老 子 制………..獨 立 士


This is a work in progress, a further development of work I published two decades ago in the Journal of Chinese Religions and Philosophy East and West. In the course of time I will add  comments, a translation, crossreferences, notes on the interesting variants, and summary discussions of key topics. Responses, preferably helpful ones, are welcome at emersonj at g mail dot com.

DDJ Text and Translation
March 25 Update
Because of WordPress formatting problems the notes and commentary will not be added to this page for awhile. Updates will be posted in MS Word.

DDJ Translation Sources March 25
Includes Guodian, MWD, Beida, Wang Bi text along with my own text, plus my bibliography. The texts are imperfect for software and other reasons, but they should be helpful.

In the text below I have produced what I think is the best text of the DDJ by selecting the most intelligible variants wherever I found them. I worked eclectically and did not privilege any particular text, though I started by comparing the Wang Bi (WB) version to the four recently-uncovered texts (Guodian (GD), Mawangdui A and B (MWDA, MWDB), and Beida (BD). My text is intended for readers of the DDJ, not for philologists, and it would be misleading if taken as the reconstruction of any particular stage of the development of the DDJ.

My editing might be called aggressive. Beyond selecting from the variant forms,  I have also divided and redistributed a few chapters (and have even abolished a few),  and I and have substantially changed the order of the chapters. This new arrangement is intended to make the Daodejing more coherent  and show its internal relationships more clearly. This new text is made up entirely of old materials, but it is not a scientific edition. It is an attempt to  produce a more readerly DDJ by clearing away some of the historical encumbrances it is burdened with, while at the same time making its history more apparent.

It is my understanding that the pre-DDJ did not include the Sage 聖 人 at all, and my text is divided  according to that understanding.  I have been able to do this almost entirely by sorting whole chapters. My justifications and sources are set out at the end, but I hope that readers will go through the reorganized text first: if they find that the Daodejing reads well in its new form, the justifications will be more persuasive. (Two tables below showing thematic contrasts between the two groups give a taste of what is to come).

The original DDJ never existed. At every stage the DDJ has been an editorial composite made up of materials of diverse origins, and many of the individual chapters are composites too. This editorial process never ended, and the Guodian text shows us that earlier versions were not necessarily better. Over the centuries editor after editor has tinkered with the text in search of the ideal and unattainable Daodejing, and during this process of tinkering interesting themes have emerged. I am merely  the latest tinkerer in that long line.

Early DDJ Themes
母 雌  牝 6 10 20 25 28 52 55 1 61
Child (子 嬰 兒  孩) 10 20 28 52 55 49
虛 盅 窪 匱 兌
(有/ 無)
4 5 15 16 20 52 56 11 40 43 2 3 22 53
14 16 20 28 34 52 22 60
無 名

[不 可 致 詰 14

故 強 為 之 容 15

孔 德 之 容 21

吾 不 知 其 名 25]

32 37 1 41
天 地 5 6 7 25 32 1 23 [5]
混 敦, 昏 ,渾, 忽 恍,  窈 冥,, 寂 寥,  悶 14 15 20 21 25 18 49 58
[昏 ,渾]
4 15 20 21 34 17 58
50 Total 17 Total


Late DDJ Themes
Original Dao Middle Dao Sage Dao Final Dao
10 18 36 57 58 61 65 78 80
10 32 50 3 53 57 58 64 65 66 72 74 75 80
2 3 12 63 64 65 75
32 3 64 67 69 73 74
盜 賊 3 19 53 57 65
56 11 8 19 36 53 57 73 81
35 56 66 73 81
3 8 22 66 68 81
8 1 36 17

9 In Early DDJ
53 in Late DDJ

Altogether, combining both groups, 100 of these words are in the “right” chapter and 24 are in the “wrong” chapter. This contrast would be even sharper if I had taken into account, e.g., that “emptiness” is metaphysical in some places, but in others just means ordinary everyday emptiness.

Over half of the Late DDJ chapters include at least one of these words: 邦, 民, 敢, or 難. Chapters 3, 64, and 65 include three of them. But only 3 of the 42 chapters of the Early DDJ include even one of them, and the appearances of 邦 and 民 in chapter 10 are somewhat suspect due to irregular rhyming.

Original Dao


The renunciation of glory,  ambition, and war

寵 辱 若 驚
貴 大 患 若 身

何 謂 寵 辱 若 驚
寵 之 為 下
得 之 若 驚
失 之 若 驚
是 謂 寵 辱 若 驚

何 謂 貴 大 患 若 身
吾 所 以 有 大 患 者
為 吾 有 身 也
及 吾 無 身
吾 有 何 患

故 貴 為 身 於 為 天 下
若 可 以 寄 天 下 矣
愛 以 身 於 為 天 下
若 可 以 託 天 下 矣




“Favor and disgrace are like warnings.
Honor and disaster are like your own body”.

What does this mean:
“Favor and disgrace are like warnings”?

The favored one is in the inferior position.
Getting favor is like a warning;
losing favor is like a warning.
This is the meaning of “favor and disgrace are like warnings”.

What does this mean: “Honor disaster like your own body”?
The reason I have great troubles is that I have a body.
If I had no body, what trouble could there be?

Thus he who values his body more than he values the empire may be entrusted with the empire.
He who cherishes his body more than he cherishes the empire may be granted the empire.




以 道 佐 人 主 者
不 以 兵 強 於 天 下
善 者 果 而 已 矣
毌 以 取 強 焉

其 事 好 還
師 之 所 居
荊 棘 生 焉
大 軍 之 後
必 有 凶 年

果 而 勿 矜
果 而 勿 伐
果 而 勿 驕
果 而 勿 強
果 而 不 得 已 居
是 胃 果 而 不 強

物 壯 則 老
謂 之 不 道
不 道 蚤 已






When serving a ruler of men with Dao, do not use weapons to bully the world. A good leader merely attains his goal; he does not try to grab more.


These things tend to come back at you.

Where an army has camped, brambles and thorns grow.

In the wake of a mighty army there will be famine years.


Attain the goal and don’t brag.

Attain the goal, but don’t intimidate.

Attain your the goal, but without arrogance.

Attain your goal if there’s no other choice.


This is the meaning of “Attain your goal without bullying”.


I have rearranged this chapter, along with chapters 30 and 31, in order to make the relationship between the original aphorisms and the commentaries more evident. All three seem somewhat garbled inmost texts, and chapter X** in particular is found in widely differing forms. I believe that these chapters are foundational, going back to the Yangist-Daoist transition, and were already an ancient and somewhat puzzling inheritance at the time when the DDJ was first put together.

The  身 (body, person) was a central concern for Yangism and Daoism and remains so in Daoism today. The mind-body problem had not yet been invented, and your body was you. For them, “cultivating your body”, making yourself the best possible person, and living the best possible life were all the same thing. The Yangist objection to public life was the risk of death or mutilation entailed by military service and involvement in the intrigues of court life. This was probably derived partly from pre-Yangist cultural beliefs which highly honored longevity and regarded mutilations and scars as shameful.

During much of later history the Chinese were not ruled by a military caste and did not honor heroism the way Europeans did (at least not officially), and for most military service was generally regarded as a terrible  disaster. However, competing traditions did exist, as described in Liu’s The Chinese Knight Errant and Lewis’s Sanctioned Violence in Early China. Sunzi and many of the novels and plays are examples. Before Confucius and Laozi, however

The meaning of the first aphorism is pretty clear.  In the specific time-and-place context, it means that ambitious courtiers are at the mercy both of events (the outcomes of battles and of powere struggles at court) and of the ruler whose power to grant or deny favor, promotion, or reward means that the proudest courtier is his humble servant. Since failure in war or in a power struggle could lead to a horrible death, this point is especially relevnt to Yang Zhu’s “preserving life” principle”. But more generally, anyone ambitious is (in a less bloody way) at the mercy of whoever it is upon whom his success depends, whether that is a king, a bureaucratic superior, an audience, or a market. And while it is not explicitly pointed out, in any ranking system there are necessarily more aspirants for advancement than there are positions for them to fill. While it is inevitable within a given state of a given system that, .e.g., someone will be a chief minister or multimillionaire pop star, it is equally true that any given individual who wants to become a chief minister or multimillionaire pop star is almost certainly doomed to failure.

There are interpretational problems with the second aphorism, which has been read either as “Honor and disgrace are like your own person (body)” or as “Honor disgrace like your own person”. I prefer the latter, and the point seems to be either “If you know you’ve been disgraced, at least  you’re still alive, which is the important thing” or possibly “Honor disgrace, because it removes you from the most dangerous place of all, the royal court”.

The final two lines recruit Yang Zhu’s anti-ambition principle into touchstone for trustworthy government servants: a public servant who cherishes life (his body) will be a good one, because he will avoid recklessness and intrigue. This is evidence that  the DDJ, whatever its antecedents, is a Huang-Lao work..

佐 人 主 者
不 以 兵 強 於 天 下
善 者 果 而 已 矣
毌 以 取 強 焉

其 事 好 還
師 之 所 居
荊 棘 生 焉
大 軍 之 後
必 有 凶 年

果 而 勿 矜
果 而 勿 伐
果 而 勿 驕
果 而 勿 強
果 而 不 得 已 居
是 胃 果 而 不 強



 When serving a ruler of men with Dao, do not use weapons to bully the world. A good leader merely attains his goal; he does not try to grab more.

 These things tend to come back at you.
Where an army has camped brambles and thorns grow.
In the wake of a mighty army there will be famine years.

Attain the goal and don’t brag.
Attain the goal, but without arrogance.
Attain the goal, but don’t intimidate.
Attain the goal if there’s no other choice.

 This is the meaning of “Attain the goal without bullying”.

This chapter rejects the pursuit of military glory which the main purpose of warfare among the princes of that time, and which has remained a factor in international politics until our day. Denying the glory of war is part of the rejection of ambition and court life, since military success  was the courtier’s main avenue for advancement.hapter is anti-war but not pacifist; war is undesirable but sometimes unavoidable. War is a destructive, negative-sum game: the winner gains less than the loser loses,  and often enough even the winner gains less than he loses. This chapter is also a step on the way toward a purely instrumental approach to war, however: do what you have to do to get what you want.  This was the approach of the ruthless states of the Warring States period, who fought for dominance rather than for glory.

The Mohists and the Confucians were also basically anti-war, and even the Legalists and Sunzi rejected to the heroic traditional warfare within which individuals sought personal glory. The Mohists especially condemned aggressive warfare aimed at conquering states and seizing their territory and even included a team of specialists in defensive warfare who helped defend states against attack.



夫 兵 者 不 祥 之 器 也
非 君 子 之  器
物 或 惡 之
故 有 道 者 弗 居

君 子 居 則 貴 左
用 兵 則 貴 右
吉 事 尚 左
凶 事 尚 右
偏 將 軍 居 左
上 將 軍 居 右
言 以 喪 禮  處 之

故 兵 者 不 祥 之 器 也
不 得 已 而 用 之

恬 淡 為 上
弗 美 也
若 美 之
是 樂 殺 人

夫 樂 殺 人 者
不 可 以 得 志 於 天 下 矣

殺 人 衆
以 哀 悲 立 之
戰 勝
以 喪 禮 居 之





Weapons are ill-omened tools.  There are things  which hate them.Thus the man of Dao does not abide with them.

When a gentleman is at home he honors the left; in wartime he honors the right.  In auspicious affairs we honor the left;  in mourning, we honor the right. The lieutenant general stands on the left; the commanding general stands on the right.

This means that the protocol for funerals is followed.

Thus: weapons are ill-omened tools.  They are not a gentleman’s tools.

If if their use cannot be avoided, calm restraint is best.  Do not love them.

To love them is to delight in slaughter.  He who delights in slaughter cannot attain his goals in the world.

When masses of men are slaughtered, they should be honored with mourning and wailing. 

When the battle is won, celebrate with funeral rites.

This chapter diametrically opposes the  Chinese practices of the time  and the practices of most states anywhere since then, and they are not irrelevant today.It must be said that Qin, the state which finally did 得 志 於 天 下 and unified China, gloried in war and was especially ruthless in vistory. On the other hand, the Qin dynasty only lasted a decade and a half and was succeeded by the very stable Han dynasty, which practiced a form of Huang-Lao (at least at first) and survived in one form or another for four centuries. Does this make Laozi a bad  prophet, or a good one?



重 為 輕 根
靜 為 躁 君
是 以 君 子
終 日 行 不 離 輜 重

唯 有 環 官 燕 處 超 然
奈 何 萬 乘 之 主
以 身 輕 於 天 下

輕 則 失 本
躁 則 失 君

Original Dao
Inexhaustible emptiness



道 盅
而 用 之
又 弗 盈 也
淵 兮
似 萬 物 之 宗

湛 兮
似 或 存

吾 不 知 其 誰 之 子 也
象 帝 之 先


Dao, though empty, is never filled with use.
Deep! – like the myriad creatures’ ancestor.
Drowned! – but something seems to endure.

I do not know whose child it is;
It seems to be older than God.








天 地 之 間
其 猶 橐 籥 乎
虛 而 不 屈
動 而 愈 出


The space between heaven and earth —
isn’t it like a bellows?
Empty but not exhausted,
work it and more comes out.



谷 神 不 死
是 謂 玄 牝

玄 牝 之 門
是 謂 天 地 之 根

綿 綿 呵 若 存
用 之 不 勤


The valley spirit does not die:
this is called the mysterious female.

The gateway of the mysterious female:
this  is called the root of heaven and earth.

Gossamer, it seems to endure.
Use it without toil.


谷 “valley” is often glossed 穀 “grain, good harvests,  good fortune, prosperity, salary” (also pronounces kuwk, and seen in chapter 39 and 42), and some think that 穀 was the  original text.  穀 was the fundamental desideratum of Chinese life, where famine was an everpresent threat and official salaries of the most prominent officials (who were the most successful individuals)  were calculated in bushels of grain, with the most honored and highest ranked getting the most bushels. The valley spirit may well have been an actual valley spirit but also the spirit of  穀  good fortune, since agriculture flourishes in valleys and not in the mountains.

qin “toil” means “effort” with an aspect of “pain”, as  the word “labor” does  in English (cf. “painstaking” or “labor pains”). Most translators interpret this line in terms of inexhaustibility (e.g. Lau: “Use will never drain it”), but I don’t see how they get that from 勤. The point is rather “Use it without exhausting yourself”, which is germane to the theme of inexhaustibility, but in a different way. (In chapter 52 勤 is used the same way). Dao is elusive, non-economic, not ruled by scarcity, unfillable (chapter 4)  and also inexhaustible (chapter 5), and in the same way, its use or practice is effortless and painless.



天 長 地 久

天 地 所 以 能 長 且 久 者
以 其 不 自 生 也
故 能 長 生
非 以 其 無 私 耶

故 能 成 其 私


Heaven and earth are enduring.

The reason why heaven and earth endure
Is that they  do not live for themselves.
That is why they endure.


In chapter 7 deathlessness appears again, and here we have another apparent attempt to accommodate Yangist  privatism to public life, via paradox this time. The general argument throughout the DDJ is that the obviously selfish, greedy, and violent fail because they rouse opposition, whereas the generous and selfless succeed because they make friends and not enemies. This argument can take two forms: first, that the sly and secretive who put up a good front will defeat those who bluster and bully and brag; and second, that the truly generous, by reducing conflict, will create harmony and produce productive, non-destructive positive-sum results where there is more for everyone and everyone can get what they want. This is not too different from Confucian government by virtue, a little like Mohist “universal love” (impartial concern), and but quite unlike Mohist and Legalist rational governance by laws, and like Confucian virtue, it can be hypocritical or it can be real.


Original Dao

Become like a child
Return to simplicity


載 營 魄 抱 一
能 無 離 乎
專 氣 致 柔
能 嬰 兒 乎
滌 除 玄 覽
能 無 疵 乎
天 門 開 闔
能 為 雌 乎
明 白 四 達
能 無 知 乎

生 之 畜 之
生 而 弗 有
為 而 弗 恃
長 而 弗 宰

是 謂 玄 德


知 其 雄
守 其 雌
為 天 下 谿
為 天 下 谿
恆 德 不 離
復 歸 於 嬰 兒

知 其 白
守 其 𪑾
為 天 下 谷
為 天 下 谷
恆 德 乃 足
復 歸 於 樸

知 其 白
守 其 黑
為 天 下 式
為 天 下 式
恆 德 不 忒
復 歸 於 無 極

Original Dao

Hundun and confusion
The undefinable


視 之 弗  見
名 曰 微
聽 之 弗  聞
名 曰 希
搏 之 弗  得
名 曰 夷

此 三 者 不 可 致 詰
故 混 而 為 一

其 上 不 皦
其 下 不 昧
繩 繩 不 可 名
復 歸 於 無 物

是 謂 無 狀 之 狀
無 物 之 象
是 謂 惚 恍

迎 之 不 見 其 首
隨 之 不 見 其 後

*道 之 出 口
淡 乎 其 無 味
視 之 不 足 見
聽 之 不 足 聞
用 之 不 足 既   (35)

故 不 可 得 而 親
不 可 得 而 踈
不 可 得 而 利
不 可 得 而 害
不 可 得 而 貴
不 可 得 而 賤

故 為 天 下 貴    (56)


古 之 善 為 士 者
微 妙 玄 通
深 不 可 識
夫 唯 不 可 識
故 強 為 之 容 曰

豫 兮 若 冬 涉 川
猶 兮 若 畏 四 鄰
儼 兮 其 若 客
渙 兮 若 冰 之 將 釋
敦 兮 其 若 樸
曠 兮 其 若 谷
混 兮 其 若 濁

孰 能 濁 以 靜 之 徐 清
孰 能 安 以 久 動 之 徐 生

保 此 道 者 不 欲 盈
夫 唯 不 盈
故 能 蔽 不 新 成


致 虛 極 也
守 靜 篤 也
萬 物 並 作
吾 以 觀 復 也
天 物 芸 芸
各 復 歸 其 根
歸 根 曰 靜
是 謂 復 命


荒 兮 其 未 央 哉
衆 人 熙  熙
如 享 太 牢
如 春 登 臺

我 獨 怕 兮 其 未 兆
如 嬰 兒 之 未 孩
儽 儽 兮 若 無 所 歸
衆 人 皆 有 餘
而 我 獨 若 遺

我 愚 人 之 心 也 哉
沌 沌 兮
俗 人 昭 昭
我 獨 若 昏
俗 人 察 察
我 獨 悶 悶
澹 兮 其 若  晦
朢 兮 若 無 止

衆 人 皆 有 以
而 我 獨 頑 似 鄙
我 獨 異 於 人
而 貴 食 母


孔 德 之 容
唯 道 是 從

道 之 為 物
唯 恍 唯 惚
忽 兮 恍 兮
其 中 有 象
恍 兮 忽 兮
其 中 有 物

窈 兮 冥 兮
其 中 有 精
其 精 甚 真
其 中 有 信


有 狀 混 成
先 天 地 生
寂 兮 寥 兮
獨 立 不 改
周 行 而 不 殆
可 以 為 天 地 母

吾 不 知 其 名
字 之 曰 道
強 為 之 名 曰 大

大 曰 逝
逝 曰 遠
遠 曰 反

Original Dao

Nameless Dao
Knowing when to stop
The world brought to order


道恒 無 名
樸 雖 小 天 下 弗 敢 臣 也
侯 王 若 能 守 之
萬 物 將 自 賓
天 地 相 合 以 輸 甘 露
民 莫 之 令 而 自 均

始 制 有 名
名 亦 既 有
夫 亦 將 知 止
知 止 所 以 不 殆

譬 道 之 在 天 下 也
猶 小 谷 之 與 江 海

知 人 者 智
自 知 者 明
勝 人 者 有 力
自 勝 者 強。
知 足 者 富

名 與 身 孰 親
身 與 貨 孰 多
得 與 亡 孰 病
甚 愛 必 大 費
厚 藏 必 多 亡
知 足 不 辱
知 止 不 殆
可 以 長 久


天 下 有 道
卻 走 馬 以 糞
天 下 無 道
戎 馬 生 於 郊

罪 莫 大 於  甚 欲
禍 莫 大 於 不 知 足
咎 莫 惨 於 欲 得
故 知 足 之 足 恆 足 矣

道 汎 兮
其 可 左 右 也
功 成 遂 事 弗 名 有
萬 物 歸 焉 而 弗 為 主

則恆 無 欲 也
可 名 於 小
萬 物 歸 焉 而 弗 為 主
可 命 於 大

以 其 終 不 自 為 大 也
故 能 成 大

執 大 象
天 下 往
往 而 不 害
安 平 大
樂 與 餌
過 客 止

道 恆 無 名
侯 王 若 能 守 之
萬 物 將 自 化

化 而 欲 作
吾 將 正 之 以 無 名 之 樸
無 名 之 樸

夫 亦 將 無 欲
不 欲 以 靜
天 下 將 自 正

Original Dao

Nurturing Life


出 生 入 死
生 之 徒 十 有 三
死 之 徒  十 有 三
而 人 之 生 生 動 之 死 地

夫 何 故
以 其 生 生
蓋 聞 善 執 生 者
陸 行 不 辟 兕 虎
入 軍 不 被 甲 兵
矢 無 所 投 其 角
虎 無 所  措 其 爪

夫 何 故
以 其 無 死 地 焉

道 生 之
德 畜 之
物 形 之
勢 成 之

是 以 萬 物
莫 不 尊 道 而 貴 德

道 之 尊
德 之 貴  也
夫 莫 之 命 恆 自 然 也

故 道 生 之
德 畜 之
長 之
育 之
亭 之
毒 之
養 之
覆 之

故 生 而 弗 有
為 而 弗 恃
長 而 弗 宰

是 謂  玄 德


天 下 有  始
以 為 天 下 母
既 得 其 母
以 知 其 子

既 知 其 子
復 守 其 母
沒 身 不 殆

塞 其 兌
閉 其 門
終 身 不 勤
啟 其 兌
濟 其 事

終 身 不 救
是 為 習 常


塞  其  兌
閉  其  門
和  其  光
同  其  塵
銼  其  銳
解  其  紛

是 謂 玄 同


含 德 之 厚 者 比 於 赤 子
蜂 蠆 虺 蛇 弗 螫
猛 獸 弗 據
攫 鳥 弗 搏

骨 弱 筋 柔 而 握 固
未 知 牝 牡 合 而 朘 怒
精 之 至 也

終 日 號 而 不 嗄
和 之 至 也

Middle Dao

Presence and absence
Naming and namelessness


道 可 道 也
非 恆 道 也
名 可 名 也
非 恆 名也

無 名 天 地 之 始
有 名 萬 物 之 母

故 恆 無 欲 以 觀 其 妙
恆 有 欲 以 觀 其 徼
此 兩 者 同 出 異 名
同 謂 之 玄
玄 之 又 玄
衆 妙 之 門


反 者 道 之 動
弱 者 道 之 用
天 下 之 物 生 於 有
有 生 於 無


三 十 輻 共 一 轂
當 其 無 有 車 之 用
埏 埴 以 為 器
當 其 無 有 器 之 用
鑿 戶 牖 以 為 室
當 其 無 有 室 之 用
故 有 之 以 為 利
無 之 以 為 用


道 生 一
一 生 二
二 生 三
三 生 萬 物
萬 物 負 陰 而 抱 陽
沖 氣 以 為 和


天 下 之 至 柔
馳 騁 於 天 下 之 至 堅
無 有 入 於 無 間
吾 是 以 知 無 為 之 有 益

不 言 之 教
無 為 之 益
天 下 希 及 之 矣

*48 – 20 – 42

*絕 學 無 憂  (20)

為 學 者 日 益
為 道 者 日 損
損 之 又 損
以 至 於 無 為
無 為 而 無 不 為 (48)

*故 物 或 損 之 而 益
或 益 之 而 損 (42)

Middle Dao




上 德 不 德
是 以 有 德
下 德 不 失 德
是 以 無 德

上 德 無 為 而 無 以 為 也
上 仁 為 之 而 無 以 為
上 義 為 之 而 有 以 為
上 禮 為 之 而 莫 之 應
則 攘 臂 而 扔 之

故 失 道 而 後 德
失 德 而 後 仁
失 仁 而 後 義
失 義 而 後 禮

夫 禮 者 忠 信 之 薄
而 亂 之 首
前 識 者
道 之 華 而 愚 之 始

是 以 大 丈 夫 居 其 厚
不 居 其 薄
居 其 實
不 居 其 華

故 去 彼 取 此


希 言 自 然
故 飄 風 不 終 朝
暴 雨 不 終 日

孰 為 此 者
天 地

天 地 尚 不 能 久
而 況 於 人 乎

故 從 事 於 道 者 同 於 道
德 者 同 於 德
失 者 同 於 失

同 於 道 者 道 亦 得 之
同 於 德 者 德 亦 得 之
同 於 失 者 道 亦 失 之

信 不 足, 安 有 不 信


昔 之 得 一 者

天 得 一 以 清
地 得 一 以 寧
神 得 一 以 靈
谷 得 一 以 盈
萬 物 得 一 以 生
侯 王 得 一 以 為 天 下 正

其 致 之

天 無 已 清 將 恐 裂
地 無 已 寧 將 恐 發
神 無 已 靈 將 恐 歇
谷 無 已 盈 將 恐 竭
萬 物 無 已 生 將 恐 滅
侯 王 無 已 貴 高 將 恐 蹶

故 貴 以 賤 為 本
高 以 下 為 基

是 以 侯 王 自 稱 孤 寡 不 穀
此 非 以 賤 為 本 耶
非 乎

故 致 數 譽 無 譽
不 欲 琭 琭 如 玉
珞 珞 如 石


上 士 聞 道
堇 能 行 之
中 士 聞 道
若 存 若 亡
下 士 聞 道
大 笑 之

弗 笑
不足以為道 矣

故 建 言 有 之 曰
明 道 若 昧
進 道 若 退
夷 道 若 纇
上 德 若 谷
大 白 若 𪑾
廣 德 若 不 足
建 德 若 偷
大 方 無 隅
大 器 勉 成
大 音 希 聲
大 象 無 形

道 殷 無 名
夫 唯 道 善 貸 且 善  成



大 成 若 缺
其 用 不 敝
大 盈 若 盅
其 用 不 窮
大 巧 若 拙
大 盛 如 絀
大 直 若 屈
大 辯 若 訥
大 贏 如 炳

躁 勝 寒
靜 勝 熱
清 靜 為 天 下 正


Sage Dao


The simple life


不 尚 賢
使 民 不 爭
不 貴 難 得 之 貨
使 民 不 為 盜
不 見 可 欲
使 心 不 亂

是 以 聖 人 之 治
虛 其 心
實 其 腹
弱 其 志
強 其 骨

恆 使 民 無 知 無 欲 也
使 夫 知 者 弗 敢 為 也

為 無 為
則 無 不 治 矣


五 色 令 人 目 盲
五 音 令 人 耳 聾
五 味 令 人 口 爽
馳 騁 田 獵 令 人 心 發 狂
難 得 之 貨 令 人 行 妨。

是 以 聖 人 為 腹 不 為 目
故 去 彼 取 此。


*多 言 數 窮
不 如 守 於 中 (05)

大 上
下 知 有 之
其 次 親 而 譽 之
其 次 畏 之
其 次 侮 之
信 不 足 焉 有 不 信

猷 兮 其 貴 言 也
成 功 遂 事
而 百 姓 曰 我 自 然  (17)

故 大 道 廢
案 有 仁 義
智 慧 出
案 有 大 偽
六 親 不 和
案 有 孝 慈
邦 家 昏 亂
案 有 忠 臣       (18)

絕 智 棄 辯
民 利 百 倍
絕 巧 棄 利
盜 賊 無 有
絕 偽 棄 慮
民 復 孝 慈

三 言 以 為 文 不 足
故 令 之 有 所 屬
視 素 保 樸
少 私 寡 欲          (19)


使 我 介 然 有 知 也
行 於 大 道
唯 施 是 畏

大 道 甚 夷
而 民 好 徑
朝 甚 除
田 甚 蕪
倉 甚 虛
帶 利 劍
厭 飲 食
財 貨 有 餘

是 謂 盜 竽
非 道 也 哉


人 之 飢 也
以 其 上 食 稅 之 多 也
是 以 飢
百 姓 之 難 治
以 其 上 之  有 以 為 也
是 以 難 治

民 之 輕 死
以 其 上 求 生 之 厚
是 以 輕 死

夫 唯 無 以 生 為 者
是 賢 貴 生


小 邦 寡 民

使 有 十 百 人 之 器 而 勿 用
使 民 重 死 而 不 遠 徙
雖 有 舟 輿 無 所 乘 之
雖 有 甲 兵 無 所 陳 之
使 民 復 結 繩 而 用 之

甘 其 食
美 其 服
樂 其 俗
安 其 居
鄰 邦 相 望
雞 犬 之 音 相 聞
民 至 老 死
不 相 往 來

Sage Dao

The Rule of the Sage

*02 / 20

*唯 之 與 阿 相 去 幾 何
善 之 與 惡 相 去 若 何*  (20)

天 下 皆 知 美 之 為 美
斯 惡 矣
皆 知 善 之 為 善

故 有 無 相 生
難 易 相 成
長 短 相 形
高 下 相 盈
音 聲 相 和
前 後 相 隨

是 以 聖 人 居 無 為 之 事
行 不 言 之 教
萬 物 作 焉 而 弗 始
生 而 弗 有
為 而 弗 志
成 功 而 弗 居

夫 唯 弗 居
是 以 不 去


曲 則 全
枉 則 直
窪 則 盈
弊 則 新
少 則 得
多 則 惑

是 以 聖 人 抱 一
以 為 天 下 式
不 自 見 故 明
不 自 是 故 彰
不 自 伐 故 有 功
不 自 矜 故 長

夫 唯 不 爭
故 天 下 莫 能 與 之 爭


以 正 治 邦
以 奇 用 兵
以 無 事 取 天 下
吾 何 以 知 其 然 哉
夫 天 下 多 忌 諱
而 民 彌 貧
而 民 多 利 器
邦 家 滋 昏
人 多 伎 巧
而 奇 物 滋 起
法 令 滋 彰
而 盜 賊 多 有

故 聖 人 云
我 無 為 而 民 自 化
我 好 靜 而 民 自 正
我 無 事 而 民 自 富
我 欲 不 欲 而 民 自 樸


為 無 為
事 無 事
味 無 味

大 小 多 少
報 怨 以 德
圖 難 於 其 易
為 大 於 其 細 也

天 下 之 難 事
必 作 於 易
天 下之 大 事
必 作 於 細

是 以 聖 人 終 不 為 大
故 能 成 其 大

夫 輕 諾 必 寡 信
多 易 必 多 難
是 以 聖 人 猶 難 之
故 終 無 難 矣


其 安 易 持
其 未 兆 易 謀
其 脆 易 判
其 微 易 散

為 之 於 其 未 有
治 之 於 其 未 亂

合 抱 之 木
生 於 毫 末
九 層 之 臺
起 於 累 土
千 里 之 行
始 於 足 下

為 之 者 敗 之
執 之 者 失 之
是 以 聖 人 無 為
故 無 敗
無 執
故 無 失


民 之 從 事 也
恆 於 其 幾 成 而 敗之
故 曰
慎 終 如 始
則 無 敗 事

是 以 聖 人 欲 不 欲
而 不 貴 難 得 之 貨
學 不 學
而 復 衆 人 之 所 過
能 輔 萬 物 之 自 然
而 弗 敢 為


將 欲 取 天 下 而 為 之
吾 見 其 弗 得 已

天 下 神 器
不 可 為 者 也
為 之 者 敗 之
執 之 者 失 之

故 物 或 行 或 隨
或 歔 或 吹
或 強 或 羸
或 陪 或 隳

是 以 聖 人 去 甚
去 奢
去 泰

Sage Dao


The Lower Position


上 善 若 水
水 善 利 萬 物 而 不 爭
居 衆人 之 所 惡
故 幾 於 道 矣

夫 唯 不 爭
故 無 尤


大 邦 者 下 流 也
天 下 之 交
天 下 之 牝 也

牝 恆 以 靜 勝 牡
以 靜 為 下

故 大 邦 以 下 小 邦
則 取 小 邦
小 邦 以 下 大 邦
則 取 於 大 邦

故 或 下 以 取
或 下 而 取
大 邦 不 過 欲 兼 畜 人
小 邦 不 過 欲 入 事 人

夫 兩 者 各 得 其 所 欲
則 大 者 宜 為 下


江 海 所 以 能 為 百 谷 王 者
以 其 善 下 之
故 能 為 百 谷 王

是 以 欲 上 民
必 以 言 下 之
欲 先 民
必 以 身 後 之

是 以 居 上 而 民 弗 重
居 前 而 民 弗 害

是 以 天 下 樂 推 而 弗 厭
以 其 不 爭

故 天 下 莫 能 與 之 爭

Sage Dao


The Sage Himself


天 地 不 仁
以 萬 物 為 芻 狗
聖 人 不 仁
以 百 姓 為 芻 狗



*治 人 事 天 莫 若 嗇* (59)
治 大  若 烹 小 鮮

以 道 位 天 下
其 鬼 不 神

非 其 鬼 不 神
其 神 不 傷 人

非 其 神 不 傷 人
聖 人 亦 不 傷 人

夫 兩 不 相 傷
故 德 交 歸 焉


聖 人 無 恆 心
以 百 姓 之 心 為 心

善 者 吾 善 之
不 善 者 吾 亦 善 之
德 善

信 者 吾 信 之
不 信 者 吾 亦 信 之
德 信

聖 人 在 天 下 歙 歙 然
為 天 下 渾 其 心
百 姓 皆 注 其 耳 目
聖 人 皆 孩 之


樸 散 則 為 器
聖 人 用
則 為 官 長

故 大 制 不 割

Sage Dao

The Cunning of the Sage
Shen Dao


善 行 無 轍 迹
善 言 無 瑕 讁
善 數 不 用 籌 策
善 閉 無 關 楗 而 不 開 也
善 結 無 繩 約 而 不 解 也

聖 人 恆 善 救 人
故 無 棄 人
恆 善 救 物
故 無 棄 物

是 謂 襲 明
故 善 人 者
不 善 人 之 師
不 善 人 者
善 人 之 資

不 貴 其 師
不 愛 其 資
雖 智 大 迷。

是 謂 要 妙


將 欲 歙 之
必 固 張 之
將 欲 弱 之
必 固 強 之
將 欲 廢 之
必 固 興 之
將 欲 奪 之
必 固 與 之

是 謂 微 明
柔 弱 勝 剛 強

魚 不 可 脫 於 淵
邦 之 利 器 不 可 以 示 人


其 政 悶 悶
其 民 淳 淳
其 政 察 察
其 邦 缺 缺

禍 兮 福 之 所 倚
福 兮 禍 之 所 伏
孰 知 其 極?
其 無 正?
人 之 迷其 日 固 久

是 以 聖 人 方 而 不 割
廉 而 不 劌
直 而 不 肆
光 而 不 燿


道 者 萬 物 之 注
善 人 之 寶
不 善 人 之 所 保

美 言 可 以 市
尊 行 可 以 加 人
人 之 不 善
何 棄 之 有

故 立 天 子
置 三 公
雖 有 拱 璧 以 先 駟 馬
不 如 坐 進 此 道

古 之 所 以 貴 此 道 者 何
不 曰
以 求 得
有 罪 以 免 耶

故 為 天 下 貴


古 之 善 為 道 者
非 以 明 民
將 以 愚 之
民 之 難 治
以 其 智 多

故 以 智 治 邦
邦 之 賊
不 以 智 治 邦
邦 之 福

知 此 兩 者 亦 稽 式
恆 知 稽 式
是 謂 玄 德

玄 德 深 矣
遠 矣
與 物 反 矣
乃 至 大 順

Final Dao



不 出 於 戶
以 知 天 下
不 闚 於 牖
以 見 天 道
其 出 彌 遠
其 知 彌 少

是 以 聖 人 弗 行 而 知
弗 見 而 名
弗 為 而 成


吾 言 甚 易 知 也
甚 易 行 也

而 天下 莫 之 能 知 也
莫 之 能 行 也

言 有 宗
事 有 君

夫 唯 無 智
是 以 不 我 知
知 我 者 希
則 我 者 貴 矣

是 以 聖 人 被 褐 而 懷 玉


知 不 知 尚 矣
不 知 知 病 矣

是 以 聖 人 之 不 病 也
以 其 病 病 也
是 以 不 病

Final Dao

Self-restraint and Mercy


持 而 盈 之
不 如 其 已
揣 而 銳 之
不 可 長 保 也
金 玉 滿 堂
莫 之 能 守 也
富 貴 而 驕
自 遺 其 咎 也

功 遂 身 退
天 之 道 也


天 下 皆 謂 我 大
大 而 不 肖

夫 唯 大
故 不 肖
若 宵
久 矣 其 細 也 夫

我 恆  有 三 寶
持 而 保 之
一 曰 慈
二 曰 儉
三 曰 不 敢 為 天 下 先
慈 故 能 勇
儉 故 能 廣
不 敢 為 天 下 先
故 能 為 成 器 長

今 舍 慈 且 勇
舍 儉 且 廣
舍 後 且 先
則 死 矣

夫 慈 以 戰 則 勝
以 守 則 固
天 將 建 之
若 以 慈 衛 之


善 為 士 者 不 武
善 戰 者 不 怒
善 勝 敵 者 弗 與
善 用 人 者 為 之 下

是 謂 不 爭 之 德
是 謂 用 人
是 謂 配 天 古 之 極


用 兵 者 有 言 曰
吾 不 敢 為 主 而 為 客
不 敢 進 寸 而 退 尺

是 謂 行 無 行
攘 無 臂
扔 無 敵
執 無 兵 矣

禍 莫 大 於 輕 敵
輕 適 幾 喪 吾 寶

故 抗 兵 相 若
哀 者 勝 矣..


民 不 畏 威
則 大 威 將 至 矣

無 狎 其 所 居
無 厭 其 所 生

夫 唯 弗 厭
是 以 不 厭

是 以 聖 人 自 知
不 自 見 也
自 愛
不 自 貴 也

故 去 彼 而 取 此


勇 於 敢 者 則 殺
勇 於 不 敢 者 則 活
此 兩 者
或 利 或 害

天 之 所 惡
孰 知 其 故

天 之 道
不 戰 而 善 勝
不 言 而 善 應
弗 召 而 自 來
繟 然 而 善 謀

天 網 恢 恢
踈 而 不 失


若 民 恆 且 不 畏 死
奈 何 以 殺 懼 之 也
若 使 民 恆 且 畏 死
而 為 奇 者
吾 得 執 而 殺 之
夫 孰 敢 矣

若 民 恆 且 必 畏 死
則 恆 有 司 殺 者 殺

夫 代 司 殺 者 殺
是 代 大 匠 斲 也

夫 代 大 匠 斲 者
希 不 傷 其 手

*人 之 所 畏
不 可 以 不 畏* 人 (20)

Final Dao

Compensation, Softness, and Forbearance


人 之 生 也 柔 弱
其 死 也 堅 強
萬 物 草 木 之 生 也 柔 脆
其 死 也 枯 槁。

故 曰  堅 強 者 死 之 徒 也
柔 弱 微 細  者 生 之 徒 也

是 以 兵 強 則 不 勝
木 強 則 攻
強 大 居 下
柔 弱 微 細 居 上


*天下 之 所 惡
唯 孤 寡 不 穀
而 王 公 以 自 命 也   (42)

天 下 莫 柔 弱 於 水
而 攻 堅 強 者
莫 之 能 勝 也
以 其 無 以 易 之 也

弱 之 勝 強
柔 之 勝 剛
天 下 莫 弗 知
莫 能 行

是 以 聖 人 之 言 曰
受 邦 之 垢
是 謂 社 稷 之 主
受 邦 不 祥
是 謂 天 下 之 王

正 言 若 反 (78)


天 之 道
其 猶 張 弓 者 也
高 者 抑 之
下 者 舉 之
有 餘 者 損 之
不 足 者 補 之

天 之 道 損 有 餘 而 補 不 足
人 之 道 不 然
損 不 足 以 奉 有 餘

夫 孰 能 有 餘 以 奉 於 天 者 乎
唯 有 道 者 乎

是 以 聖 人 為 而 弗 有
成 功 而 弗 居 也
若 此 其 不 欲 見 賢 也


和 大 怨
必 有 餘 怨 焉
安 可 以 為 善

是 以 聖 人 執 左 契
而 不 以 責 於 人
有 德 司 契
無 德 司 徹

夫 天 道 無 親
恒 與 善 人


*知 者 不 言
言 者 不 知 (56)
信 言 不 美
信 言 不 美
美 言 不 信
知 者 不 博
博 者 不 知
善 者 不 辯
辯 者 不 善

聖 人 無  積
既 以 為 人
己 愈 有
既 以 與 人
己 愈 多

故 天 之 道
利 而 不 害
人 之 道
為 而 爭

Appendix I

Extraneous passages

Nine tags at the ends of chapters, two chapter inserts,  and all (or almost all of two chapters) add little or nothing of value the the DDJ, and I have put these passages below. My guess is that a body of naive and superstitious commentary crept into the text very early and became canonical despite its lack of serious interest. Several of these passages are part of the Guodian text, the earliest we have, so they can not be regarded as a “late corruption”. Some of them sound a bit like chants of some sort. There’s a strong emphasis on the superstitious and longevity  here (祥, 殃,  凶, 不 亡, 不 殆, 不道, 長,  久), the graphs 國 and 常 are used only in these passages (in place of their substitutes 邦 and 恆), versions of the 常 明 強 rhyme appear several times, and the treatment of 強 and 大 are contrary to that of most of the rest of the DDJ .


居 善 地
心 善 淵
與 善 仁
言 善 信
正 善 治
事 善 動 善 時..

Tag end

執 古 之 道 以 御 今 之 有
能 知 古 始
是 謂 道 紀

Tag end

復 命 曰 常
知 常 曰 明
不 知 常
妄 作 凶
知 常 容
容 乃 公
公 乃 王
王 乃 天
天 乃 道
道 乃 久
沒 身 不 殆

Tag end

自 古 及 今
其 名 不 去
以 閱 衆 甫
吾 何 以 知 衆 甫 之 然 哉
以 此

Tag end

古 之 所 謂 曲 則 全 者
豈 虛 言 哉?
誠 全 而 歸 之


故 道 大
天 大
地 大
王 亦 大

域 中 有 四 大
而 王 居 其 一 焉

人 法 地
地 法 天
天 法 道
道 法 自 然


Tag end

強 行 者 有 志
不 失 其 所 者 久
死 而 不 亡 者 壽

Tag end

人 之 所 教 我 亦 教
故 強 良 者 不 得 其  死
吾 將 以 為 教 父

Tag End (chain)

見 小 曰 明
守 柔 曰 強
用 其 光
復 歸 其 明
無 遺 身 殃

Entire chapter

善 建 不 拔
善 抱 者 不 脫
孫 以 祭 祀 不 輟

修 之 於 身
其 德 乃 真
修 之 於 家
其 德 乃 餘
修 之 於 鄉
其 德 乃 長
修 之 於 國
其 德 乃 豐
修 之 於 天 下
其 德 乃 普

故 以 身 觀 身
以 家 觀 家
以 鄉 觀 鄉
以 國 觀 國
以 天 下 觀 天 下

吾 何 以 知 天 下 然 哉
以 此

55 Tag end (chain)



End of chapter (all but opening line).

夫 唯 嗇
是 謂 早 服
早 服  謂 之
重 積 德
重 積 德
則 無 不 克
無 不 克
則 莫 知 其 極
莫 知 其 極
可 以 有 國

有 國 之 母
可 以 長 久
是 謂 深 根 固 柢
長 生 久 視 之 道 也


Appendix II

Detached lines

The lines below don’t fit where they are.  I have tentatively moved them elsewhere, and have deleted two; these choices do not need to be taken too seriously.  In my version, chapters 35, 42, 56, and 59 essentially disappear, along with big chunks of chapters 20 and 42. Chapters 35, 42 and 56 strike me as purely random assemblages.



多 言 數 窮
不 如 守 於 中

To 17.



天 地 不 仁
以 萬 物 為 芻 狗
聖 人 不 仁
以 百 姓 為 芻 狗

Moved into Sage Dao as an independent fragment.  Along with the cut from chapter 28, this is one of only two cuts which I have made in order to support my general argument about the DDJ, and my cut is supported by the GD text, which does not include this passage in its version of chapter 5.



絕 學 無 憂

To beginning of chapter 48. It fits nicely there, and chapter 20 precedes chapter 48 in GD.



唯 之 與 阿 相 去 幾 何
善 之 與 惡 相 去 若 何

To 2, beginning.



人 之 所 畏
不 可 不 畏 人

To 74.



道 之 出 口
淡 乎 其 無 味
視 之 不 足 見
聽 之 不 足 聞
用 之 不 足 既

To 14, end.



樸 散 則 為 器
聖 人 用 之
則 為 官 長
故 大 制 不 割

Moved into Sage Dao as an independent fragment. No texts support my cut, but many have speculated that this passage does not belong in chapter 28.



道 之 出 口
淡 乎 其 無 味
視 之 不 足 見
聽 之 不 足 聞
用 之 不 足 既。

To 14, end.



故 物 或 損 之 而 益
或 益 之 而 損

To end of chapter 48, where it fits well. At the end of GD C there is a damaged fragment, in an astronomical context, which includes  the passages
天 道 貴 弱
削 成 者 以 益 生 者….
不 足 於 下 者
有 餘 於 上.



天 下 之 所 惡 唯 孤 寡 不 穀 而 王 公 以 為 命

To 78.



知 者 不 言
言 者 不 知

To 81.



故 不 可 得 而 親
不 可 得 而 踈
不 可 得 而 利
不 可 得 而 害
不 可 得 而 貴
不 可 得 而 賤

故 為 天 下 貴

To 14, end.


治 人 事 天 莫 若 嗇。
To the beginning of chapter 60. The remainder of the chapter is above in Appendix I.


How this text was produced

Link: Sources

My sources have been (in order of age) the Guodian text GD), the two Mawangdui texts (MWDA, MWD B) , the Beida text (BD), the familiar Wang Bi text WB), and the many variants collated by Jiang Xichang (e.g., the  25 variants of the final couplet of Chapter 13).

Most of my chapters can be justified as composites of one or more of the existing texts. Once I had decided to produce my own text rather than to follow one of the traditional texts, hundreds and probably thousands of   executive decisions had to be made. Fortunately, most of these decisions were relatively insignificant, and in these cases I made these decisions silently. I followed these rules of thumb:

  1. On difficult readings in MWD or GD manuscripts, I generally follow Lau, Henricks, or Ryden. I did nothing original in this area.
  1. Where particles (也, 矣, 於 , etc.) are useful I keep them, regardless of the text in which they are found.
  1. I prefer the versions in which parallelism is clearest, even though the oldest known text (GD) is often deficient in this regard.
  1. When the pairs 邦 / 國, 恒 / 常, 居 / 處, 盈 / 滿, etc., are alternatively found in the various texts,  I use the one that I think is the older.  正 / 政 /  定 / 貞 / 直 and  清 / 情 / 請 / 靜 / 精 are probably also taboo substitutions at times, but in any case I follow my own judgment in regularizing their usage to the extent possible. (However, while in most places MWD A and GD use 邦 rather than 國 and 恒 rather than 常, in chapter 16 MWD A has 常;  in chapter 25  MWD A has 國 and GD has 域 ; in chapter 52, MWD A has 常; in chapter 55, both MWD A and GD have 常; and in chapter 59,  MWD A has 國. I use  常 and 國 in these places. All of these appearances are within what I think is a particular historical layer of the DDJ, and a rather extraneous one). I also try to regularize other graphic variants and synonym variants.
  1. As part of the editing process, editors often slipped stereotyped terms or phrases (e.g. 夫 唯 不 X 是 以 X: “Just because not X, therefore X”) to try to give the book a degree of consistency and sequence. I choose variants leaving out these phrases when I can find them. Even “The Sage”, “Dao”, or “wuwei” can be cliches of this type.
    How I divided the text

The proof of the pudding is the eating. If my four-part division of the text above is persuasive when read, if my groupings read better than other arrangements of the DDJ and if my reorganization of the text illuminates the meaning of the book, then my method was good.  Not the other way around: the method does not justify the results. But my approach did have some method behind it and was not entirely subjective, so I will present it here, albeit in an  idealized form. (The actual process required decades of trial and error and many false starts). I will limit myself to the distinction between the Early DDJ  and the Late DDJ, which is the important one. The  four-part division (Original Dao, Middle Dao, Sage Dao  and Final Dao) is latent in the two-part division and is of much less importance.

Step One

I started off with three main general hypotheses, one of which eventually required revision, and then quickly added two secondary hypotheses.

  1. In general, the Early DDJ is more contemplative and less political, and the Late DDJ is more political and less contemplative.
  1. The Sage was not part of the Early DDJ.
  1. Chapters from the Late DDJ do not appear in the GD text.
  1. Chapters 67-81, the final chapters in the book and the longest consecutive group not found in the GD text, are the core of the Late DDJ and formthe Final Dao subsection within it. (8 of these 15 chapters include the Sage).
  1. Chapters 38-46, within which the Sage does not appear, are the core of the Early DDJ and form the Middle Dao subsection within that section. Five of these nine chapters are found in the GD text. (It is not immediately relevant here, but I suspect that chapters 38-46 and 67-81 are the work respectively of the next-to-last editor of the DDJ and the final editor of the DDJ).

Of these hypotheses, the third had to be revised, since some Late DDJ chapters do appear in the GD text. (In fact, we already knew that, since the Sage appears in the GD text five times). But this hypothesis still worked pretty well as a heuristic and as a statistical rule of thumb: 71% (22 of 31) of the GD chapters are part of Early DDJ, of which they comprise more than half. As for the Sage, all Sage chapters by definition belong to the Late DDJ,  60% (23 of 38) of the Late DDJ chapters in my edition include the Sage, and 76%  (43 of 58) of the Sage-free chapters are part of Early DDJ. This is consistent with the the assembly of the GD texts early in the Late DDJ period, before the final phase of its development (notably chapters 67-81, but also before the Sage chapters 5, 28, 49, and 60).

Hypothesis 4 gave us fifteen Late DDJ chapters and hypothesis 5 gave us nine Early DDJ chapters. Hypothesis 3 initially gave us nineteen more Late DDJ chapters. At this point we have classified 34 + 9 = 43 chapters, over half the DDJ, leaving 38 chapters unclassified. This division fits the first hypothesis reasonably well: in general, the 9 Early DDJ chapters are more contemplative and less oriented to public life, and the 34 Late DDJ chapters are the other way around.  However, the majority of the Early Dao chapters have not yet been looked at and the contrast is not dramatic.

Thus far I have just been pigeonholing chapters rather mechanically, according to well-defined criteria.  The next step is interpretive: I select an early, Sage-free, contemplative, less-political Early DDJ group from among the 38 Sage-free chapters which I have not looked at so far. These are chapters 4, 6, 10, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 25, 32, 33, 35, 37, 50, 51, 52, 54, 55, 56, and 59. These 20  chapters bring the total to 29 Early  DDJ+ 34 Late DDJ = 63 chapters, leaving 18 chapters untouched.

The selection of this group is the nub of my argument and was my actual starting point. It is my claim that the contrasts of topic, themes, and style  between the Early DDJ and the Late DDJ groups I have just defined is great enough to justify the methods by which I defined the groups, including my subjective selection of the 20 Early Dao chapters. Two tables below display some of these contrasts, though it is really necessary to read the two groups in succession to get the full contrast.

18 chapters remain: chapters 1, 8, 9, 11, 13, 17, 18, 23, 24, 26, 30, 31, 36, 48, 53, 61, 62, and 65.  Based on their similarities to chapters already assigned, most of these can be assigned easily enough. Chapters 1, 11, 23, 24, 26,  and 48  fit more or less well into the Early DDJ,  while chapters 9, 17, 18,  36, 53, 61, 62, and 65 belong in the Late DDJ. (These assignments will be discussed at greater length later). This gives us 35 Early DDJ chapters (29 + 6 ) plus 43 Late DDJ chapters (35 + 8), totaling 78 chapters.

Finally, chapters 13, 30, and 31 are anomalous in the DDJ, if only because of their clumsiness; they are hard to construe, though the general meaning is clear. Though powerful, these chapters are neither mystical nor eloquent.  It is my argument that despite their differences from the rest of the book, as an early expression of Yang Zhu’s rejection of court life  and the martial world of the Chinese aristocracy in favor of the private “cultivation of the self / body”, these chapters are centrally important and are foundational to the Early DDJ. (“Yang Chu’s Discovery of the Body”, Philosophy East and West, Volume 46-4, October 1996, pp. 533-566), and I call them Early DDJ. The division is now complete: 38 Early DDJ chapters  + 43 Late DDJ chapters = 81 total.

I think that someone separately reading through each of the two groups I have just defined, Early  DDJ and Late  DDJ, will at least be open to the possibility that the early DDJ / Late DDJ  distinction I have found is real.

Summary of Step One
Step taken Chapters Chapter count Running total
Hypothesis 4 above 67-8:  Late +15 Late 0 Early + 15 Late = 15 total.
Hypothesis 5 above 38-46  Early +9 Early 9 Early + 15 Late = 24 total.
Hypothesis 2 above: Sage chapters 2, 3, 5, 7, 12, 19, 22, 27, 28, 29, 34, 47, 49, 57, 58, 60, 63, 64, 66  [+ 70, 71, 72, 73, 77, 78, 79, 81 Sages in chapters 67-81] +19 Late [total 27 Sage chapters] 9 Early + 34 Late = 43 total.
Early chapters selected by me 4 6 10 14 15 16 20 21 25 32 33 35 37 50 51 52 54 55 56 59 +20  Early 29 Early + 34 Late = 63 total.
Remaining Early chapters 1 11 23 24 26 48 +6  Early 35 Early +34 Late = 69 total.
Remaining Late chapters 8 9 17 18 36 53 61 62 65 +9 L 35 Early + 43 Late = 78 total.
Yang Zhu chapters 13 30 31 +3 E 38 Early + 43 Late = 81 total.
Early DDJ: 1 4 6 10 11 13 14 15 16 20 21 23 24 25 26 30 31 32 33 35 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 48 50 51 52 54 55 56 59: 38 total.
Late DDJ: 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 12, 17, 18, 19, 22, 27, 28, 29, 34, 36, 47, 49, 53, 57, 58, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65,  66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81: 43 total.
Step Two

So far I have distinguished the Early DDJ and the Late DDJ merely by sorting whole chapters without tampering with them, but in Step Two I select Sage-free variants of chapters 7 and 34 and move them into the Early DDJ,  and I also cut the Sage tags from chapters 5 and 28 and move the body of  each chapter into the Early DDJ while leaving the Sage tags in the Late DDJ as independent fragments. This makes the final count 42 Early DDJ chapters, 39 Late DDJ chapters, and 2 Late DDJ fragments.

Two of these moves are unproblematic: there are many variants of chapter 34 which do not include the Sage, and the GD text of chapter 5 does not include the passage speaking of the Sage (whose relevance to the remainder of the chapter has always been uncertain).

There is only a single sage-free variant of chapter 7*, but I use it because chapters 4, 5, 6, and 7 develop a single Early DDJ theme; emptiness, fertility, and deathlessness. (In the same way chapter 34, without the Sage, fits in neatly with the nearby chapters 32 and 37).

*Jiang Xichang,  p. 17, a Tang-era inscription of the 道 德 真 經 廣 聖 義  at 杜光庭  published in the 道 藏 擧 要; Jiang’s text #60, coded 庭.

The Sage passages these two chapters are very similar and echo chapters 63, 66, and 67. The last line of chapter 7 is 故 能 成 其 私 “Thus he can fulfill his person”, while the last line of chapter 34 reads 故 能 成 其 大 “Thus he can fulfill his greatness”. The argument is the same in both cases is the same: by giving up X (yourself, your greatness) you will gain X. And in both chapters the introduction of the Sage changes the subject of the sentence, which would otherwise be Heaven and Earth (天 地) in chapter 7 and Dao in chapter 34. (In chapter 66 also, in the many texts without the Sage you have a general admonition to put yourself below the people in order to lead them, etc., rather than saying that the Sage does that). I suspect that some editor tacked endings onto chapters 7 and 34, following the models of chapters 63, 66, and 67, in order to bring these chapters more into harmony with the later parts of the book, and even that part of chapter 66 may have been an insertion.

Finally, while the body of chapter 28 is closely related to the Early DDJ chapter 10, with which it shares rhymes, and while the Sage tag at the end has no apparent relationship to the body of the chapter, my division of this chapter has no textual warrant that I am aware of.  But as in the cases of  chapter 5,  the Sage tag in chapter 28 is important since the Sage appears in his own right in these passages (as in chapters 49, 61, and 81), rather than merely as part of the introductory formula “Therefore the Sage…..”, and along with chapters 49 and 60, the two tags from these chapters are central to our understanding of the Sage of the DDJ.

It is not significant for my Early / Late division, but I have also chosen Sage-free variants of Chapter 19, based on the GD text, and chapter 66, based on a number of variants, while leaving both chapters in the Late DDJ even without the Sage. By this the Sage count in the DDJ is reduced from 27 to 23.

Later Steps

Finally, I divide the Early DDJ and the Late DDJ into subgroups  and divide and redistribute a number of other chapters. These cuts and rearrangements may have some historical interest but are primarily for the reader’s benefit; only the cuts from chapters 5 and 28 are important for my Early DDJ / Late DDJ thesis. (The chapter cuts and redistributions are listed above in the Appendices).

I divide the Early DDJ into Original Dao and Middle Dao, and I divide the Late DDJ into Sage Dao and Final Dao. Both of these moves were latent in hypotheses 4 and 5 of my original exposition, though I have added several chapters to chapters 67-81 to form Final Dao, and have added several chapters to 38-46 (while moving two chapters into Original Dao) to form Middle Dao. I’m not sure how important the Original Dao / Middle Dao and the Sage Dao / Final Dao distinctions are in the end, but they’re there in the text and I think that readers might find them helpful.  As for the subgroups within these two groups, they are for the reader’s benefit and are not exclusionary. Many chapters could be part of more than one group.

Published in: on March 15, 2017 at 7:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Establishmentarianism and Conspiracism

Gary Webb’s story can be summed up in three headlines:




There are a lot of things that might be said about this story: about how it became a Gary Webb story rather than a CIA story,  or about the decentralized formation of politically-driven journalistic lynch mobs, or about the reasons why intelligence services’ black-bag operations inevitably form alliances with organized crime.  But one angle is especially relevant today.  This enormous Republican scandal was the internet’s first viral story, and not only did the establishment media do what they could to discredit it — thus putting themselves on the wrong side  of the biggest revolution in their biz since the invention of the printing press — but the Democratic Party (with a few honorable exceptions)  also failed to respond, with the result that this story only lives on as a Bill Clinton scandal: the Mena airport.

And this story is where Alex Jones and Michael Ruppert got their start: if the watchdog media and the opposition party fail to do their jobs, someone else will step in, and they won’t necessarily be high-minded or honest. Conspiracism is the direct result of Katherine Graham’s establishmentarian dictum “The public doesn’t need to know everything”.

Kristina Borjesson, ed., Into the Buzzsaw, Prometheus, 2004.

Michael Levine, Big White Lies, 1993, Thunder’s Mouth Press (almost unavailable when Webb wrote his articles but tells a similar story from the same period).

Michael Levine, “Mainstream Media: The Drug War’s Shills”, in Into the Buzzsaw, pp. 157-194.

Nicolas Schou, Kill the Messenger, Nation Books, 2006.

Gary Webb, “The Mighty Wurlitzer Plays On”, in Into the Buzzsaw, pp. 141-156.

Gary Webb, Dark Alliance, 1998, reissued in 2014 by Seven Stories Press.


Published in: on March 10, 2017 at 7:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

The History of the Twentieth Century American Culture.

Sigmund Freud’s shadow hung over the Twentieth Century like a storm cloud (F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ditzy heroines ca. 1920 were “hip to Freud”) , and it was Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays who invented the science of public relations which rules us today. During WWI he, along with Walter Lippmann and the Rockefeller press agent Ivy Lee (the two other founders) were in charge of America’s internal propaganda effort.

After the war Bernays worked to win the right to smoke cigarettes for the beaten-down and oppressed women of America, while Ivy Lee worked for the Nazis.

Lippmann, the brains behind the New Republic tabloid, became an elder statesman of America’s Democratic Party and one of the founders of neoliberalism, and not long later, Ivy Lee’s nephew William Burroughs revolutionized American literature.

And that’s all you need to know right there. Various other Americans were once thought culturally important, but in the long haul none of them amounted to a hill of beans.

Lippmann and neoliberalism

Published in: on March 9, 2017 at 7:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Thanks, Erich!

In 19th century Europe stalking was an accepted courtship method, not usually welcomed by the target but not shameful or illegal. (This is everywhere in the fiction: Kierkegaard, Gogol, everyone). When Alice James visited Paris she was astonished find that one of her French friends, a married woman, was reluctant ever to leave the house unaccompanied. The old word “streetwalker” was based on the assumption that all unaccompanied women were available.

The plot of James’s Daisy Miller turned on the fact that America was not like this. Why? Because Americans were sexually repressed Protestants, alienated from their bodies, and American guys didn’t feel obligated to fuck everything in sight.

And then Erich Fromm came along, and we got Norman Mailer. Thanks, Erich!

Published in: on March 9, 2017 at 7:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

The New York Intellectuals II

While the post-WWII leaders American intelligentsia were reading Kierkegaard and Heidegger and glumly accustoming themselves to a post-radical, post-humanist, establishmentarian  world of   diminished expectations and elite irony, the Americans who really counted were whooping it up as they devised new and better ways of crushing all opposition and founding their empire.

Published in: on March 6, 2017 at 7:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

I do not want the liberation of desire.

There is more to want than there is to get, and since democracy came along anybody can want anything they want to want, so nobody is happy. And on top of that, since Freud came along desire is an obligation, so we are filled with a desperate desire to desire. Dissatisfaction is structural, and satisfaction is merely the impossible dimensionless point separating hope and regret, anticipation and loss, and life is the Malthusian proliferation and decimation of swarms of hopes .

Published in: on March 6, 2017 at 6:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Edmund Wilson: “Flaubert’s Politics”

Flaubert was a gut-thinking right winger with a libertarian streak, a rentier worried about his nest egg first and last. I have never been able to figure out why he hated the bourgeoisie , but his hatred for socialists and the general population is unmysterious.

The contortions Wilson goes through to make Flaubert seem like anything other than what he was are highly amusing. To speak warmly of devoted house servants doesn’t make you a democrat. Feudal lords enormously admired their devoted house servants. Bill Buckley admired his devoted house servants.

This was a turning point for The New York Intellectuals (TM), when they decide that left politics was an entirely lost cause and they were going have to become something else. Pretending that apolitical and right wing writers were the REAL radicals was their halfway house on the way to becoming Cold War liberals.


Edmund Wilson: Flaubert’s Politics

Published in: on January 21, 2017 at 7:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Hello Laos!


The War Conspiracy
Peter Dale Scott

Souvanna Phouma was forced out of office on July 23, 1958.
Richard Dale Scott, The War Conspiracy, p. 69.

July 23, 1958, was my 12th birthday. The forced change of government in Laos was one of the first steps on the way to the Vietnam War which dominated my 20s and early 30s, and not just mine.

Oddly, this was not one of those “Little did they know!” stories. I was a nerdy and precocious kid,  already afflicted with the fascination with politics which has been the bane of my existence, and if I didn’t notice what happened at that very moment, within a year I became familiar with names which I will never forget: Boun Oum, Souphanavong, Nguyen Khanh…..

While I was still in high school I went to a summer school for the talented and gifted. To all intents and purposes it was a neocon recruiting ground, even though the neocons didn’t exist yet, and while I washed out I did have the privilege of meeting Paul Wolfowitz, Abe Shulsky, and several others who became neocon big shots.

As for Vietnam….. 60-70% of the guys served in the military during that period, if you included the National Guards (whom the real veterans named “No Good and Not Going”). The best athlete the school ever had was all shot up. After a dozen reconstructive surgeries and a life of pain he died at age 59. As for me, I went to jail as a war resister and ended up living outside the law for a few more years. When I went back there for a few years when I was 59 several of the Vietnam Vets went out of their way to be friendly to me.

One of my college teachers ended up publishing an early expose of American Vietnam policy which ended up being eclipsed by Daniel Ellsburg’s revelation. I liked his class but not him, nor did he like me, and I’ve been told that he ended up going off the deep end.

Years later my son had a Lao best friend in school, Sithapou. Lao are tall and Sithapou was all-city in Portland the same year as Damon Stoudamire, who went on to a pro career. At about that time I was teaching Hmong kids in the Portland Public schools, with their memories of opium growing and domestic elephants. A couple years later when I lived in Taiwan, on my way to work at the LTTC I walked past the headquarters of the World Anti-Communist League, which (under the name “Asian Anti-Communist League”) had been involved in the Lao drug trade in an earlier period. A little earlier I had been a very active opponent of the US policy in Central America, where the WACL had been supporting the rightwing governments. And by sheer coincidence, the teacher I worked for in the public schools had had a “counter-terrorist” boyfriend who had worked in Central America,  and told me that one of the janitors at the school was a Salvadoran (presumably rightwing) who was cooling off in the US.

So what’s the point? Well, all those “political things” that people sometimes claim are distant and unreal kept on showing up in my life. In the case of the summer school and my involvement in anti-war activity, perhaps it was something about me, but the other things could have happened to anyone. It was right there if someone wanted to see it. But mostly people don’t want to think about things like that, or talk about them. Not polite.

Peter Dale Scott? Yes, he’s a conspiracy theorist, the best of the bunch. And I’m down the rabbit hole.


Published in: on January 19, 2017 at 7:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Prodigal Sons by Alexander Bloom

Prodigal Sons
Alexander Bloom,
Oxford 1986


I’ve been reading about the prehistory of the Cold War university world I entered  in 1964 as a college freshman, and it has been utterly depressing. The message I get is that  international politics and war trump domestic politics, and above all that they trump attempts at radical change or even reform. Great-power slush funds overwhelm everything else.

This book tells the story of the trajectory of the New York Intellectuals (Partisan Review, Commentary, Dissent, Public Interest) from their beginnings as very poor working-class radical  Jews with literary interests through Stalinism and anti-Stalinist radicalism to anti-Communist liberalism and  influential positions in American culture and the American university.

Citing Diana Trilling and Leslie Fiedler, Bloom notes that some of the intensity of the New York Intellectuals’ post-WWII anti-Communism may have been a result of the simple fear (or even guilt) felt by people who had dirty hands themselves — with the Rosenbergs serving as an expiatory burnt offering. The ferocious anti-Communist Sidney Hook had been a ferocious Communist during the Thirties, for example, and most of the New York Intellectuals had been isolationists right up until Pearl Harbor.


At times liberal anti-Communism just looks like a factional vendetta, where the prosecutions of the pro-Soviet Communists work as revenge for the Smith Act prosecutions of the anti-war Trotskyists. (Bloom doesn’t underline the fact, but many of the anti-Stalinist radicals redefined themselves as anti-Communist liberals without any previous history of liberalism, and the first thing they did was to attack existing civil-libertarian and anti-anti-Communist liberals of long standing).

In part because American foreign policy temporarily needed non-reactionary American anti-Communists to front for their European operations (The Politics of Apolitical Culture, Giles Scott-Smith) , and in part because the U.S. was moving in an authoritarian direction domestically, anti-Communist quasi-liberalism proved to be the road to success, though often enough  it was merely a half-way house to full-blown Strauss-Schmitt-Hayek anti-liberalism.

As I said above, war and foreign policy trump everything else.  Little as I admire the New York Intellectuals’ 1950s position, I am not sure that there was a better one available to be taken. If they had acted in a way more to my liking, I suspect that they would have retuirned to obscurity while someone else was found to get the job done. The post-WWII Eurasia / Eastasia switch, rather like an earthquake, destroyed all earlier political positions and severely limited post-earthquake possibilities. At least members of the losing faction weren’t subject to the death of a thousand cuts, as they might have been in the Chinese or the Byzantine empire.

All of the New York Intellectuals were very, very serious — Elliot Cohen, the first editor of Commentary, called them humorless. More evidence for my conviction that ambitious players without a capacity for fundamental unseriousness run the risk of becoming apparatchiks.

P.S. Yes, this is a worst-case reading. Caveat emptor and YMMV. This has been a sore point for me for years.

Published in: on January 9, 2017 at 9:46 pm  Comments (1)  

Major Themes and Key Words in Fitzgerald’s “This Side of Paradise”.

(The below is a supplement to my longer article
but for someone familiar with the book
I think it can stand on its own).

Some aspects of This Side of Paradise can best be shown simply by tracking certain themes or even just certain key words or groups of key words through the text: impiety, staginess, “imagination”, “people”, “success”, “mirror”, “generation”,  “bourgeois”, “philistine”, “Pharisee”, “odor” “stink”, “scent”, alien” and  “immigrant”.

Impiety, the devil, sex,  marriage, and evil

Amory’s fear of the dark and of ghosts, his vision of the real presence of the devil, and his final belief that beautiful women are evil do not fit with his image as a rebellious young Jazz Age libertine, though do they fit in perfectly with Catholic decadence. What was new about Fitzgerald was not advocacy, but merely a frank description of the scandalous ways of his generation — a naturalist writing about the conceited and spoiled rich rather than about slum dwellers.  His archaic superstitions and moral doubts did not hurt him with his youthful  audience, probably because many of them had the same doubts as he did.

For Amory, sex is identified with the devil and with the impiety of putting the beloved in the place of God. Sex and marriage also trap a  man in life and turn him into an object — a “people”. His mentor Darcy is grooming him to become a priest, and that may be what he mother also wants. But in the end he has lost his faith, and after implausibly considering a life as a socialist or a progressive reformer, he finds his new calling: Writing, which was always already there. And writing requires him to submit himself to the terrors of sex, love, and marriage even though being a writer unfits him for love.

One of the most clearly stated messages of This Side of Paradise is straight from Savonarola: women, beauty, and sex are evil. Oddly, the Jazz Age did not pick up on this message. Did the readers of This Side of Paradise simply ignore this message,  or were they, too, like Fitzgerald and Amory, severely conflicted and only one doubtful step removed from Puritanism or Catholic sex guilt?

 Zelda’s the only God I have left now.

 Fitzgerald, February 26, 1919. (more…)

Published in: on December 26, 2016 at 8:28 pm  Comments (1)