Fried Small Yellow Croaker with Scallion and Soy-sauce 干烧小黄鱼. Jan. 2017

As I prepare my dinner today, Laozi’s line about cooking a small fish comes to my mind. I fry each side of the small fish and add condiments (cooking wine, soy sauce, a little pepper; add chopped scallion last) to the wok to create a thin layer of dressing for the fish. I tried my best not to stir the fish.

Chapter Sixty of Tao Te Ching 道德经, classic texts of Taoism, begins with a line comparing the governance of a country to cooking a small fish:

Ruling A large kingdom is indeed like cooking small fish. [治大國如烹小鮮。] 

The comparison echoes Laozi’s fundamental idea of “wu wei 无为“ (non-doing, or action without action). When cooking a small fish, the best result comes from minimum turning and stirring. Laozi believes that it should be the same way when governing a country and those in power should avoid unnecessary and unnatural actions.

*For further details on Tao Te Ching, see:  Waley, Arthur. The Way and Its Power: A Study of the Tao Te Ching and Its Place in Chinese Thoughts. New York: Grove Press, 1935, p.215.