An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Hui Shi 惠施

Feb 21, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Hui Shi 惠施 (c. 370-310) was a representant of the philosophical school of dialecticians (mingjia 名家) during the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE).

He hailed from the state of Song 宋, but the dates of his life are not known. He acted for a long time as Counsellor-in-chief in the state of Wei 魏 and suggested the dukes of Wei and Qi 齊 to mutually address as kings.

King Hui of Wei 魏惠王 (better known as King Hui of Liang 梁惠王, r. 379-335) compared him with the politician and thinker Guan Zhong 管仲 from the state of Qi. Later on the king, supported by some nobles, chased Hui Shi away.

In Chu 楚 he became acquainted with the Daoist philosopher Zhuang Zhou 莊周 (Zhuangzi 莊子). After a few years Hui Shi returned to Wei.

A book Huizi 惠子 compiled by Hui Shi or his disciples is lost. His thoughts are preserved in the books Zhuangzi 莊子, Xunzi 荀子, Hanfeizi 韓非子, Zhanguoce 戰國策, Lüshi chunqiu 呂氏春秋 and Shuoyuan 說苑.

Hui Shi was famous for his eloquence and his ability to provide convincing answers to the most complicate questions. His disputed with his friend Zhuangzi about the joyness of fish (yu zhi le 魚之樂) is very famous. As a philosopher, Hui Shi discussed about difference and commonness of objects and brought forward his ten theories:

Quotation 1. The Ten Propositions of Hui Shi
至大無外,謂之大一;至小吳内,謂之小一。 The largest object has nothing outside of - this is "the great one", and the smallest object does not have anything inside it - this is "the small one".
無厚不可積也,其大千里。 If something has no dimensions, it cannot be piled up - it is the same as if it was thousand miles large (i.e. it is endlessly large).
天與地卑,山與澤平。 Heaven and earth are equally low-lying, and mountains and swamps are equally flat.
日方中方睨,物方生方死。 The sun is [starting] to sink just when it is standing in the zenith, and things are [beginning] to die just after birth.
大同而與小同異,此之謂小同異;萬物畢同畢異,此之謂大同異。 Large equality is different from small equality - this is the "little equality" and "[little] difference"; the ten thousand things all have their equalities and differences - this is the "large equality" and the "[large] difference".
南方無窮而有窮。 The south has no end and yet it has an end.
今日適越而昔來。 Someone going to Yue today arrived there yesterday.
連環可解也。 Connected rings can be separated.
我知天下之中央,燕之北,越之南也。 I know that the centre of the world is located north of Yan [the northernmost state] and also south of Yue [the southernmost state].
泛愛萬物,天地一體也。 One has to equally love all things, because the universe is one unified body.

Unfortunately only the theories are preserved and not the explanations of them. The most important aspect in Hui Shi's philosophy is that he stressed the equality of all things, and that equality always surpasses differences. According to his logic, opposite things like Heaven and Earth, mountains and swamps, are equal in the sense that their oppositeness to each other makes them equal. In all difference lies equalness, and in equalness difference.

Pang Pu 龐樸, Zhou Yunzhi 周云之, ed. (1992). "Hui Shi 惠施", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhexue 哲學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 321.
Tang Shaojie 唐少杰 (1996). "Hui Shi 惠施”, in Feng Kezheng 馮克正, Fu Qingsheng 傅慶升, ed. Zhuzi baijia da cidian 諸子百家大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 27.
Zhao Shulian 趙書廉, ed. (1986). Zhongguo zhexue xiao cidian 中國哲學史小辭典 (Zhengzhou: Henen renmin chubanshe), 136.