British Journal of Chinese Studies

dragon mural beijing 2018 copyright Gerda Wielander
Vol 8 No 2 (2018)

Playful You in the Zhuangzi and Six Dynasties Literati Writing

Xiaofan Ami Li
University of Kent
Published March 15, 2019
How to Cite
Li, X. (2019). Playful You in the Zhuangzi and Six Dynasties Literati Writing. British Journal of Chinese Studies, 8(2), 1-28.


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?

At time of publication of this article, the journal operated under the old name. When quoting please refer to the citation on the left using British Journal of Chinese Studies. The pdf of the article still reflects the old journal name; issue number and page range are consistent.

  • Zhuangzi,
  • six Dynasties,
  • play,
  • Daoist,
  • Neo-Daoist,
  • you
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