Philip Newton (pne) wrote,
Philip Newton

Zhuāng Zhōu Mèng Dié

For Stella’s birthday, she was given some new bedclothes for the two of us.

They had Chinese characters on them, and at first I feared they’d be random characters thrown together without regard for meaning, or badly drawn, or upside-down, as happens so often when they’re used for decoration.

But not only were they correct and and properly formed (and traditional characters, too, which I prefer), they even make sense. They say 莊周夢蝶, Zhuāng Zhōu Mèng Dié.

After a bit of Googling, I found that this appears to be a well-known phrase, referring to a story told by 莊子 Zhuāngzi where he dreamed he was a butterfly, then awakened wondering whether he was Zhuāng Zhōu (Zhuāngzi’s personal name) who had dreamed he was a butterfly, or a butterfly who was dreaming that it was Zhuāng Zhōu. According to Wikipedia, “Zhuāng Zhōu Mèng Dié” is the usual title for a section of the chapter “On Arranging Things” of his eponymous work Zhuāngzi.

(Following a couple of links, it seems that Zhuāngzi is called Sōshi in Japanese, while his eponymous work, written with the same characters, is pronouned Sōji instead (the beginning consonant of the second syllable has “been muddied, become murky or unclear”, i.e. has been voiced). The slightly simplified Japanese spelling of both the book and the name is 荘子.)

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