Why did the author of the Tianxia omit any explicit reference to the most revered of historical sages, Confucius, or to his most important interpreters, Mencius and Xunzi? This glaring omission could only have been intentional and only two reasons seem plausible.

Some scholars have suggested that the author was such a committed “Daoist” that he felt Confucianism unworthy of inclusion. I (in agreement with Ziporyn, p 118, note 3) hold the opposite view—Confucius was too worthy for inclusion.

In the case of the first opinion, this does not really hold water since the critique of these philosophers provides the author an opportunity to tell us what the Dao is not as much as it is to tell us what it is. Huizi is included, though “he knew nothing of the Dao.” If the author was indeed anti-Confucian, this would have been a great opportunity to tell us why. Other “Daoist” chapters of the Zhuangzi make a point of ridiculing and diminishing Confucius.

The second explanation is much more consistent with the positions taken in and the demeanor of the text itself. With respect to the latter, this is a critique of these philosophers—they are all seen as in some way falling short of the Dao (with the exception of Zhuangzi, who is too ambiguous to be pinned down to an erroneous view). Confucius, on the other hand, is beyond reproach. It’s comparable to a theologian critiquing various interpretations of the teachings of Jesus—though he wouldn’t deign to critique those teachings themselves. Confucius is too worthy for inclusion in this critique.

Then there are the actual introductory comments which show a great affinity to and appreciation of Confucian values. We will consider these in the next post.

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