Zhuangzi glossary


I don't know how many thousands

As in many languages, Chinese verbs do not always require nouns as subjects. Here, it is not stated who exactly does not know how many thousand miles around Roe is or across Breeze is. It is common to assume the subject is the narrator (e.g. Watson: "I don't know . . .") or to leave it indefinite (e.g. Graham: "who knows . . ?). It is possible, however, that the subject could be the animals themselves. Roe, like a baby, has no idea what size he is; it probably hasn't occurred to him to ask the question. Breeze does not initially know how large she is, until she takes off and briefly sees the whole world spread out below her (does she recognize what she's seeing even then?), before disappearing again into the southern darkness and losing her frame of reference. Could we read this as a story about growing up? One starts out clueless, gains an insight, thinks one knows something for a while, before realizing the limitations of one's perspective and receding again into uncertainty? This would be consistent with the fluctuations of big and little knowledge below.