Wu wei (Chinese: 無爲; pinyin: wú wéi) is a concept literally meaning “inexertion”, “inaction”, or “effortless action”. Wu wei emerged in the Spring and Autumn period, and from Confucianism, to become an important concept in Chinese statecraft and Taoism, and was most commonly used to refer to an ideal form of government, including the behavior of the emperor. Describing a state of unconflicting personal harmony, free-flowing spontaneity and savoir-faire, it generally also more properly denotes a state of spirit or mind, and in Confucianism accords with conventional morality.

Sinologist Jean François Billeter describes it as a “state of perfect knowledge of the reality of the situation, perfect efficaciousness and the realization of a perfect economy of energy”, which in practice Edward Slingerland qualifies as a “set of ('transformed') dispositions (including physical bearing)… conforming with the normative order”.

Sinologist Herrlee Creel considers wu wei, as found in the Tao Te Ching and Zhuangzi, to denote two different things.

  • An “attitude of genuine non-action, motivated by a lack of desire to participate in human affairs” and
  • A “technique by means which the one who practices it may gain enhanced control of human affairs”.

(via wikipedia…)