Three Tropes in the Zhuangzi

  • Author / Creator
    Xuanying Wang
  • The art of writing in the Zhuangzi has become a subject of considerable interest in recent years, but many perspectives have yet to be explored. The Zhuangzi is known for its delicate and protean art of writing. Its aesthetic value outweighs its other aspects. I was inspired by Wang Zhongling’s study to examine the specific tropes of the Zhuangzi. In the Chinese context, the current studies about tropes in the Zhuangzi mostly focus on metaphor or allegory studies. In the western context, however, due to the different definitions and understandings, tropes in the Zhuangzi rarely come into question. In this regard, the first fundamental purpose of this thesis is to sort out, clarify, and re-define three particular tropes in the Zhuangzi: analogy, litotes and allegory.
    As a skeptic of language, Zhuangzi refuses to conceptualize the objective world with the traditional language system, but concentrates instead on conveying his poetic wisdom in special language forms and a unique writing style. Many critics believe that the language view in the Zhuangzi is contradictory to the Daoist language view. However, the clarification of tropes in the Zhuangzi unveils the protean writing style of the text. Based on the analysis of the specific use of tropes, this thesis then analyses the three tropes as rhetorical device, and proves that they are all presented as solutions for dealing with major concerns about language showed in the Zhuangzi.
    Tropes in the Zhuangzi have to overcome the restrictions and defects of traditional language. For example, analogy in the text mainly plays a central role in defining realities. The use of litotes functions to deconstruct the dualistic relations in the text. As for the allegory, it is used to conceptualize human experience. In spite of their special expressions, all three tropes lead to the same the ultimate goal—to restore a dynamic balance of the objective world in a renewed language expression.
    Exploring the function of tropes not only helps us better understand the distinctive writing style of the Zhuangzi, it helps create a new understanding of his view of holistic language. Influenced by the theory that “Words exist because of meaning; once you’ve gotten the meaning, you can forget the words,” the general view of language manifested in the Zhuangzi reflects an instrumentalist characteristic; the connections between language forms and meaning seem to be temporary or even contradictory. However, the further understanding of tropes deepens this point of view. One of the major functions that language undertakes is to reconcile the contradiction between language and meaning, or even to redefine the relationship between the two. With the involvement of tropes, language forms and meaning manifest an internal consistency. The relationship between them becomes progressive from one to another, like layer upon layer. Language and meaning, therefore, both become ladders to reach Dao; in this case, the path that “language-meaning-Dao”, has been accomplished.
    In conclusion, the exploration into the tropes in the Zhuangzi is of great significance from different perspectives. It not only helps us reexamine the relationship between language and the Dao, it reinforces the view that language is not a barrier but a fundamental and necessary link to achieve Dao. On the other hand, the study of tropes also creates new possibilities and provides new angles to connect the language theory of the Zhuangzi, with western language philosophy. The study of the tropes in the Zhuangzi awaits further study.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2019
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
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