacher and place the persuasive onus on the
audience, and they are universal, rather than particular, because they
make the Dao central to the message.
The story of the unusual man demonstrates Zhuangzis belief that
forms, or outward appearances, must be consonant with or harmonized
within the oneness of reality. This generalization also holds true about
rhetoric in particular. Daoist admonitions against inappropriate rhetorical
approaches such as disputation, ornate language, and vociferous delivery
do so because these rhetorical forms can be difficult to harmonize with
the Dao. More inherently harmonious rhetorical forms, on the other
hand, are exemplified in the story of the unusual man. This story is a para-
ble, and parables are an appropriate form for Daoist rhetoric because they
are brief stories that use odd comparisons to promote images that are oth-
erwise difficult to explain. In so doing, they invite the audience to engage
in self-persuasion.
Parables are short, concrete narratives that stem from the oral tradi-
tion (Crossan, 1980; Lambrecht, 1981; Scott, 1989; Tolbert, 1979). They
display a sharp economy in the presentation of characters/agents and
plot (Tolbert, 1979, p. 17). They appear scrubbed clean, with few if any
useless details (Scott, 1989, p. 36). Crossan (1980) adds, it may well be
the very brevity of the narrative that first impels us to look elsewhere for
its fullest meaning (pp. 45). Hence, brevity is a central feature of an
effective parable.
Parables are said to compare the usual and the unusual (Lambrecht,
1981), juxtapose the familiar with the unfamiliar (TeSelle, 1975), or frame
the ordinary within the extraordinary (Tolbert, 1979). Common to all of
these views is the sense that the configuration of the story places the
known with the unknown. This juxtaposition tends to radicalize the com-
parison, provoking the hearer to reconcile what seems odd, shocking the
hearer into potentially new insights (Lambrecht, 1981). The realistic ele-
ment of parables also shocks the imagination by conveying the idea that
important things happen and are decided at the everyday level (TeSelle,
1975, p. 76).
By making comparisons, parables function metaphorically, providing
the hearer with many possible choices or interpretations (Kirkwood, 1985;
Scott, 1989; Tolbert, 1979). The juxtaposed elements in parables encour-
age the listener to confront the disparate elements in the story. A further
confrontation exists because parables challenge us to act. A parable exem-
plifies a particular way of behaving or state of mind (Kirkwood, 1985).
The audience applies the spur to itself because, while the parable provides
an obvious choice for conduct, enacting the choice is challenging.
Because parables are metaphoric they can illustrate ideas that defy
rational explanation through language. In the same way that scientists use
models to illustrate what cannot be fully described, poets and philoso-
phers have long relied on metaphors to invoke images that would perhaps
otherwise escape linguistic description. Because parables invite us to see
the familiar in a new way they invite spiritual insight. TeSelle (1975)
contends, meaning and truth for human beings are embodied, hence
embodied language, metaphorical language, is the most appropriate way
perhaps the only wayto suggest this meaning and truth (p. 15).
Parables also speak to the whole person. TeSelle (1975) notes,
metaphorical language, as the language of a body that thinks, knows no
subjective-objective split (p. 33). A fitting parable works because hearers
begin to understand (not just with their heads) that another way of
believing and livinganother context or frame for their livesmight be a
possibility for them (p. 79). If a parable appears ordinary but defies easy
interpretation because of its oddities, then it can move an audience to
wrestle with its potential implications. When this happens the parable ini-
tiates a process in which the entire person, with his [sic] understanding
and power of decision, is involved (Lambrecht, 1981, p. 5). Lambrecht
adds, once I have heard and understood a parable, I am no longer the
same person as before. I am affected at the core of my being, at the center
of my decision-making (pp. 45).
Effective parables creatively use incongruity to motivate audiences to
move beyond the limitations of language and into the realm of spirit.
They speak to the total person, evoking a holistic response. Employing
parables would, therefore, appear to be an exemplary rhetorical strategy
for a Daoist. Lu (1998) notes Zhuangzis strategy was to shock his readers
into self-realization of their own bondage, simultaneously gaining insights
through the use of satire, humor, paradoxical anecdotes, and dazzling
descriptions of mythical and magical figures (p. 240). Our wondering
about the oddities, absurdities, and contradictions is the sort of response
that results from Zhuangzis rhetoric.
Zhuangzi and the Rhetoric of Evocation 49
Zhuangzis story of the unusual man is a prototypical parable: it is a
brief, yet complete story; it presents ugliness as beauty, defying ordinary
social conventions; it idealizes certain behavior stemming from a spiritual
perspective; and it provides analogical referents that evoke a holistic audi-
ence response. The parable is also appropriate for a Daoist message: the
Dao is central to the message; its metaphoricity is unaffected by the limita-
tions of language; it promotes a holistic audience response rather than
one that dichotomizes the world and self; and, it is effortless from the
standpoint of the rhetor because it is the audience that must struggle with
determining its meaning and implications. Thus, Zhuangzi avoids advocat-
ing a particular point of view and engages audiences in a process of self-
Chuang Tzus style beckons us to complete in our own lives
what he initiated. It is as though Chuang Tzu begins an inter-
esting story, with conflicting but persuasive ingredients thrown
in and even an unbelievable plot laid out, and then suddenly
chops it off. The intrigued reader is left on his own to com-
plete the story in his own life. (Wu, 1982, p. 16)
Hence, Zhuangzi provides us with a story that never endsa vehicle with
no destination. As such, it is itself a metaphor for the eternal Dao.
Zhuangzi thereby enacts a rhetorical strategy that is consonant with his
view of Daoism.
The story of the ugly man could be a simple expression of the theme
beauty is only skin deep. The suggestion throughout, however, is that
there are three fruitful additional interpretations that correspond respec-
tively to philosophical, historical, and rhetorical contexts. The parable
could be about how to live with the Dao, how to survive difficult times, or
how to communicate the ineffable. More likely, it is about all of that and
not all of that.
Considering the text in its philosophical context shows it to be an
account of the groundings and major attenuations of Daoist thought.
Using the rhetorical tactic of personification, Zhuangzi introduces his
readers to the essential unity of the Dao, the errors of drawing distinction
or passing judgments, the concept of wu-wei, and the natural way of
things. Furthermore, by exemplifying a philosophically ideal human,
Zhuangzi demonstrates the essential nature of Daoism. The audience is
given a role model with whom they may identify, suggesting how to walk
the walk.
Looking at the story of the unusual man in its historical context
reveals a pragmatic treatise written, during the Warring States period in
China, to help ordinary people respond to difficult times. When viewed in
this context, Zhuangzi gives sound advice on rhetoric and life in general.
Unlike Western views that may extol the conspicuous display of virtues
such as bravery and prosperity, Zhuangzi tells people to be inconspicuous,
unworldly, and without talent, possessions, or anything of apparent value
to others. His advice, to be content to be unattractive to others in every
way, offers a strategy for survival and a principle for appropriate communi-
cation: do not communicate in a way that draws attention to oneself.
Analysis of the rhetorical context indicates how a communicator
might approach persuasion given the constraints of Daoist philosophy. It
suggests how to talk the talk. In this sense, Zhuangzi is remarkable
because it offers a fitting response to a difficult rhetorical problem. Daoists
need to contend with the limitations and distinctions inherent in symbol
use, while still communicating effortlessly. Zhuangzi uses evocative rhetori-
cal forms to induce the audience to go beyond literal meanings of lan-
guage and put the message together themselves. In so doing, he enacts a
message that is consistent with his philosophy. Zhuangzis rhetoric, unlike
classical Western rhetoric, minimizes conflict, avoids the need for external
proof, and recognizes the importance of harmonious relationships.
Examining the text from the vantage point of the three perspectives
collectivelyphilosophical, historical, and rhetoricaldemonstrates that it
is a highly evocative work, capable of inducing the audience to engage in
challenging mental forays. In fact, considering the previous analysis, the
defining characteristic of Zhuangzis rhetoric is his use of evocation to per-
suade. It has been suggested that the evocativeness of ones rhetoric can be
an important test of its significance (Combs, 1995). Zhuangzis evocation,
along with his use of forms such as parables, is a valuable contribution to
rhetoric that may prove no less remarkable than Aristotles enthymeme
or Burkes identification. All three concepts advocate the use of language
to induce audiences to engage in a process where they participate in their
persuasion. All three demonstrate the incredible insight of their propo-
nents in understanding the human mind, given the general state of knowl-
edge in their cultures. Evocativeness differs from these concepts, and adds
a vital element to Western rhetorical theory, because of the relatively low
level of immersion of the rhetor in the persuasive process and the way audi-
ences are induced to elaborate on messages.
Zhuangzi also provides a case study in the power of rhetoric to
respond to difficult situations. His advice to the common people of
Zhuangzi and the Rhetoric of Evocation 51
Warring States China demonstrates the pragmatic value of rhetoric in dif-
ferent and challenging contexts. Zhuangzi indicates Daoisms viability as a
pragmatic situational response at the same time that it espouses a univer-
sal and enduring perspective. Daoism per se, like Daoist rhetoric, can be
situationally responsive without compromising its universal precepts.
This analysis of Zhuangzi offers insight into the culture dependence
of rhetoric and the classical Chinese rhetorical tradition. It indicates that
Chinese thinkers crafted ingenious approaches to rhetoric in cultures that
developed quite differently from Western cultures. Scholars must con-
tinue conversations that explore Chinese and other rhetorical traditions
in order to more completely understand the nature of human communi-
cation. If there is a Dao of rhetoric, it lies in the unification of all
rhetorics. Different views, including Western and Daoist, are not oppo-
sites, but parts of the whole. Scholars must persevere in attempting to
understand the differences in rhetorics, but Zhuangzi would admonish us
that the many make the one.
Sunzi and the Rhetoric
of Parsimony
A common thread in the rhetorics of Laozi and Zhuangzi is the notion
that communication should not be designed to impose ones ideas on
others but to induce the audience to engage key ideas in novel ways that
promote self-persuasion. Furthermore, these approaches recommend that
conflict be kept to a minimum because it can be unproductive and moves
interactants into pointless disputes for the sake of being deemed correct
rather than moving toward the unified Dao. They challenge deeply held
values and beliefs in the West and offer intriguing ways to rethink basic
communication principles and practices.
The rhetorics of Laozi and Zhuangzi, while valuable, may not offer
comprehensive perspectives on rhetoric because their approaches are
suited for dialogic encounters where rhetorical interactants are amicable,
open minded, and willing to interact solely for the purpose of enlighten-
ment. They place a great deal of value on harmonious, indirect methods
of self-persuasion. These qualities and assumptions are not always present
in many typical rhetorical interactions. In fact, the focus for a great deal of
rhetoric in Western culture is persuasive communication designed to
explicitly address a conflict between the beliefs, attitudes, and/or behav-
iors of the interactants in order to demonstrate the superiority of one view
over another. Foss and Griffin (1995) note, as far back as the Western dis-
cipline of rhetoric has been explored, rhetoric has been defined as the
conscious intent to change others (p. 2).
While the utility of Laozi and Zhuangzi is not readily apparent in
those far too common situations where overt conflict is unavoidable,
Sunzi, in the monumental work attributed to him, Art of War,
offers an
accessible and rich account of strategy from which one may reasonably
infer a comprehensive and insightful treatment of persuasive communica-
tion. This analysis will demonstrate that the underlying strategic principle
in Art of War is parsimony: the use of extreme economy in the expenditure
of resources. The principle of parsimony, as explicated in Art of War, can
add to our understanding of Daoist rhetoric and inform contemporary
rhetorical theory and practice.
Sunzis Art of War is considered to be a masterpiece of military strat-
egy. Its ideas are considered unsurpassed in comprehensiveness and
depth of understanding. They might well be termed the concentrated
essence of wisdom on the conduct of war (Hart, 1963, p. v). Sawyer
(1994) notes, in every sphere, Sun-tzus Art of War predominates, eclips-
ing all the other military strategy books combined (p. 16). Ames (1993)
agrees, calling the book the worlds foremost classic on military strategy
(p. 35). Griffith (1963) notes that the text has had a profound influence
throughout Chinese history and on Japanese military thought; it is the
source of Mao Tse-tungs strategic theories and of the tactical doctrine of
the Chinese armies (p. xi).
Art of War is also applicable to Western views of rhetoric for two rea-
sons. First, its subject matter, warfare, is analogous to contentious persua-
sionthe battle for hearts and minds. While rhetoric is less extreme
than war, both subjects presuppose conflict. Second, Art of War is, essen-
tially, a philosophical manual on strategy. Huang (1993) declares it the
most brilliant and widely applied strategic book ever written (p. 15), laud-
ing its sweeping grasp of strategys comprehensive truths and the inspir-
ing prose that sophisticatedly forges these versatile principles into an
uncomplicated but perfectly tangible system (p. 20).
Ames (1993) notes, almost every one of the early Chinese philoso-
phers took warfare to be an area of sustained philosophical reflection.
Chinese military texts, therefore, are considered to be applied philoso-
phy (p. 7). Rhetoric in ancient China, on the other hand, was not studied
as a separate discipline but as a part of political and moral philosophy
(Kennedy, 1998, p. 166). It was common for ideas about rhetoric to be
embedded in texts which do not treat rhetoric as an explicit topic of dis-
cussion. In fact, ancient Chinese rhetorical theories, with the exception
of those expounded by the Later Mohists, are embedded in works of
ethics, epistemology, and statecraft (Lu, 1998, pp. 23). War and rhetoric
can both be seen, from the classical Chinese view, as applications of phi-
losophy. The political context helps account for the fact that warfare
received explicit treatment, while rhetoric did not. Nonetheless, principles
of military strategy can be used as a source of metaphors for rhetoric
because warfare and rhetoric are both philosophically based arts.
For example, the military commander may be compared to the
rhetorician because both roles require a thorough understanding of the
conditions determining the situation and the manipulation of these cir-
cumstances to his chosen end (Ames, 1993, p. 96). The overarching sub-
ject is a philosophical approach to strategy; hence it is applicable to the
adaptation of discourse to achieve certain objectives with a particular audi-
ence. Surprisingly, while Art of War is thought to have been extensively
adopted in all areas where problem solving, competition, or development
require strategic guidance (Huang, 1993, p. 15), its principles, with the
exception of my previous work (Combs, 2000), have not been adapted to
the realm of persuasion.
I will argue throughout the chapter that Art of War, when applied to
persuasion, offers a central principle of Daoist rhetoric and a unifying
strategic guideline for rhetorical practice. I refer to this principle as the
rhetoric of parsimony, and it may be stated thusly: when conflict is
inevitable, rhetors must exert the minimum level of resources needed to
restore harmony. Analysis of the text of Art of War reveals the nature of
parsimonious rhetoric as well as the three key attendant principles of
knowledge, strategy, and responsiveness.
Before moving to parsimony, however, I must consider whether
Sunzis approach is so different from those of Laozi and Zhuangzi, that he
is not actually a Daoist. Pursuing this question is not an esoteric exercise,
for it further illuminates Daoist views on the utility of particularizing
using categories, discriminations, and languagein everyday existence. It
also considers in greater depth the nature of wu-wei.
Ma (2001) makes the argument that Sunzis approach is closer to
Aristotles than to the two Daoists because, like Aristotle, he delineates
categories, such as types of attack and terrain, rather than the swirling
paradox of Laozi and Zhuangzi. Furthermore, military strategy is invari-
ably deliberate and goal-oriented. The bottom line is to win (p. 436).
Consequently, according to Ma, Sunzis philosophy violates the notion of
wu-wei and Sunzi is not a Daoist. Contrarily, Simpkins and Simpkins
(1999) point out Taoist values permitted strategic maneuvering and
deception in marital arts, as shown in The Art of War. Furthermore, the
perspective given by the book . . . is clearly that of a Taoist skilled in the
ways of war (p. 130).
I will attempt to enter the dispute as to whether Sunzi is a Daoist in
true Daoist fashion by saying the claim is both true and not true. It is true
that Sunzi is not a Daoist in the sense that he is not usually identified as
such by sinologists. In fact, he most likely predates Laozi, who is thought
by many to be the founder of Daoism.
Sunzi and the Rhetoric of Parsimony 55
All early Chinese philosophers were interested in the Dao, but
Daoists are unique in stressing the cosmological aspects of the Dao. Inter-
estingly, the term Daoism was not actually used until the nineteenth cen-
tury C.E. (Clarke, 2000). Technically, Sunzi is not a Daoist in that he did
not deliberately follow a school of thought, or choose to be involved in a
named group, or adopt an easily identifiable spiritual perspective. For that
matter, Laozi and Zhuangzi are not Daoists either. And, of course, Jesus
was a Jew, not a Christian.
This kind of silliness is an example of the Daoist recognition that lin-
guistic categories do not approximate or create reality. While Jesus was not
born a Christian, he was instrumental in the spiritual perspective that now
bears his name. Similarly, Daoism is a spiritual perspective that is identi-
fied in name long after its founders have passed from the Earth. What is
important in deciding upon a category in which to place someone is
recognition that the category name and placement will always be some-
what arbitrary, somewhat crude.
I will advance a rationale for why I believe that Sunzi is a Daoist,
because I think Ma raises interesting and valuable issues, but I recognize
not only the legitimacy of disagreement but also the necessity to question
any categorization. When I say that the sages are Daoists I am making the
claim that their features that I focus on resonate harmoniously with what I
am able to understand about Daoism.
The idea that a Daoist would not write about categories of anything
but would only pose paradoxes and vagaries that represent the infinite
unity is questionable. The way we talk about reality and move through the
world is always to move between the infinite and particular, and to particu-
larize necessitates distinction or categorization. As I note in chapter 1,
there is a constant tacking between background and foreground. In the
background there is always the infinite Dao. It is an absolute and universal
process. But the way the Dao is manifest in the world, the world itself for
that matter, is a constant transforming flux of appearances and forms. Cat-
egories operate as foreground and are meaningful as ways to talk about
the world in its various forms.
Thus, it is inconceivable that a Daoist would be opposed to categori-
cal thinking per se, and it is very conceivable that Sunzi might do this in
order to help people survive the Spring-Autumn period. Laozi is not
opposed to categorizing, and does that in delineating yin and yang. Sunzis
approach may resemble Aristotles in a superficial way, but the form that
Sunzis rhetoric takes is not determinate of its meaning or reality. What is
most relevant is what I will indicate in the progression of this chapter, that
Sunzi uses categories as foregrounding, while remaining consistent with
the basic worldviews of Laozi and Zhuangzi.
The remainder of Mas (2001) rationale is that Sunzis purpose is to
show how to win wars, and that warfare, being calculating and deliberate,
is antagonistic to wu-wei. I believe, on the other hand, that Ma views
Sunzis purpose superficially and makes questionable assumptions about
the nature of wu-wei. To begin, viewing Sunzi in his historical context, and
in light of the textual analysis to follow, there are strong indications that
Sunzis purpose is not to win wars but to prevent them. During the Spring-
Autumn and Warring States periods one did not need to strive to go to
war. War was pervasive and nearly unavoidable. While Sunzi was interested
in winning, his approach was to put forth a strategy designed to win with-
out fighting.
Ma also seems to believe that Daoists are pacifists and that warfare is
inherently forceful and calculating. While Daoists hold harmony to be
paramount, they are not pure pacifists. In Laozis vision of community, the
people have weapons but do not show them (Watts, 1975, p. 82). If there
is no use for arms, then there would be no need to have them. I suggest
that people do not show their arms because their weapons deter outside
aggressors so effectively that they never need to be displayed. Further-
more, while the use of weapons is deplored, even the sage can use arms in
self-defense. Hence, war is sometimes a regrettable necessity (Kalten-
mark, 1965, p. 56). There is nothing in Daoism that rejects being pre-
pared for war or using strategy to win. One can even fight for survival.
While these activities would be completely unnecessary in a perfect world,
they were essential in classical China. Of course, the approach to war must
always be informed by the Dao and the natural way.
War is a viable though regrettable option but it is not necessarily
antagonistic to wu-wei. While war would seem to be forceful or calculating,
that depends on the way that one approaches warfare and the sense in
which one uses those words. For example, changing a tire on a car can be
forceful and calculating. Tilling soil to plant crops is forceful and calculat-
ing. Every predatory animal is forceful and calculating. Cheetahs, hawks,
and dolphins hunt in a calculated way and use great force to overpower
their prey. In fact, their very existence depends on their ability to make
effective calculations and applications of force. It does not make sense to
say that we cannot change a tire, till the soil, or eat to live. Being forceful
and calculating is not inconsistent with wu-wei. What is important is
whether one is working within natural rather than human conventions
when being forceful and calculating.
Wu-wei is not void of movement and is not mindless. It is effortless,
or seemingly so, because its machinations are based on the natural way. If
I am changing a tire, the process will flow better if I loosen the lug nuts
while the car is firmly on the ground, so that I have leverage, rather than
Sunzi and the Rhetoric of Parsimony 57
jack the car in the air and attempt to remove the nuts in vain while the
tire spins with my every move. After I replace the tire, I may find that if I
tighten every other lug nut in order, and not too tightly at once, I stand a
better chance of the wheel being in alignment, rather than pinning one
side to the tire first and off-setting the balance point. Hence, wu-wei does
not come into play by virtue of the types of activities in which one may
engage, those that are not forceful and can be approached mindlessly, but
by the state of mind or self that one brings to an activity. War, or more
appropriately, strategy, is not inherently contrary to wu-wei. If ones nature
is to strategize or be a warrior, and ones actions flow from the natural way,
then one can be a strategist, warrior, and Daoist sage.
Sunzis Art of War is a philosophy of strategy that attenuates the concept of
parsimony, which I then apply to rhetoric. The most parsimonious
response to conflict is to deter or end aggression without fighting. Sunzi
upholds the Daoist principle of avoiding conflict, viewing war as one of
the least desirable strategic outcomes, and believing instead that the skill-
ful strategist should be able to subdue the enemys army without engaging
it, to take his cities without laying siege to them, and to overthrow his
State without bloodying swords (Griffith, 1963, p. x). Huang (1993) notes
that for Sunzi, the purpose of strategy is not conflict, but advantage; con-
flict serves no more than one of the strategic tools. Therefore, conflict is a
tactical choice rather than a certitude (p. 23).
It is best to keep ones own state intact; to crush the enemys
state is only a second best. It is best to keep ones own army,
battalion, company, or five-man squad intact; to crush the
enemys army, battalion, company, or five-man squad is only a
second best. So, to win a hundred victories in a hundred battles
is not the highest excellence; the highest excellence is to
subdue the enemys army without fighting at all. (ch. 3, Ames,
1993, p. 111)
Thus, the expert in using the military subdues the enemys forces without
going to battle, takes the enemys walled cities without launching an
attack, and crushes the enemys state without a protracted war (p. 111).
The preference for subduing an enemy without fighting reflects the
Daoist idea that conflict occurs because at least one party is not cognizant
of alternatives that may facilitate harmony (Sun, 1995). Sunzi believed
that even military victory is a defeat in the sense that it requires an
expenditure of a states manpower and resources (Ames, 1993, p. 85).
Not battling is as much a form of strategy as is battle (Huang, 1993, p.
24). Therefore, war is a last resort, an action that is justified only when all
possible alternatives have been exhausted (Ames, 1993, p. 85).
While striving to do battle is unacceptable, if conflict is fated, war-
fare may be justified. The justification for war must be made on the basis
of harmony. If the harmony of the world has been upset, and all efforts to
restore harmony peaceably have failed, then one may contemplate war-
fare. Military action must be predicated on the necessity of such action to
revive and reshape the shared world order (p. 69). Accordingly, military
engagement must be seen as an attunement on the existing order from
withinideally it is always responsive, always punitive, always pro-social
(p. 70). Military leaders must be endowed with the ability to act on the
basis of harmony. In fact, the first and foremost defining feature of the
consummate military commander is that he must be an exemplary person
(chun tzu), and must ply his military skills from a foundation of superior
character (p. 87). Superior character in a leader is viewed as the ability to
achieve harmony. Because of the commanders duty to the harmony of the
world, the commander may even disobey orders.
If the way (tao) of battle guarantees you victory, it is right for
you to insist on fighting even if the ruler has said not to; where
the way (tao) of battle does not allow victory, it is right for you
to refuse to fight even if the ruler has said you must. (ch. 10, p.
The commander who is free of ego or thoughts of personal reward or
punishment, whose only concern is to protect his people and promote
the interests of his ruler, is the nations treasure (p. 150).
The principle of parsimony, or economical use of resources, is the
key to understanding Art of War. If it is impossible to avoid warfare, then
one must employ the military economically. Sunzi proclaims the far-
sighted ruler approaches battle with prudence, and the good commander
moves with caution. This is the way (tao) to keep the state secure and to
preserve the army (ch. 12, p. 166). Ames explains that once a commit-
ment has been made to a military course of action, the project becomes to
achieve victory at the minimum cost (p. 85).
A central element in cost minimization is to overwhelm an opponent
quickly and decisively. Sunzi says that in joining battle, seek the quick
Sunzi and the Rhetoric of Parsimony 59
victory (ch. 2, p. 107). One maximizes advantage, first to pressure the
enemy into surrender without battle, and second, to make the use of force
minimally sufficient to achieve harmony.
Art of War, when applied to rhetoric, would offer similar recommen-
dations to communicators as did Laozi and Zhuangzi: avoid contentious
or argumentative rhetoric; focus on the harmony of relationships rather
than winning a point. Sunzi adds an additional level of insight, however,
with the principle of parsimony: when conflict is inevitable, communicate
parsimoniously. When conflict is necessary, the speaker-warrior must use
persuasion judiciously, economically, to restore the balance of the world.
The use of such rhetoric is to be seen as a loss in the short term that is
justified by promoting harmony overall.
The principle of parsimony in warfare and rhetoric can be more
clearly delineated by exploring some of the tactics recommended in Art of
War. For example, parsimonious military commanders are advised to avoid
protracted battle because of the huge expense in lives and equipment
(Ames, 1993; Griffith, 1963; Huang, 1993; Sawyer, 1994). Sunzi provides a
hierarchy for military engagement designed to minimize losses, saying
that the best military policy is to attack strategies; the next to attack
alliances; the next to attack soldiers; and the worst to assault walled cities
(ch. 3, Ames, 1993, p. 111).
This hierarchy of engagement advises the speaker-warrior in clearly
confrontational situations to avoid attacking an opponents strongest argu-
ments. Rhetors should begin by addressing the opponents strategy (attack
strategies); then, if necessary, isolate the opponent from the support of
others (attack alliances); next, challenge the opponents proofs (attack
soldiers); and, if all else fails, assault major argumentative positions (attack
walled cities).
In less confrontational settings, such as when a single speaker is
addressing an audience, Sunzi would say that one must minimize audi-
ence/speaker conflict. The rhetor should avoid attacking an audiences
deeply held attitudes and values, attempting instead to create identifica-
tion between the speaker and audience. This view is consistent with
Burkes (1950) idea that rhetors overcome divisions with the audience
through the rhetorical strategy of identification.
Rhetors can further strengthen alliances by aligning themselves with
sources deemed credible by the audience; if that is an untenable option,
one can offer proofs of ones position. Only as a last resort should one
attempt to disprove an audiences deeply felt attitudes and values.
Another example of how to act parsimoniously and avoid unneces-
sary losses is to focus on the enemys weakness. When one decides to
attack, one should avoid engaging an army that is strong and disciplined.
Sunzi warns: Do not intercept an enemy that is perfectly uniform in its
array of banners; do not launch the attack on an enemy that is full and dis-
ciplined in its formations (ch. 7, Ames, 1993, p. 131). Instead, one should
create advantages by moving the enemy and dividing the enemy.
The tactic of moving the enemy is based on the idea that an army at
rest has an advantage over an army that moves into the battle.
Generally he who first occupies the field of battle to await the
enemy will be rested; he who comes later and hastens into
battle will be weary. Thus the expert in battle moves the enemy,
and is not moved by him. (ch. 6, p. 123)
In order to move the enemy about, the sagacious warrior employs a combi-
nation of making things easy for him or obstructing him (ch. 4, p. 116).
One divides an enemy by obstructing the mustering of troops and
the formation of alliances. When attacking a large state, the king does
not allow the enemy to assemble his forces; when it brings its prestige and
influence to bear on the enemy, it prevents his allies from joining with
him (ch. 11, p. 161). One must also be able to divide an assembled army
so as to gain a numerical advantage with troops. When armies are divided
or lose the ability to communicate they are not able to form ranks, let
alone sustain the battle.
When the attack comes, it should be speedy and powerful: war is
such that the supreme consideration is speed (p. 157). Therefore, when
the enemy gives you the opening, you must rush in on him. Go first for
something that he cannot afford to lose, and do not let him know the
timing of your attack (p. 162).
The speaker-warrior would be wise to follow these same principles.
Avoid moving by occupying the ground of the battle before the oppo-
nent. This forces the enemy to move to the battle zone and attack, in
spite of its disadvantaged position. Sunzis advice would be contextual-
ized to rhetoric to say that one should develop ways of having a presump-
tively favorable position and forcing the opponent into the burden of
proof. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca (1969) say that presumptions may
be thought of as notions that enjoy the consensus of the audience. Pre-
sumptions are based on what is considered normal, and if a speaker
advocates what appears to be the norm for a given reference group it has
a tremendous amount of argumentative power. Occupying the ground
encompassing an audiences norm is equivalent to holding the hill in a
battle and forcing the opponent into the burden of fighting uphill. In
addition, the speaker-warrior should move with speed and strike deci-
sively when there is an opening.
Sunzi and the Rhetoric of Parsimony 61
The principle of parsimony in warfare and rhetoric recommends tac-
tics of movement, division, and speed so as to allow one to attack an army
at its weakest point and create an overwhelming and quick victory. To
these tactics must be added the key concepts of knowledge, strategy, and
responsiveness, in order to allow for full consideration of this principle.
A central tenet of Art of War is that one must thoroughly assess the situa-
tion and possess vast knowledge before deciding to go to battle. Thus the
reason the farsighted ruler and his superior commander conquer the
enemy at every move, and achieve successes far beyond the reach of the
common crow, is foreknowledge (ch. 13, Ames, 1993, p. 169). One must
have knowledge of the Dao in order to have the authority to send people
to their deaths, assessments of military capability, including the command
and regulation of forces, and a full appraisal of the conditions of battle,
including terrain (Ames, 1993).
The assessment process, according to Sunzi, must look at these fac-
tors from the perspective of both armies, since the business of waging war
lies in carefully studying the designs of the enemy (ch. 11, p. 161).
He who knows the enemy and himself
Will never in a hundred battles be at risk;
He who does not know the enemy but knows himself
Will sometimes win and sometimes lose;
He who knows neither the enemy nor himself
Will be at risk in every battle. (ch. 3, p. 113)
Hence, one must assess all factors in light of the relative strengths of the
two sides.
The speaker-warrior can easily apply Sunzis advice on knowledge. To
know the enemy and oneself in war is no different from the process of
assessing factors that figure prominently in a rhetorical interactionthe
opposing viewpoints and the audience. Assessing ones skill as a communi-
cator is the same as examining the command of an army. One should look
at the speakers wisdom, integrity, humanity, courage, and discipline (ch.
1, p. 103). This advice is not terribly different from Aristotles notion of
ethos, saying that the speakers character presents a credible proof by
virtue of her or his wisdom, virtue, and goodwill (Kennedy, 1991). Assess-
ing the enemy involves knowing the opponent and the audience, depend-
ing on the setting. Aristotle provides a detailed account, for his era, of the
nature of various audiences and urges speakers to adapt accordingly
(Kennedy, 1991). Sunzis advice diverges considerably, however, in that
Aristotles treatment of rhetor and audience assumes that they are fairly
stable entities. Daoism, on the other hand, recognizes the dynamic, ongo-
ing movement of these entities. When one pulls an audience or rhetor
into the foreground, freezing it within a temporal/spatial context, one
must be mindful of the dynamic interplay of the background.
Terrain is one of the most important considerations to be assessed
and included in the overall array of knowledge that dictates strategy. It is
an important aspect of parsimony because it offers the opportunity for a
decisive victory.
The expert in battle takes his stand on ground that is unassail-
able, and does not miss his chance to defeat the enemy. For
this reason, the victorious army only enters battle after having
first won the victory, while the defeated army only seeks victory
after first having entered the fray. (ch. 4, Ames, 1993, p. 116)
In order to obtain this information one must employ local scouts to report
on the lay of the landits mountains and forests, its passes and natural
hazards, its wetlands and swamps, otherwise, you cannot turn the terrain
to your advantage (ch. 7, p. 130).
Sunzi identifies, at one point, six different kinds of terrain, and at
another, nine kinds of terrain, as well as the Dao, or guidelines, governing
their use. These types of terrain can be synthesized into ten types and
then divided into two principle classes. The first class sorts terrain on the
basis of its effect on the advantage to the armies, and includes terrain that
is accessible, entangling, even, narrow, and precipitous. The
second class of terrain is based on proximity to territories, and includes
scattered, marginal, strategically vital, critical, and distant.
Terrain, as applied to the speaker-warrior, can be thought of as the
grounding of a rhetorical position. It may entail the perceived credibility
of sources cited, consistency in the rhetors use of evidence and reasoning,
and appropriateness of the proof. Terrain, at other times, would be the
proof itself, for example, a quotation, statistic, logical argument, or
Accessible terrain can be approached freely by both armies. Sunzi
advises on accessible terrain, the army that enters the battle having been
first to occupy high ground on the sunny side and to establish convenient
supply lines, fights with the advantage (ch. 10, p. 147). Similarly, the
speaker-warrior would also be advised to seek the high ground, with its
presumptive advantages. Favoring the light side means to seek groundings
Sunzi and the Rhetoric of Parsimony 63
that can be exposed to the light of day without fear; and, obviously, one
should choose groundings that are easily reinforced.
Terrain that allows your advance but hampers your return is entan-
gling (ch. 10, p. 147). In this situation, the soldier and speaker-warrior
should only engage an unprepared enemy, otherwise if you go out and
engage him and fail to defeat him, you will be hard-pressed to get out, and
will be in trouble (p. 147). Avoid debating with people who are easily
drawn into an argument but are not willing to modify their position in
light of proof contrary to their position. Also, if a position does not allow
for retreat, the nature of that position forces retrenchment and pro-
tracted battle, or the loss of face.
Even terrain creates disadvantages for both sides, leading to a stand-
off. On this kind of terrain, even if the enemy tempts us out, we must not
take the bait, but should quit the position and withdraw. Having lured the
enemy halfway out, we can then strike to our advantage (p. 147). An
excellent example of this occurs when armies meet near running water.
Sunzi is saying do not cross water to meet an enemy, for the terrain is
treacherous. If, however, the enemy chooses to cross, wait until half of his
or her army has crossed and then attack those troops who have landed.
The enemy force will be at half strength and is then ripe for a rout. Simi-
larly, the speaker-warrior, debating in front of an audience that is hostile
to both debaters, would be wise to wait for the opponent to irritate or
offend the audience before making any substantial rhetorical moves.
Narrow terrain, like a gorge, can be very dangerous. If an army can
occupy and fortify the position first, then it is wise to await the enemy.
But if the enemy has occupied it first, if he garrisons it completely, do not
follow him (p. 147). The difficulties in passage, compounded by the
enemys fortifications, make it difficult to win in narrow terrain. For exam-
ple, if a politician wants to stake a campaign solely on the issue of charac-
ter rather than a platform of substantive issues, then that politician must
be unassailable on ethical grounds. The speaker-warrior must remember
that narrow ground is advantageous if occupied first, but disadvantageous
if the opposition is secure in that ground. The same is true of precipitous
ground. If one can seize the ground first, one can take the high ground
on the sunny side and await the enemy. Where the enemy has occupied it
first, quit the position and withdraw, and do not follow him (pp. 147,
149). Grounding an argument in a particular philosophers ideas, for
example, is only recommended if the rhetor is able to take and fortify the
position before the opponent does.
The remaining class of terrain relates to territorial positioning. Scat-
tered terrain exists when one does battle within his own territory, it is a
terrain that permits the scattering of his troops (ch. 11, p. 153). This
being the case, do not fight on scattered terrain (p. 155). The speaker-
warrior should not communicate defensively for it offers too much poten-
tial for disarray. It is better to be on the offensive, if one must enter a
Marginal terrain exists where one has penetrated only barely into
enemy territory (p. 153). The inability to push further is an indication of
a lack of potency and the potential for a standoff and protracted situation.
Sunzi says, do not stay on marginal terrain (p. 155). The speaker-warrior
cannot remain parsimonious on marginal terrain. The debater who is able
to make only small inroads is wise to withdraw from the position. A better
choice is to probe a number of fronts and then assault the weakest spots.
Strategically vital terrain lies at the borders of several states. It is
important ground because the first to reach it will gain the allegiance of
the other states of the empire (p. 153). Sunzi advises that one form
alliances with the neighboring states at strategically vital intersections (p.
155). The speaker-warrior encounters strategically vital terrain when
enjoying a point of common ground with an audience. This terrain offers
the opportunity to secure and fortify alliances with the audience.
Critical terrain is encountered after an army penetrates deep into
enemy territory, so much so that walled cities are at its back. One should
plunder the enemys resources on critical terrain (p. 155). This advice is
not clearly relevant to a single speaker addressing an audience, but is
useful to debaters. Critical groundings allow the speaker-warrior to be for-
tified by the enemy. Rather than burn the enemys fields, eat from them;
rather than negate an opponents argument, the rhetor reinterprets it as
supportive of his or her own position.
Finally, distant terrain exists when the enemy is far away. When the
enemy is at some distance, if the strategic advantages of both sides are
about the same, it is not easy to provoke him to fight, and taking the battle
to him is not to our advantage (ch. 10, p. 149). Distant battles lack parsi-
mony. It is better to defeat such an enemy through strategic alliances than
with a long-distance campaign. When speaking of distance from a rhetori-
cal perspective one refers to the discrepancy between the ideas presented
and not physical distances. Speaker-warriors must constantly assess distant
enemies, but parsimony suggests they not engage in contentious commu-
nication with others whose positions are extreme. Direct engagement with
those holding extreme ideas is likely to grant extremists more credibility
than would normally be accorded them by presumption (audience con-
ceptions of normalcy).
In sum, gathering and assessing vital information on key interactants
and conditions will yield knowledge that will allow for military and rhetor-
ical victory.
Sunzi and the Rhetoric of Parsimony 65
Know the other, know yourself,
And the victory will not be at risk;
Know the ground, know the natural conditions,
And the victory will be total.
(p. 151).
Sunzi maintains, he who fights with full knowledge of these factors is cer-
tain to win; he who fights without it is certain to lose (p. 150). When one
is certain to win, one can battle parsimoniously.
Another concept important to the principle of parsimony is strategy. Strat-
egy is discussed in the context of two important terms, shih and hsing. Shih,
often referred to as strategic advantage, has been called the key and
defining idea in Sunzis work (p. 71). Shih has been translated in various
ways, including circumstances, energy, latent energy, combined energy,
shape, strength, momentum, tactical power, force, authority, influence,
power, condition of power, force of circumstances, positional advantage,
and purchase (Sawyer, 1994, p. 144). Sawyer concludes, the concept of
shih entails the idea of advantage resulting from superior position (pp.
Hsing, or strategic positioning, refers to the positioning that allows
for the use of force, the ability to bring ones resources to bear on the
attack (Ames, 1993). While shih appears to overlap with hsing, the terms
are not synonymous:
Where hsing is limited to the tangible and determinate shape of
physical strength, shih includes intangibles such as morale,
opportunity, timing, psychology, and logistics. . . . Strategic
advantage (shih), by contrast, is the full concentrated release of
that latent energy inherent in ones position, physical or other-
wise. (Ames, 1993, p. 82)
Thus, shih goes beyond ones physical position to include elements such as
courage and the enemys fatigue.
Shih, like knowledge, is an important aspect of parsimony because it
can create victory without military engagement. The expert at battle
seeks his victory from strategic advantage (shih) and does not demand it
from his men (ch. 5, Ames, 1993, p. 120). Presumably, an enemy who is
able to discern the strategic advantage of the opponent will be aware of
the likelihood of defeat and will be less likely to engage in battle.
Shih is also important to parsimony because it produces quick and
decisive victory if one must go to war. The expert at battle channels strate-
gic advantage, like a drawn crossbow, and times the attack precisely, like
releasing the trigger (p. 120). The commander who makes proper use of
shih sends his men into battle like rolling logs and boulders (p. 120).
Because the leader is able to understand the nature of round heavy
objects, like logs and boulders, and the effect of gravity upon those
objects, force can be brought to bear on the enemy that can be likened
to rolling round boulders down a steep ravine thousands of feet high (p.
120). Another example, drawn from nature, is that the velocity of cascad-
ing water can send boulders bobbing about is due to its strategic advan-
tage (shih) (p. 120).
In order to make use of shih, one employs two types of operations:
surprise and straightforward. In fact, there are no more than surprise
and straightforward operations, yet in combination, they produce inex-
haustible possibilities. Surprise and straightforward operations give rise
to each other endlessly just as a ring is without beginning or an end (p.
120). One uses straightforward to engage the enemy and the surprise
to win the victory. Thus the expert at delivering the surprise assault is as
boundless as the heavens and earth and inexhaustible as the rivers and
seas (p. 120).
Shih illustrates how rhetoric is culture bound. Aristotle, the progeni-
tor of Western rhetoric, says that speakers may demonstrate a point
through either artistic or inartistic proofs. Yet, of the two types, he clearly
favors the use of artistic proofs, logos in particular. Aristotle advises stu-
dents to be especially versed in the use of enthymemes, a form of probable
argument, because they can produce the most effective results (Kennedy,
Shih diverges from Aristotles concept of rhetoric in two ways. First, it
suggests that the rhetors power stems from the combination of all strate-
gic elements, as opposed to an emphasis on certain elements, such as
logos. The commander is advised to attain knowledge of all factors in
order to attain victory. Second, shih includes intangible properties such as
momentum, energy, and timing, factors that receive little or no attention
from Aristotle. For Aristotle, rhetoric produces power primarily from
logos and secondarily from ethos and pathos. For Sunzi, rhetorical power
stems from the ability to see the connections and workings of all aspects of
the world. Aristotle envisions rhetoric as a line of argument, moving an
audience from one point to another, much like an archer sending an
Sunzi and the Rhetoric of Parsimony 67
arrow to a target. The archer (rhetor) eyes the target (audience), selects
an arrow (message), and delivers it forcefully.
While Sunzi uses the metaphor of a crossbow at one point to
describe the power and timing involved in shih, the metaphor is not
appropriate for discussing the total nature of rhetorical communication.
The speaker-warrior may, at times, act like an archer shooting an arrow on
a straight line to a target, but more often should be like a spider and its
web. The web is placed in a location that is likely to be trafficked by small
insects. The web is spun in an ever-widening circle, with a number of
strands running throughout and connecting all the segments. This image
represents the nature of knowledge and the relationships between various
elements. The way the strands are connected gives the web strength, much
like comprehensive knowledge gives the rhetor strength. The web is
nearly invisible, yet straightforward in its engagement of the enemy. The
first surprise comes when the prey moves into the web and realizes that
the webs strands contain a powerful adhesive and the fibers are con-
nected in such a way that they are capable of tremendous tensile strength.
The true enemy becomes the fear and panic of the prey, as its struggles
are exhausting and entangling, preventing the hapless insect from main-
taining its resistance. When the prey is nearly incapacitated, a second sur-
prise is revealedthe spider! The spider swiftly and silently delivers its
venom, paralyzing the prey, whereupon it is stored for later consumption.
Sunzi, unlike Aristotle, would advise rhetoricians to be more like spiders
than archers.
Hsing, strategic positioning, is directly related to knowledge because
the formation of the army provides an opportunity for the enemys assess-
ment. One must keep secret the place of the attack.
If he cannot anticipate us, the positions the enemy must pre-
pare to defend will be many. And if the positions he must pre-
pare to defend are many, then any unit we engage in battle will
be few in number. (ch. 6, Ames, 1993, p. 125).
Even when the army has been deployed it should make creative use of
deception to disguise its true intentions.
Whenever the army deploys onto the battlefield, its configura-
tion, being immediately apparent, will evoke a reaction in the
enemy. Whether the enemy will modify his original anticipa-
tions, vary his tactics, or view the events as confirming a pre-
conceived battle plan depends on his evaluation of the
unfolding situation. (Sawyer, 1994, p. 137)
Hence, the goal of the military commander is to appear formless so that
the enemy cannot make a reasonable assessment of the situation and its
changing conditions. In fact, the ultimate skill in using hsing is to have
no form (hsing). If your position is formless (hsing), the most carefully
concealed spies will not be able to get a look at it, and the wisest coun-
selors will not be able to lay plans against it (ch. 6, Ames, 1993, p. 126).
The speaker-warrior can use the concept of hsing by employing tac-
tics designed to prevent an opponent from anticipating the nature of
ones strategy. One way to accomplish this is to avoid taking a firm stand
on an issue for as long as possible in the communication encounter. This
tactic, however, must be employed cautiously. In the classical Chinese view,
a number of practices are considered appropriate for restoring harmony
that may be considered unethical to those holding the classical Greek view
of a fixed truth.
Yet, even with audiences holding a traditional Western ethical per-
spective, the speaker-warrior should be able to take advantage of a
number of tactics designed to induce formlessness. For example, one can
reduce an opponents anticipation of ones arguments by not following
habitual lines of discourse, issuing a multiplicity of proofs without indicat-
ing which ones are the most significant, developing minor arguments into
major ones late in the rhetorical exchange, and avoiding taking a firm
stand until the opponent has committed to a position. Also, one can avoid
form by listening or asking questions rather than expressing an opinion
on a particular matter.
The final pivotal idea in Art of War is responsiveness to context, or yin. Yin
refers to the ability to adapt oneself to a situation in such a manner as to
take full advantage of the defining circumstances, and to avail oneself of
the possibilities of the situation in achieving ones own purposes (Ames,
1993, p. 84). This quality is essential to military success because situations
are in constant flux, requiring constant revision of strategy. Sunzi says
ones victories in battle cannot be repeatedthey take their form
(hsing) in response to inexhaustibly changing circumstances (ch. 6, p.
126). Yin is the ability to see all the possibilities in a constantly evolving
Yin means feeding your army from the enemys fields; yin
means taking advantage of inflammable materials in the vicin-
ity of the enemys camp; yin means shifting your posture so
Sunzi and the Rhetoric of Parsimony 69
adroitly and imperceptibly that, from the enemys perspective,
you are inscrutable (p. 84)
In order to be responsive one must be open to all types of information.
Yin requires sensitivity and adaptability. Sensitivity is necessary
to register the full range of forces that define ones situation,
and, on the basis of this awareness, to anticipate the various
possibilities that can ensue. Adaptability refers to the conscious
fluidity of ones own disposition. One can only turn prevailing
circumstances to account if one maintains an attitude of readi-
ness and flexibility. (p. 84)
Responsiveness requires a total receptivity of knowledge that comes from
being with the Dao.
From the perspective of the speaker-warrior, the advice to be respon-
sive to ones context is superficially reminiscent of, but fundamentally dif-
ferent from, the Aristotelian notion of adapting to ones audience. This is
because the classical Chinese and Greeks had vastly different worldviews.
Recall that the Greeks perceived a stable underlying order to the world
while the Chinese perceived a dynamically interactive oneness. Accord-
ingly, when Aristotle recommends that one adapt a message, he thinks of
adaptation in terms of the audience and their needs and expectations
based on culture, and the analysis is conducted through rational processes
of assessment (Kennedy, 1991).
When Sunzi advises adaptation, he assumes consideration of all fac-
tors that condition the environmental field, because everything is con-
nected, and draws on both rational and intuitive sensitivities to
information. Hence, the speaker-warrior has a difficult burden in account-
ing for the nature of context, and must be knowledgeable in the classi-
cal Chinese sense of knowing. If such a state of awareness can be achieved,
one is likely to be richly rewarded.
Art of War illustrates how the principle of parsimony is derived from, and
augments, the Daoist philosophical tradition and complements Daoist
rhetoric. If we want to address an issue of social justice, for example, Laozi
can guide us in petitioning leaders as agents of change, Zhuangzi can
show individuals how to transcend their misfortunes, and Sunzi can advise
us in mobilizing a social movement geared toward direct assaults. Further-
more, parsimony suggests a powerful strategic perspective that can serve
as the basis for a comprehensive rhetorical theory. Sunzis rhetoric is dis-
tinctly Chinese, reflecting fundamental differences in classical Chinese
and Greek worldviews, theories of knowledge, and assumptions regarding
the ends of rhetoric.
Although Art of War reflects its culture, it takes conflict, a tradition in
Western rhetorical theory, as a paradigm case for analysis. Art of War is
teeming with tactical advice and advances keen insights on knowledge,
strategy, and responsiveness. Sunzis rhetoric is also compatible at times
with Western rhetorical concepts such as identification and presumption.
Thus, Sunzi shows that while the text cannot be homogenized or fully sub-
sumed within the Western rhetorical tradition, it can help bridge under-
standings of East/West rhetorical theory and practice. It indicates that
non-Western cultures can develop coherent and thoughtful approaches to
fundamental social practices that challenge and enliven Western assump-
tions about persuasive communication. Art of War adds to our views of
Daoist rhetoric and persuasion in general, and is thus a welcome addition
to our understanding of the human experience.
Sunzi and the Rhetoric of Parsimony 71
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Daoist Rhetorical Criticism
The preceding three chapters discuss the rhetorics of Laozi, Zhuangzi,
and Sunzi. In this chapter, I advance the idea that these rhetorics can be
fused into a coherent genre I term Daoist rhetoric. By articulating
Daoist rhetoric as a distinct category of discourse, I not only put forth a
statement about the rhetorical principles of Daoists but also propose a
view of rhetoric that can serve as a critical methodology. I shall first discuss
the sense in which the rhetorics of the Daoist sages constitute a genre and,
second, suggest a process by which Daoist rhetoric might be used by a
critic. Before making these moves, however, it is important to consider
whether Daoism can be used as a basis for criticism without violating its
basic principles. One could maintain that Daoism is not amenable to a
critical perspective; the warnings about noncontentiousness, risks about
taking positions that promote distinctions, and admonitions against med-
dling into the affairs of others seem to preclude acts of critique and, thus,
a critical Daoist perspective.
While Daoism seems unsympathetic towards contentiousness, dis-
tinctions, and meddling, this does not mean that Daoists oppose criticism
and Daoism cannot be used critically. Daoism is by nature a critique of
human conventions and an urging for an alternativethe natural way.
The key to understanding Daoist prescriptions or admonitions about any
particular behavior or stance is to consider their views as foregroundings
of those behaviors or stances and not as background, or universal, pro-
nouncements. The behavior, say arguing, is not inherently good or bad. In
fact, arguing is part of the universal Dao. And arguing is both good and
bad. Zhuangzi, in fact, argues in order to demonstrate the uselessness of
arguing. He recognizes its limitations and argues primarily as a form of
satire against debaters. Thus a criticism of arguing is a statement regard-
ing the motive underlying the arguing, not the act of arguing itself. The
attacks on contentiousness are critiques of those who believe that reason
can uncover truth or who argue for the sake of being right.
The complaints about distinctions, similarly, are not based on their
use per se. Daoists accept the need to take positions and themselves posit
useful distinctions. They take issue with those who believe that their dis-
tinctions are real or make distinctions based on human conventions.
Daoists have no problem, however, with making distinctions to foreground
something momentarily because they do so without losing sight of the
underlying oneness of reality. Finally, the attacks on meddling focus on
intruding into the affairs of others. There is nothing inherently wrong
with having an opinion, as long as one is not intrusive. That is exactly what
Laozi does, in his advice for rulers, and Zhuangzi maintains, in his
espousal of freedom from social conventions.
Note also that the manner in which the advice is given, the rhetori-
cal dimension of the philosophy, is natural and effortless. What distin-
guishes Daoist critical interventions, then, from those that they critique is
not the activity of contending, distinguishing, or intervening, but the
rhetorical enactment of the critique and underlying motives behind these
actions. The spirit of Daoism is harmonious. The appropriate motivation
for a critical perspective is to attempt to restore the world to its natural
The concept of rhetorical genre is not a new one. Black (1965) believes
that there are a limited number of rhetorical situations and situational
responses, hence different rhetorical acts respond to similar circumstances
and will often exhibit similar characteristics. Campbell and Jamieson
(1978) maintain that elements of rhetoric, substantive, strategic, and stylis-
tic, recur in different rhetorical acts and may, arguably, typify a category of
discourse. The category, or genre, is said to exist when the elements consti-
tute a constellation of recognizable forms bound together by an internal
dynamic (Campbell & Jamieson, 1978, p. 21). Thus, when the term genre
is assigned to a grouping of speech or writing, it suggests a distinct, distin-
guishable category of speech or literature (Cali, 1996, p. 5).
The genre, once constituted, may then be used as a benchmark by
which one may make critical assessments about rhetorical artifacts. Genres
can illuminate a given act, by revealing the conventions and affinities a
work shares with others as well as the unique elements of the rhetorical
act. Genres also allow critics to generalize beyond the individual event by
providing a framework for assessing how different rhetors in different
instances respond to similar rhetorical situations. Genres may thus provide
standards for judging rhetorical acts in relation to the genre or in juxtapo-
sition to one another.
While I will momentarily delineate what I believe are the generic fea-
tures of Daoist rhetoric, it is useful to note that Daoist rhetoric itself can
be seen in relation to an even larger classification of rhetorical
approaches. Kennedy (1999a) divides the dominant rhetorical perspec-
tives of the classical Western tradition into technical, sophistic, and philo-
sophical rhetoric. The contrast between technical and philosophical
rhetoric, in particular, helps clarify the nature of Daoist rhetoric. Techni-
cal rhetoric, the art of persuasion, focuses on the message and shows
how to present a subject efficiently and effectively but makes no attempt
to judge the morality of the speaker and pays little attention to the audi-
ence (Kennedy, 1999a, p. 14). Hence, this is an amoral perspective that
offers precepts and principles for artful and effective presentation. Philo-
sophical rhetoric, on the other hand, tended to deemphasize the speaker
and to stress the validity of the message and the effect on an audience
(pp. 1415). This genre judges rhetoric, in large part, by the extent to
which the content of the message is consistent with and conveys the philo-
sophical perspective.
Based on Kennedys distinctions, Daoist rhetoric is a philosophical
rhetoric. The focus of Daoist rhetoric is Daoism; rhetoric is subsumed
within the larger philosophy. Daoist rhetoric engages audiences in philo-
sophical conversations that have tremendous moral implications and pro-
vides principles for communication in service of a philosophy. Rhetoric,
from this perspective, stands in service of Daoism, and tests of rhetorical
propriety are the extent to which the use of rhetoric promotes or espouses
the Dao. Daoist rhetoric is thus similar to Platonic or Christian rhetoric. In
all three cases, the strategic and tactical enactment of the message is con-
sidered appropriate when it is consistent with the underlying principles of
the system of thought. Plato articulated a rhetoric in service of philosophy
while Augustine propounded a rhetoric designed to promote Christianity.
Platonic, Christian, and Daoist rhetoric share a concern that the substance
of messages, more than anything else, promotes the worldview. Of course,
Daoism presupposes a far different reality from Plato or Christianity.
Daoist rhetoric can be differentiated from other philosophical
rhetorics and classified more specifically as a distinct category or genre of
discourse. Yet, before delineating elements of Daoist rhetoric, it must be
noted that Daoist rhetoric recasts traditional notions about rhetorical
genre, thereby enriching Western rhetorical theory. Campbell and
Jamiesons (1978) notion that rhetorical genres are constituted by the
fusion of substantive, strategic, and stylistic forms is problematic for Daoist
Daoist Rhetorical Criticism 75
rhetoric for two reasons. First, the term style, which typically refers to
the use of language, is too narrow. Because Daoists often rely on nonver-
bal elements, such as music and visual images, to convey an idea, we must
either think of style as something other than language or use a different
term. I tend to use either tactic or method in place of style because
tactics or methods are means to enact particular strategies. This distinc-
tion will be clearer when I later delineate Daoist rhetorical strategies.
A second problem with distinguishing rhetorical substance, strategy,
and style (or even tactics), is that these categories make distinct what are
in fact unified. One could ask, for example, whether the parable of the
unusual man is a substantive move, a strategy, or a tactic. The parable is
substantive because it expresses essential aspects of Daoism. It is strategic
because it is designed to overcome the limitations of language and remain
consistent with wu-wei. It is a stylistic or tactical element because it is a par-
ticular language form. Hence, whether we call something substantive,
strategic, or stylistic is often arbitrary and masks the multiple ways in
which a rhetorical form may function.
This is not to suggest that Campbell and Jamieson are unaware of
these issues, although they might not agree that the generic categories are
arbitrary. I point out the arbitrariness of the three categories because
Daoism, which insists on the unity and oneness of reality, highlights the
provisionality of distinctions. Daoist rhetoric speaks to the whole person,
not just the rational mind, and it thus employs a variety of nontraditional
methods. It sees the connections in all things, and recognizes that useful
distinctions must always be considered as a move of foregrounding and
not a statement about the background reality. In fact, to speak of Daoist
rhetoric, apart from Daoism, is to put rhetoric into the foreground when
it is, in reality, inextricably bound with everything else.
A final aspect of Daoism that challenges conventional approaches to
rhetoric is that the principles of Daoist rhetoric are generativein a state
of constantly becoming. When critics are interested in genre they are typi-
cally focusing on recurring and stable aspects of discourse that can be said
to typify constituents of the category. Daoist rhetoric, on the other hand, is
inherently unstable because the world constantly changes, and, with it, its
rhetorical principles and perceptual vantage points. Like Daoism itself,
Daoist rhetoric posits a process of rebirth and renewal. In fact, an impor-
tant contribution of Daoist rhetorical criticism is its ability to further
understanding of the dynamic aspects of both Daoism and rhetorical
processes. Thus, Daoist rhetoric recasts notions of genre because it sug-
gests replacing the term style with tactic or method, maintains that sub-
stance, strategy, and tactics are useful but arbitrary distinctions, and posits
a genre that is generative, or constantly becoming.
While Daoist rhetoric is unstable, in the sense that it will constantly
present itself in novel ways, it is also stable, in terms of its underlying
processes and principles. Hence, it is possible to say a few things about the
genre as I conceive it as this juncture. Daoist rhetoric, as a philosophical
rhetoric, must be primarily concerned with expressing the Dao and affect-
ing its audience. It has a clear internal dynamic that fuses its elements
together: the touchstone for appropriate communication, and internal
dynamic that distinguishes Daoist rhetoric from other categories of dis-
course, is the Dao itself. Daoist rhetoric makes the Dao the centerpiece of
communication because the motive for language is to illuminate the Dao,
enhancing its accessibility to potential adherents by spurring deeper
mental communion.
If we temporarily foreground substance as a constituent of rhetoric,
then the substance of rhetoric, for a Daoist, must focus on the whole
making the Dao central to the message. The substance of rhetoric should
be unifying and nonjudgmental. It must be careful about particularizing
and subscribe to the natural way. It must show recognition for the under-
lying perfection of the natural world and the value of consonance with
ones fate or destiny, because acting within oneself is the most natural way
for a self to act. Furthermore, one must uphold the values of balance and
harmony, which result from the inherent order of the natural way. Rhetors
must not advocate striving to achieve external, human goals, but move in
accordance with nature. Of course, not all of these substantive elements
will be present in every rhetorical act. Some may be highlighted, others
omitted. But whatever is discussed and omitted must be consonant with
the overall philosophy.
When rhetorical strategies are pulled into the foreground, a Daoist
view is that they must flow effortlessly and seamlessly, embodying the prin-
ciple of wu-wei. Daoist rhetoric is notable for three particular communica-
tion strategies, the natural way (Laozi), evocation (Zhuangzi), and
parsimony (Sunzi), which couple form and substance and facilitate appro-
priate communication. These strategies, and the tactics or methods associ-
ated with them, can be used exclusively or combined with one another,
depending on the particular situation.
The substantive, strategic, and tactical elements of Daoist rhetoric
can be used critically in a number of ways. Before I speak to its use as a
critical method, however, it should be noted that Daoist rhetoric provides
guiding principles for creating messages and not just for critiquing the
messages of other rhetors. As a minor example of how Daoism can inform
rhetorical practice, I recently found a focal point for a presentation I was
to give by utilizing a Daoist rhetorical tactica metaphor drawn from
mundane elements of the natural world.
Daoist Rhetorical Criticism 77
The metaphor occurred to me one day as I was pulling weeds in the
garden, and somehow connected the activity with a sound bite from Presi-
dent Bush where he said he was committed to rooting out the terrorists.
Anyone who has weeded crabgrass knows that rooting out is essential to
success. One must carefully dig out the roots, because if you tear out a
plant but leave the root, the plant will regrow. Crabgrass also reproduces
by sending out runners. One needs to follow their roots as well. Severing
a runner without extracting the root will simply result in an independent
but otherwise healthy plant. Pulling crabgrass is an exercise in patiently
tracing out and digging up roots. This sounded like the descriptions I was
hearing of our governments approach to confronting the Al Queda
The more I played with the metaphor, the more sense it made. I
thought about how the same elements and nutrients that nourish my
grass and flowers also nourish the crabgrass. I likened this to how the
high quality of life that citizens of the United States enjoy, relative to the
rest of the world, is enabled by capitalism, environmental destruction,
and commodificationwhich in turn makes our lifestyles conspicuous
and leads us into foreign territories to protect our economic interests.
Like crabgrass living off the nutrients in garden soil, the qualities that
nourish our lifestyle also breed resentment and anger in others. The
approach we take to terrorism must account for how our lifestyle and
economic interests make us vulnerable.
It also occurred to me that to kill the crabgrass one must remove its
root system; but that is insufficient in the long run because the ground
can become reseeded. The best approach to inhibiting reseeding is to pre-
clude it by planting something in the area that has been weeded. By
removing the crabgrass and then replacing it with something else, a gar-
dener stands a better chance of creating the desired garden than by leav-
ing bare patches and seeing what pops up. Similarly, if the United States
succeeds in rooting out terrorists, in this case, wiping out Al Quedas pres-
ence in a particular region, this action will have little long-term impact.
Terror cells will be repopulated by disgruntled extremists, unless we can
also promote a viable political and economic system that provides oppor-
tunities for expression and income realization for all human beings.
The message that I ultimately constructed was drawn out of Daoist
principles of unity, the connectedness between our lifestyle and the ensu-
ing economic and political entanglements, and holism, the need to
address not only terrorism but also its causes. The message was wrapped in
a simple metaphor drawn from the natural world. I bolstered my message
with additional proofs, but the core ideas stemmed from my Daoist
Daoist rhetoric is useful not only in creating messages but also in cri-
tiquing messages. In fact, the crabgrass example shows that it can be diffi-
cult to separate the two. The message I constructed also critiqued Bushs
expressed policy on terrorism by calling into question some of the regret-
table ways that our nation sets itself apart from the rest of the world. It
also points out the inadequacy of our response to promote meaningful
social justice.
There are a number of potentially fruitful methods for Daoist rhetor-
ical criticism. The primary requirement of any such endeavor is consis-
tency of methodological approach and Daoist principles. The practices I
employ are not necessarily unique to Daoist rhetorical criticism, although
some are distinct from other critical approaches, but they are designed to
work holistically in the manner of the Dao.
The first part of my process, which seems to me to be particularly
Daoistic, is not to seek a text to critique; instead, I let the text find me.
Critics must be open to the possibility that the unread book sitting on the
nightstand for months, or the popular song they cant get out of their
heads, is speaking to them. The book that sits on a nightstand is taking up
space. Why hasnt it been shelved for another, more convenient, time?
Perhaps opening the book will take the reader into an emotional con-
frontation he or she knows (at some level) is necessary for personal
growth but is nonetheless unwilling to undertake. The song may be annoy-
ing, mindless babble. Or it may be an anthem, proclaiming for all to hear
a message that the listener wants to make her own. I believe that critics do
their best work when they are involved with texts professionally and
intrapersonally. The journey of discovering the rhetorical workings of the
text also becomes a journey of self-examination and discovery.
Letting the text find the critic is harmonious with Daoism. It sug-
gests unity between the critic and artifact, which enliven and inform one
another. This method is also consonant with wu-wei. The process is seem-
ingly effortless because the critic is not affirmatively seeking anything.
The difficulty is making oneself available to the universe because it
requires a state of openness and readiness to nontraditional forms of
information. It is difficult to stop looking for something that does not
seem to be present and instead know that it is present but is presenting
itself unconventionally. The issue in letting go of the struggle to acquire
information is the same as the difficulty many people have with Daoism
in general. Being with the Dao is effortless. But getting to that point is a
struggle where one must overcome the unnatural social conventions that
pervade our daily lives.
Daoist Rhetorical Criticism 79
I also believe in this method because it works time and again. In fact,
all of my texts have, in one way or another, come to me. Zhuangzi, for
example, was given to me by a former student who thought it might com-
fort me in the aftermath of a painful breakup of a relationship. My son
presented Antz and A Bugs Life to me when he was three years old. We
watched those films over and over, much to my dismay, because during
Ryans TV time, which I supervised, that was all he wanted to watch. I
finally realized that I was watching these films not for Ryan, but for myself.
Once I saw the connections between the films and my life, I realized I had
received yet another important gift from my son.
My more traditional use of methods of rhetorical criticism began in
a graduate course taught by Karlyn Campbell, who also directed my
masters thesis, while we were both at the University of Kansas. Her
approach to criticism, which is influenced by Edwin Black, is imprinted in
my work. When I critique rhetoric from a Daoist perspective I generally
follow Campbells method of conducting criticism in stages. She recom-
mends a four-stage process where one analyzes discourse in order to iden-
tify distinctive characteristics (textual or intrinsic analysis), attempts to
understand the discourse in relation to its milieu or context (contextual
or extrinsic analysis), selects or creates a critical approach (rhetorical
methods), and evaluates the text based on criteria derived from the criti-
cal method (evaluation) (Campbell & Burkholder, 1997).
My specific approach is identical in some respects and differs in
others from Campbell and Burkholders. After letting the text find me, I
undertake, as Campbell and Burkholder recommend in their first stage of
criticism, an intrinsic analysis of the text. The purpose is to discover how
the discourse works to achieve its ends as well as its defining characteris-
tics. My goal is to minimize interpretation and maximize description so
that I can understand the nature of the text.
I realize that there is an assumption or tension in this method that
should be clarified. On the one hand, I shy away from the notion that
there is a correct reading of a text and its meaning. I am not necessarily
trying to crack the code or uncover a treasure chest. Texts have lives that
are constantly reworked as they interact with other texts (including
people). By engaging in intrinsic analysis I strive for a close reading
because my goal is to discover the nature of the text as I interact with it
and note evidence for the arguments I will later make about the work-
ings of the text. If I can point to examples from the text when I assert, I
feel more comfortable defending my claims than when I am vulnerable to
the argument that the text itself does not support my claims.
My aim is to focus on the workings of the text and avoid using it as a
springboard for my own agenda. The danger in seeing something in a
text that does not ring true for others, or stand on its own as being rea-
sonable, is that any conclusions about the text can be dismissed by others
as being fabricated by the critic or incidental to textual interaction. If the
critic is manufacturing meaning that does not seem to resonate with the
text, then why bother with texts? In these cases, critics are more persua-
sive, and certainly more authentic, if they argue their ideas without resort-
ing to a text as a showcase or straw man for argument.
I also follow Campbell and Burkholders second stage of criticism by
next attempting to analyze context as a way to deepen and broaden my
understanding of the text. The extrinsic perspective provides a different
vantage point, and potentially different insights, for the work than a
purely intrinsic analysis. For example, textual analysis of the Dao de jing
indicates that Laozi shows a clear preference for the rural, agrarian peas-
antry. He also favors the soft, low, and feminine. His favorite metaphor for
appropriate conduct is water. One might well wonder why Laozi says that
the world is constituted by all things and that we should avoid discriminat-
ing, yet he promotes rural over city, farming over crafts and professions,
soft over hard, low over high, feminine over masculine, and water over
The answer that resonates with me is derived by an augmentation of
the text with the historical context. My view is that Laozi is not promoting
anything, in the sense of advocating its absolute superiority. He is showing,
within the context of his world, that the undervaluedsoft, water, women,
rural poorwere also valuable, in fact, could in some senses be superior
to their counterparts. In the context of classical China, where foolish lords
were building walled cities to protect themselves from invasion, Confu-
cianism was pervading the royal houses, greed and warfare were rampant,
and everything seemed highly competitive and chaotic, Laozi is saying that
there are other possibilities.
Laozi does not want everyone to be farmers. This would create obvi-
ous problems since a division of labor seems necessary for social life in
general, let alone transporting and storing food. Someone needs to build
houses and furniture, sew clothing, and tend the sick and feeble. It seems
much more reasonable to read Laozi as using the farmer as a metaphor,
not the prototype for all human activity. The farmer is a corrective to the
devaluing of manual labor and societys exaltation of technology and
excessive adornment. The farmer is also intimately connected to nature.
The farmer understands the changes in seasons, the interdependence of
all creatures, the land, and water. The farmer prepares for difficult seasons
and lean years by storing food and saving the best seed to be resown in the
next season. The farmer allows the soil to rest and replenishes what is
taken out. The farmer irrigates. In fact, the most successful farmer is the
Daoist Rhetorical Criticism 81
one who can know the minute changes in environmental circumstances
and adapt accordingly. The farmer also experiences, first hand, birth and
deaththe cycles of life. The farmer, while not entirely self-sufficient, is
invested in survival. Finally, the farmer prospers when positively connected
to a community. Hence, to read Laozi intrinsically is to miss key elements
of Daoism. Extrinsic analysis helps us recognize that Laozi is advocating
nothing absolutely; his advocacy is a context-bound urging for correctives
designed to restore the natural way.
While contextual analysis can be extremely valuable, it is not without
limitation or difficulty. For one, as I outline in chapter 1, it is best thought
of provisionally as foregrounding that represents the choices and perspec-
tives of the critic. Another difficulty is that some texts do not lend them-
selves to traditional views of context. Putting the works of the sages into a
reasonable contextual scheme is not terribly difficult. Although one can
certainly argue with my choices, I am comfortable grounding my contex-
tual analysis in Chinese politics, philosophy, and social life during the
Spring-Autumn and Warring States eras. The task is more difficult when
texts are artifacts of popular culture, such as films and music, which pres-
ent highly ambiguous or even fantastic points of view. In addition, obvious
and standard contextual factors, like the rhetor or agency, are complicated
by the fact that films and songs are typically produced through a tremen-
dous amount of collaboration. Who is the rhetor of a big-screen movie?
The novelist or playwright? The screenwriter? The producer(s)? The direc-
tor? Actors? Which extrinsic factors, for example, would be useful in under-
standing the film Monsters, Inc. (Lasseter & Stanton, 2001)? Do I need to
look outside the texts at all? While there are viable answers to these ques-
tions, the issue of how to arrive at those answers is worth consideration.
Deciding how to approach context with rhetorical artifacts that are
highly ambiguous or removed from ordinary reality is less daunting if one
uses methods drawn from a Daoist perspective. I recommend three partic-
ular methods for approaching challenging contexts: thinking intuitively,
metaphorically, and holistically. Thinking intuitively involves being open
to a sudden insight regardless of its source or form. I experienced an intu-
itive insight the first time I watched Monsters, Inc.
Monsters, Inc. tells the story of a corporation in a fantasy world that
employs the monsters that come out of closets at night and scare children.
The monsters work in a factorylike setting producing power by collecting
in canisters the energy emitted when a scared child screams. We see a
huge undertaking with a training program for scarers, an administrative
bureaucracy, technical teams that collect and store the canisters, and a
competitive system that tallies how much energy each scarer produces.
The scarers are treated like heroes around the factory and each has an
assistant who handles administrative and logistical chores. We also learn
that there is an elaborate security system to help ensure that the monsters
are not contaminated by contact with any of the children or their belong-
ings. If children knew that the monsters were actually more afraid of the
children than the children were of the monsters, then the system would
collapse because children would no longer scream out of fear of monsters.
The complication in this story is that a young girl, Boo, somehow follows
the companys top monster, Sully, back through her closet door and into
the factory. Sully and his assistant Mikey spend the rest of the movie trying
to conceal Boo from their bosses and return her to her home. In so doing,
the child and monsters are in regular contact. Sully comes to learn that a
childs laughter is ten times more powerful as an energy source than a
scream. Boo also helps Sully shed his scary exterior. She doesnt see him as
a big hairy monster but a kitty cat. She shows him that being funny and
soft is emotionally satisfying for both her and Sully.
My intuitive moment came over me at the movie theater, where I sat
with my two children, my two-year-old daughter (nicknamed Boo-boo) sit-
ting in my lap. It occurred to me that the monsters were metaphors for
fathers. This insight pulled together everything in the film for me: fathers
are actually more afraid of their small children than the reverse, fathers
are assigned roles in society as disciplinarians (or scarers), and love, ten-
derness, and humor are much better ways to parent than fear. The film
was an urging to break through stereotypical roles for fathers and create
sensitivity for these expanded roles in the workplace. The extrinsic factors
that needed to be considered included parenting roles in contemporary
society, approaches to child discipline, and gender bias toward fathers in
the workplace.
Monsters Inc. works as an example of both intuition and metaphor. By
seeing monsters as metaphors for fathers I was able to identify extrinsic
factors for further analysis. In fact, animated films regularly employ
metaphors because they simultaneously attempt to appeal to several audi-
enceschildren who are often most attracted to them, and their parents,
who often must transport them to the theater and pay for tickets and pop-
corn. Through metaphor, animators are able to create multiple possibili-
ties for meaning that makes Bugs Bunny or Spongebob Squarepants
entertaining for diverse audiences. Of course, animated films are not the
only rhetorical artifacts that use metaphor. Metaphor is central in commu-
nication in general, and prevalent throughout mediated messages. Thus,
thinking in terms of metaphors can spur the imagination and provide a
useful way to distinguish contextual factors that merit further analysis.
From a Daoist perspective, metaphorical thinking is an appropriate
method for working with the limitations of language and linear thinking.
Daoist Rhetorical Criticism 83
My final suggestion for revealing and highlighting extrinsic factors is
to work holistically by unifying the critic and text. If critics are able to let
texts come to them then they can also locate appropriate extrinsic factors
by considering what motivated their initial attraction to the text. In the
case of Monsters, Inc., I was able to identify personal issues, about being
able to make the choice of family over work, and my frequently being cast
in the role of disciplinarian in my family, that were featured prominently
in the film. Identifying myself with the text, unifying the artifact and critic,
helped me hone in on key extrinsic factors.
In summary, I have suggested three methods, thinking intuitively,
metaphorically, and holistically, by which one can distinguish key contex-
tual elements in challenging texts. This is not to say that Daoism is limited
to works of fantasy, which are highlighted in chapters 7 and 8, but that it
provides a unique vantage point for criticism of challenging texts. I have,
in chapters 2 through 4, also used Daoist principles in more traditional
ways to examine the verbal elements of the philosophical works of the
sages. I have no doubt that Daoist rhetoric can be valuable in the analysis
of a wide range of acts and artifacts.
The third stage of analysis for Campbell and Burkholder is to select
a rhetorical method for evaluating the text. While the focus of this book
suggests a commitment to a Daoist rhetorical method, and thus perhaps
few choices to make at this stage, I insist that I am not devoted to a Daoist
analysis for all texts. The utility of a method is based on the insight it
brings to the project, and one should only utilize a Daoist perspective
when it is justified by its revelatory power. Nonetheless, if a critic decides
that Daoism is an appropriate lens for a particular text, this does not
entail following a recipe for criticism. One must still discover what aspects
of Daoism are most amenable to the analysis. A particular text might focus
on the natural way, while another centers on de. Still others may require
additional analysis of Daoist ideas to inject previously unexplored, unde-
veloped, or reconfigured Daoist elements into the critique. Ideally, a
Daoist rhetorical analysis will offer unique insight not only into the text
but also about Daoism.
The final phase of rhetorical criticism according to Campbell and
Burkholder is the critical stage. There are two steps involved: first, relying
on the textual and contextual analyses, interpret the text. Second, apply
the standards from the rhetorical method to the interpretation to evaluate
or critically assess the text. In particular, critics could evaluate Daoistically
by considering in what ways and to what extent a text upholds core Daoist
principles, and the consistency between the substance of the text and its
rhetorical enactment. I take this approach in chapter 6, when I analyze
the film The Tao of Steve. I have also argued that, in various ways, Laozi,
Zhuangzi, and Sunzi enact rhetorical strategies that are entirely harmo-
nious with their philosophical views. Daoism might also be useful in con-
sidering the consequences of adhering to the values presented in a
message. I attempt this in chapter 7, where I propose a non-Western view
on the individuals meaning in mass society, and chapter 8, when I suggest
an alterative to the Western prototype of the hero. Daoist rhetorical criti-
cism can also provide an avenue for further exploration of Daoist ideas
and Chinese culture, something I attempt to do throughout this book. In
addition, Zhuangzis rhetoric could be used to examine whether a text
inspires audiences to engage the Dao on their own terms, its evocative-
ness, thus considering audience effects.
Finally, there is no finally. Daoism can certainly be used by rhetorical
critics in ways I have not yet imagined.
Daoist Rhetorical Criticism 85
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Is The Tao of Steve Really
The Way?
If Daoist rhetoric can be adapted for rhetorical criticism, it seems reason-
able to expect it to be useful in analyzing texts that identify themselves as
Daoist. Accordingly, I further advance my claim that Daoism provides a
unique vantage point for rhetorical theory and criticism through an analy-
sis of a recent, and surprisingly successful, independent film. The Tao of
Steve (Goodman, 2000) tells the story of Dex, an overweight and under-
employed thirty-something guy who subscribes to a strategy known as the
Tao of Steve in order to seduce women. His success in employing this
strategy allows him to become romantically involved with a number of
beautiful and intelligent women who would otherwise seem unapproach-
able to a person of Dexs modest means and average looks.
While the film appears to be a simple story of how a good girl saves a
bad boy, it is also a portrayal of contradiction that distinguishes important
Eastern and Western worldviews and rhetorical principles. Dex, a student
of philosophy and claimed adherent of Daoism, uses tactics that can be
derived from Daoist thought, yet he violates the underlying rationale for
those tactics. At the same time the female lead, Syd, who lacks such schol-
arly training and awareness of Daoism, appears to be a more authentic
Daoist than Dex. These observations underlie my central claim: The Tao of
Steve succeeds as an example of Daoist rhetoric because it presents Daoism
paradoxically. Furthermore, at a meta-level, the film makes a statement
about Eastern and Western approaches to contradiction. The Western
approach, which is exemplified by Dex, is to create dichotomies and dis-
tinctions that, stemming from a dualistic worldview, attempt to resolve or
minimize contradictions. Syd exemplifies the Eastern approach, seeing a
unity that recognizes the unreality of distinctions and frames potential
contradiction as paradox.
This chapter demonstrates the levels of meaning in the film that
contribute to its paradoxicality by overviewing Daoism and the film, then
providing intrinsic and extrinsic analyses of The Tao of Steve, in order to
consider the implications for rhetorical theory and practice. The implica-
tions include an admonition regarding the misappropriation of Daoism,
assessment of the potential for Western rhetoric to communicate the
Dao, and insight into culturally appropriate ways of engaging potential
While the elements of Daoism in the film are significant, and will be dis-
cussed later, the basic story is about the transformation of Dex, a bright,
underachieving man who is unwilling or unable to make a commitment to
a particular woman. Dex combines a Western fantasy of masculinity with
bits of Daoist philosophy to create an ongoing strategy of womanizing:
The Tao of Steve.
The opening scene, a ten-year college reunion, introduces the idea
that Dex hasnt changed much since college. The reunion also gives us a
sense of Western idealized notions of the possible self, from the perspec-
tive of a man who has returned to college (an American dream in itself)
after a number of years. There is a priest, one who has a strong relation-
ship with God, an unfulfilled woman (Beth), who is married with bag-
gage, her husband (Ed), the businessman who is happy and has a perfect
home for his business life, yet has no idea that his wife is miserable and
unfaithful. There is also a happily married couple (Rick and Maggie), a
professional opera set designer who plays drums in her spare time (Syd),
and Dex, the brightest person in his class, now content to be a slacker
and perfect his considerable ability to scam on women.
The scene is also notable because of who is not there. Dex has
three roommates (Chris, Matt, and Dave) who play significant roles in
his life. The Tao of Steve, comprised of three rules, is revealed in the
relationships between Dex and his roommates, particularly Dave, his
young disciple.
The Tao of Steve refers to having the state of mind of Steveness
when approaching relationships with women. Steve is a metaphor for
the ideal malea blend of elements of Eastern wisdom with the on-screen
persona of Steve McQueen, especially noted for his unflappable bravery
and motorcycle riding in The Great Escape. McQueen never tries to impress
women, but he always gets the girl. Steve, however, is not simply a name;
it is a state of mind. James Bond and Spiderman are Steves. The opposite
of a Steve is a Stu. A Stu is uncool, exemplified by Barney Fife, Gomer
Pyle, and Jugghead.
The reunion establishes the starting point, or baseline, of Dexs
transformation from an emotionally immature womanizer to a man will-
ing to commit to a monogamous relationship. Dex is driven simultane-
ously by fear of rejection and of settling for an inadequate relationship.
He is unable to commit to a relationship with a woman because he may
ultimately get rejected and hurt. If he is not rejected, he reasons, it must
be because the woman is unworthy of his love. Her willingness to accept
his flaws indicates her undesirability. Thus, Dex cannot ever find love
because women will either love him or leave him; either way, Dex finds a
reason to play the field. He is transformed by Syd, who leads him to
acknowledge that he is simply another underachieving guy on the make
who brings pain to others through his drive for self-gratification. Eventu-
ally, Dex is transformed from a womanizer to a man who stands ready to
risk rejection and commit to Syd. In so doing, he has disavows the three
rules of Steve.
Intrinsic analysis of a text derives the standards of assessment from the
text itself, offering potential insight into the texts internal workings. In
this case, the analysis will consider the gist of Dexs Dao, the Three Rules
of Steve. These rules will be examined in order to better understand them
and note the role the Tao of Steve plays in the transformation of Dex.
This analysis will reveal a contradiction between the substance of Daoist
philosophy and the strategies Dex derives from that philosophy. Dexs
strategies often mimic Daoist thought, but they distort the underlying
philosophical basis for those strategies. Furthermore, the analysis will
show that there is a contradiction between the way Dex treats women in
general and the way he treats Syd in specific. The contradiction, and its
resolution, signifies Dexs transformation and ultimate abandonment of
the Tao of Steve.
The Three Rules of Steve provide a mantra for relationships with
women: (1) detach yourself from desire; (2) be excellent in her presence;
and (3) after you have done these two things, retreat. The Rules are an
appropriate source for critical analysis because they are suggested by the
text itself. The rules are also significant because Dex uses them success-
fully in general, but not in the case of Syd. In fact, Syd out Daos Dex by
upholding the rules and conquering Dex, while Dex abandons his rules,
shamelessly pursuing Syd and realizing his underlying lack of fulfillment.
Is The Tao of Steve Really The Way? 89
The First Rule of Steve is explained in the course of Frisbee golf and
poker games. While playing golf with Rick, Chris, Matt, and Dave, Dex
scores a hole in one. One of his friends says very Steve. Dave, who
appears younger than the rest and fairly new to the group, expresses his
excitement about a woman he is courting. Dex says that if Dave is as
excited as he sounds, then he is already dead in the water. Dave is violat-
ing the First Rule of Steve: eliminate your desire. Dex and Rick explain
that Dave will have a much better chance of having sex with his woman if
he doesnt want sex. If a mans agenda is sexual, women will use their
innate ability to discover the mans motives. Hence, the best approach is
to satisfy desire by having no desire. That will cause the object of your
desire to desire you as well.
That night the men are playing poker and Dex smokes a cigarette,
explaining that, theoretically, he should not be able to have sex with the
attractive and interesting women he courts, given his looks and low level of
career success. He attributes his success with women, his ability to have sex
with women, to his strategy of not pursuing them. This perplexes women,
who are used to being pursued and fighting off their pursuers, leading
them to be attracted to him because he appears not to be attracted to them
in a sexual way: Women want to have sex like fifteen minutes after us. So if
you hold out for twenty, shell be chasing you for five.
As proof of the power of the first rule, the next scene begins with a
shot of a bookcase, Dexs bookcase in his bedroom, which reveals his col-
lection of philosophical treatises. Dex is strumming a guitar in the back-
ground while Julie, the bartending student he met at the reunion, is
browsing the shelf and admiring the collection.
Youve got so many great books, says Julie. The better to seduce
you with, mutters Dex to himself. What? replies Julie. All the better to
deduce the truth with, he replies. She then remarks that in certain ways,
she is having a better time than she did on her last date. Dex says that he
doesnt consider this a date. He is only interested in being her friend, and
doesnt want any romantic entanglements to spoil their friendship. Dex is
obviously courting the woman. He has pursued her since the reunion,
fixed her dinner and drinks, and now is playing the guitar for her in the
bedroom. Yet he denies what is obvious in order to perplex Julie. Dex thus
uses avoidance and passive detachment to propel Julies desire for him.
It obviously works, because the next scene shows Dex waking up the
following morning next to Julie, who is still sleeping. He goes into the
kitchen to make some coffee and spots Syd from the kitchen window. She
is jogging along the side of the road, looking very fit. Dex, in a classic dis-
play of eliminating his desire for Julie, expresses a clear interest in Syd.
The problem is that he is violating his own rule because he has desire for
Syd. It becomes clear that Dex is generally successful in his romantic strat-
egy, but he appears to have met his match in the case of Syd.
The notion of detachment from desire is consistent with Daoism.
Furthermore, the strategy of subduing an enemy without fighting is a
basic principle in Sunzis manual on warfare. Sunzi also advocates being
formless, thereby making it impossible for an enemy to anticipate an
attack (Sawyer, 1994). Yet these occasional analogs to Daoist philosophy
are violated on the whole because Dex does not truly start from a stand-
point where he is detached from the outcome. The first rule is prompted
by the desire to have sex. Hence, the motivational state behind everything
is impure. Rather than truly being detached, Dex gives the appearance of
nondesire in order to satisfy his true desire. Dex justifies this by claiming
that he is not being manipulative but adjusting to the timetable of the
woman. Both men and women want to have sex, they just have different
schedules. A man who wants to achieve his objective must adapt to the
womans timetable, arousing her desire by waiting longer than she wants,
thus ensuring there will be sexual contact that is motivated by strong
desire. A Steve will give the appearance of indifference, attempting to be
formless, in order to force the woman to make the move the man desires.
This interpretation of Daoism is inappropriate, because it allows for
practices that violate Daoist principles. Dex is not detached, but merely
feigns indifference in his goal-oriented and selfish pursuits. Dex not only
misappropriates Daoism, but also is unable to enact his notion of eliminat-
ing desire in the case of Syd. Dex asks her out the first time they ride
together in a car, tells her he is falling in love with her at a pool party, fixes
her wreck of a motorbike, shamelessly pursues her on a camping trip, and
finally, follows her to New York.
Dex and Dave are hanging out at the house when Dex tells Dave the
Second Rule of Steve: do something excellent. Dex explains that every-
body is excellent at something. Figure out what you are excellent at, and
then do it in her presence, thus demonstrating your sexual worthiness.
Dex is excellent at philosophy, and he constantly uses his charisma and
intelligence to express his excellence.
Once again, Dexs interpretation of Daoism is suspect. He is correct
in saying that people have innate talent that can distinguish them from
others, but he is wrong in advocating the display of excellence. Zhuangzis
story of the praying mantis warns of the danger of being conspicuous.
Much of his advice to peasants in the parable of the ugly man is to blend
in with the crowd and stay out of the spotlight. He recommends quietness
and inaction.
Although the Second Rule of Steve is not grounded in Daoist
thought, Dex still finds it difficult to maintain consistency with his rule
Is The Tao of Steve Really The Way? 91
because of Syds intellect and beauty. On the first morning they are to ride
to work together, Syd arrives at Dexs house as agreedat 7:30 sharp. Dex
answers the door in his pajamas, and leads Syd to his bedroom, where he
pulls out a bong and takes several long hits of pot to prepare him for the
morning. Syd observes that Dex smokes pot for breakfast and works part-
time, yet of all the people she knew in college, he was one of the most
gifted and seemed to have tremendous potential. In Syds opinion, Dex is
not being excellent in her presence.
Syd asks Dex if he ever wanted to do more with his life. Not really,
says Dex. Doing stuff is overrated. Like Hitler, he did a lot. But dont we
all wish he would have just stayed home and gotten stoned? Syd chal-
lenges his overly simplistic dichotomy: I see. So the only options are to
get stoned or commit genocide? Dex remarks, Lao Tzu said, The sage,
because he does nothing never ruins anything. Buddha said, Passionless-
ness is the best of virtues. Syd is unimpressed: And the Pillsbury Dough-
boy said, Eat me when youre ready.
A couple of days later, Syd arrives to pick up Dex after work. Syd says
that she needs to stop at the opera house, where she works as the produc-
tion designer, and pick up some work. The opera house is a magnificent
place that foreshadows the quality of its performances. She is treated with
the courtesy and respect that a professional such as she would merit. She
also moves easily and freely throughout the place, displaying her general
sense of comfort in a high-class establishment. Dex, meanwhile, knocks
over some props.
Dex is also inept throughout a later scene, an overnight camping trip
with Maggie, Rick, and Syd. He is obviously out of shape, constantly labor-
ing on the trail. At night, he renders his tent unusable defending himself
against a spider. On the hike home he has to be rescued because he thinks
he is having a heart attack. Meanwhile, Syd is extremely fit, moving easily,
and is very adept in the natural world.
At this point in the film, Dex has failed on two counts: he has repeat-
edly expressed his desire for Syd and has been largely unexcellent in her
presence. Meanwhile, Syd has been fairly spectacular in Dexs company.
She is a better Steve than is Dex, remaining detached and displaying
excellence in Dexs presence.
The Third Rule of Steve is that, after eliminating desire and doing
something excellent in her presence, one must retreat. Dex displays this
principle throughout the film. We meet many of the considerable number
of women that Dex has slept with, but none of his past relationships were
meaningful and all were short lived.
Once again, Dexs strategy may be found in Daoism, but the underly-
ing philosophical substance is distorted. The strategy of using retreat can
be supported if it is an attempt to harmonize or balance the universe. For
instance, using retreat to attack may be an example of using yin to balance
yang. Laozi points out, what is softest in the world drives what is hardest
in the world (ch. 43, Cleary, 1999, p. 30).
Unfortunately, Dexs circumstances and mindset are inconsistent
with Daoism. For instance, the phrase We pursue that which retreats from
us is more likely to come from Heidegger than Laozi. Laozi taught that
all straining, all striving are not only vain but also counterproductive. The
fact that the Tao of Steve is studied, cultivated, and turned into generic
rules of conquest suggests that it does not represent truth. True insight is
not learned by following rules but by contemplating, adapting them to
context, and even challenging them.
Using retreat as a strategy can be justified only if it stems sponta-
neously from ones nature, not if it is a method to achieve self-gratifica-
tion. Furthermore, while yin energy may be appropriate when yang has
disturbed the balance of the universe, Dex is interested only in sexual
gratification and not the harmony of the universe. In fact, Dexs deploy-
ment of this strategy frequently is unharmonious, because its deceptive-
ness is painful to the women he seduces.
In addition to the tension between Dexs version of Daoist strategy
and its underlying substance, Dex fails to follow this rule with Syd. Dex
conquered Syd, sleeping with her a few days before she was scheduled to
leave for New York. This scenario, for the Dex we see at the reunion,
would be perfect. It would undoubtedly be used eventually as an object
lesson in Daves discipleship. Instead, Dex violates his own rule, following
Syd to New York in the final scene of the film. In fact, Dex violates every
rule with Syd, showing that according to the standards prescribed by the
Three Rules of Steve, Dex is a Stu, not a Steve. If anything, Syd more
closely approximates a Steve than does Dex.
Intrinsic analysis reveals that Dex avoids rejection or settling by
sleeping with many women. His strategy works seamlessly to accomplish
these objectives. By masking his approach to sexual conquest he engages
through noninvolvement and attacks through retreat. His philosophy
shields him from the sequence of approach and rejection. Dexs Dao
provides a grounding for his womanizing, enabling him to justify his exis-
tence and resist change. When Dex is motivated to change, because of
Syd, he abandons the strategy. Hence, the resolution of the film is for Dex
to reject his view of Daoism.
Finally, it is clear that Dexs Dao is not the Dao of Laozi and
Zhuangzi. Dex quotes elements of Daoism and uses the ideas strategically,
yet his use of these elements contradicts the nature of Daoism. While Dex
could resolve the contradiction by becoming a true Daoist, he chooses
instead to resolve the contradiction between substance and form, philoso-
phy and strategy, by abandoning Daoism.
Is The Tao of Steve Really The Way? 93
While the Tao of Steve is rejected in the film, an important question
remains. Does the film recommend the abandonment of philosophical
Daoism, as espoused by Laozi and Zhuangzi, or simply the rejection of
Dexs version of the Dao? The answer is significant, because the conclu-
sion that Dex rejects Daoism, derived from the intrinsic analysis, may be
premature. The following section will offer an answer to this question
through an extrinsic analysis of the text. Extrinsic elements are factors
outside of the text that may illuminate the text by providing a unique van-
tage point for analysis. Given the focus in the film on Daoism, it is appro-
priate to consider fundamental aspects of Daoism outside of those
outlined by Dex. By looking more broadly at Daoism it is possible to con-
sider more fully the films Daoist implications. The fundamental elements
of Daoism to be considered are the notion of unity, the natural way, effort-
lessness, and the values of balance and harmony.
Several key scenes in the film show that Dex does not see the unity
that is the world; instead, he constantly makes distinctions and judgments.
It has already been noted that Dex dichotomizes Daoism, upholding cer-
tain tactics while negating their underlying rationale. He distinguishes
between good and bad marriages to justify his affair with a married
woman. In one scene Dex admits that he is a fatist, that he is not
attracted to fat women even though he has a large belly himself. He says
he is a fat fatistthe worst kind because he holds others to standards
that he does not feel obliged to maintain for himself. The Second Rule of
Stevedemonstrate excellencedistinguishes between certain types of
behavior, labeling some as excellent while others are not. Finally, the
dichotomy between Steve and Stu is a powerful statement of the distinc-
tions Dex regularly makes.
Syd, on the other hand, is far less likely to draw distinctions in the
manner of Dex. She does not distinguish between types of marriage, and
although thin herself, says that she would have no problem dating a fat
man. In fact, at the end of the film she does. Although she labels Dex a
slacker, she bases this on the fact that Dex does not live up to his poten-
tial, that he is not being true to his nature.
A Daoist would seem likely to appreciate and find comfort in the nat-
ural world. Dex, on the other hand, constantly demonstrates his alien-
ation from nature. While others pack the car for a hike and camping trip,
Dex smokes a cigarette. Rick and Maggie question his ability and desire to
go on a rigorous hike. Dex says with plenty of bluster, I love camping.
Later, Dex struggles mightily to keep pace with the others on the hike. He
is obviously in bad shape, and his cigarette smoking doesnt help. But he
denies to everyone that he is having a problem. The song playing in the
sound track is, I lied about being the outdoor type. When Syd and Dex
arrive at the campsite, they sit on a rock, where Syd uses an inhaler while
Dex lights up a cigarette. She offers the inhaler to Dex who uses it
between puffs on a cigarette. It is clear that Dex is totally out of his ele-
ment in the pristine natural world. The dichotomy in these shots, between
Syd using an inhaler to purify her lungs and Dex smoking a cigarette to
return his lungs to their usual poisonous state, exemplifies the differences
between Dex and Syd in regard to their consonance with nature.
While one may be tempted to argue that Dex is true to his nature,
because he is contemplative and comfortable with his lack of ambition,
this claim is inaccurate. If Dex were acting within his true nature his seren-
ity and harmony would be obvious. Instead, Dex is obviously uncomfort-
able with himself, constantly smoking, eating, drinking, or talking. He is
obsessive, compulsive, and harmful to his health because he is not living
in harmony. His true nature is submerged beneath his complex rational
view of the world, and the self we see is constantly fighting itself. Syd, on
the other hand, is an accomplished professional who still does a credible
job as a drummer in a rock band, jogs, hikes, and maintains a trim and
healthy physique. Her quiet and stillness, noted by her sparse dialogue
and a scene where she convinces Dex to stop talking and enjoy a quiet
float in a water pond, indicate the extent to which she is true to her
nature. Syd never directly calls attention to herself, but Dex always notices
when she is around.
Not surprisingly, Dex regularly violates the principle of wu-wei. His
life is dedicated to conquering, overcoming the resistance of women to
typical male advances. His psychological assaults on the women he tries to
seduce are perhaps as violative of others as one who uses overt physical
means to overcome resistance. Dex knows what he is doing, and, as he
confessed to Syd, deliberately seeks out women with low standards. The
fact that he must regularly lie, and heap on additional lies to cover his
tracks, is an indication that Dex rarely takes the path of least resistance.
Instead, he takes the path of reducing the resistance of others. He does
not find the gentle flow, which is actually quite difficult for most people,
and is dominated by a goal-oriented, self-serving mentality. The effort that
Dex must ultimately exert to win over Syd indicates that he is not with the
Syd, in contrast, accomplishes everything by doing nothing. She is a
valued professional who never appears to work hard or strive to get ahead.
She is in Dexs life because of her opera job, and her next one is lined up
before she leaves. Most significantly, she is able to induce Dex to abandon
his questionable ways, something he has clung to since his college days,
Is The Tao of Steve Really The Way? 95
with virtually no effort. Syd invites Dex to look at himself and see through
the rationalizations and other defense mechanisms into a deeper level.
She does not give speeches, gifts, or threats. Syd simply alerts Dex to how
he affects others, finishes her professional work, and moves on. Dex does
all of the work in the relationship, while Syd seems satisfied with whatever
happens. If Dex is the man of her dreams he will come around. If he does-
nt come around, then he is not the man of her dreams and she hasnt lost
a step in lifes journey.
A critical element of intimate relationships is to balance the desire
for a close connection with the other with the risk of being rejected. Dexs
restlessness, oral excesses, constant need for sexual conquest, and decep-
tions indicate a lack of harmony and balance. The whole point of the Tao
of Steve is to avoid a balance between intimacy and rejection. Dex avoids
rejection by women by refusing to be intimate with them. The whole point
of the Third Rule of Steve is to leave when the relationship threatens to
become more intimate.
While hiking home from the campout, Dex suffers what he thinks is
a heart attack. Fortunately, the doctor tells Dex that he did not suffer a
heart attack, but he is imperiled because of his obesity and smoking. He is
told that his excesses constitute serious problems that need to be changed:
your life does depend on it, says the doctor.
Dex responds to this life-changing news by making a pile of peanut
butter sandwiches, which is to be his new diet. Rick chides Dex, telling
him the diet, which apparently will consist solely of peanut butter sand-
wiches, is as ridiculous as his pizza diet (where Dex points out he lost
twenty-five pounds) or the sleeping diet (Dex lost thirty pounds but he
also lost his job). The diets are extreme and unhealthy. Ultimately, they
fail: Dex is still overweight and has not achieved long-term weight man-
agement. Hence, Dex is seriously imbalanced.
In addition, the film shows that Syd harmonizes Dexs overabun-
dance of yang. Dex is constantly smoking, talking, and conquering. Syd,
on the other hand, expresses her yin in her receptiveness of nature, quiet-
ness, and ability to overcome through her stillness. She teaches by
doing, not by talking. She also has a lot of yangshe is physically strong,
rides a motorcycle, creates opera sets, and is willing to confront Dex intel-
lectually. Hence, Dexs transformation is a movement toward Syds bal-
ance. Dex begins to become quieter. He is no longer seen with fire
(yang-smoking) but accepts Syds offer to float quietly in the water. He
blows out a candle in his bedroom. The final shots in the film abound in
The preceding analysis indicates that Dex is alienated from the Dao
while Syd exemplifies many Daoist traits. Furthermore, Dexs transforma-
tion results from intuitively sensing the harmonious balance that inheres
in Syd. Significantly, Dexs self-serving and inaccurate version of Daoism is
ultimately rejected in favor of a true representation of Daoism. Since
Dexs views are not truly Daoist, while Syds are, the film affirms philo-
sophical Daoism when it brings Dex to Syd.
Both of the analyses conducted thus far yield unique insights about the
text. Intrinsic analysis reveals a contradiction between the substance of
Daoist philosophy and the strategies Dex derives from that philosophy.
The analysis also shows that there is a contradiction in the way Dex treats
Syd compared to all other women. The contradictions are resolved when
Dex abandons the Tao of Steve. Extrinsic analysis shows that Dexs Dao is
generally inconsistent with Daoist thought, while Syd exemplifies conso-
nance with Daoism. Dexs transformation leads him to Syd, thus affirming
philosophical Daoism and rejecting a sham Daoism. Interestingly, the con-
clusions drawn from the intrinsic analysis, that Daoism is rejected, and
extrinsic analysis, that Daoism is affirmed, are paradoxical in that the film
both affirms and rejects Daoism.
These insights make it possible to answer a remaining question:
Does the film communicate its ideas in a manner compatible with the
Dao? The answer allows clear consideration of the extent to which the
present study makes a significant contribution to an understanding of
rhetorical theory and practice. Rhetorical analysis of The Tao of Steve
reveals that the film not only maintains philosophical Daoism, but also is
an excellent example of Daoist rhetoric.
The film is consonant with the substance of Daoist rhetoric since it
uses Daoism as its internal dynamic. The film tells the story of a person
who jettisons a false and dichotomous Dao for a unified and authentic
Dao. Examining Dex and Syd as communicators reveals additional sub-
stantive Daoist elements. Dex employs dualities and crucial distinctions, is
alienated from his true nature and the natural world, and engages in
ardent conquests that disrupt harmony and hurt him and others. Syd, con-
trarily, shuns dualities, is natural, and moves effortlessly.
Syds character is also highly evocative. Although Syd spurred Dexs
growth, it ultimately resulted from his actively confronting his integrity.
The vehicle for Dexs transformation is himself, although he is propelled
by the presence of Syd.
The film is also evocative because of its use of paradox. The intrinsic
and extrinsic analyses leave us with the paradox that Dex has both
Is The Tao of Steve Really The Way? 97
abandoned and embraced the Dao. This paradox is latent in the film,
waiting to be evoked or called forth by the audience. If the audience is
evoked to supply the missing contextual elements of Daoism, then they
will see the paradox between the intrinsic and extrinsic views. In this
sense, the film uses the sort of paradox seen in Zhuangzi to goad the audi-
ence to deeper levels of insight. The film also uses personification,
through Syd, as a rhetorical device that promotes the audiences identifi-
cation with a real person walking the Earth much as the rest of us do or
It should be pointed out that the extrinsic view of the film does not
end the conversation. The conclusion of the film retains its evocativeness
because it is ambiguous. We do not know if Dex is sincere, or has merely
adapted a new philosophical stance in order to conquer the otherwise
unassailable Syd. Perhaps Dex has not embraced Daoism, but is instead
fulfilling a Machiavellian quest for a prize. In addition, the audience does
not know what comes of the relationship between the two stars. Maybe
they will have a great few weeks, but what happens the next time Syd
undertakes an out-of-town job? Will Dex continue to follow her? We dont
even know how they feel about kids! An even more fundamental question,
in certain respects, is what does Syd see in Dex? She never succumbs to his
Tao of Steve. Something else, that is unclear in the film, attracts Syd to
Dex. There are far too many questions that remain for the analysis of this
film to end.
Analyzing Dex and Syd as communicators also reveals elements of
parsimony in the film. Dexs character is always talking, to the point where
Syd and others ask him to be quiet. Furthermore, Dexs avoidance of the
truth forces him to offer a string of lies to maintain the appearance of
consistency. Syd, on the other hand, says little and does much by her
actions. When she does confront Dexs dualities she exerts the minimum
resources in order to refute him.
The film is also parsimonious on a meta-level because it relies less on
dialogue and more on imagery to communicate its ideas. The film also
takes an economical approach to its point in the sense that Dex is given
two clear alternatives from which to chooseSyd and Dave. Syd allows
Dex a glimpse of a true Dao and its potential for harmony, Dave repre-
sents the shallow and selfish path that Dex has thus far traveled.
There are several conclusions to be drawn at this point from The Tao
of Steve. The first is that the film serves as an admonition regarding the
misappropriation of Daoism. Dexs strategies emanate from the Dao, with-
out being grounded in the Dao, making Dex a metaphor for westerners
who sometimes misuse Asian thought in a dualistic world. As westerners
continue to encounter Asian thought they might be inclined to ignore its
cultural foundations and choose strategy and tactics over substance and
holistic understanding.
In some ways, The Tao of Steve is a second coming of The Karate Kid
(Avildsen, 1984). In that film, Mr. Miyagi teaches martial arts not for the
sake of conquering opponents, but as a vehicle for learning important
Eastern values. His adversary in the film, sensei John Kreese, runs the
Cobra Kai, a dojo that values winning awards. They use martial arts as
strategies and tactics for personal gain and fulfillment. The film points out
how the underlying purity of Asian thought is lost in the Cobra Kai dojo
and how Mr. Miyagis approach, an integration of substance and strategy,
is the only proper approach. The dojo analogy is not a fiction. Many
people in the United States have learned Eastern martial arts techniques
without studying its philosophical undercurrent. The Tao of Steve warns
against such misuses of Daoist thought by villainizing Dexs bastardization
of Daoism.
A second conclusion is that the film illustrates appropriate ways of
communicating a Daoist message. Dex uses inappropriate communication
practices, focusing on personal gain, not illumination of the Dao. He lives
in a world of dichotomy and distinction rather than unity. He is alienated
from nature, using logic, citation of expert testimony, and information
gleaned from books rather than intuitive insights expressed nonverbally
or silently. Dex is verbose, exerts much effort, and lacks balance and har-
mony. Syd, who communicates appropriately, is unified, natural, and
effortless. She says little, but speaks volumes by her demeanor and actions.
At a meta-level, the film communicates an evocative message through its
use of paradox, and a parsimonious one, because of its reliance on visual
images rather than dialogue and the clarity of the two choices confronting
The third conclusion to be derived is that The Tao of Steve offers
insight into culturally appropriate ways of engaging potential contradic-
tions. Dex exemplifies the Western approach popularized by Plato, while
Syd demonstrates an Eastern approach.
One of Platos primary ways of dealing with potential contradictions
is to dichotomize, essentially saying that the contradiction does not exist
because two different things are being considered. Hence, Plato can con-
tradict himself by using rhetoric to say that rhetoric is immoral, yet claim
that no contradiction exists because he dichotomizes an idea with a cru-
cial distinction. Plato argues that rhetoric, while generally bad, is accept-
able when a philosopher, one who has studied and knows the truth about
reality, uses it. Thus, there is a good rhetoric and a bad rhetoric, distin-
guished by the nature of the user. Aristotle makes a similar move, saying
that rhetoric is a neutral instrument, while it is the user who is either
Is The Tao of Steve Really The Way? 99
ethical or unethical. For Plato, the contradiction is avoided because the
ends justify the means, and one guided by philosophy can discern the
greater good. Aristotle, rather than distinguish good and bad rhetorics,
divides rhetoric, the instrument, from the speaker, the user. By placing
ethical responsibility on the speaker, his dichotomy makes rhetoric
amoral, neither good nor bad.
It is important to note the difference between duality and paradox.
A duality seeks to split something in twothe person into body and soul,
research methods into subjective and objective, the universe into heaven
and earth, communication ethics into rhetor and rhetoric. A paradox says
that two opposites are true of the same thingdepending on how one
looks at it. Rhetoric is both good and badat the same time.
There are nuanced differences here that are significant. Dualities
simplify the complexity of life by dividing things into separate, component
parts. Paradoxes speak to complexity. They demonstrate how many things
may be true of one thing without a contradiction or negation. More
importantly, dualities invite defensiveness and justification of the distinc-
tion one makes. Dualities always run the risk of being contradictions
because they may pose a false duality that does not truly exist. In Dexs
case, many of his rationalizations attempt to avoid contradiction by posing
crucial distinctions, the key defining quality that sets them apart. Syd
challenges these distinctions as being artificial and self-serving. There can
be no distinctions in a natural state because of the oneness that is all.
Thus, duality and paradox differ significantly because dualities are based
on the ability to correctly distinguish and categorize. They invite justifica-
tion and defense of their interpretation because they are either right or
wrong. Paradoxes, on the other hand, do not claim to be exclusive or cor-
rect. They are interpretations based upon viewing a facet of something.
Paradoxes do not suggest right and wrong, but add layers of meaning and
richness to our understanding.
It is clear that duality is an appropriate strategy when one operates
from a dualistic worldview, while paradox is appropriate for monism.
These two strategies are therefore bounded, to some extent, by cultural
assumptions regarding the nature of things. While a Daoist might employ
a duality, it would most likely be to show the folly of adopting a single per-
spective and claiming that something belongs in one category or another.
Similarly, a dualist might use paradox, but most likely to demonstrate the
accuracy of one interpretation over another. The film reveals itself to be a
Daoist tale because it uses paradox to critique duality; yet it does so evoca-
tively, inducing the audience to interact with the film in order to render
the insight.
Values East and West in Antz
and A Bugs Life
The previous chapter points to the viability of using Daoist rhetoric to
assess a film that claims to be Daoistic. It remains to be considered, how-
ever, whether Daoist rhetoric is limited to testing the internal consistency
of communication acts that claim to be Daoist, or whether it has more
general utility in the analysis of non-Daoist communication acts. That is,
does Daoist rhetoric offer a critical perspective that allows one to assess
more generally the phenomenon of human communication? I further
answer this question and articulate my claim that Daoist rhetoric offers a
unique and useful vantage point for communication criticism by using
principles of Daoist rhetoric to analyze the films A Bugs Life (Lasseter &
Stanton, 1998) and Antz (Darnell & Johnson, 1998). The Daoist lens will
illuminate key differences and offer unique insights in the films that have
escaped the analysis of cinema critics (Corliss, 1998; Ebert, 1998;
Lehmkuhl, 1999; Major, 1998; McDonagh, 1998; Ryerson, 1998; Stack,
1998; Stone, 1998) and would likely go unnoticed in other methods of
While these films have no obvious Daoist claims in them or influence
surrounding them, making them appropriate subjects for this analysis, I
have not selected them randomly. These films are particularly interesting
because animated films typically communicate significant messages
through visual images rather than verbal texts, their logic is often a
function of their narrativity rather than systems of formal and informal
reasoning, and they may reflect values from non-Western cultures that
may be difficult for westerners to appreciate. Furthermore, these ani-
mated films use insects to metaphorically address issues of humans and
society. Metaphor is a central strategy in Daoist rhetoric, and Zhuangzi is
notable for his use of seemingly insignificant creatures to make significant
Zhuangzi not only directed the reader to observe the insignifi-
cant, the neglected, and the negative, but also empowered
them by glorifying their inner strengths and inner complete-
ness. For him, the ability to see and not forget the unobvious
rather than paying attention to the obvious was an indication
of having attained the Dao. (Lu, 1998, p. 256)
The personification of ants, which to many of us are the most mundane of
all life forms, opens a space for Daoist analysis. Furthermore, ants are an
excellent metaphor for framing issues of individuality in mass society. As
Gordon (1999) notes, because ants are separate beings that move around
freely, they attract attention as individuals. But nothing ants do makes
sense except in the context of the colony (p. viii).
The films are appropriate for juxtaposition because they share simi-
lar subject matter. The stories center on an ant that is searching for mean-
ing; in a larger sense, the films consider an individuals proper place in a
collective society. Flik, the hero in A Bugs Life, wants to make a differ-
ence, while Z, from Antz, wants to feel significant. The central figures
also must seek the outside world in order to resolve their conflict. Finally,
they both want to win the heart of the Princess, who will someday be the
Despite these similarities, the Daoist perspective will reveal that the
films are markedly different in their key themes. A Bugs Life views the
most significant threats to society to be external, praises the use of tech-
nology, and celebrates Western values of individual cunning and bravery.
Antz, on the other hand, sees the most significant social threats to be inter-
nal, resolves problems through consciousness raising and teamwork, and
promotes Eastern values of community and cooperation. The films also
suggest different answers to the question of how an individuals life can be
meaningful in a mass society. A Bugs Life is consistent with Western cul-
tural values: one makes a difference when one overcomes tradition, fear,
and the opinions of others to accomplish great things. The answer in Antz
is consistent with Daoist values: an individual is significant when that
person is able to discover and enact his or her own destiny.
These differences in the films, which focus on the tension between
the individual and the social, are revealed by first analyzing the onset,
development, and resolution of the central conflicts of the films. Follow-
ing this, I apply the Daoist themes of nature, effortlessness (wu-wei), and
balance and harmony to further evaluate the films. I conclude by dis-
cussing the central differences in the films orientations toward the indi-
vidual and the social, differences that reflect, respectively, Western and
Eastern cultural values.
The portrayal of conflict is an important starting point in understanding
how the films differ in their treatment of the individuals search for mean-
ing in the midst of a collectivist society. The onset and framing of these
conflicts occurs in the opening scenes of the films. The opening scene of
A Bugs Life shows the worker ants in the colony on Ant Island carrying
grain to a large leaf that is braced by rocks. The rocks form a giant altar
on which the grain is placed as an offering for a gang of grasshoppers.
The process is highly labor intensive, involving climbing up the stalk, sepa-
rating each kernel of grain, toting the grain to the offering leaf, and plac-
ing the grain on the leaf. One ant, Flik, is using a threshing machine that
he has invented. The machine cuts the entire grain stalk, which includes
several kernels at once. The stalk is dropped into a holding bay and then
catapulted into the offering pile.
Princess Atta, who is training to take over when the Queen retires, is
supervising the operation. Atta is very concerned about the process of
gathering the grain, poring needlessly over details and fretting about
minor setbacks like gaps in the line of ants carrying grain. The Queen tells
the Princess not to fear the impending arrival of the fearsome grasshop-
pers. They come. They eat. They leave. Its our lot in life. Its not a lot,
but its our life.
Flik has an accident with his machine. Instead of flying into the
offering pile, a stalk of grain hits an ant. He is scolded after the accident
and told to just pick the grain like everyone else. A horn sounds signaling
the arrival of the grasshoppers. Everyone throws their last kernel onto the
pile and then heads into the anthill.
Flik is a young freethinker in a closed society (Stack, 1998, D1).
Deeply individualistic, inventive and clever, Flik is, to some, a misfit with
big ideas and, to others, a courageous visionary (Major, 1998, p. 1). Flik
is described as having a problem with self-esteem (Stone, 1998, p. 3). He
desperately wants to make a difference. Unfortunately, Flik begins to
stand out in a disastrous way. Encumbered by his machine, Flik lags
behind everyone else. The machine goes out of control and knocks out a
key rock that supports the offering leaf. The leaf is dislodged and the
grain slips into a pool of water below, submerging the entire offering. Flik
goes into the anthill to join the others, tries to explain what happened to
Values East and West in Antz and A Bugs Life 103
Princess Atta, but is rebuked and told to keep quiet so that Atta can hear
what is going on with the grasshoppers above.
The grasshoppers arrive at Ant Island and seeing that there is no
food for them, become enraged, smash through the ground, and fly down
into the anthill. They confront the frightened ants, who do not under-
stand why the grasshoppers didnt just eat and leave. The head of the
gang, Hopper, demands that the ants double their offering and have it
ready at the end of the harvest season, when the last leaf falls. The ants
protest that there isnt enough time to meet the grasshoppers demands.
The ants would not be able to gather food for themselves and would starve
if they met Hoppers demands. Hopper menaces and threatens the ants,
and no one will stand up to him. The grasshoppers fly off leaving the
frightened ants.
Antz opens with Z, a seemingly neurotic ant, talking to his therapist
about his feelings of alienation. Z is concerned about finding his true
nature, believing theres got to be something better out there than his
assigned role as a worker. Psychologically, he rejects this role, feeling
insignificant and complaining that he is physically inadequate because
he is unable to lift more than ten times his own body weight. Further-
more, he finds handling dirt to be unrewarding. He has trouble getting
behind this whole gung ho super organism thing. It might work well
for the colony, but what about my needs? What about me? Z com-
plains, this whole thing makes me feel so insignificant. Excellent,
says the therapist. Youve made a real breakthrough. I have? Yes Z,
you are insignificant.
The next scene reinforces Zs insignificance, where the camera pans
back to reveal a fantastic underground city, an incredible metropolis of
sophisticated structures and passageways. There is a scene where maggots
are born and instantly assigned to be either a worker or soldier. We also
see aspects of the organization of hordes of ants that are building a Mega
Tunnel. Z is working on the tunnel, digging next to his friend Azteca. Z
laments his unappealing lot in life, but Azteca, who loves her work, is
unsympathetic because she thinks, its not about you. Its about us. The
team. Its about this (the mega tunnel).
Z is assigned to be a part of the wrecking-ball crew. The wrecking
ball is a giant mass of ants that cling together and, with their bodies, form
the mass and chain of the ball. The ball is swung from the ceiling of their
dwelling like a pendulum and then smashed into rock in order to help
excavate the tunnel. In this way millions of individuals can become one
collective tool (Ebert, 1998, p. 2), a piece of heavy construction equip-
ment. The problem is that Z, who is assigned to the chain, loses his grip
and drops the ball causing it to careen wildly below.
General Mandible, the leader of the ants army, laments that workers
are weak and lack commitment and discipline. He opines that this is the
nature of workers, thus they cant help it that they are inferior to the sol-
diers. Mandible outlines a plan to his top officer, Colonel Cutter, where
Mandible takes over the colony and destroys the workers. He decides to
send military troops who are loyal to the Queen, the ruler of the colony, on
a suicide mission, an attack on a termite colony. His plan is to eliminate the
loyal troops, marry the Queens daughter, Princess Bala, kill the workers
and the Queen, and start a new colony of his own without the inferior
workers. He will kill the workers by having them build the Mega Tunnel,
which winds up to a lake on the surface. Once the tunnelers break through
to the surface they will unwittingly unleash a torrent of water that will fill
the lower chamber of the colony. Mandible will assemble all the workers in
the chamber for a ceremony and then seal the exits. When the water fills,
the ants will drown in the tomb they dug for themselves.
There is a saying in psychotherapy that the definition of insanity is
doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The
fact that both heroes are portrayed initially as disaffected or counterpro-
ductive to themselves and others foreshadows the need for change in
order for Flik and Z to feel good about themselves, maintain an identity,
and make a contribution to society. The issues developed in the rest of the
film concern the extent and ways both the individual and society must
In addition to the personal conflict of Flik and Z regarding the
meaning in their lives, the films portray a conflict that will threaten the
well-being of the entire colony. What is most interesting about the depic-
tion of conflict is that, in A Bugs Life, the greatest threat to the group is an
external threat posed by the grasshoppers. In Antz, the most significant
threat is internala military coup by General Mandible. These contrast-
ing views clearly distinguish the way the films address their common
theme. In A Bugs Life, the individuals quest for meaning in mass society
entails responding to conflict caused by agents outside of the individual
and that individuals affiliated group. In Antz, the most important conflicts
take place within the individual and the group with which one is affiliated.
Flik responds to the conflict with the grasshoppers by bravely ventur-
ing into the outside world to find some bigger bugs that can help the ants
by fighting the grasshoppers on their behalf. Unfortunately, Flik believes
he has found a band of ferocious warrior bugs when, in fact, they are
merely unemployed circus performers. The circus bugs think that Flik is
organizing a party for the grasshoppers and the bugs are being hired to be
the entertainment. They all fly back to the colony where the bugs promise
the colony a performance that will knock the grasshoppers dead.
Values East and West in Antz and A Bugs Life 105
Flik eventually realizes that the circus bugs are not going to be able
to save the colony. He asks them to conceal their true identities so that he
can maintain his credibility and implement a new plan. Flik proposes to
build a mechanical bird that the ants can operate from the inside. They
will place it in a tree, attached to a tether, and release it when the
grasshoppers come for their offering. The bird will fly about and scare
off the grasshoppers.
In A Bugs Life, the external conflict is given primary consideration in
the story while Fliks inner struggle for meaning is given little direct atten-
tion. Antz looks more carefully at the personal conflict plaguing its hero as
well as the military threat. The personal conflict stems from the fact that
everyone in the colony has a role assigned for him or her. Princess Bala,
for example, must marry General Mandible because it is her place to
take over for the Queen. The theme is echoed in the next scene, a bar,
where ants relax after a busy day. Z is there with his gigantic ant friend
Weaver. Weaver is a kindhearted and simple soldier who would rather be a
worker so he can meet those beautiful worker girls.
The bar scene also hints at the process of resolving this conflict.
Princess Bala, tired of the pampered and boring life of the royalty, sneaks
down to the bar incognito with two of her escorts. There, ant musicians
play a somber version of Pete Seegers Guantanamera while thousands
of ants assemble themselves into several long lines and begin to dance in
the same robotic way. Bala wants to dance with a worker and ends up with
Z. They follow the monotonous horde, but soon Z pulls Bala out of the
line to dance a different way. They use their creativity to conjure up new
steps that are obviously much more fun than the old style of dancing. This
illustrates that one can be happy by rejecting ones assigned lot in life,
which Bala did by coming to a bar of commoners, and Bala and Z did by
rejecting the dance line and dancing on their own. The scene ends when
Z accidentally touches off a gigantic, dance-ending brawl. Z learns that
Bala is a princess as she is leaving.
In order to meet Bala again, Z convinces Weaver to trade places with
him for one day so that he can march in a royal military review. The next
day Weaver reports to the tunnel for work and Z masquerades as a soldier.
Z and Weaver are both happy about choosing their roles, if only for a day.
The royal review takes a tragic turn, however, when Z learns that the cere-
mony is actually a pep rally for the suicide strike against the termites.
Mandible reinforces the conflict regarding individuality, telling his sol-
diers that the life of an individual ant does not matter because the
colony is all that matters. As Z marches to battle against the fearsome ter-
mites Weaver is working in the tunnel. Weaver loves digging and hauling
away the dirt.
The ants vanquish the ferocious termites but lose their entire army,
except for Z, who missed the battle by hiding in a crevice. As Z emerges
later and surveys the horrible massacre he finds the still-animated head of
Barbados, a soldier who saved Zs life and died fighting an absurd battle
that was nominally for the sake of the colony. Barbardos gives Z the lesson
of a lifetime: Dont make my mistake kid. Dont follow orders your whole
life. Think for yourself.
Z returns to the colony and is hailed as a hero by virtue of his being
the sole survivor of the battle. The General publicly praises Z and brings
him before the Queen and Princess to receive their congratulations. Bala
reveals to everyone that Z is only a worker, not a soldier. Mandible realizes
that lionizing a worker who successfully violated the assigned social order
threatens the foundations of his fascist plans. Mandible orders his men to
arrest Z. Z grabs the Princess as a hostage and they inadvertently fall down
the trash chute before being catapulted outside. Mandibles guards chase
them, but before they can capture Z, a giant magnifying glass appears and
incinerates the guards one by one. Z and Bala hide under a plant and the
menace leaves the scene. Z realizes that he cannot return to the colony
and face Mandibles goons. He decides to try to find Insectopia, a mythical
place where food is plentiful and life is easy. Bala decides to accompany Z.
Inside the colony the workers are spreading tales of Z. He is charac-
terized as a hero for killing scores of termites, receiving medals, running
off with the Princess, and causing the guards who chase him to burst into
flames. In fact, Z never meant to be a soldier, accidentally survived the
massacre, tripped and fell to escape with Bala, and was fortuitously
assisted by a child and his magnifying glass. When Weaver tells the work-
ers that Z was a worker who wanted to be a soldier and that Weaver was a
soldier who wanted to be a worker, this causes the workers to question
their social order. The heroic Z and titanic Weaver dispel the myth that
workers cant do anything but work. They exemplify the value of ants
thinking for themselves.
Mandible is desperate to find the Princess, because she is a crucial
element to his building a new colony. He learns Z may have set out for
Insectopia and orders Colonel Cutter, who can fly, to bring back the
Princess and kill Z: Individualism makes us vulnerable. The irony is that
Mandible individually decided to reshape the colony.
Back at Insectopia, which is actually a garbage pile, Z and Bala are
falling in love. Z goes off on an errand at the exact moment Cutter arrives.
Cutter grabs Bala, saying he is under orders to bring her back to the
colony. Orders, she says, cant you think for yourself? Cutter asks about
Z, and Bala, thinking for herself, lies and says Z is dead. Cutter remarks
that Z is dangerous because he is an ant with ideas. Nearby, Z looks up
Values East and West in Antz and A Bugs Life 107
to see Cutter flying Bala back to the colony. Z decides to save her and
hitches a ride to the colony with a drunk and melancholy wasp.
Issues surrounding the appropriate nature and relationship of the
individual and society are developed in the stories through the conflicts
that threaten Flik and Z as well as their entire colonies. The conflicts fore-
shadow the key values that are embedded in the films and set the stage for
the resolution of the conflict, which, ultimately, transforms Flik, Z, and
their respective colonies.
In A Bugs Life, the grasshoppers return to Ant Island and are ready
to squash the Queen when, suddenly, the bird is launched from its perch
in the tree. It swoops down out of the near darkness screeching loudly,
panicking the grasshoppers. The circus bugs pretend to be victims, cover-
ing themselves with berries and juice to make it appear that they have sus-
tained wounds as the bird makes several terrifying passes at the insects.
The plan takes a disastrous turn when the bird is accidentally set on
fire and the ants inside are forced to crash land and abandon the bird,
revealing their deception. Hopper is enraged, corners Flik, and begins to
pound his tiny body into submission. But Flik stands up to the ferocious
Hopper and tells everyone about Hoppers plan to kill the Queen. He
stresses the independence of the ants from the grasshoppers, arguing that
the grasshoppers depend on the ants for food but the ants receive nothing
from the grasshoppers. Hence, the two species are independent of one
another; in fact, the ants are superior because they fulfill an important
role while the grasshoppers are useless criminals. The ants, which badly
outnumber the grasshoppers, are stirred by Fliks martyrdom and rousing
words and attack the grasshoppers. The grasshoppers fly off in a panic,
except for Hopper who wants revenge on Flik before he leaves. Princess
Atta grabs Flik and flies off with him, with Hopper in hot pursuit.
It is clear that Hopper is faster and stronger and will eventually catch
Atta and Flik. Flik directs Atta to fly toward the nest of a bird that nearly
ate several of Fliks friends on an earlier occasion. Hopper catches up to
Atta and corners Flik below the birds nest. Just as Hopper is about to do
in Flik, the bird pops up and looks down on the bugs. Hopper thinks this
is another one of Fliks trick birds, and refuses to be intimidated, until the
bird opens its enormous and obviously real beak. In no time the bird cor-
ners Hopper and grabs him. The bird returns to the nest to feed a scream-
ing Hopper to its hungry babies. Hopper is gone, and there is hope for a
better life.
A Bugs Life ends with shots of a much-improved colony. Atta has
become Queen, and she is a confident and capable leader. Scores of ants
are using Fliks threshing machine, and they are able to harvest plenty of
food without toiling laboriously for hours on end. The heroism of individ-
ual ants and the perfection of technology bode well for the future of Ant
In Antz, Z returns to the colony and finds his way to the Princess.
Reunited, they spot a copy of the plans for the tunnel and figure out
Mandibles evil scheme. They run down to the lower chamber, where the
workers are assembled for the ceremony opening the Mega Tunnel, in
order to warn everyone of the impending disaster. Z explains the danger
to the tunnelers and asks them to stop. The ant foreman asks, on whose
authority? Z replies, on your own authority. Cant you think for your-
selves? The workers stop, except the foreman, who replies, My orders say
dig. The foreman throws a pick into the rock saying, Get back to work.
The pick strikes a fatal blow, creating just enough of a crack to allow some
water to seep through. The workers realize that Z was right and run for
their lives.
The tunnelers run to the rest of the workers in the lower chamber
only to learn that they have been locked inside. The water rushes in, forc-
ing the ants to gather on higher ground in the middle of the chamber. Z
gets an idea when he notices some ants climbing up to a ledge. He and
Weaver begin organizing everyone to create a gigantic ant ladder. The
ants form a foundation with their bodies and lock their arms and legs
together to create a structure that begins to tower up toward the ground
above. Finally, Z begins to climb to the top of the heap.
Above all of this, on the outside, the General has assembled the sol-
diers and has launched into a speech about his grand vision and the supe-
riority of the soldiers: The weak elements below are about to be washed
away, ridding the colony of filth and inferiority. Our glorious future is at
hand. It is time for a new beginning. Suddenly, a fist breaks through the
ground from below. It is Z! What the hell is that? asks the General.
Cutter replies, I think it is the weak element sir. Z asks someone to pull
him out. Mandible refuses, for the good of the colony. Z replies, we are
the colony. Colonel Cutter fully realizes that the Generals idea that the
workers are inferior is nonsensical given the splendid tunnel the workers
built. He turns against the General and offers Z a hand saying, This is for
the good of the colony. He then orders his men to help pull up the ant
ladder. The General is enraged and says, I am the colony. He tackles Z,
pushing them both into a hole that has been created above the chamber.
Mandible falls onto solid ground and is killed. Z falls into the water, but
Cutter quickly flies down and rescues Z. When Z is revived by a breath of
air from Bala she exclaims You did it! He modestly replies, We did it.
In Antz, Z saves the colony, marries Princess Bala, and discovers how
to feel significant in a mass society. As Z puts it, its a simple story: Boy
meets girl. Boy likes girl. Boy changes underlying social order. The movie
Values East and West in Antz and A Bugs Life 109
ends with Z describing how the colony has been rebuilt better than before
because now theres an indoor pool. Z is going to start a family with
Bala, and he is working with a new therapist who is putting me in touch
with my inner maggot. Most importantly, says Z, I found my place and
its right back where I started. The key to his new life is that this time I
chose it.
Analysis of the resolution of the central conflicts in the films indi-
cates the transformation that has taken place over the course of the films.
In A Bugs Life Flik responds to the threat posed by the grasshoppers by
attempting to find stronger weapons to intervene on behalf of his colony,
using technology to build a mechanical bird to save the ants, and hero-
ically and ingeniously facing the threat. The inner struggle for a meaning-
ful existence is also resolved in the process of resolving the external
conflict. Flik makes a difference because he advocates independence and
unbridled individualism. His ingenuity and bravery convince the royalty to
adopt military escalation and technological innovation.
Antz centers on internal conflicts, balancing the personal conflict of
an individuals meaning with the social threat to the colony. Z finds mean-
ing in a mass society by thinking and deciding for himself within his natu-
ral limitations. He resolves the social threat by raising the consciousness of
the group about the dangers of having others decide our place and organ-
izing group efforts to solve problems. At the same time, individualism is
not absolute. While the personal conflict exists because of a denial of indi-
vidual freedom, the social conflict exists because of Mandibles selfish
individualism. Thus, Z advocates interdependence, balancing the needs of
the individual and the group.
Applying Daoist rhetorical principles to the analysis of the conflict in A
Bugs Life and Antz allows for a critical assessment from a Daoist perspec-
tive. Specifically, in this case, the analysis reveals that A Bugs Life offers a
typically Western orientation to issues of self and society while Antz
upholds Daoist views. This claim is justified, first, by considering the
extent to which the films express consonance with the natural way of the
universe and the concept of effortless action (wu-wei).
A Bugs Life presents the view that one should attempt to overcome
nature through the use of technology. The opening scenes of the film
show Flik using his threshing machine with great zeal. The machine has
problems only because the rest of the colony refuses to acknowledge Fliks
ingenious idea and offers no support. In the closing scenes of the movie
scores of ants are successfully using the machine to improve the quantity
of food harvested and reduce the amount of time and labor expended in
the enterprise. The clear message is that the labor-intensive way that ants
traditionally gather food is inferior to a technological solution. Similarly,
the mechanical bird is highly successful at scaring away the grasshoppers
until a nave individual unwittingly sets the bird on fire. The use of tech-
nology per se is validated. The failure of technology stems from the inabil-
ity of some individuals to use it properly or grasp its significance and
advantages. Hence, the film values the large-scale use of technology to
overcome the natural limitations of the creatures of the universe.
In contrast, Antz advocates the natural way; in fact, it is a story about
restoring the harmony of nature. The major conflicts in the film occur
because particular individuals attempt to decide the role or fate of others
without considering the individuals inner self. Ants are assigned at birth
to be either soldiers or workers based solely on random sequencing. This
process miscategorized Weaver and Z. Furthermore, Mandible wants to
enforce unnatural distinctions between equals. He plots to exterminate
the workers and honor the soldiers because of his mistaken beliefs regard-
ing their respective abilities. Similarly, Bala is forced to replace her
mother because of a notion established within the colony regarding her
rightful place. These approaches are unnatural because they attempt to
plug individuals into predesigned categories that have been established by
other individuals in an attempt to make discriminations. A more natural
approach is to allow individuals to discover and enact their nature for
themselves. This is precisely Zs goal, and the ultimate transformation he
makes in the closing scene is that he is happy being what he was all along
because he got to choose for himself.
Given the dichotomy regarding adherence to nature, it is not sur-
prising that the films differ greatly in the extent to which the heroes act
effortlessly, in accordance with the concept of wu-wei. Zhuangzi advises us
to accept what we cannot control and focus on ourselves. Flik, on the
other hand, struggles every step of the way. His various schemes require a
tremendous amount of effort and usually fail because they are so antago-
nistic to the natural flow around him. His journey in search of vigilantes,
for example, begins with a spectacular aerial sequence, where Flik
plucks a dandelion spore and floats into the great unknown (Stack, 1998,
p. D1). Tremendous energy is expended attempting to mold his ragtag
band of misfits to outwit the grasshopper gang (Lehmkuhl, 1999, p. 1).
Fliks efforts are not simply the result of individuality, but the result
of the particular way he expresses his individuality. Flik, for instance, is
forever urging the rest of the ants to think progressively, with overzealous
admonishments that serve to annoy more than inspire (Major, 1998, p.
Values East and West in Antz and A Bugs Life 111
1). Daoism appreciates individuality, but while individualism is its hall-
mark, . . . a wise individual is unassuming, simple, and artless, certainly not
egotistical (Nagel, 1994, p. 7). Thus, the characters in A Bugs Life are
striving with great effort to achieve their objectives. The grasshoppers are
loud, noisy, bullies who will stop at nothing to get their way. Flik invents
machines, makes heroic journeys, and develops sophisticated plans involv-
ing numerous allies in his quest for respect and redemption. The bugs
engage in daring rescues and complicated deceptions.
In Antz, Z is virtually the opposite in his actions. Note how he does
nothing but accomplishes everything in virtually every significant incident.
Z accidentally finds himself shipped off to battle against a termite colony
(McDonagh, 1998, p. 1). Z never raises a weapon in the battle, but is the
sole survivor because he fell into a crevice. Upon his return, hes sud-
denly hailed as a war hero. More wacky happenstance later, Z accidentally
kidnaps Bala (p. 1). He inspires a revolution that is based solely on a mis-
characterization of his reputed acts and stumbles onto an evil plot by
General Mandible to betray the Queen (p. 1). Even when he saves the
day, by raising the consciousness of the group and inspiring them to work
together, he does so spontaneously and effortlessly. When Bala tries to
thank Z for what he has done, he modestly says that he did nothing; the
group did everything. This is consistent with Daoism, as Nagel (1994)
points out: The pursuit of gain and fame is not a proper human course,
according to the Way (p. 8). Obviously, actions that are valorized in A
Bugs Life go against the Daoist values of nature and effortlessness while
Antz demonstrates consonance with nature and the virtue of nonaction.
A second area for analysis is the extent to which the films uphold the
values of balance and harmony. According to Daoism, consideration
should be given to the overall well-being of all entities in the universe and
the ease with which everyone lives together. Nagel admonishes us to
remember, you are one of many (p. 71). In these respects, A Bugs Life
fails to promote balance and harmony because the desires of the individ-
ual are held to be superior to those of the group.
A Bugs Life creates a vision of how an individual can be significant.
Insects are rewarded for their independence by overcoming mindless tra-
ditions, fear, and the opinions of others to accomplish great things. Tech-
nology is used successfully to overcome the need for collective efforts. The
threshing machine allows individuals to gather enormous amounts of food
by themselves. At the same time, Flik risks his life, the lives of the circus
bugs, and the well-being of the colony, and lies to his group for the sake of
his plans. A Bugs Life makes the statement that an individuals meaning
derives from the ability to be ingenious and brave, despite the size of ones
enemies or the assumptions of society. In this sense, enemies and society
have the same role. They are obstacles that individuals must overcome in
order to discover their significance. Hence, the ultimate answer is that
society must accommodate the individual, not the reverse. There is no
attempt at balance and harmony as Daoism contextualizes them.
Antz also focuses on the question of the appropriate relationship
between the individual and society, but it provides a very different answer.
Individuals rely on the collective for their well-being. There is no doubt
that teamwork can provide tremendous benefits to everyone. At the same
time, the needs of the individual must be balanced by allowing individuals
to determine their roles within society. Mindless conformity allows for
exploitation while unbridled individualism, as exemplified by Mandible,
can lead to genocide or slavery. Hence, an individuals attempt to live a
meaningful life must be mediated by or undertaken in light of ones con-
nection and responsibility to the group.
Balance and harmony between the individual and the group stem
from the appropriate mix of certain instrumental and terminal values.
Organizability is the paramount instrumental value, or means to achieve
an end. Mass society is necessary because it allows for the efficient produc-
tion and delivery of goods and services. All creatures have material needs
that must be metfood water, shelter, and so onand these needs must
be met by working. Because a collective can produce and deliver the mate-
rials we need, it provides a potentially optimal method of increasing the
quality of goods and services and/or minimizing the time and effort
required to acquire them. The film reinforces the notion that no individ-
ual is capable of prospering alone. The metropolis, tunnel, and escape
ladder are built through collective action. There are also other moments
when ants are shown to need others, although not necessarily a collectiv-
ity. When Cutter rescues Z from the water it illustrates the importance of a
social world.
The good society must also be guided by appropriate terminal
values, or visions of appropriate ends. In this film that value is the well-
being of all individuals. We are told this in several ways. First, Mandible
uses the ability to organize the efforts of the workers to try to enact his evil
plan of genocide. He uses the workers to build a tunnel that will eventu-
ally flood the lower level of the colony where the workers have been
trapped and will soon drown. He represents the flaw of a society that has
an instrumental value of efficacy, organizability, but a terminal value of
favoring a particular class in society. By considering the well-being of some
individuals at the expense of the rest, Mandibles value allows for hatred
and prejudice. Organizability has the potential to do great good or evil,
Values East and West in Antz and A Bugs Life 113
depending on the terminal vision. The same is seen in the various snipes
about the royalty and their privileges and the classism that elevates the
soldiers above the workers.
Considering the well-being of all individuals, operationally, means
allowing for individual choice. Choice is fulfilling and fosters creativity.
The value of creativity is seen in the dance scene, where Z innovates and
has much more fun, the wrecking ball that allows much work to be done,
the ladder that saves everyone, and the use of the water to rebuild a better
colonyone that includes a lake.
Freedom of choice is also celebrated throughout the film: the nega-
tive image of babies being born and immediately assigned a pickaxe, for
workers, or a combat helmet, for soldiers; the fact that Weaver is so happy
being a worker once he switches places with Z; and the transformation of
Z from an alienated, unhappy soul who begins the film in therapy, to one
who has chosen a destiny he looks forward to. At the same time, creativity
and freedom are not entirely unbounded. They are regulated by adher-
ence to ones nature or fate. One is not free to choose any solution or
path. One is free to discover his or her nature and attempt to enact what
the universe destines. In so doing, one balances the needs of the one and
the many and harmonizes the universe.
Daoist analysis demonstrates that A Bugs Life and Antz are not
merely animated films, but important statements about the appropriate
role of the individual in a mass society. The films reflect clear values of
Western and Eastern cultures, respectively, providing very different
answers to key questions. They thereby offer two clear alternatives in the
orientation of self and society. Perhaps the view of society offered in Antz
represents a long-overdue and necessary shift in consciousness. Stalwart
independence, a treasured hallmark of Western societies, may need to be
rethought with a greater sensitivity toward the fact that our world is
increasingly interdependent. Antz also admonishes us that the greatest
threats to society can come from within. While external threats to peace
and security cannot be ignored, they are sometimes manufactured and
manipulated, as in the case of the termites, to justify and bolster danger-
ous military power.
Shrek as the Daoist Hero
For as long as humans have told stories, we have talked about great indi-
viduals who have performed with remarkable skill and valor. These
heroes are notable not only for their reputed feats of conquest but also
for their symbolic function. The hero functions symbolically as a role
model or possible self that embodies particular social values. We are
induced to identify with the hero, seeing ourselves in the heros trials and
triumphs. Hence, the rhetorical form and function of hero stories is to
illustrate how heroes look and act. The attributes of heroes themselves,
and the solutions of successful heroes to their challenges, suggest the
traits that individuals should aspire to in order to be positive influences on
the community. The stories of heroes are thus symbolic inducements that
suggest possibilities for action in a world of conflict and choice. Hero sto-
ries use princesses, dragons, and magic as metaphors for the problems
that beset us and the pathways for our triumphs.
In his monumental work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph
Campbell (1949) first puts forth the idea that the story of the hero is
universal, representing basic patterns of human existence found in every
And whether it was Finnegans Wake or the Navaho material, or
the Hindu material, or Heinrich Zimmers, it was all the same
material. That was when I realizedand nobody can tell me
any differentlythat theres one mythology in the world. It has
been inflected in various cultures in terms of their historical
and social circumstances and needs and particular local ethic
systems, but its one mythology. (Campbell in Cousinesau,
1999, p. 126)
Campbell believes that hero stories are universal because the hero is an
archetype of the human psyche. Hero stories represent basic psychological
issues that face us all. The challenges the hero faces, and the appropriate
responses, are thus keys to the basic human condition. Therefore, while
there can be many variations of the hero myth, as suggested by titular ref-
erence to a thousand faces, Campbell maintained that there is one basic
hero story or monomyth.
Since the hero story is a monomyth, the path the hero travels to suc-
cessfully resolve the various issues of the human psyche is also invariant.
Campbell presents the solutions to our problems as universal, thus cele-
brating certain paths of transcendence as correct for all of us. Given the
symbolic function of hero stories, to promote identification with the hero,
Campbell suggests that the monomyth allows individuals to see possibili-
ties in their own lives for navigating the universal problems of human
I take issue with Campbells notion that the hero is an archetype of
the subconscious mind and the implication that the key conflicts in our
lives, and their solutions, can be framed as universal. I argue, in contrast,
that the hero is a culture-bound construct used to reify particular values
held important in the community. Furthermore, by moving from universal
to cultural explanations for approaching conflict we allow for new concep-
tions of what is important and valuable in our lives. I justify these claims by
examining key elements of a particular cultural value system, Daoism, and
applying them to the film Shrek (Adamson & Jenson, 2001). Daoism is but
one example for my view that there are unique cultural differences in the
definitions and uses of heroes. This examination reveals that the hero in
Shrek, an ogre, is an appropriate model of the hero from a Daoist perspec-
tive, and that the ogre, for whom the film is titled, fails in significant ways
to follow the pattern of Campbells monomyth. In fact, Shrek offers a com-
peting version of the hero, one that is grounded in Asian philosophy and
not universal human psychology.
I begin with an overview of the relevance of Shrek and the choice of
Daoism as an analytical perspective. Following this, I acquaint the reader
with the basic form of Campbells hero journey and the general plot of
Shrek in order to situate Shrek as a hero story. Next, I examine fundamental
elements of Daoism and apply them to the film in order to situate the cen-
tral character in the film, Shrek, as a Daoist figure. I then note and apply
the form of the hero story to Shrek in order to test the applicability of
Campbells archetypal hero to the Daoist hero. I conclude by discussing
the findings and implications of this study.
Shrek is a particularly appropriate choice for this analysis because ani-
mated films have the potential to communicate their messages in a
manner that is consistent with Daoist precepts for communication. For
one, Daoists recognize the limitations of words in expressing ideas and
consequently attempt to go beyond their limitations with imaginative
strategies such as metaphor, paradox, and imagery. An animated film
seems especially helpful in this regard because it communicates its mes-
sage not only with words but also with sounds and visual images. Hence,
films allow rhetors to move beyond language and speak to the whole
person, not simply the verbal, conscious mind. Furthermore, audiences do
not necessarily expect animated films to be realistic, and animation can
stretch the imagination without violating the genre.
Shrek is also an apt case study in Daoist rhetoric because of several
aspects of the story. As we shall see, Shrek is the paradoxical fable of an
ugly, hideous creature who manages to find true love and happiness. Para-
dox, fables, and glorification of the ugly and handicapped have already
been identified as central characteristics of the rhetoric of Zhuangzi.
Shrek is an unassuming soul who lives in a swamp and is integral with his
natural world. Shrek, through animation, paradox, fable, and central char-
acter, is a study in Daoist communication forms. Its content is an alterna-
tive vision of the hero with which audiences are invited to identify.
Campbell views the hero as an archetype of the psyche, following C. G.
Jungs notion that an archetype is an image or idea that is part of the col-
lective unconscious. Hence, the symbols of mythology are not manufac-
tured; they cannot be ordered, invented, or permanently suppressed.
They are spontaneous productions of the psyche, and each bears within it,
undamaged, the germ power of its sources (Campbell, 1949, p. 4). Arche-
types thus transcend culture because they are situated in the unconscious
minds of all individuals.
According to Campbell, the Jungian archetype theory explains why
the pattern of the hero myth recurs in the stories found in many cultures:
The whole sense of the ubiquitous myth of the heros passage is
that it shall serve as a general pattern for men and women,
Shrek as the Daoist Hero 117
wherever they may stand along the scale. Therefore it is formu-
lated in the broadest terms. The individual has only to discover
his own position with reference to this general human formula,
and let it then assist him past his restricting walls. (p. 121)
The hero represents every individual embarking on a quest or journey of
self-discovery. The motivation for this struggle is the search for identity, the
individuals need to find meaning and purpose in life. An individuals jour-
ney or quest can thus be expected to approximate the general human for-
mula that develops in response to the need for personal development.
The archetype of the heros journey can be manifest in different
types of narratives. The quest is found in both myths and fairy tales, such
as Shrek. Campbell makes the distinction that typically, the hero of the
fairy tale achieves a domestic, microcosmic triumph, and the hero of the
myth a world-historical, macrocosmic triumph (pp. 3738).
The process of enlightenment requires the hero to attend to two pri-
mary tasks. The first is a process where one identifies core underlying
issues of the psyche, as opposed to those that are manifest, battles the
demons attendant to these core issues, and makes a breakthrough that
engenders transformation. The second task is to give the insight derived
to others, to return then to us, transfigured, and teach the lesson he has
learned of life renewed (p. 20).
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a
region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there
encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back
from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons
on his fellow man [sic]. (p. 30)
The heros victory or transformation is only complete if it benefits the
community. Thus, the happy ending of the fairy tale, the myth, and the
divine comedy of the soul, is to be read . . . as a transcendence of the uni-
versal tragedy of man [sic] (p. 28).
The one single myth that is the core of the hero quest is referred to
as the monomyth. The monomyth has a standard path or formula that
breaks the rite of passage into three stages: separation-initiation-return.
Campbell refers to these stages as the nuclear unit of the monomyth (p.
30). The nuclear unit is broken down into further elements:
1. Separation or Departure
The Call to Adventure
Refusal of the Call
Supernatural Aid
Crossing the First Threshold
Into the Belly of the Whale
2. The Initiation
Road of Trials
Meeting with the Goddess
Woman as the Temptress
Atonement with the Father
The Ultimate Boon
3. Return
Refusal of the Return
Magic Flight
Rescue from Without
Crossing the Return Threshold
Master of Two Worlds
Freedom to Live
These subsections will be examined in more depth later in this chapter
when I apply them to the film.
Shrek is an enormously successful film, as evidenced by its Best Ani-
mated Film award for 2001 from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
Sciences. The film situates itself as a fairy tale, although an irreverent one,
in the opening scene. The film begins with a shot of a book; the page
opens to a classic fairy tale about a lovely princess who had a spell on her
that could only be broken by loves first kiss. The pages continue to turn
as Shrek reads the story aloud:
She was locked away in a castle, guarded by a terrible fire-
breathing dragon. Many brave knights had attempted to free
her from this dreadful prison but none prevailed. She waited in
the dragons keep, in the highest room of the tallest tower for
her true love and true loves first kiss.
Shrek then laughs, like thats ever going to happen, and tears out the
page of the book to wipe himself after using the outhouse. What a load
of . . . and we hear the sound of the toilet flushing.
The basic plot line in Shrek is that Lord Farquaad wants to marry a
Princess in order to raise his social standing. By marrying a Princess and
making her his queen, Farquaad believes that DuLoc, his realm, will
finally have the perfect king! He chooses to wed Princess Fiona, who is
Shrek as the Daoist Hero 119
imprisoned in a castle guarded by a ferocious dragon. Farquaad puts
together a tournament so that the finest men in DuLoc can compete to
determine the knight most capable of rescuing the Princess on Farquaads
Shrek enters the picture by virtue of a decree made earlier by Far-
quaad designed to promote perfection in his realm. Farquaads forest is
populated by a number of fairy-tale creatures, including The Three Little
Pigs, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Three Blind Mice, Pinoc-
chio, and The Big Bad Wolf. Farquaad believes that the fairy-tale trash
are poisoning his beautiful world. He has decided to have the creatures
physically relocatedto the swamp that is Shreks home. The invasion of
the numerous, clamorous creatures destroys Shreks peaceful solitude,
and this forces him to seek out Farquaad to demand his swamp be
returned to its previous state.
Donkey, a talking donkey who has glommed on to Shrek in order
to be protected from Farquaads goons when they were rounding up the
fairy-tale creatures, accompanies Shrek in his journey to DuLoc. Once in
DuLoc, Shrek and Farquaad make a deal. Shrek gets his swamp back if he
rescues Princess Fiona for Lord Farquaad.
Shrek and Donkey make their way to the castle, battle a ferocious
dragon, and rescue the Princess. On the trip home Shrek and Fiona real-
ize that they are attracted to each other. A crucial misunderstanding leaves
them unrequited and unable to tolerate each other. We also learn the
secret of Princess Fiona. She is a beautiful woman by day, but beginning
each sunset she turns into an ogre. A witch cast an enchanted spell on her
as a little girl: By night one way. By day another. This shall be the norm
until you find true loves first kiss and then take loves true form.
Shrek returns to Farquaad with the Princess and is granted the title
to his swamp. He returns to his now quiet home but is very sad that he
will no longer be with Fiona. Donkey clarifies Shreks misunderstanding
with Fiona and tells him that she loves him. Shrek decides to go to
DuLoc and tell Fiona how he feels about her. With a ride from the flying
dragon, who previously guarded Fionas castle and has returned to the
scene, Shrek and Donkey arrive just in time to stop the wedding. The
dragon eats the evil Lord Farquaad, Shrek and Fiona confess their love
for each other and kiss, and the Princess turns into her true formthat
of an ogre! Everyone lives happily ever after. Shrek is clearly positioned
by its producers as a hero story, complete with a dragon, Princess, and a
happy ending; it is thus ripe for analysis of the extent to which it
upholds the hero archetype.
In order to pose Shrek as a test of the Daoist hero, I must establish that
Shrek is a Daoist. I have noted that spontaneity, effortlessness, desireless-
ness, and freedom from strife follow naturally from the Dao. Mair (1994)
observes, above all, Master Chuang [Zhuangzi] emphasized spontaneity
(pp. xliii). By being spontaneous the sage could climb the high places
and not be frightened, could enter the water and not get wet, could enter
the fire and not get burned (ch. 6, Watson, 1964, p. 73). The sage recog-
nizes that the purpose of life is to find what is inside oneself and be open
to the unfolding elements of reality that have been conditioned by the
Shreks spontaneity is evident throughout the film. His planning
does not seem to go beyond the moment, yet he manages to acquit him-
self quite well in whatever he does. Shrek is also fearless, although he dis-
plays prudence in all of his deeds. He even manages to quell the fear in
In order to rescue the Princess, Shrek and Donkey must cross over a
rickety wood and rope bridge suspended over the lava below. Donkey is
very unsettled about crossing a boiling lake of lava. Shrek assures the
donkey that he will be right beside him to provide emotional support.
Shrek says well just tackle this thing together one little baby step at a
time. Ultimately, Shrek helps Donkey overcome his fear and enables him
to cross safely.
The castle interior is dark and dripping with water. Shrek and
Donkey make their way inside, where there are piles of the bones of
knights who have tried to slay the dragon. Suddenly, the dragon appears.
Shrek grabs the dragon by the tail, just as the dragon is about to eat
Donkey. Shrek is swung back and forth wildly. He lets go of the tail at the
precise moment and the momentum sends him flying high in the air,
across the castle and through the roof of the Princesss chamber.
Shrek exhibits his spontaneity and adherence to wu-wei as the rescue
scene continues. As Shrek flies off to rescue Fiona and spirit her out of the
castle, Donkey is left alone with the dragon. He discovers that the enor-
mous beast is female and very susceptible to flattery. Donkey has made a
friend, but Shrek continues with the business at hand and hurries Fiona
out. Suddenly, the dragon roars and appears down the hall. You didnt
slay the dragon, Fiona cries out in disbelief. Its on my to-do list, replies
Shrek. Now come on! But this isnt right! protests Fiona. You were
meant to charge in, sword drawn, banner flying. Thats what all the other
Shrek as the Daoist Hero 121
knights did. Yeah, notes Shrek wryly, right before they burst into
flame. What kind of knight are you? asks Fiona. Shrek replies, One of
a kind.
Shrek takes the path of least resistance. He is aware that the goal is
not to display bravery but to rescue the Princess. By not battling the
dragon he avoids the fate of other knights who failed to rescue Fiona. Fur-
thermore, by not killing the dragon, Shrek keeps intact a vital savior who
will reappear later in the film.
Living spontaneously, effortlessly, without desire, and focusing on
the self and not the control of others enables one to minimize conflict
and strife. An example of how Shrek attempts to avoid unnecessary strife
is found in a scene where Shrek and Donkey have embarked on their
quest to save the Princess. Donkey confronts Shrek with the irony that Far-
quaad had no right to relocate the fairy-tale creatures in his swamp in the
first place, and now Shrek must do an additional duty, rescue of the
Princess, in order to get his swamp back. Donkey maintains that Shrek
shouldnt have to perform the rescue, and wonders why Shrek doesnt just
stand up to Farquaad: I dont get it. Why dont you just pull some of that
ogre stuff on him? You know. Throttle him. Lay siege to his fortress. Grind
his bones to make your bread. You know, the whole ogre trip. Shrek
replies, mockingly, Maybe I could have decapitated an entire village and
put their heads on a pike, gotten a knife, cut open their spleen and drink
their fluids. Does that sound good to you? The donkey doesnt think so.
Shrek realizes that he must not draw attention to himself or it will lead to
further trouble.
In every way imaginable, Shrek lives a dignified life, despite being
alone and situated in a swamp. He is quite adept at living in the natural
world, maintaining a balance that stems from his effortless and parsimo-
nious approach to life. Shrek lives simply and comfortably, apart from
society. He satisfies his appetites, but does so in modest ways. He avoids
planning, acts only when necessary, and when he does act it is with the
minimum effort needed to accomplish his objectives. Consequently, Shrek
is a Daoist.
Stories of the heros quest can be expected to follow a narrative formula
that corresponds to the general pattern of the monomyth noted earlier.
By indicating in more detail the nature and functions of the subsections of
the monomyth we can develop expectations regarding the form of hero
stories such as Shrek. These expectations of form can then be used to ana-
lyze the extent to which Shrek follows the form and whether its variations
are significant.
The heros journey begins with the call to adventure. This stage
signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiri-
tual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone
unknown (Campbell, 1949, p. 58). The call may be seen psychologically
as the awakening of the self. It is an indication that the familiar life
horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals, and emotional pat-
terns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand.
The call is frequently announced by a herald, whose appearance
marks the call to adventure (p. 51). The form of the call includes typical
circumstances such as the dark forest, the great tree, the babbling spring,
and the loathly, underestimated appearance of the carrier of the power of
destiny (p. 52). The hero does not always answer the call, and may
instead enact the second stage, Refusal of the Call. This amounts to a
refusal to give up what one takes to be ones own interest (p. 60).
These sequences are evident in Shrek. The herald is Donkey, who
crashes into Shrek as he attempts to escape Farquaads guards, who are
trying to remove him from the forest along with the other fairy-tale crea-
tures. Donkey is easily underestimated, and he is seen cowering behind
Shrek as the guards confront him. The guards run off, scared of Shrek,
who then turns and walks away. Shreks challenge is foreshadowed. He
makes it clear that he wants to be left alone. Despite Donkeys flattery,
charm, and humor, Shrek insists that Donkey go away. Shrek thereby
refuses the call by not accepting the challenge of interaction. Since
Donkey has nowhere to go, Shrek allows him to sleep outside on the
Shreks initial refusal, however, is soon overridden. It seems that all
the fairy-tale creatures that have been rounded up were relocated to
Shreks swamp, where they eventually found his house and warm fire.
Shrek tries to shoo away the creatures, but there are too many of them
and they protest that they have nowhere to go. Pinocchio and one of The
Three Pigs tell Shrek that Lord Farquaad has forced them to go to the
swamp. Shrek finally answers the call by announcing that he will demand
that Farquaad rid the swamp of the creatures. He is somewhat surprised
that his outburst is greeted with wild and joyful cheers from the displaced
creatures. Shrek realizes that he will not be left alone until he responds to
the call. It is clearly in his perceived self-interest to answer.
When the hero answers the call, he or she has an encounter with
someone or something that provides assistance. This Supernatural Aid is
given by a protective figure . . . who provides the adventurer with amulets
against the dragon forces he is about to pass (Campbell, 1949, p. 69). In
Shrek as the Daoist Hero 123
the case of Shrek, the supernatural aid is a gift from Donkey. It is not pro-
totypical, though, in two respects. First, the supernatural aid comes from
the herald and not the usual crone or old man. Second, the gift is not a
magical ability or an amulet but a personal relationship. Donkey has the
ability to penetrate Shreks tough exterior, provide amiable companion-
ship, and confront him with honesty and compassion. Donkey is the key to
Shreks challengeovercoming his fear of being hurt by people who
dont understand and appreciate him.
The next stage of a heros journey is Crossing the First Threshold.
This is where the hero, accompanied with the personifications of his des-
tiny to guide and aid him, encounters the threshold guardian, custo-
dian of the new territory (pp. 7778). The threshold represents the foray
outside the protection of the old way of life.
The castle DuLoc is the first threshold in Shreks journey, and Far-
quaad is its guardian. The opening shot of the scene where Farquaad is
introduced shows him walking proudly, stridently, and menacingly down a
long hallway while a hooded torturer pours milk into the empty glass.
When Farquaad arrives at the doorway to the dungeon, where the torturer
and the glass of milk are waiting, it becomes clear that Farquaad is only
half the size of the two guards waiting outside the doorway. Inside, the
Gingerbread Man is whimpering, as the torturer abuses him by dunking
him head first into the glass of milk. Throughout the scene, Farquaad is
portrayed as cruel, petty, and narcisstic.
The final stage in The Separation or Departure is to enter The Belly
of the Whale. Here the hero is prepared for transformation by killing the
former self. The hero dies (is annihilated) and emerges a new person.
The passage is a magical threshold or transit into a sphere of rebirth
that is symbolized in the worldwide womb image of the belly of the
whale (p. 90). The two sets of teeth at the entrance (whales mouth) and
the ordeal of the belly force the self to break through the ego barriers that
protect the former self.
One by one the resistances are broken. He must put aside his
pride, his virtue, beauty, and life and bow or submit to the
absolutely intolerable. Then he finds that he and his opposite
are not of differing species, but one flesh. (p. 108)
The ordeal forces a confrontation of the self where the hero discovers
and assimilates his opposite [his own unsuspected self] either by swallow-
ing it or by being swallowed (p. 108).
Shrek must venture out of his swamp (safety zone) and into the
excessively stylized and heavily populated castle. There, Shrek defeats Far-
quaads best knights and confronts the tiny tyrant. Entering DuLoc, and
crossing the threshold takes Shrek into The Belly of the Whale.
As Shrek and Donkey enter the castle, which looks like a storybook
castle one might find at Disneyland, except that it is incredibly phallic,
they walk toward some noise, and end up in the arena where the knights
are about to begin the tournament. Shrek interrupts Farquaad, who then
decides that the champion will be the knight who kills the ogre. Shrek,
with Donkeys able assistance, defeats all the knights and displays his
tremendous strength, agility, and cunning. Shrek has spontaneously and
effortlessly acquitted himself as a champion, thereby positioning himself
for a fortuitous meeting with Fiona. Shreks bargain with Farquaad to
rescue the Princess represents the annihilation of his former self because
Shrek has engaged the world outside his swamp, and must venture out
further still.
The self-annihilation of the hero is an important part of the prepara-
tion for personal growth. But the original departure into the land of trials
represented only the beginning of the long and really perilous path of ini-
tiatory conquests and moments of illumination. Dragons have now to be
slain and surprising barriers passedagain, again, and again (p. 109).
The hero now enters the Initiation phase, which involves a series of fur-
ther trials (Road of Trials) that represent a deepening of the problem of
the first threshold. The question remains: Can the ego puts itself to
death? (p. 109). In the second phase, the hero will confront the feminine
form (goddess, temptress), the masculine form (father), and the deity
(gods, goddesses). Having mastered the tests or issues attendant to these
three forms, and received the gifts of insight derived from these confronta-
tions, the hero is prepared for the final phase of the questthe return.
Before Shrek encounters the feminine, which in this case is Princess
Fiona, he must rescue her from the dragons lair. Shrek and Donkey set
out for the dragons castle and arrive two days later. Once inside the
dragons lair Shrek rescues the Princess, outwits the dragon, and escapes
across the bridge as the dragon incinerates it right behind them. Shrek
and the others climb to safety while the dragon looks on, unable to give
pursuit. The dragon seems far more upset at losing her new found love,
Donkey, than at having let Fiona escape.
One of the important encounters in this stage of the journey is
Meeting with the Goddess. The hero encounters the feminine, the
Queen Goddess of the World (p. 109). The relationship between the two
establishes the distance the hero must go in the quest for transformation.
Woman, in the picture language of mythology, represents the
totality of what can be known. The hero is the one who comes
Shrek as the Daoist Hero 125
to know. As he progresses in the slow initiation which is life, the
form of the goddess undergoes for him a series of transfigura-
tions: she can never be greater than himself, though she can
always be more than he is yet capable of comprehending. She
lures, she guides, she bids him burst his fetters. And if he can
match her import, the two, the knower and the known, will be
released from every limitation. (p. 116)
The woman as knower, hero as the one who comes to know, indicates a
superior/subordinate relationship. The heros task is to become an equal
and then a master.
What enables the hero to learn what she or he needs to know is that
the woman presents herself not only as a goddess, the Madonna, but also
as a sinner. It is the further meeting of Woman as the Temptress that is
crucial. The woman confronts the hero with contradictionthe mothers
love and the seducers lust. She is the guide to the sublime acme of sen-
suous adventure. By deficient eyes she is reduced to inferior states; by the
evil of ignorance she is spellbound to banality and ugliness. But she is
redeemed by the eyes of understanding (p. 116). If the hero can see the
woman as she is in roles such as mother, grandmother, seducer, and wife,
then he has mastered the gift of love and understands the total mystery
of life; for the woman is life, the hero its knower and master. The hero is
now equated with the father figure: He is in the fathers place (p. 121).
The seeker becomes the master: The seeker of life beyond life must press
beyond her, surpass the temptations of her call, and soar to the immacu-
late ether beyond (p. 122).
Shreks meeting with the goddess and temptress are pivotal and well-
detailed elements of the film. As he and Donkey first approach the castle
gate Donkey asks So where is this fire-breathing pain in the neck
anyway? Inside, says Shrek, waiting for us to rescue her. I was talking
about the dragon Shrek.
Once rescued, Fiona insists on knowing the identity of her rescuer.
The battle is won. You may remove your helmet, good Sir Knight. Shrek
is reluctant to reveal himself, but Fiona persists and he finally relents. It is
obvious from Fionas face that she is disappointed. Instead of the hand-
some prince she expected, she sees a huge green head with large ears that
stick out like fat antennae. Fiona is upset that her true love, who she
thinks is Farquaad, did not care enough about her to rescue her himself.
They then set out on their journey back to DuLoc. As nightfall
approaches, Fiona is visibly agitated and demands that they make camp
for the night and she be provided with shelter. She knows the sundown
will mark her transformation to an ogre and she does not want anyone to
know her secret.
The next morning Princess Fiona is up and in a very good mood.
This day is remarkable because we see some of her unique talents. For
example, while Shrek and Donkey lay asleep on the ground the Princess
comes upon a beautiful blue songbird, nesting in a tree. She begins
singing to the bird, which answers back with its song. They continue
singing back and forth in turn until Fiona emits an incredibly high-
pitched note that the bird tries to imitate. The note, however, is well
beyond the birds range, and its chest swells from the effort until the bird
pops and explodes. There are three eggs in the nest. The next shot shows
the eggs frying sunny-side-up on a rock. Fiona is cooking the eggs for
Shrek and Donkey. Later, as they continue the journey and are walking in
the woods, Shrek belches, which he says is a compliment to the breakfast.
Donkey scolds Shrek for acting that way in front of a Princess. Fiona then
burps herself and says that she appreciates the compliment. Donkey
observes, Shes as nasty as you are. Shrek says, You know, youre not
exactly what I expected.
As the Princess continues walking, a man swinging by on a rope sud-
denly sweeps her off the ground. Its Monsieur Hood (aka Robin)! He is
making a gallant attempt to rescue the Princess, who has given no indica-
tion that she needs to be rescued. Robin assumes this to be the case
because she is a beautiful woman in the company of a big, green beast.
Just as Hood makes a threatening advance to stab Shrek with his blade,
Fiona comes swinging out of the trees on a vine screaming a karate yell.
She knocks Hood senseless. One of the Merry Men shoots an arrow, which
she deftly dodges. She then does forward handsprings at the archer and
ends up punching him out. With powerful and agile karate moves, Fiona
incapacitates the rest of the Merry Men, leaving them sprawled out on the
ground. Shrek and Donkey stand in stunned silence at this display of phys-
ical prowess. Fiona polishes off the last of the Merry Men and asks Shrek
and Donkey if they would please continue on their way.
As they continue walking back to DuLoc, Shrek and Fiona flirt and
play constantly. As they cross a meadow, Shrek is annoyed by hordes of
flies. Fiona breaks off two sticks holding a big spider web, and uses the
web to snare the flies. She ends up with a wrapped-up ball of web and flies
on a stick, which she then gives to Shrek, who eats it like cotton candy.
Shrek grabs a frog and blows into it until it pops up and floats like a living
balloon. He ties a string to it and presents it to Fiona. Fiona grabs a snake,
blows it up, twists it like a balloon poodle, strings it, and gives it to Shrek.
They are laughing, giggling, and falling in love.
Shrek as the Daoist Hero 127
Later, as they prepare to camp for the night, Shrek barbecues some
weed rats cooked whole. Fiona is very complimentary, proclaiming the
nasty rodents to be delicious. They are obviously in love and nearly kiss
before being interrupted by Donkey.
Shrek thus meets the goddess. He seems to have found a soul mate,
a yin for his yang. Fiona is in a bind because of her circumstances, but her
heart tells her to tell Shrek her secret and hope that he still loves her.
Unfortunate circumstances, however, further test Shrek as the goddess
becomes a witch.
That night Donkey enters the windmill in which Fiona is staying for
the night and inadvertently discovers Fionas secret. She explains that she
has always been an ogre, beginning each sunset. Meanwhile, Shrek makes
his way back to the windmill, carrying a sunflower and practicing a conver-
sation with Fiona where he professes his love for her. Just as he steels him-
self to knock on the door, he overhears the conversation going on inside.
I cant just marry whoever I want. Take a good look at me, Donkey. I
mean, really. Who could ever love a beast so hideous and ugly? Princess
and ugly dont go together. Thats why I cant stay here with Shrek.
Shrek is crestfallen, thinking that Fiona is referring to his looks when, in
fact, she is bemoaning hers. He throws down the flower and walks away,
not hearing Fiona continue, Its the only way to break the spell. You at
least gotta tell Shrek the truth, says Donkey. No! You cant breath a
word. No one must ever know. Fiona makes Donkey promise never to tell.
The next morning Fiona tries to tell Shrek her secret and feelings
for him. But Shrek is too hurt and angry to listen. Fiona doesnt know that
Shrek is caught in a misunderstanding, and is taken aback by his anger
and stern words. Just then Farquaad and a contingent of soldiers arrive,
and both Shrek and Fiona have seen enough of each other for the
moment. Farquaad gives Shrek the deed to his swamp and then proposes,
saying, Will you be the perfect bride for the perfect groom? Fiona
accepts the proposal and they make plans to marry that day, before the
sun sets. Shrek shuffles back to his swamp, crestfallen and angry.
Shrek ultimately reconciles his anger for Fiona through Donkey. In
fact, throughout the movie Donkey confronts Shreks inability to express
his feelings and connect with others. Donkey follows Shrek back to his
house in the swamp and tries to be supportive of the sad and angry ogre.
Shrek finally tells Donkey to go away. There you are, doing it again, says
Donkey. Just like you did to Fiona. All she ever did was like you, maybe
even love you. Love me? She said I was ugly, a hideous creature. I heard
the two of you talking, Shrek confides. She wasnt talkin about you,
urges Donkey. She was talkin about, uh, somebody else. Shrek decides
to crash the wedding and confront Fiona. Donkey whistles for his girl-
friend, the dragon, who has returned to the scene, and they all fly to
DuLoc. The trio land outside the castle, and Donkey tells the dragon he
will whistle for him if needed.
Shrek and Donkey break into the chapel just before the couples first
kiss. Shrek implores Fiona not to go through with the marriage. He begins
to confess his feelings for her. The sun has now set, and Fiona reveals her
ogre form to Shrek. That explains a lot, remarks Shrek. Farquaad is
appalled. Ugh! Its disgusting! He calls for his guards to take Fiona and
Shrek away.
As large and powerful as Shrek is, the dozens of guards are able to
overpower him and begin to cart him off. Shrek frees his arm and whistles
for the dragon. Farquaad rants amid the chaos, I will have order! I will
have perfection! I will have. . . . Just then, the dragon bursts through the
large window overhead and reaches down and eats Farquaad. Shrek tells
Fiona he loves her and she tells Shrek she loves him. They kiss, and there
is more fog and magic dust sparkling about. We hear Fionas voice: Until
you find true loves first kiss and then take loves true form. . . . Fionas
body emits giant beams of light, as her true form is manifest. It turns out
that loves true form, the form Fiona takes, is that of an ogre. Shrek, her
rescuer, is also her true love. Fiona is a bit dazed. But I dont understand.
Im supposed to be beautiful. But you are beautiful, says Shrek. Donkey,
perched atop the dragons back, tearfully says, I was hoping this was
going to be a happy ending.
As a coach carrying Shrek and Fiona drives off down the road, the
camera pulls back, framing the scene in the book of fairy tales that
opened the movie. The last full line in the story is And they lived ugly
ever after. The next page proclaims The End, and the book closes to
conclude the film.
Shreks final confrontation with the feminine is out of sequence with
Campbells hero pattern. It occurs toward the end of the film during the
wedding scene. It is also unclear if the confrontation leads to a reconcilia-
tion of the duality of the feminine. Further, the remaining elements of the
hero pattern are not evident in the film. What is left undone is the con-
frontation with the masculine figure (Atonement with the Father), the
transcendence of the masculine/feminine duality (Apotheosis), the com-
munion with the gods and the gift of their transcendence (The Ultimate
Boon), and the entire return stage.
Although there is no explicit Atonement with the Father or Apoth-
eosis, it is possible to give a sympathetic reading of Shrek to tease out what
may be implied. A basic issue in the atonement with the male is resolving
the father figures godlike and sinful nature. The father sins with the
temptress, but is more importantly a source of evil power. Interestingly,
Shrek as the Daoist Hero 129
Campbell (1949) often refers to the father as an ogre (see p. 130). Camp-
bell also refers to ogres as barriers of the hero or things that must be over-
come (see pp. 109, 121).
The father then is two dragons to be slain: the dragon thought to
be God (superego) and the dragon thought to be Sin (repressed id). The
idolization of the father seals off the potentially adult spirit from a better
balanced, more realistic view of the father, and therewith of the world (p.
130). Atonement (at-one-ment) requires an abandonment of the
attachment to the ego itself, which leads to the abandonment of the self-
generated double monsterthe dragon thought to be God (superego)
and the dragon thought to be Sin (repressed id) (p. 130). Hence, the
hero must reconcile the false image of the father as all-powerful and inter-
act with the father as a peer rather than subordinate.
When the hero successfully confronts the dualities of the feminine
(goddess/temptress) and masculine (god/ogre) then another aspect of
transcendence occurs. Campbell refers to this as Apotheosis. Apotheosis
is the elevation of oneself to the status of a god. This occurs because the
hero has mastered the feminine and masculine. Furthermore, this mastery
leads to the realization of our androgyny. The conflict with the feminine
and masculine is with those elements within ourselves. The hero becomes
the androgynous god: Male-female gods are not uncommon in the world
of myth. They emerge always with a certain mystery; for they comduct the
mind beyond objective experience into a symbolic realm where duality is
left behind (p. 152). The hero masters the dualities among and between
the feminine-masculine through love (p. 158). Love is the corrective for
ignorance and fear.
While not explicit in the film, one could read Shrek in this way: the
father figure is the ogreShrek himself. The task is to see that he is not
all-powerful and that he can be emotionally needy. Shrek becomes at one
with himself when he accepts the desirability of a relationship with Fiona.
He thus achieves apotheosis. His transcendent love, acceptance of himself
and another, irrespective of form, is the final result of the film.
Because the film ends at this point Shrek neither receives The Ulti-
mate Boon nor engages in the third and final stageThe Return. In
Campbells view, this is a crucial stage. The return entails a reintegration
with society, that is, is indispensable to the continuous circulation of
spiritual energy into the world, and which, from the standpoint of the
community, is the justification of the long retreat (p. 36). The return is a
difficult task, for the returning hero, to complete his adventure, must sur-
vive the impact of the world (p. 226). It is important to understand what
Campbell thinks happens in The Return in order to assess Shreks failure
to complete this stage.
The final trial of the hero is to reconcile her or his mortality. The
Ultimate Boon is a gift from the gods. The hero ascends to the heavens
and interacts with the gods and goddesses in order to obtain the gift of
As he crosses threshold after threshold, conquering dragon
after dragon, the stature of the divinity that he summons to his
highest wish increases, until it subsumes the cosmos. Finally,
the mind breaks the bounding sphere of the cosmos to a real-
ization transcending all experiences of formall symboliza-
tions, all divinities; a realization of the ineluctable void. (p.
The grasp of the universal gives the hero a sense of immortality. The hero
is able to see the boundless and realize that there is a place there for all of
us. The hero is released from the ego-driven focus of the mortal body.
Immortality is then experienced as a present fact: It is here! It is here!
(p. 189).
The annihilation of the former self is now complete and the enlight-
ened, transcendent self is ready to engage in the third stage of the
process. The Return is an essential element of the monomyth:
The full round, the norm of the monomyth, requires that the
hero shall now begin the labor of bringing the runes of
wisdom, the Golden Fleece, or his sleeping princess, back into
the kingdom of humanity, where the boon may redound to the
renewing of the community, the nation, the planet, or the ten
thousand worlds. (p. 193)
Not surprisingly, this stage of the quest also has its risks and challenges,
and so the heros journey remains perilous.
The first issue is whether the hero will return at all. Sometimes there
is a Refusal of the Return. Assuming the hero does not get caught up in
some element of narcissism or self-focus, the hero begins to return. The
journey home is termed the Magic Flight, because supernatural forces
often aid it. Sometimes there is a need for intervention in order to escape
the guardians of the return threshold, and the hero receives Rescue from
Without. Had Shrek accomplished his tasks and returned with the gift
from the gods and goddesses, then the dragons assistance in killing Far-
quaad would exemplify Rescue from Without. But Shreks was not a
return and the dragons act could not be termed as assistance in the
Shrek as the Daoist Hero 131
The heros return is marked by Crossing the Return Threshold.
This can be seen as a return from the spirit world or heavens. It is a cross-
ing from one world to another. Yet the mystery that is discovered is that
the divine and human worlds are not distinct:
Here is a great key to the understanding of myth and symbol
the two kingdoms are actually one. The realm of the gods is a
forgotten dimension of the world we know. And the explo-
ration of that dimension, either willingly or unwillingly, is the
whole sense of the deed of the hero. The values and distinc-
tions that in normal life seem important disappear with the ter-
rifying assimilation of the self into what formerly was only
otherness. (p. 217)
The individual is left behind at this crossing point. But in its place is the
sense of the ultimate and boundless. The individual becomes one with the
universe, making the loss of self a discovery of something far more impor-
tant. The burden of the quest is now clear: overcoming the fear of losing
the self. That is why this is the domain of heroes: The hero-soul goes
boldly inand discovers the hags converted into goddesses and the drag-
ons into the watchdogs of the gods (p. 217).
Crossing the final threshold enables the hero to be Master of Two
Worlds. The hero is able to pass freely between the divine and human.
The heros mastery is the ability to move back and forth without contami-
nating the principles of the one with those of the other, yet permitting the
mind to know the one by virtue of the other (p. 229). The hero has
been blessed with a vision transcending the scope of normal human des-
tiny, and amounting to a glimpse of the essential nature of the cosmos (p.
234). This perspective gives one the Freedom to Live. Dwelling in the
mortal and immortal makes it possible to live without fear of death. The
heros actions are released from worry because of a realization of the
passing phenomena of time to the imperishable life that lives and dies in
all (p. 234). The hero is released from annihilation and, thus, the fear of
Obviously, Shreks failure to work through the process of the return is sig-
nificant. What must be considered is whether the analysis suggests that
Shrek is a flawed hero, because he fails to complete his initiation and does
not return to society with the gifts of his transcendence, or whether,
instead, Shrek exemplifies a different kind of hero altogether, one who
would not be expected to follow Campbells pattern. If Shrek is flawed,
then Campbells claim of universality remains intact, and this fairy tale
supports the pattern. On the other hand, if the story of the ogre is the
story of a different kind of hero with a unique purpose and narrative
form, then it mitigates Campbells claim of universality. Campbell admits
that different cultures have variations in their hero stories, the issue here
is the significance of the variation. Ultimately, the test for the significance
of the variations is whether the story makes more sense as a flawed-hero
story or a Daoist tale.
I am disinclined toward the first view, a flawed story, because what
happens in the film is more omission than failure. Of course, it is always
dangerous to interpret what is not there. Yet the nature of the omissions,
and the overlay of Daoism, make a better accounting of what is and is not
present in the story than simply to say that it fails because it is incomplete.
I claim that the story is complete. Shrek succeeds as a Daoist tale.
Closer examination of the form of the monomyth reveals that the
heros trials revolve around one essential idea: overcoming the ego or self
in order to transcend dualities through divine love or grace. The purpose
of the call is to awaken the hero to the sense that things must change.
The individual, with supernatural help, must cross the threshold and
annihilate the ego. This prepares the hero to resolve several important
dualities: the female, the male, the male/female, and mortality/immor-
tality. The hero must then return and, again with supernatural rescue,
transcend the human and divine worlds and the individual and the uni-
versal. The result of all of this is freedom. Ones unique identity is discov-
ered. The annihilation of the former self and communion with the divine
signifies immortality.
For a Daoist, this process and its functions are nonsensical. The Dao
knows of no distinctions. There are no dualities; hence they do not need
to be overcome. Seeing the female as either goddess or temptress, seeing
male as god or ogre, is incongruent with Daoism. Even the male/female
dichotomy, which is seen in yin and yang, is only marginally compatible
with Daoist thought. All things are created by the dynamic interaction of
yin and yang, and the feminine and masculine exist in varying degrees in
all things. The mingling of the two is the essence of creation and the
nature of all things. The end point for Campbells hero, androgyny, is the
starting point for a Daoist.
Daoist views of mortality/immortality and divine/human are also
similar but crucially different. Campbell clearly maintains a two-world
focus, Heaven and Earth. Daoists are monists. There is no deity in Daoism
and immortality does not come from mastering a two-world dichotomy
Shrek as the Daoist Hero 133
but from recognition of the one that is all. Dichotomy is an illusion. It
should never be postulated in the first place; it does not need to be over-
come. By resisting the tendency of some humans to dichotomize we avoid
the need to transcend a false perception of distinctions. Finally, freedom
does not come from mastery of the dualities of the universe. It comes
from submission to the natural way, surrendering to the flow that is the
undivided universe. Freedom is the goal, but it is achieved by release from
effort, not by slaying dragons.
For these reasons, it makes sense that Shrek does not complete the
work of Campbells hero. Shrek begins the film as a Daoist, and his only
reason for leaving his hermitage is to restore it to its natural state. Far-
quaad is a metaphor for meddlers such as Confucians, who attempt to
impose human values, such as beauty and perfection, on a universe that is
naturally balanced. While Shrek must come to terms with his pain from
thinking he had been scorned by his love, he does not do so by transcend-
ing the duality of the goddess/temptress. He simply acquires more infor-
mation: the truth about Fionas feelings. Shrek never had a problem with
either of the forms Fiona takes in the film. His response when she reveals
her ogre self is matter of fact. Shrek does suspect that a beautiful Princess
will not be attracted to him, but that is because of the likelihood that she
is not with the Dao, not because he needs to work on himself. His lack of
confidence is not in himself but in her sagacity. He is clearly thrown off by
his misunderstanding, which he interprets as a betrayal by Fiona, but he is
hurt because Fiona had seemed to like him. He was content with not
liking her until she showed interest in him. Shrek stops short when he
doesnt resolve dichotomies because he has no need for growth. His views
are situated in the here and now, and he has no duality to overcome.
Shrek is a sage, a Daoist hero.
What makes the story a Daoist tale is that there is a message for
Daoists. Namely, do not be so successful in your detachment from others
that you miss out on the rare individual who might be compatible with
you. It is understandable that Daoists feel the need to retreat from society
to be themselves. Nonetheless, there may be occasional individuals that
the universe puts in your path who should be embraced. Fiona and
Donkey prove their alignment with the Dao because they refuse to let
Shreks form, his unusual appearance and habits, detract from his overall
wholeness. The message for Daoists is: Do not shut out everyone. Remain
open to whatever the universe presents. By overcoming his inclination to
live as a hermit, Shrek learns a valuable lesson.
Shrek is the story of someone who lives as a Daoist. Shrek has no
desire, until his solitary and natural life is shattered. He does not tran-
scend or bring back boons for the good of society. He returns to his prior
state. The difference in Shrek is not a transformation, but a revision of cir-
cumstance. His quest or restoration gives him the opportunity to connect
with another being like himself. He meets a counterpart who is just like he
is. He is no longer alone, and he has learned a valuable lesson about trust-
ing his feelings to select others, but he is otherwise the same.
This chapter demonstrates that Daoist rhetoric can be used in con-
junction with other analytical schemes, such as Campbells monomyth, in
its application to rhetorical criticism. The analysis also indicates that
Campbells claim that the hero is an archetype is an overstatement. A
more reasonable conclusion is that concepts of the hero are more prod-
ucts of culture than the unconscious mind. Moving from universal to cul-
tural explanations of heroes enlivens the possibilities for finding meaning
and value in our lives. Rather than maintain that we are all the same,
based on Campbells Western modernist values, cultural approaches vali-
date the different answers humans have found for vital questions regard-
ing how one should live. Modernists and Confucians might not see Shrek
as a hero, preferring more scrupulous planning, the elevation of the hero
above the natural world, and an outcome where the hero improves the
community by sharing the insights of rational enlightenment. Yet others,
including those who do not consider themselves to be Daoists, may appre-
ciate the actions, outcomes, and values that are celebrated in the film.
Shrek induces audiences to identify with a new vision of the heros
form and function. It challenges the traditional Western notion of hero by
valorizing the individual who focuses on being content, living simply, and
avoiding conflict. It celebrates living harmoniously with nature and using
the natural flow of the universe to accomplish ones objectives. The film
thus illuminates non-Western perspectives on society and vividly demon-
strates the possibilities for alternative visions not only of the hero but also
the individual in the world at large.
Shrek as the Daoist Hero 135
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The Future of the Past
Traditional Western wisdom and conventions suggest that the final chap-
ter of a book is a place to attempt, in some way, to bring closure to a proj-
ect. While that approach makes a great deal of sense, Daoism suggests that
we do the opposite: avoid closure and perpetuate a flow of creativity. This
chapter attempts to honor Daoist wisdom by widening the field of inquiry
rather than put a bow on its boundaries. In so doing, it may prompt
others to investigate the implications of Daoism in their own work.
The analysis thus far has focused on developing Daoist perspectives
on rhetorical theory and criticism with minimal comparison to Western
rhetoric. While this approach highlights and centers Daoism, an exciting
possibility for further deployment of Daoist rhetoric, and another indica-
tion of its scope and depth, lies in using it as a lens for pointing out limita-
tions of current Western theorizing. In this chapter, Daoism is positioned as
a counterpoint and complement to contemporary Western rhetoric. The
analysis begins by focusing on ideas of Kenneth Burke, arguably the most
central figure in contemporary Western rhetoric, and then responding to
those views from a Daoist perspective. It then considers Daoist rhetoric as a
potent critical perspective in the contemporary, postmodern world.
Daoism, like postmodernism, rejects foundationalism and energizes social
critiques of universalizing theories and metanarratives. It fosters critiques
of power and hegemony and empowers marginalized discourse. Yet, it is
distinct from other critical perspectives because, in true Daoist paradoxical-
ity, it retains a basis for normativity, consensus, and unity.
Burke is one of the most important and respected thinkers of the twenti-
eth century, acclaimed as a poet, literary critic, political theorist, and
philosopher. His influence is felt throughout the social sciences and
humanities. Burkes originality and scope reconfigured rhetorical studies,
and his legacy continues to challenge and delight rhetorical theorists. As a
compact way of analyzing Burke, I note crucial thematic underpinnings of
his work: the definition of the human, action/motion distinction, and
process of division/identification. Following an examination of these
topics in turn, I offer responses based on my perspective on Daoist rheto-
ric. Ultimately, I will note variances between Burke and Daoism with the
hope that the analysis will suggest opportunities to refashion Burkean con-
cepts with Daoist insights.
Burke (1966) defines the human as the symbol-using (symbol-
making, symbol mis-using) animal inventor of the negative (or moralized
by the negative) separated from his natural condition by instruments of
his own making goaded by the spirit of hierarchy (or moved by the sense
of order) and rotten with perfection (p. 16). He distinguishes the sym-
bolic nature of the human generally, and then elaborates on this distinc-
tion. Saying we are inventors of the negative is to claim that there are no
negatives in nature. Nature simply is. Humans add the is not because
they can attach values to the natural world (ought, should) and they can
consider what is not present (fantasy) or reject what is (No). The nega-
tive is enabled by language, which separates the symbol (signifier) from
the referent (signified). Instruments of our making, such as language, sep-
arate us from the natural world. Humans are also moved to organize rela-
tionships, according to Burke, and his term for this organizational
framework is hierarchy. Hierarchy is engrained in language. Humans are
also dissatisfied with their present condition. They have a need for perfec-
tion, although it is impossible to attain. Hence, our perfect rottenness.
I agree with much of what Burke maintains, if the definition of the
human is meant to be descriptive of the human condition, and not a pro-
nouncement of our essential qualities. Humans do intrude on the natural
state by imposing artificial distinctions, values, and hierarchies and acting
upon rather than within the world. In fact, the view Burke holds of
humans is similar to the state of humanity that Laozi and Zhuangzi not
only witnessed but also spoke against. I have noted that Laozi and
Zhuangzi believed that language is crucial in separating us from the state
of nature. Humans, through language, impose values on the world and
create distinctions that uphold certain values at the expense of others.
If Burke is articulating his view of the essential nature of humans,
suggesting that these activities are inevitable, then I disagree. Instead, I
believe that the characteristics Burke outlines are the result of choices
people make about how they wish to live and not inevitable or necessary
qualities. In fact, Daoists believe that the Confucian way, in consonance
with Burke, is to make the choice of humanism and hierarchy that allows
us to rise above other animals. A major thrust of Daoism is the urging to
restore the natural way and resist the tendency to set humans apart from
the rest of the world. Burkes tone suggests that he is interested in separat-
ing humans from others as an essentializing move. His view on rhetoric,
which I will discuss momentarily in the analysis of division/identification,
presupposes the ongoing estrangement of humans from the natural world
and each other.
As for Burkes observation regarding hierarchy, I would not dispute
the concept itself because there are natural hierarchies. I would add, how-
ever, that people err when they organize around human conventions
rather than the natural order. To say that humans are goaded by the
spirit of hierarchy is to suggest that they create hierarchy where it would
not otherwise exist naturally. The Daoists observed the creation of unnatu-
ral hierarchy in the rigid structure of Confucian society. Finally, while
humans have the capacity to be rotten with perfection, I maintain that this
stems from their unwillingness to accept their roles in the natural world.
The striving for perfection is evident, but unnecessary and counterpro-
ductive. Daoists abandon this striving because humans cannot improve
upon the universes balance and harmony. Human activities can spoil the
universes perfection; we can be rotten with perfection. Humans can also
choose to live perfectly by being one with the Dao. Burkes definition of
the human describes one vision of the humanthe counterpart in the
West of the Confucian who is invested in human conventions. It does not
describe the Daoist.
A decisive aspect of Burkes work is the action/motion distinction:
humans act while things move. The core is that humans are both moti-
vated and animated when they behave, unlike animals, pool balls, and
waterfalls, whose locomotion is determined for them, dictated by base
instincts or the laws of physics. Burke (1961) explains further that non-
humans do not have a sense of right and wrong, or, more generically, a
sense of yes and no. They simply do as they doand thats that (p. 186).
According to Burke (1945/1969), humans are able to go beyond their
sheer motion and enact motivational states through the choices they
make. Because humans are free to make choices, any action stems from,
and expresses, an underlying motive. Humans are not relegated to moving
within the world; they are able to act upon the world. Motive distinguishes
action from motion, human from nonhuman.
The action/motion distinction is problematic for Daoists in two
ways. First, while it may be true that human behavior is motivated and
entails choice, I would wish for humans to choose not to act but simply
do as they do. Action implies the purposeful, intentional movement that
The Future of the Past 139
expresses the individuals desires. Its trajectory is to move away from the
base or natural impulses of the animal world. Daoists do not want humans
to set themselves apart from the natural world, preferring that they move
without acting. Simpkins and Simpkins (1999) note, life becomes a strug-
gle when people try to impose their personal will on inner nature, when
they try to disrupt the natural cycles. When we learn to let things be, we
live as nature intended, and orderliness and fulfillment of destiny comes
of itself (p. 64). Recall that wu-wei, effortless or noncoercive action, is the
spontaneous movement that arises when one loses oneself in the natural
rhythms of the universe. While one may be initially motivated to simply
move, once one reaches a state of wu-wei the self is lost, and motive is
replaced by the same attunement to the natural world as a nonhuman
animal. People, perhaps uniquely, can act. But they should simply move.
Humans should lose themselves in the natural flow.
A second disagreement over the action/motion distinction is that,
while Burke sees motive as the structural differential that is the condition
of possibility for the historical emergence of the human being in a world
(Biesecker, 1997, p. 29), Daoists see historical identity as emerging not
from the workings of the individual human mind, but from the existence
of and connection to all other things. If action, and hence motive, is what
constitutes historical identity, then nonhumans are simply objects of the
world whose status is clearly subordinate to humans. Daoism posits the
interdependence, and thus equal status, of everything in the world. Fur-
thermore, worldly things are not objects but processual events whose
boundaries, while constantly shifting, are formed by the relationships and
orientations of one thing to another. The integrity of something lies in
reaching its unique potential within the environmental field. Things are,
by virtue of their relationships with everything else, in a state of becoming.
Hence, integrity is consummatory relatedness (Ames & Hall, 2003, p.
16). Identity is entirely relational, and historical identity is the fore-
grounding of the process person within his or her relationships to every-
thing else at a particular time and place. The unique constellation or
configuration of relationships at a given historical moment, not the moti-
vated individual mind, enables the emergence of an identity. The imposi-
tion of time and place allows us to foreground or freeze process, giving it
a momentary historical identity. In short, the action/motion distinction
imposes categories of human and nonhuman. It claims as a norm behav-
ior that acts upon nature rather than within nature. It locates identity
within the individual mind rather than a configured set of relationships.
Burkes discussion of the process of division and identification pro-
vides an important foundation for his rhetorical perspective. Burke asserts
that humans are alienated or estranged from one another biologically. We
enter the world as distinct beings. Our division from one another moti-
vates us to compensate by seeking to unify ourselves with others. We do
this through rhetoricthe symbolic process of identifying ourselves with
others. Hence, identification is affirmed with earnestness precisely
because there is division. Identification is compensatory to division. If
men were not apart from one another, there would be no need for the
rhetorician to proclaim their unity (Burke, 1950/1969, p. 22).
Once again, motive is a crucial element for Burke. It not only allows
for the emergence of the individual, but also enables the social. The
motive for communication is to overcome division. Our differences from
one another sustain interaction. Furthermore, the division that motivates
rhetoric, because it is based on the biological differences between individ-
uals, can never be overcome. Burke (1950/1969) points out if union is
complete, what incentive can there be for appeal? Rhetorically, there can
be courtship only insofar as there is division (p. 271). Our substantial,
organic divisions call rhetoric into being. For Burke, rhetoric will always
be called into the service of vainly muting the discomfort of being alone
in the world.
I can only partially agree with Burkes division/identification
process. To begin, Burkes initial assumption, that we are born into differ-
ence because of our unique biology, is contrary to the notion that we exist
as part of a unityas one of the many who constitute the one. To think of
a human as biologically distinct is to pose the corpus as a container of sub-
stance with a beginning point (birth) and end point (death). Of course
Burke admits our consubstantiality with others. Yet he concludes that
the paradox of shared and distinct substance creates substantial overlap
but not unity.
I note in chapter 2 that our bodies are open systems that constantly
exchange elements with the rest of the environment. Our substance is not
ours in the sense of being removed from the substances of others. We
have all inhaled the same molecules as Jesus, Plato, and Laozi. Our bodies
are in a constant state of recycling the earth, air, water, plants, and animals.
While the information in our DNA and the configuration of our bodies
seems unique, they are both created from the same substance as everything
else in our environmental system. Furthermore, our substance existed, in
different forms, before our bodies were assembled and will continue to
exist after our bodies are disassembled. Hence unity, not division, is the
default position of the universe. To postulate the birth of a body as the
starting point of the individual is to ignore everything that existed before
that assemblage. To assert that the body is distinct in substance is to ignore
that bodies are open systems that constantly exchange their substance.
Bodies are substantially distinct only when momentarily foregrounded. The
The Future of the Past 141
substantial configuration of a given body changes in each moment. The
prior, the background, the universal, is the oneness that is all.
If unity is the starting point, then Burkes claim that rhetoric arises
out of division would imply that there is no condition for the emergence
of rhetoric. This would be true if rhetoric arose only from division. Unlike
Burke, I believe that rhetoric is motivated not only by division but also by
unity. Rhetoric allows us to momentarily foreground aspects of reality, to
distinguish one thing from another, to identify, in order to function on a
daily basis. The particular, spatial and temporal assemblage of substance is
relevant, for example, when we decide whether eating a particular plant
will nourish or poison us. Unity also occasions rhetoric because humans
can make unnatural distinctions to promote a particular identity, value, or
hierarchy. Rhetoric in this way can divide us from nature and from one
another by enabling us to temporarily foreground facets of the ultimate
background unity. This paradox of rhetoric, the search for unity (identifi-
cation) when we perceive division, and the quest for division (identity)
when we perceive unity, places rhetoric in a potentially endless symbolic
not unlike the basic workings of yin and yang. Yin rhetoric unites
division to make us consonant with the one. Yang rhetoric divides the
unity to create identity for the many. Like light and dark, yin rhetoric
and yang rhetoric exist in opposition to each other.
If rhetorics paradoxicality moves us from unity to division then, as
Burke suggests, rhetoric will always need to be called into existence. This
is true, but not because unity is impossible. It will be possible, momentar-
ily, like the total ascendancy of daylight. But like the cycles of day and
night, it is unsustainable. There will always be a motive for rhetoric
because rhetoric works not only to unite but also to divide. Rhetoric is
polar and its aspects of unity and division stand in opposition to each
Daoists believe that total unity is theoretically possible. Burke
(1950/1969) points out that if men were wholly and truly capable of one
substance, absolute communication would be of mans [sic] very essence
(p. 22). Interestingly, Daoists have long held that direct communication is
not only possible, but also the only way to truly impart meaning:
Indeed, words cannot fully represent the mind; language can
never completely express ideas. Ultimately, meaning and ideas
can only be transmitted directly from mind to mind. In fact, in
Chinese culture, the ability to know anothers mind beyond
words is considered an essential element of truly artful commu-
nication, for once things are put into words, their rich, subtle,
and profound meaning is lost. (Lu, 1998, p. 245)
Admittedly, some of us never reach a state of absolute communication,
and even those who do are unlikely to remain unified permanently
because of the need to attend to matters in the local environmental field.
Burkes rhetorical perspective, while sweeping and creative, is
nonetheless Western. His approach is grounded in humanism and human
conventions. It values action over motion, views the body as a container of
substance, and locates identity and the possibility for the social in the indi-
vidual mind. His rhetoric moves linearly from division to identification
and denies the possibility of unity. Daoist rhetoric, contrarily, holds all
creatures to be equally vital contributors to the world. It upholds the natu-
ral way over human conventions and being with nature rather than
attempting to rise above it. It makes relationality prior to identity, thus
offering a novel sense of integrity and possibilities for the social. Rhetoric
has two polar aspects that spiral in ongoing engagement with one another.
When yin rhetoric is in total ascent, unity is achieved.
The introductory chapter explains that Daoism was formulated in a dis-
tinct culture. This early separation means that the Daoist sages did not
experience the further development of the classical Greek philosophical
tradition, the European Enlightenment, and the various projects of
modernity. While Daoism was unaffected by the Western intellectual tradi-
tion, the trajectory of the West is moving forward to the past, as post-
modernity struggles with issues that Daoists contemplated long ago:
Daoism is a challenge to the Wests over-valuation of Enlighten-
ment-style rationalism, to its dependence on technology, to a
certain philosophical over-simplification which leads to either/
or-ness, and to a kind of monotheism of the imagination which
ties thought to a single methodological viewpoint or a single
model of historical evolution. (Clarke, 2000, p. 206)
Daoism is relevant as a path not taken, suggesting new possibilities for
thought and action because of its position relative to Western scholarly
Like many post thinkers, Daoists denounce foundationalism and
rationalism. Daoism assumes ongoing, dynamic processes of change. The
elements of the universe are fluid, and are neither amenable to essential
distinctions nor comprised of fixed or stable features. Reality is inherently
changing, and it is created by the dynamic, productive interaction of
The Future of the Past 143
opposites. Opposites are not negated, but merge in endless combinations
that produce the many from the one. When humans attempt to extract
universal standpoints or criteria from the flux of reality, they are violating
the essence of the Dao and imposing their will on the natural way. Fur-
thermore, reason is viewed with suspicion because it is grounded in dis-
course, which does not reveal reality. Knowing does have a rationality, in
the sense of tracing out connections and interacting processes, but knowl-
edge is available in all aspects of the universe, and one can only know
through direct experience and intuition.
I argued earlier that the Western philosophical tradition, beginning
most particularly with Plato, was invested in a correspondence theory of
truth: language was thought to be able to correspond to thought or reality.
It was a logical system that attempted to achieve one-to-one correspon-
dence between the word and the thing. First structuralists, and then post-
structuralists, challenged the correspondence view of signs, arguing that
the signifier is meaningful not because it represents reality but because of
its difference from other signifiers.
In contrast to the Greeks and in anticipation of poststructuralism,
early Chinese philosophers and poets rejected the notion that language
could fully represent reality. Words were deemed inadequate as a means
of thought and expression. Tang (1999) describes the sense that words
do not exhaust meaning as a central notion of Chinese philosophy (p.
2). This is because reality is not what man [sic] conceives it to be, but is
a vast organism, self-generating and self-transforming regardless of mans
[sic] views and actions. Thus, when man [sic] imposes his views on the
world through language or other conceptual means, the true nature of
reality is distorted (p. 16). Truth lies not in utterance but rather in the
living, in the most existential terms, of that reality (p. 17). Knowing is
derived from intuition and empathy emanating from acting in the world.
Because Western thought moves increasingly from a representa-
tional to a poststructural view of language, there is an uprooting of foun-
dations for meaning that did not exist for Daoists. Daoists never believed
that language represented reality, thus they never relied on language to
express meaning. By recognizing that symbols are limited and incomplete,
Laozi and Zhuangzi do not confer any power to words themselves:
Naming as power undermines the importantly creative aspect
in the effective use of names. In a processual worlda world
ever under constructionto be able to name something is to
be able to trace out its concrete relation to you and the world,
and on that basis, respond to it productively. While naming can
be understood as an abstractive and isolating gesture, Daoist
naming personalizes a relationship and, abjuring any tempta-
tion to fix what is referenced, instead understands the name as
a shared ground of growing intimacy. Such naming is presenta-
tional rather than just representational, normative rather than
just descriptive, perlocutionary rather than just locutionary, a
doing and a knowing rather than just a saying. (Ames & Hall,
2003, pp. 4546)
Language is a tool of humans; humans are not victims of language. As
Tang (1999) notes, Chinese philosophers recognized the imperfection of
language but did not give in to the hegemony of words (p. 6).
Rather than distrust the paradox of languagethat it always commu-
nicates less than what is there (the signifier cannot fully express the sig-
nified) and more than what is there (the surplus meaning of the
signifier over the signified), Daoists focus on the potential of language to
manifest human creativity. Their approach to signs, as evidenced in the
texts of Laozi and Zhuangzi, is playful and intentional. They use fantastic
characters, stories, metaphors, and humor to stretch language and force
it to say more than it does (p. 6). For the Daoists, the less than what is
there and more than what is there are the spaces for strategic commu-
Zhuangzis views on language are compatible in many ways with
those of poststructuralists such as Derrida. Both would agree that signifiers
are completely arbitrary. Also, they agree that distinctions, including bina-
ries such as true/false and good/evil, have no basis in the external world
but are only distinguishable internallyas different from one another.
Language enables humans to draw distinctions that for Zhuangzi are not
part of the natural way of things. Despite these similarities, Derridas
deconstruction departs from Daoism in significant ways. Daoism provides
alternative possibilities for the issues Derrida ponders.
The biggest difference between Derridaindeed all antifounda-
tional approachesand Daoism is the underlying cosmology
of Daoism
and the implications of that cosmological view. While Derrida and
Zhuangzi reject the notion of a permanent reality that stands behind the
perceivable world, Derridas antifoundationalism commits him to a stance
that there is nothing besides the perceivable world. Instead, the meaning
of meaning is infinite implication, the indefinite referral of signifier to sig-
nified (Derrida, 1973, p. 58). There is no stable reference point for the
correspondence between signifier and signified. There is, simply, a con-
stant interplay of signifiers with no end to the iterations of meaning.
The Future of the Past 145
While Derrida sees the play of signifiers as infinite, with no underly-
ing stability, Zhuangzi never loses faith in the immutable Dao. Zhuangzi
would agree that signifiers are arbitrary, and there is no basis for upholding
distinctions, but this does not lead him to moral relativism. Meanings are
never singular and fixed in Daoism because language cannot capture the
inexpressible and ever-changing Dao. Zhuangzi sees the infinite regress of
signifiers as a consequence of language, not as an ontological statement.
For Zhuangzi there is a single, universal, transcendent reality that is the
background, and words and perceptions are perspectival (true/false) fore-
groundings. The Dao, the one that is all in this world, provides, through
the natural way, a basis for true (or natural) distinctions and transcen-
dent values. It is reasonable to call Zhuangzi a deconstructionist of sorts
because of his attempt to emancipate individuals from rigidly held social
ideas and practices through his critique of language and meaning (Lu,
1998). Ultimately, holding the Dao as a univocal norm that can be followed
by all disallows a view of Zhuangzi as deconstructionist, as the term is fre-
quently used. While change is inherent, and how one follows the natural
way is arguable, Daoism is not susceptible to infinite regress.
Daoists would agree with the poststructural view that there is no
essential justification for distinctions. Judgments about right/wrong and
good/bad, binary opposites, are simply expressions of a particular per-
spective devoid of objective meaning or validity (Derrida, 1976). Derrida
is grounded in the view that there are no underlying foundations for truth
and thus no necessary correspondence between language and truth.
Daoists, contrarily, arrive at these conclusions not because of the lack of
universal reality but because of the inability of language to express reality.
Distinctions, for Zhuangzi, are perspectival intonations because the Dao is
inexpressible, not because it does not exist.
Derrida also maintains that binary opposites function to position
those terms so as to create a superior/subordinate relationship (i.e.,
male/female, reason/emotion, text/performance). Overturning this hier-
archy is a critical move:
The first move in deconstruction is to reveal and overturn this
hierarchical positioning: In a classical philosophical opposition
we are not dealing with the peaceful coexistence of a vis--vis,
but rather with a violent hierarchy. One of the two terms gov-
erns the other (axiologically, logically, etc.), or has the upper
hand. To deconstruct the opposition, first of all, is to overturn
the hierarchy at a given moment. To overlook this phase of
overturning is to forget the conflictual and subordinating struc-
ture of opposition. (Derrida, 1981, p. 41)
Because the unity of the universe comes from the blending of opposites,
Daoists also differ from Derrida in his idea that binary opposites form
Daoists believe in the concept of oppositional forcesafter all, the
universe is created through the mingling of yin and yangyet they do not
pose these elements in contradiction to one another. Yin and yang are
interdependent and co-equal: one element could not exist without the
existence of its opposite. The union of the two formed the continuous and
dynamic process of the dao (Lu, 1998, p. 236). Derrida sees binaries as
hierarchical arrangements, while Daoists see them as complementary or
blended. The male/female distinction does not privilege male but posits
the terms as irreducibly interdependent and valuable. Bifurcation can
even be useful, as when we are following directions and need to turn left
instead of right.
None of this denies that people can choose to frame opposites as
contradicting or repelling one another or as ways to create unnatural hier-
archies. Laozi precedes Derrida by observing that social elites dominate
discourse by controlling the classification of binaries. Unlike Derrida, who
sees opposites in a typically Western fashion, logical counterparts con-
structed by the mind, Daoists see opposing forces as basic aspects of the
natural world. They would claim that binaries are often natural and
useful, but that any hierarchy stemming from the juxtaposition of the two
elements is human-made and thus unnatural.
Unlike postmodernism and poststructuralism, Daoism posits an
underlying reality, but it differs from Western foundational views because
it is neither fixed nor apprehended through reason. Daoism productively
confronts modernity because it rejects perspectival metanarratives, retain-
ing the Dao, provides a moral standpoint, the natural way, and expresses
clear values, harmony and balance. Daoism answers some issues that cur-
rently plague the West because it never supposed notions that are now
being overturned. It stands as a counterpoint and source of resistance to
prevailing orthodoxies, an antidote to the one-sidedness and singleness of
vision associated with the still dominant role of Eurocentric attitudes
(Clarke, 2000, p. 206). Daoism can support much of the work of the
posts without resorting to fragmentation, dissensus, or nihilism.
Daoism is unlike post critiques because it proposes an absolute
reality that provides a standpoint for action. The natural way encourages
recognition of unity and interdependence and the values of balance and
harmony. Daoism thus contains a foundation or metanarrative, but it is a
story of unity through diversity, balance and harmony through the unique
contributions of all thingsincluding seemingly opposing forces. Noth-
ing, except the story of the many making the one, is privileged.
The Future of the Past 147
We can argue about what is natural for humansfor example, how
much technology is appropriatebut Daoism does not collapse into exis-
tentialism: it must be natural for humans to do X because they do X. Not
everything humans do is natural to a Daoist or Laozi would never have cri-
tiqued society in the first place. Again, we can debate about our perspec-
tives, which might be a huge terrain, but boundaries will emerge because
natural is conditioned by interdependence and diversity and manifest as
harmony and balance. We can argue about policies, but Daoism places
stewardship of the planet at the top of the values hierarchy. While humans
can debate among themselves about right and wrong, the environment
gives feedback about healthy and unhealthy practices. We just need to pay
Daoist rhetoric allows critics to consider all texts from all vantage
points. It acknowledges the multiplicity of interpretations that are avail-
able, the incommensurability of certain systems of interpretation, and the
folly of privileging vantage points based on dominant power structures in
society. Multiple interpretations are available because the nature of reality
is to constantly change. The nature of interpretation is to express a situ-
ated perspective, and no vantage points can be identical because of the
flux of reality. One cannot privilege a particular interpretation because it
is erroneous to suggest that there is only one way to look at something,
including a text. All interpretations are discriminations that are simultane-
ously correct and incorrect. They have some truth because they are ele-
ments of the whole, expressing an aspect of the Dao. Interpretations also
fail to account for the totality of truth, and are thus false, because they are
perspectives on reality. Daoism acknowledges the contributions of the par-
ticular, but recognizes that aspects do not equal the one. Furthermore,
there is space for social interaction in articulating and contesting the ways
in which claims are correct at times and incorrect at others. The only priv-
ileged position is one that posits the universal Dao.
Daoist criticism can remind us of the unity that underlies all things
while pointing to the differences that contribute to the whole. By consid-
ering new texts and vantage points, criticism can value all of the entities
that constitute the one. The critic can also give voice to alternatives with-
out denouncing the mainstream. Daoist rhetorical criticism can be used to
advocate social issues such as environmental responsibility and equality.
From the Dao, one can argue the injustices of the past, where not just
individuals but entire groups of people and species of plants and animals
were dominated and victimized by the shortsightedness of dominant
groups. It can make a statement against commodification, violence, and
unbridled technology. Daoist rhetorical criticism can help us to see the
connectedness and value of all life, as well as the inevitability and harmony
of death. It may prove to be our best hope for the dialogue that is neces-
sary for global peace and prosperity.
Daoist rhetoric opens exciting avenues for theory, criticism, and
social action. Yet it must be remembered that Daoism is truly energized
when it is put into practice and it can be valuable at the most mundane
levels of existence. Daoism teaches me to look to myself first when I want
to make the world a better place. It places responsibility on me to cherish
the natural world. It reminds me that I am vitally connected to everything
else and my smallest act affects the entire universe. It helps me avoid
extremes and work with the flow of everything else. It comforts me
because change is inevitable and necessary. It encourages me to seek bal-
ance and unity in my mind, body, and spirit. It predisposes me to empathy.
It reminds me that nothing is destined, anything is possible, and every-
thing I do is an act of creation.
Laozi says a journey of a thousand miles starts from beneath ones feet
(ch. 64, Lau, 1963, p. 125). My hope is that, in articulating an outline of
Daoist rhetoric and its applicability to rhetorical criticism, I have set out at
least a few steps on a long expedition. This journey is particularly intrigu-
ing because the trail is constantly evolving. While I map out features of
Daoist rhetoric and suggest possibilities for its further deployment, I rec-
ognize the provisional nature of both the map and the territory.
The Dao of Rhetoric is both a rhetoric of philosophy and a philos-
ophy of rhetoric. The term rhetorical Daoism centers Daoism, and posi-
tions rhetoric in service of philosophy, a comprehensive worldview that
posits a cosmology, ontology, and epistemology that is quite distinct from
classical Western worldviews. These underpinnings promote an axiological
position, however, that is well received in Western liberal politics: the
values of harmony and balance. Daoism, with its understanding of unity
and interdependence, enlivens Western politics with a vantage point for
contesting oppression and devaluation of elements of our complex and
diverse world. It offers a way to argue for social justice and environmental
responsibility by virtue of the nature of the universe. It essentializes
unity and diversity. Rhetoric is an integral part of the social dimension of
this metaphysical system.
Daoist rhetoric is a critical perspective on rhetoric that can,
depending on the critic, stand apart from the worldview. Daoist rhetoric
enables critics to examine discourse from new vantage points with novel
processes and concepts that honor the creativity and complexity of human
The Future of the Past 149
communication. It posits a communication theory, the yin and yang of
rhetoric, and specific substantive, strategic, and tactical elements of dis-
course. Daoist rhetoric also suggests the need for further investigation of
my assumptions and issues that have not been addressed. For example, is
de a counterpart to ethos? Is the natural way (or wu-wei) a useful concept
for thinking about agency? Daoist rhetoric also challenges current theo-
ries of symbolic interactionism as the precursor to meaning and rhetoric
as a way of knowing.
Daoist rhetoric also suggests ways to examine all forms of discourse
and move beyond rhetoric as public address. It implies that rhetorical
action can be intrapersonal and interpersonal, as well as public or medi-
ated. In fact, the intrapersonal interaction with a rhetor in tune with the
world can be a critical encounter leading to personal enlightenment and
harmony. Daoist rhetoric can energize the world one person at a time or
all at once. Its ubiquitousness speaks to the vast and undeveloped poten-
tial of rhetoric for personal and social action.
1. See Kennedy (1998) for an overview of non-Western approaches
to rhetorical theory.
2. Garrett (1991) provides a useful review of Western studies of Asian
rhetoric and Lu (1998) offers an excellent account of classical Chinese
3. Also Taoism. There are two primary systems for romanizing Chi-
nese charactersWade-Giles and pinyinthat result in different English
spellings of Chinese names and terms. I use the pinyin system, but have
not converted the terms of scholars who use Wade-Giles and/or alternate
spellings. Similarly, scholars use Dao, Daoist (pinyin) and Tao, Taoist
(Wade-Giles) respectively.
4. The term postmodern can be problematic because it defies set
meanings and lacks clear boundaries. When I refer to postmodern ideas
or writings (postmodernist) I refer primarily to my interpretations of Bau-
drillard, Lyotard, and Foucault. I also include under postmodern the
views of Derrida and other poststructuralists, whose ideas are often
appropriated and extended by postmodernists. When I refer to postmod-
ern as a condition (postmodernism) I mean the sense that reality, includ-
ing individuals, objects, and ideas, is without foundation, stability, or
underlying order. Nothing is prior to perception and symbolization, and
all meanings and symbols are perspectival and subjective.
5. Some of the various spellings in English include Laozi, Lao-zi
(pinyin) and Lao Tzu, Lao Tsu, Lao Tse (Wade-Giles); Zhuangzi, Zhuang-zi
(pinyin) and Chuang Tzu, Chuang Tsu, Chuang Tse (Wade-Giles); and
Sun-zi (pinyin) and Sun-tzu, Sun Tzu (Wade-Giles).
1. Several excellent articles by rhetorical scholars on issues of text
and context appear in a special issue of the Western Journal of Speech Com-
munication, 1990, 54, 3.
2. Kong Fuzi (pinyin). In the case of Confucius and Confucian-
ism, I will use the Wade-Giles spellings since they are used almost exclu-
sively in English.
3. Religion from a Chinese perspective, differs greatly from the use
of the word in the Judeo-Christain heritage. Early scholarship did not rec-
ognize the religiosity of Daoism and Confucianism. Scholars seem more
comfortable treating Confucisnism and Daoism as philosophy because nei-
ther Confucianism nor Daoism assumes a transcendent deity and their
religious practices and rituals include worship of cultural heroes and dead
ancestors. While these practices have been trivialized by those influenced
by the Christian missionaries, who first wrote about China, Robinet (1997)
argues effectively for the recasting of elements of Daoism as religious.
Because the religiosity of Daoism differs from the Judeo-Christian tradi-
tions, and these issues are beyond the scope of this book, I tend to use the
word spiritual when discussing Daoist views on concepts such as creation
and immortaltiy.
1. In order to situate the various translations that I use and those
with which the reader may be familiar, I begin each citation of the Dao De
Jing, Zhuangzi, and Art of War with its chapter number.
2. Clarke (2000) offers an excellent review of Daoist scholarship, par-
ticularly its potential ethical, social, and political implications in the con-
temporary world.
1. Also Art of Warfare. According to J. H. Huang (1993), Sun-tzu is
the original title of the book, and it was renamed Sunzi bingfas (bingfa
means the principles for using forces) at a much later date. This is gen-
erally translated in English as The Art of War, which actually is an emula-
tion of the titles of books written by Machiavelli and Baron de Jomini.
Sun-tzu in the pinyin system is spelled Sunzi, but Sun-tzu is the broadly
accepted English rendering (p. 25).
1. The spiral is chosen rather than the cycle because cycles are
repetitive while spirals are not. Daoism views life as an ongoing act of cre-
ativity and novelty generated by the movement of opposites.
2. Ames & Hall (2003) conclude that Daoism is actually acosmotic:
The Daoist understanding of cosmos as the ten thousand things means
that, in effect, the Daoists have no concept of cosmos at all insofar as that
notion entails a coherent, single-ordered world which is in any sense
enclosed or defined. The Daoists are, therefore, primarily, acosmotic
thinkers (p. 14). While the point is interesting, having no concept is a
conception, so I maintain that Daoism has a unique cosmology.
Notes 153
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References 161
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Antz, 6, 80, 101102, 104114. See also
under conflict; harmony
argumentation. See contentiousness;
Laozi, contentiousness; Zhuangzi,
artifact. See text
Art of War, 5, 6, 16, 5355, 58, 62, 69,
70, 71. See also Sunzi
Asian culture, 1, 2, 38, 71
audience, 11, 61, 6263, 70. See also
rhetoric, Aristotelian, audience
authorship of texts, 1517
balance. See harmony
Black, Edwin, 74, 80
Bugs Life, A, 6, 80, 101103, 105106,
108112, 114. See also under con-
flict; harmony
Burke, Kenneth, 7, 137138
action/motion distinction, 139140,
definition of the human, 138139
process of division/identification, 51,
60, 71, 140143
Campbell, Joseph, 6, 115119,
123126, 129135
Campbell, Karlyn K., 8081, 8485
categorization. See distinction
cause/effect linearity vs. collaboration,
11, 13, 83, 143
Chuang Tzu. See Zhuangzi
Chou. See Zhou
classical China
historical/political context, 12,
1415, 1719, 4351, 8182 (see
also Spring-Autumn period; War-
ring States Period)
philosophical context, 1921, 40 (see
also Confucianism)
rhetorical context, 9, 12, 45, 51
commodification, 78, 148
Antz/Bugs Life, A, 102103, 105, 106,
108, 110, 111
avoidance and minimization, 5, 51,
deterrence, 57
Shrek, 6, 115, 116, 122, 130, 135
See also Sunzi, conflict
Confucianism, 1921, 30, 138139
Confucius, 16, 17, 1920
contentiousness, 7374
Laozi, 3334
contextual analysis, 8082, 89, 94. See
also text/context distinction
contradiction, 87, 89, 93, 9495, 97,
99100, 111, 133134. See also
cosmology, 29, 145. See also reality, one-
world vs. two-world view
crabgrass, 7879
creativity, 114, 137, 145
critical methods. See rhetorical, criti-
Dao, 20, 3031, 3536
as process, 24, 26, 133
definitions, 2425
ineffability, 5, 21, 24, 30, 32, 48, 50
ren, 20
tian, 20, 2728
Dao de jing (Daodejing), 5, 14, 16, 19, 23,
24, 3336, 81. See also Laozi
Daoism, 4, 50, 55, 75, 77, 94, 9799
alternative to Confucianism, 19
challenge to the West, 143144, 146
cultural significance, 2
first use of the term, 56
de, 23, 3031, 41, 84
debate, 19, 64, 65, 73. See also con-
deconstruction. See under Derrida,
destiny/fate, 4, 32, 42, 44, 45, 77, 111,
114, 140
Derrida, Jacques, 145
deconstruction, 145147
See also poststructuralism; Zhuangzi,
detachment from desire, 28, 9091, 92,
dichotomy. See contradiction; distinc-
distinction, 3, 11, 20, 4042, 5051, 56,
7374, 87, 94, 97. See also fore-
grounding/backgrounding; lan-
guage, problems caused by;
text/context distinction
dualism. See reality, one-world vs. two-
world view
duality, 129130, 134. See also contradic-
tion; transcendence
education, 20
effortless action. See wu-wei/effortless
Confucian, 20
self, 50, 118, 150
Enlightenment, The European, 143
environmental field, 9, 28, 70, 140, 143
environmental responsibility, 148, 149
equality, 32, 148
equilibrium. See harmony
essence, essentialism, 3, 10, 11, 13, 26,
Eurocentrism, 12, 147
extrinsic analysis. See contextual analy-
fables, 37, 117
films, 6, 82
animated, 6, 8283, 101, 117
foregrounding/backgrounding, 1213,
56, 63, 7374, 76, 77, 82, 146. See
also text/context distinction
foundationalism, 137, 143, 145,
freedom, 74, 110, 114, 121, 132,
genre. See rhetorical, genre
goal orientation, 30, 55, 6768, 77, 91,
122. See also values: terminal, West-
Greek philosophy, classical, 3, 9, 69,
group consciousness, 102, 110,
harmony, 10, 2629, 57, 59, 60, 69, 77,
9697, 139, 147148, 149
Antz/Bugs Life, A, 102, 112113, 114
Shrek, 122, 135
Tao of Steve, The, 9293, 94, 99
See also values, Daoist
hegemony, 15, 137, 143
archetype, 6, 117, 122124, 129135
Daoist conceptions of, 6, 133135
journey, 117119
monomyth, 116, 118, 122, 131, 133,
stories, 6, 115116
Western conceptions of, 6
hierarchy, 21, 138139, 142, 146147
hsing. See under Sunzi
Hundred Schools of philosophy, 19
identity, 105
classical Greek views, 10
Daoist views, 11, 12, 2627, 133, 135,
140, 142
Western views, 118, 133
See also Burke, Kenneth, definition of
individualism, 6, 108109, 110,
112113, 114
interdependence, 3, 4, 29, 31, 8182,
110, 140, 147149
interpretation, 4, 1415, 3940, 80, 84,
100, 148
intrinsic analysis. See rhetorical, criti-
Jung, C. G., 117
Karate Kid, The, 99
knowledge, knowing
classical Greek views, 3, 10
Daoist views, 3, 1011, 34, 46, 144
See also Sunzi, knowledge
language, 76
Chinese, 14, 144145, 151n3,
classical Chinese views, 3, 142,
Laozi, 5, 2425, 32, 34, 46, 138, 146,
Western views, 3, 144
Lao-Tzu. See Laozi
Laozi, 37, 8182, 92, 93, 148, 149
persona, 14, 16, 17, 23, 37, 92
See also under contentiousness; lan-
guage. See also Dao De Jing; rhetori-
cal, strategies and tactics, natural
Laozi, 1415
linearity, 13
Ma, Ringo, 5557
metanarrative, 137, 148
metaphor. See under rhetorical strate-
gies and tactics
metaphorical function, metaphoricity,
military strategy and tactics, 54, 55. See
also terrain
modernist values, 135, 147
monism. See reality, one-world vs. two-
world view
Monsters, Inc., 8283
natural way, 5758, 9495, 110111,
134, 138139, 148
as corrective, 2021, 143144, 146,
Laozi, 23, 2730, 32, 34, 36, 8182,
Zhuangzi, 42, 50
See also rhetorical, strategies and tac-
tics, natural style; wu-wei/effortless
opposites, complementation. See
yin/yang, polarity
parable. See under rhetorical, strategies
and tactics. See also Unusual Man,
paradox. See under rhetorical, strategies
and tactics
paradox of rhetoric. See rhetoric, para-
dox of
Index 165
perception as perspectival, 3, 13, 33,
Perelman, Chaim and Lucie Olbrechts-
Tyteca, 61
personae, rhetorical. See rhetorical, per-
persuasion, 2, 4, 5, 11, 4748, 51,
5355, 60, 71, 75. See also self-per-
Plato, 10, 75, 99100, 144
postmodernism, 3, 4, 7, 151n4
poststructuralism, 144. See also Derrida,
Jacques; language, Zhuangzi
power, 137, 148
presumption, 61, 65, 71
classical Greek views, 3, 10
Daoist views, 3, 4, 11, 13, 143144
classical Greek views, 11
Daoist views, 4, 12, 2425, 2627, 56,
143144, 146, 147
instability, 3, 4, 1112, 146
one-world vs. two-world view, 3, 10,
70, 133, 145, 147
religion, 2, 9, 152n3
responsiveness (yin). See under Sunzi
retreat, 64, 89, 9293, 134
Aristotelian, 1, 3, 11, 55, 56, 6263,
6768, 70, 99100
artistic proofs, 3, 62, 67
audience adaptation, 11, 51,
6768, 70
enthymeme, 51, 67
classical Chinese, 2, 54
classical Greek, 1
Daoist, 2, 4, 21, 50, 73, 7779, 99,
as philosophical rhetoric, 75
generativity, 4, 21, 76
paradox of, 142143, 150
philosophical, 75
Roman, 1
technical, 75
Western, 2, 4, 11, 51, 53, 54, 71, 75
criticism, 8082, 84, 89, 94
criticism, Daoist, 47, 73, 7985,
canons, 2, 4
Daoism, 4, 149 (see also rhetoric,
genre, 5, 7478
personae, 4, 1517
strategies and tactics, 77
analogy/metaphor, 35, 83, 101
evocation, 5, 40, 51
formlessness, 6991
natural style, 5, 3236, 47, 53, 73,
negation, 35
parable, 3739, 4851
paradox, 3538, 49, 56, 8788,
97100, 145
parsimony, 54, 55, 5862, 67, 68,
7071, 77, 98
personification, 3943, 5051, 98,
vague expressions, 35
style, 76
substance, 36, 77
self-persuasion, 48, 51, 53. See also
rhetorical, strategies and tactics,
shih (scholar class), 19
shih (strategic advantage). See under
Shrek, 6, 116
and Daoism, 117, 121122
as a hero story, 117135
Shrek as Daoist hero, 6
wu-wei/effortless action, 121122
See also under conflict; harmony
social justice, 32, 70, 79, 149
speaker-warrior, 6070
Spring-Autumn period, 16, 1819, 28,
56, 57, 82
Star Wars, 24
strategic positioning. See Sunzi, hsing
strategic advantage. See Sunzi, shih
Sun-tzu. See Sunzi
Sun Tzu. See Sunzi
Sun Wu, 16. See also Sunzi
classification as Daoist, 5558
conflict, 5, 5860, 65
hsing, 66, 6869
justification for warfare, 59
knowledge, 5, 6263, 66
persona, 16, 17
responsiveness (yin), 5, 6970
rhetoric, 60, 73
rhetoric as warfare, 5, 5455, 60
shih, 6668
strategy, 5, 58, 6669
terrain, 56, 6265
See also Art of War; rhetorical, strate-
gies and tactics: formlessness, par-
Tao. See Dao
Tao of Steve, The, 6, 84, 87100
wu-wei/effortless action, 9596
See also under harmony
technology, 81, 102, 110111, 112, 148
text, 1112, 7980, 84
text/context distinction, 4, 913, 8182
textual analysis. See rhetorical, criticism
transcendence, 33, 42, 45, 132134
translation process, 1417, 21
unity, 3, 11, 26, 40, 47, 56, 77, 141,142,
147, 148, 149
Unusual Man, The, 39
Daoist, 6, 27, 29, 58, 60, 77, 102, 110,
111, 112, 147149 (see also har-
mony; unity
instrumental, 113
terminal, 113114
Western, 53, 101, 102, 110, 111,
112113, 149 (see also individual-
Warring States Period, 16, 1819, 27,
40, 4345, 51, 52, 82. See also classi-
cal China, historical/political con-
water, 24, 29, 30, 35, 64, 81
Way, the. See also Dao
words. See language
wu-wei/effortless action, 42, 50, 110,
111, 112, 140
and rhetoric/language, 47, 48, 51,
76, 77
and warfare/force, 5758
and criticism, 74, 79, 80
defined, 30, 41
See under Tao of Steve, The; Shrek. See
also natural way
yin (responsiveness). See Sunzi, respon-
siveness (yin)
polarity, 3, 10, 12, 2526, 56, 93, 96,
133, 144, 147
rhetoric, 142143, 150
See also rhetoric, paradox of
Zhuang Zhou, 16, See also Zhuangzi,
argument, 47, 7374
language, 459, 51, 138, 145146
persona, 16, 17, 44
rhetoric, 5, 3738, 40, 4447, 4950,
53, 73
See also under contentiousness; lan-
guage; natural way. See also rhetori-
cal, strategies and tactics:
evocation, parable, personification
Zhuangzi, 16, 37, 38, 43, 52, 80. See also
Zhou (Chou) dynasty, 1617. See also
Spring-Autumn period; Warring
States period
Index 167
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