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To Die or Not to Die: Zhuangzi’s Three Immortalities

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While it is known that the problem of death is a central topic animating the author/s of the Inner Chapters of the Zhuangzi, leading Chinese and Western interpretations of this Chinese classic have usually focused much more on other themes and aspects. Even more problematic in the author’s view is the fact that the Zhuangzi has been closely associated with one death philosophy, the set of concepts, arguments and figures present in chapter 6. This study puts death back at the very center of the Zhuangzian philosophical project yet insisting at the same time on the difficulties of defending one philosophy of death since different passages introduce new concepts, imagery, nuances and perspectives. The Zhuangzi’s focus on death is being situated within a discussion of the “immortality” ideal––accepting a total death (“to die”) or find refuge in immortality ideals (“not to die”). Different passages from the Inner Chapters are being presented as proposing three distinct immortality projects or strategies––personal, social and cosmic––to address the problem of death. E. Becker’s reflections on the challenge of mortality and the psychological need of a “beyond” in order to cope with the consciousness of death provide the basic theoretical framework underlying the discussion of the Zhuangzi in this essay.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Philosophy, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875,


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