The Daodejing as a dispersed network

 It is generally agreed that the Daodejing, like many scriptures, is a composite text (not really “an anthology”) which includes material from many different sources and from more than one period. Beyond that there’s little agreement about the process by which the present state of the text was reached. The theory that it has been accidentally jumbled or disarranged is no longer widely held, and there’s probably a consensus that the text was put together by some kind of editing process. But the difficulty of finding a thread of argument, the scattering of certain themes throughout the text, and the many puzzling juxtapositions, even within a single chapter, lead some to suspect that the editing process was rather haphazard. (more…)

Published in: on December 1, 2009 at 6:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Freestanding Sage in the Daodejing

The free-standing sage (i.e., outside the “Therefore the sage” formula) appears six or seven* times in the Daodejing. Two of the Wang Pi text’s chapters which include the free-standing sage (chapters 5 and 19)  are found in the Guodian text without the sage. Chapter 19 is hostile to the sage in any case  and thus not a trustworthy source (exterminate the sage, discard the wise, and the people will benefit a hundredfold), and I will  leave it out of this discussion for that reason. (more…)

Published in: on November 27, 2009 at 12:34 am  Comments (1)  

The “Nei Ye” and the Daodejing

In his book Original Dao (Columbia, 1999) Harold Roth has argued that the “Nei Ye” chapter of the Guanzi is a guide to meditation produced within an organized teacher-student lineage devoted primarily to the arts of “cultivation of life” (meditation, diet, ritual, and physical practices), and that the  Daodejing, a handbook of political wisdom, is the product of a late politicized stage of this same school, or of a branch of the school. Roth’s theory is a beginning toward giving a definite answer to the question “What kind of book is the Daodejing?”, a question which has divided Daodejing interpreters more or less from the beginning. (more…)

Published in: on November 22, 2009 at 6:48 pm  Comments (2)  

Primitivism in the Daodejing

A.C. Graham has distinguished between Individualists, Primitivists, and Syncretists among the early Daoists, with the first group dedicated to self-cultivation and meditation, the second advocating a kind of peasant anarchism, and the third adapting Daoist principles for the ruler’s use. In his book Original Dao Harold Roth has argued that the “Nei Ye” chapter in the Guanzi and parts of the Daodejing represent the Individualist contemplative strain of Daoism, whereas other parts of the Daodejing are Primitivist or Syncretist. I generally agree with Roth, and have defined an Individualist “early layer” within the text of the Daodejing which has many points in common with Roth’s “Nei Ye”. (more…)

Published in: on November 21, 2009 at 11:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

淸 情 靜 精 性 生 名 明 命 盈 常

One characteristic of the oldest Chinese texts noted by David Schaberg is significant throughout the history of Chinese culture. During the Shang and early Zhou dynasties, the royal style of command required a special language: “The bronze inscriptions and the oldest Zhou songs favor phrases ending in words with –ng finals, whether or not these words make for rhymes. Words that rhyme in the yang 陽 (OC –ang) dong 東 (OC –ng) and 耕 geng (OC –eng) categories include many of the most important words in this special language”, with –n words (元 yuan, 真 zhen, and 文 wen categories) being drawn into the pattern as well. (more…)

Published in: on November 20, 2009 at 8:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Sage in the Daodejing II

*Daojing and Shengjing  
* Shen Dao * 聖 “sage” *不害 “not harm” * 不傷  “not hurt”


In the classic Chinese texts the “sage” 聖人was the highest category of human excellence. The sages were the legendary past rulers and founders (e.g. Wen Wang or the Duke of Zhou) together with hoped-for future saviors of equal merit. Both Confucius and Mencius demurred on their disciples’ suggestions that they were Sages, though Mencius did declare that Confucius was indeed a sage. The translation “sage” is not va very good one: the English word “sage” normally refers to a wise elder, but the Chinese sages were not only wise, but also holy and powerful, the founders or rulers of states, and their sageliness was apparent while they were still in their prime. (more…)

Published in: on October 23, 2009 at 9:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Shen Dao in the Daodejing

Text of Shen Dao.

Translation of Shen Dao (slightly different text.)

Many passages in the Daodejing remarkably resemble passages in Shen Dao. The dating of the Daodejing (which was produced in stages) is only approximate (roughly 350 BC to 250 BC is my guess), and the dating of Shen Dao is also uncertain, though he is thought to have  flourished sometime before 300 BC, making him senior to the final contributors to the Daodejing. (more…)

Published in: on October 22, 2009 at 6:36 pm  Comments (4)  

The Worthy in the Daodejing

The worthy 賢 in ancient Chinese texts

In Chinese philosophy the 賢, usually translated “worthy”, is a man of great merit (but not from the royal family or from one of the ruling noble families) who is brought to the ruler’s attention and appointed to high position. (Often worthies were descended from the nobility of conquered and abolished states). “Promoting the worthy” 尚賢 was a key doctrine of the Mohist school, but something like it was also advocated by Confucians. The goal, especially in the case of the Mohists, was a kind of meritocracy which would weaken the ruling families’ stranglehold on power and make government more responsive to the needs of the people. (more…)

Published in: on October 18, 2009 at 6:43 pm  Comments (1)  

The Early Layer of the Daodejing

(This supersedes my various earlier writings on this topic, the oldest of which is listed in the Bibliography)

I have argued that chapters 67-81 of the Daodejing (not part of the Guodian text) were the last chapters to be added and that they were probably written by a single author — possibly by the final author-editor who also selected and arranged the materials in chapters 1-66. I also more tentatively suggested that the  Dao 道 chapters and the Sage 聖 chapters in these first 66 chapters were different in origin; in these chapters Dao and the Sage appear together in the same chapter only twice, rather than the eight times which would randomly be expected. (more…)

Published in: on October 14, 2009 at 8:41 pm  Comments (3)  

The Last Fifteen Chapters of Laozi

(This is part of a project I’ve been working on for about 20 years, and supercedes all earlier efforts.)

Chapters 67-81 at the end make up the the only consecutive group of chapters in Laozi which is uniform enough to be briefly described. These chapters all recommend the closely-related virtues of foresight, patience, frugality, modesty, forbearance, generosity, mercy, and peacefulness. All of them are consistent and fairly similar in style, without the patchwork feeling of many of the earlier chapters, and all of them develop a single idea in an expository rather than a poetic fashion. (more…)

Published in: on October 9, 2009 at 9:35 pm  Comments (2)