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Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji 史記), the first of China's 24 dynastic histories, has a biography of Zhuangzi, but most of it seems to have simply been drawn from anecdotes in the Zhuangzi itself.
In the introduction to his Zhuangzi translation, the American scholar Burton Watson concluded his comments about the paucity of the historical information on Zhuangzi by saying: "Whoever Zhuang Zhou was, the writings attributed to him bear the stamp of a brilliant and original mind." It is generally accepted that the middle and later Zhuangzi chapters are the result of a subsequent process of "accretion and redaction" by later authors "responding to the scintillating brilliance" of the inner chapters.220) are largely unknown.
In 742, the Zhuangzi was canonized as one of the Chinese Classics by an imperial proclamation from Emperor Xuanzong of Tang, which awarded it the honorific title True Scripture of Southern Florescence (Nanhua zhenjing 南華真經) A large number of Zhuangzi fragments dating from the early Tang dynasty were discovered among the Dunhuang manuscripts in the early 20th century by the expeditions of Hungarian-British explorer Aurel Stein and French Sinologist Paul Pelliot.
The manuscript has seven complete chapters from the "outer" and "miscellaneous" chapters, and is believed to be a close copy of an annotated edition written in the 7th century by the Chinese Daoist master Cheng Xuanying (成玄英; fl. Most Zhuangzi stories are fairly short and simple, such as "Lickety" and "Split" drilling seven holes in "Wonton" (chapter 7) or Zhuangzi being discovered sitting and drumming on a basin after his wife dies (chapter 18), although a few are longer and more complex, like the story of Master Lie and the magus (chapter 14) and the account of the Yellow Emperor's music (chapter 14).
; historically romanized Chuang Tzŭ) is an ancient Chinese text from the late Warring States period (476–221 BC) which contains stories and anecdotes that exemplify the carefree nature of the ideal Daoist sage.
Named for its traditional author, "Master Zhuang" (Zhuangzi), the Zhuangzi is—along with the Tao Te Ching—one of the two foundational texts of Taoism, and is generally considered the most important of all Daoist writings.
Wanting to repay Wonton's kindness, Lickety and Split said, "All people have seven holes for seeing, hearing, eating, and breathing. Let's try boring some holes for him." So every day they bored one hole [in him], and on the seventh day Wonton died.
Traces of its influence in late Warring States period (475–221 BC) philosophical texts such as the Guanzi, Han Feizi, Huainanzi, and Lüshi Chunqiu suggest that Zhuangzi's intellectual lineage was already fairly influential in the states of Qi and Chu in the 3rd century BC.
A number of different forms of the Zhuangzi survived into the Tang dynasty (618–907), but a shorter and more popular 33-chapter form of the book prepared by the philosopher and writer Guo Xiang around AD 300 is the source of all surviving editions.
The fables and anecdotes in the text attempt to illustrate the falseness of human distinctions between good and bad, large and small, life and death, and human and nature.
While other ancient Chinese philosophers focused on moral and personal duty, Zhuangzi promoted carefree wandering and becoming one with "the Way" (Dào 道) by following nature.
Though primarily known as a philosophical work, the Zhuangzi is regarded as one of the greatest literary works in all of Chinese history, and has been called "the most important pre-Qin text for the study of Chinese literature." A masterpiece of both philosophical and literary skill, it has significantly influenced writers for more than 2000 years from the Han dynasty (206 BC–AD220) to the present.