Liezi 列子 “Master Lie”


The Liezi 列子 “Master Lie” is a Daoist book attributed to Lie Yukou 列御寇 (also written 列圄寇 or 列圉寇, also called Lie Zhoukou 列周寇) from the Warring States period 战国 (5th cent.-221 BCE). He is said to have been from the state of Zheng郑. His thoughts are very similar to that in the book Zhuangzi 庄子, which often mentiones him. He is said to have been able to ride the wind (yu feng er xing 御风而行) in perfect non-action (wuwei 无为). His first teacher was a certain Huqiuzi 壶丘子, later Bogaozi 伯高子. For Liezi the bad kings of antiquity had lost their realms because they dispised the true way and only esteemed richness and their own profit (zhong li, shi yi wang 重利,是以亡). During the Tang period 唐 (618-907), in 742, Liezi was elevated to a Daoist saint and was given the honorific title of Chongxu zhenren 冲虚真人 “Perfect Man of Serene Tranquillity”. During the Song period 宋 (960-1279), in 1007, he was even further elevated to one of the four great Daoist Masters (the others being Zhuangzi, Wenzi 文子 and Kangcangzi 亢仓子) and bestowed the title of Chongxu zhide zhenren 冲虚至德真人 “Perfect Man of Serene Tranquillity and Highest Virtue”.

The book contains a lot of parables and popular stories of immortals or Daoist adepts trying to achieve longevity. A lot of those stories have become standard popular tales, as Yugong yishan 愚公移山 “The foolish old man moves a mountain”;Qiren youtian 杞人忧天 “A man from Qi worried that the sky might fall down”; the journey of King Mu 周穆王 (10th cent. BCE) to visit the Queen Mother of the West 西王母. The literary quality of the Liezi is, like that of the Zhuangzi, of a very high standard, which was the reason for the wide readership the Liezi has attracted. Some stories are taken from the Zhuangziand have been expanded by the author of the Liezi. The Liezi vividly describes types of persons and their character, like Han E 韩娥 or Pian Que 扁鹊 in the chapter Tangwen 汤问. The patterns of some stories were used by later writers, like the transformation of the heart in the novel collection Liaozhai zhiyi 聊斋志异. The seventh chapter contains stories and sayings by the sophist and hedonist Yang Zhu 杨朱.


The eight chapters long book Liezi seems to have been very widespread during the early Former Han period 前汉 (206 BCE-8 CE), as the imperial librarian Liu Xiang 刘向 said, but gradually lost popularity. Liu Xiang rearranged the original 20 “inner” and “outer” chapters (neishu 内书, waishu 外书) into eight chapters, the same number as in the received version. Part of the chapters seems to have consisted of redundant paragraphs that could be abolished without any loss. During the Eastern Jin period 东晋 (317-420) Zhang Zhan 张湛 wrote a commentary, the Liezi zhu 列子注. There is a Song period print of Zhang Zhan’s commentary with the title Chongxu zhide zhenjing zhu 冲虚至德真经注. A lot of commentaries are included in the Daoist canon Daozang 道藏, namely Lin Xiyi’s 林希逸 Chongxu zhide zhenjing lizhai kouyi 冲虚至德真经鬳斋口义, Jiang Yu’s 江遹Chongxu zhide zhenjing jie 冲虚至德真经解, Zhao Ji’s 赵佶 (i. e. emperor Song Huizong 宋徽宗, r. 1100-1125) Chongxu zhide zhenjing yijie 冲虚至德真经义解, Gao Shouyuan’s 高守元 Chongxu zhide zhenjing sijie 冲虚至德真经四解 (a collection of the commentaries of Zhang Zhan, Lu Chongxuan 卢重玄, Song Zhenghe 宋政和 and Fan Zhixu 范致虚), and Yin Jingshun’s 殷敬顺Liezi chongxu zhide zhenjing shiwen 列子冲虚至德真经释文 (with a supplement by Chen Jingyuan 陈景元). A modern commentary was written by Yang Bojun 杨伯峻, the Liezi jishi 列子集释.


1. 天瑞 Tianrui Heavenly portents
2. 黄帝 Huangdi The Yellow Emperor
3. 周穆王 Zhou Muwang King Mu of Zhou
4. 仲尼 Zhongni Confucius
5. 汤问 Tang wen Tang asked
6. 力命 Liming Enforced mandate
7. 杨朱 Yang Zhu Yang Zhu
8. 说符 Shuofu Explaining omina

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