Chuang Tzu is a delightful, entertaining author, both philosophically and stylistically. Reading him is like conversing with a bright, funny, irreverent, and challenging friend. Where Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching can be detached and cerebral, Chuang Tzu's writing is always lively and imbued with an earthy humor. Rather than lecturing or preaching at the reader, he imparts his wisdom through comedic parables, charmingly absurd logic and deliberately outlandish language.
Chuang Tzu is one of those rare thinkers who can work with equal ease in both the realm of intellectual abstractions and that of vivid story-telling. In fact, it is his endless stock of colorful characters which make Chuang Tzu's writing so memorable: the man so ugly that people can not bear to gaze at him, but endowed with such substance and character that they love him and devote themselves to him anyway; the wild Taoist who fills his days muttering to himself, slapping his buttocks, singing and dancing; a ponderous, pretentious, slightly out-of-focus Confucius.
Throughout the text, the intelligence, the poetry, and the originality of thought are striking. The questions Chuang Tzu poses often appear simplistic or platitudinous, but they never fail to strike with illuminating insight at the very heart of the issue being discussed. His broadest and most pressing concern is how we are to conduct ourselves in a world beset by poverty, injustice, war, famine, greed, and chaos. His answer, in a nutshell, is that we must free ourselves from the arbitrary impositions of society, with all its moral illusions and practical vicissitudes. That is, we must liberate ourselves from misleading and superficial conceptions of right and wrong, good and bad, wealth and poverty, fame and obscurity. And in so doing, he teaches us, we will escape those self-made crises that spring from slavish conformity to the norms and values of others.