Playful You in the Zhuangzi and Six Dynasties Literati Writing

Xiaofan Amy Li

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Abstract:  This essay explores the notion of you 游 in the Zhuangzi and Six Dynasties literati writing through a comparative reading. Used interchangeably with its variant you 遊, you 游 has various uses and meanings, from the more literal “swim in water”, “move in an unobstructed way”, “wander”, and “travel afar”, to its extended meanings including “ramble in a carefree way”, “travel playfully”, “travel into foreign or unknown space”, or “enjoy a leisurely activity”. You is also, significantly, combined with other characters to form compound expressions specifying different playful activities, e.g. youxi 游戲: “play and frolic”, “amuse oneself”, or “game”; youwan 游玩: “play outdoors” (with an emphasis on movement); and lüyou 旅游: “travelling for leisure”, or “tourism”—which have very different connotations from lüxing 旅行, “journey”, or “travel (the main purpose of which is not pleasure)”. In these different uses and expressions of you, in both classical and modern Chinese, what we find in common is the connotation of an unhindered, playful movement that is closely connected to its spatial context. In the context of the Zhuangzi and Six Dynasties literature, therefore, can we find articulations of you as a playful activity? If yes, in what specific ways is you playful, especially in regard to the space and context in which it occurs? Finally, what do the differences and similarities between the Zhuangzi and Six Dynasties writing say about the evolution of the notion of you within the Daoist and Neo-Daoist discourse?

Keywords: you; Zhuangzi; Six Dynasties; play; Daoist; Neo-Daoist.