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Department 1

Religious Studies


In this essay Sommer explores how the Zhuangzi uses such terms for the body as gong 躬, a sanctimonious ritualized body; shen 身, a site of familial and social personhood; xing 形, an elemental form that experiences mutations and mutilations; and ti 體, a complex, multilayered corpus whose center can be anywhere but whose boundaries are nowhere. The Zhuangzi is one of the richest early Chinese sources for exploring conceptualizations of the visceral human form. Zhuangzi presents the human frame as a corpus of flesh, organs, limbs, and bone; he dissects it before the reader's eyes, turning it inside out and joyfully displaying its fragmented joints, sundered limbs, and beautifully monstrous mutations. This body is a site of immolation and fragmentation that ultimately evokes a larger wholeness and completeness. Drawing and quartering the body, Zhuangzi paradoxically frees it from ordinary mortality; boundaries between form and formlessness shift so subtly, spontaneously, and seamlessly that the physical frame becomes incorporated into a larger common body that includes both life and death.


This article is a Chinese version of "Concepts of the Body in the Zhuangzi," which was published in Victor Mair, ed., Experimental Essays on Zhuangzi, 2d ed. (Dunedin, FL: Three Pines Press, 2010): 212-228. It was translated by Jiang Zheng 蒋正 of Tsinghua University 清华大学 and Shen Rui 沈瑞 of Sun Yat-Sen University 中山大学.

The English version is available from the publisher at: