Friday, September 20, 2013


Objections to Machinery

Arthur Waley (1889-1966), Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China (1939; rpt. Garden City: Doubleday, 1956), pp. 69-70:
The Taoists objected to machinery. There are of course many grounds upon which labour-saving devices may be condemned. The common modern objection is that they cause unemployment; but religious leaders (Gandhi, for example) reject them on the ground that they have a degrading effect on those who use them. The Taoist objection was of the latter kind:
Tzu-kung, the disciple of Confucius, after travelling to Ch'u in the south, came back by way of Chin. When he was passing through Han-yin he saw an old man who was engaged in irrigating his vegetable plots. The way this old man did it was to let himself down into the well-pit by footholes cut in the side and emerge clasping a pitcher which he carefully emptied into a channel, thus expending a great deal of energy with very small results.

'There exists,' Tzu-kung said to him, 'a contrivance with which one can irrigate a hundred vegetable plots in a single day. Unlike what you are doing, it demands a very small expenditure of energy but produces very great results. Would you not like me to tell you about it?' The gardener raised his head and gazed at Tzu-kung. 'What is it like?' he asked. 'It is an instrument carved out of wood,' said Tzu-kung, 'heavy behind and light in front. It scoops up the water like a bale, as quickly as one drains a bath-tub. Its name is the well-sweep.' A look of indignation came into the gardener's face. He laughed scornfully, saying, 'I used to be told by my teacher that where there are cunning contrivances there will be cunning performances, and where there are cunning performances there will be cunning hearts. He in whose breast a cunning heart lies has blurred the pristine purity of his nature; he who has blurred the pristine purity of his nature has troubled the quiet of his soul, and with one who has troubled the quiet of his soul Tao will not dwell. It is not that I do not know about this invention, but that I should be ashamed to use it.'
This is from Chuang Tzu (or Zhuangzi), chapter 12.


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