In the northern obscurity is
a fish, Roe. I don't know how many thousands of miles around he is. He changes and becomes a bird named Breeze. I don't know how many thousands of miles
across she is. When she ruffles and flies, her wings drape like clouds from heaven. As the seas turn, she thinks to migrate to the southern obscurity.
The southern obscurity is nature's pool.
Tales of Qi record wonders. They say, “In migrating to the southern
obscurity, Breeze flaps along the water for three thousand miles, spirals up on a whirlwind to ninety thousand miles, and goes six months at a stretch.” Wild horses, clouds of dust, the breath people blow at each other. Is the purple of heaven its true color or just its being so endlessly
far away? She only stops rising when it looks this way to her gazing down from above.
water isn’t deep it can’t support big boats. Spill a cup of water on the floor
and crumbs will float like ships. But place the cup there and it will run aground—because
the water is too shallow and the boat too big. If wind isn’t deep it can’t
support big wings. This is why Breeze rises ninety thousand miles with the wind there beneath her. Only
then can she rest on the wind, carrying blue heaven on her back, and nothing
can abort her. Only then does she set her sights to the south. 
cicada and the student-dove laugh at her, saying, “When we start up and fly, we
struggle for the elm or the sandalwood. Sometimes we don’t even make it but
just plunk to the ground. What is she doing rising ninety thousand miles and heading south?” People going to
the purple meadows can bring three meals and return with their bellies still
full. People going a hundred miles need
to grind grain for an overnight. People going a thousand miles need to gather grain for three months. What do these two vermin know? Little knowledge does not reach big knowledge, or few years many. How do I know? The morning
mushroom can't imagine the cycles of the moon, nor does the summer cricket
have any idea of spring or fall, because they are short-lived. South of
Chu there is Ole Soul, which counts five hundred years as a spring and five hundred years as a fall. Way back there was Big Stink tree that took eight thousand years as a spring and eight thousand years as a fall. Nowadays only
eight-hundred-year-old Grandpa Peng is famous, and everyone compares themselves
to him. Isn’t it sad? 
 Is the fish large or small? If no one knows how many thousands of miles across the bird is, does that mean it is many, or could it also be few? Chinese pronouns are gender neutral, so we don't know whether they are male or female. I opt to include the switch in gender to add to the air of ambiguity. Though this may present itself as a naturalistic account, everyone agrees is it a metaphor, but a metaphor for what? And if it isn't confusing enough from the outside, imagine what it must be like from the inside, being that tiny giant fish that wakes up one day, flaps wings it didn't know it had, and bursts into the sky, an element which it hadn't even known existed before.
 Zhuangzi plays tricks with perspective here. By zooming in on the crumbs, he turns the cup into an ocean-liner, illustrating that big or small isn't a property of the thing but a function of your perspective on the thing. He then explains that Breeze rises so high because she needs to rise so high in order to make her journey. But—returning to the previous paragraph—what she rises on isn't just wind, it is ambiguity: wild horses, clouds of dust, the breath that people blow at each other, whether the fish and the bird are large or small, the same or different. All these differences fade from the perspective of the sky. The sky is the one thing, the unity, covering everything. But are things really indistinguishable, or is that too just a matter of perspective, because of their being "so endlessly far away"? It seems ambiguity is the wind that lifts Breeze high enough that she can fly away.
 Breeze needs to get so high in order to get where she is going. But if her altitude represents ambiguity, the blurring of distinctions that make sense on the ground-level, where is she going and why does she need to blur distinctions to get there? The confusion only gets worse with the final line. The "two vermin" may refer to the narrow-minded cicada and dove, in which case it is a rhetorical question implying that they know very little. But the 蟲 chóng, "vermin," though it normally refers to insects and worms, can also be used more broadly to refer to "creatures," even dragons. Guo Xiang reads it in this second sense as referring to the cicada and Breeze. And the question, "What do these two creatures know?" is not a rhetorical question for him but a real one, pointing out that differences are not merely physical but intellectual: given that they have such different dimensions, they must have different knowledges, as well. That is to say, there are two ways of reading this allegory: either as the triumphant transformation of the benighted Roe into the enlightened Breeze, or simply as a change from one thing into another. How we translate this ambiguous term, 蟲 chóng, depends on how we understand the meaning of the last sentence. And the way we understand that will determine how we read the next paragraph.
 What are little and big knowledge? It is tempting the say that the cicada and the dove are small not only terms of their size and altitude but in their judgmental perspective that measures everything by their own experience. This runs into a problem, however, which is that declaring big knowledge is better than little would seem to be an example of the kind of judgmental thinking that is characteristic of little knowledge. Guo Xiang offers a different interpretation, arguing that it is not a question of better or worse, just difference. How much knowledge you need, like how much food you should gather, depends on the length of your journey. But this more generous interpretation runs into a problem, too, since if it is true then we have no basis for saying that the generous perspective is preferable to the critical one: they are simply different. So what is Zhuangzi's point in telling us this?
In Analects 7.1, Confucius says, 述而不作，信而好古，竊比於我老彭。"I am a transmitter, not a creator. I trust and love the past. I humbly compare myself to our old Peng." The visual and phonetic similarity between the words for "compare" used there (比 bǐ) and here (匹 pǐ) suggest the reference to Confucius here is intentional and that this whole passage can be read as a commentary on Confucianism. If so, what exactly is his point? Is it sad that Confucius values only the comparatively recent past of eight-hundred-year-old Peng when there were things that were much older? Is it sad, as my student Henry Ruiz suggests, that he limits himself to valuing the human world, valuing the wisdom of Old Peng more than he does that of a tree or turtle? Commentators identify Ole Soul and Big Stink as a tree and a turtle, respectively, but the text makes no precise specification. It may be invoking a world where it isn't of such primary importance whether something is a human or not. In any case, the question is: is it sad the people envy Grandpa Peng for his eight hundred years when there were these other things that were much older? Or is it sad that they are envying anything at all rather than being content with the ages they have got?
Let's step back. Does the transformation from the tiny fish into the gigantic bird represent some kind of spiritual progress, an apotheosis, or is it just change? If we assume that there is a movement from the limited, claustrophobic world of Roe to the all-encompassing, open-minded perspective of Breeze; and if we assume that what powers this change, the wind beneath Breeze's wings, is a recognition of ambiguity—that big and small, superior and inferior, better and worse, all change with perspective—then we can no longer say that we are any better off knowing this. If we say that it is better not to be judgmental, aren't we being judgmental? But if we don't say it's better not to be judgmental, what's the point? There are practical examples: Someone who plays the field never knows what it is like to be monogamous. People who who explore different religions don't know what it's like to be committed to one. It seems like we are getting somewhere but it also seems like we are going in circles. A clever person might say that it is both: we get somewhere by realizing we are not getting anywhere, by knowing like Socrates that we know nothing. But a clever person might respond by wondering what difference that makes. I once wanted to title this section, "Kun's dream or Peng's progress?"