Taoism and the Nature of Horses

Terracotta horse and two soldiers from the Terracotta Army buried near the Mausoleum of the First Emperor of Qin, at Lintong, Shaanxi Province, 1974. Wikicommons: photographer, Babelstone.

Terracotta horse and two soldiers from the Terracotta Army buried near the Mausoleum of the First Emperor of Qin, at Lintong, Shaanxi Province, 1974. Wikicommons: photographer, Babelstone.

Discovered while reading John Gray’s Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals: an extract from the writings of Chuang Tzu, a Taoist collection believed to be written around the 4th century BC wholly or in part by Zhuangzi/Chuang Tzu – an official in what is now Anhui, China. This is from book nine, Mâ Thî, or “Horses’s Hoofs”.

Horses can with their hoofs tread on the hoarfrost and snow, and with their hair withstand the wind and cold; they feed on the grass and drink water; they prance with their legs and leap: this is the true nature of horses. Though there were made for them grand towers and large dormitories, they would prefer not to use them. But when Po-lâo (arose and) said, ‘I know well how to manage horses,’ (men proceeded) to singe and mark them, to clip their hair, to pare their hoofs, to halter their heads, to bridle them and hobble them, and to confine them in stables and corrals. (When subjected to this treatment), two or three in every ten of them died. (Men proceeded further) to subject them to hunger and thirst, to gallop them and race them, and to make them go together in regular order. In front were the evils of the bit and ornamented breastbands, and behind were the terrors of the whip and switch. (When so treated), more than half of them died.

Extract shared by Nothingistic.org, which has made available on line James Legge’s 1891 translation.

One thought on “Taoism and the Nature of Horses

  1. Pingback: Clever Hans: A Horse, a House and a Little History – Susanna Forrest

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