All we know about the identity of Zhuangzi, or Master Zhuang, are the few facts recorded in the brief notice given him in the Sbiji or Records of the Historian (ch. 63) by Sima Qian (145?-89? B.C.). According to this account, his personal name was Zhou, he was a native of a place called Meng, and he once served as “an official in the lacquer garden” in Meng. Sima Qian adds that he lived at the same time as King Hui (370-319 B.C.) of Liang and King Xuan (319-301 B.C.) of Qi, which would make him a contemporary of Mencius, and that he wrote a work in 100,000 words or more which was “mosdy in the nature of fable.” A certain number of anecdotes concerning Zhuangzi appear in the book that bears his name, though it is difficult, in view of the deliberate fantasy that characterizes the book as a whole, to regard these as reliable biography.
Scholars disagree as to whether “lacquer garden” is the name of a specific location, or simply means lacquer groves in general, and the location of Meng is uncertain, though it was probably in present-day Henan, south of the Yellow River. If this last supposition is correct, it means that Zhuang Zhou was a native of the state of Song, a fact which may have important implications.