Early Dao and Sage Dao


 獨 立 士
John Emerson



September 1, 2017


John Emerson, “A Stratification of Lao Tzu”, The Journal of Chinese Religions, #23, Fall 1995, pp. 1- 28.

John Emerson, “Yang Zhu’s Discovery of the Body”, Philosophy East and West, Volume 46, #4, October 1996, pp. 533-566.

Franklin Perkins, “Divergences within the Laozi: A Study of Chapters 67-82”, T’oung Pao, Vol. 100, 2014, pp. 1-32.

Thompson, “On the Formal Treatment of Textual Testimony”, in The Guodian Laozi, eds. Allan and Williams, The Society for the Study of Early China, 2000, pp. 89.



I begin by selecting the 35 chapters of “Sage Dao”: chapters 67-81 (the final group of the traditional DDJ, none of which are included in the Guodian text) plus all chapters in which the Sage 聖 人 appears. Next I used two groups of key words (and phrases) to compare Sage Dao to the 46 remaining chapters. The first key-word group consists of 7 terms extracted from the 33 Sage Dao chapters, and the second consists of 13 terms which I chose to represent the mystical “Early DDJ” I was hoping to define. The contrast I initially found was encouraging: the 13 “mystical” key words were 7 times more frequent per chapter in the 46 chapters than they were in the 35 Sage Dao chapters, and the 7 Sage Dao key words were 4 times more frequent in the 35 Sage Dao chapters than they were in the 46 chapters.

I next used additional, related, but less mechanical criteria criteria to move 8 chapters from the 46-chapter group to the 35-chapter Sage Dao group, producing contrasting groups of 38 and 43 chapters. Finally, I divided chapters 05 and 28 in the Sage Dao group, leaving their Sage passages in the Sage Dao group while moving the remainders of these chapters to the 38-chapter group, which could now be called the Early Dao group.

In the final Sage Dao group (41 chapters and 2 fragments) Sage Dao key words are seen 6 times more frequently than in the Early Dao group (38 chapters and 2 fragments), whereas in the Early Dao group the Early Dao key words are seen 18 times more frequently than they are in the Sage Dao group: altogether, key words are seen in the right group 102 times, and in the wrong group only 10 times. I regard this as confirmation of my basic thesis, which was that the Sage represents a late layer in the DDJ, and that the early DDJ did not include the Sage at all.


Interpretation of the text remains both the starting point and the conclusion of the critical task.

P. M. Thompson

More than 50 years ago D. C. Lau argued that the DDJ is an anthology of passages by various authors, united only by “a common tendency of thought” and jumbled together into chapters which themselves often have no internal unity. While I agree with Lau’s general theory of the of the origins DDJ, I believe that its dispersed unity is less incoherent than he claimed, and that if you realize that it is really two books in one and that its themes you are on the way to being able to make sense of it. About twenty years ago I published an article on this topic in the Journal of Chinese Religions  (John Emerson, “A Stratification of Lao Tzu”), but my reading was cumbersome and, since I had not yet seen the Guodian text  (GD), what I wrote then was not very satisfactory.

This is an entirely new piece. I start with the commonplace assumption that the DDJ falls into two parts: an earlier part which is primarily religious or mystical, with a special concern for the vital forces, and a later part which is primarily concerned with statecraft and strategic thinking, and my basic argument is that the 聖 人 Sage defines the strategic DDJ. Between them the Sage and Dao 道 almost define the DDJ, and one term or the other is seen in 50 or more of the book’s 81 chapters. Yet they are seen together in only 6 chapters (47, 60, 73, 77, 79, and 81), where 11 or 12 co-appearances would randomly be expected, and in many chapters non-Sages appearing in places where the Sage would seem to belong: 上 善 (08), 太 上 (17) 古 之 善 為 士 (15)  孔 德 (21),  大 丈 夫 (38), 得 一 者 (39),    善 攝 生 者 (50), 含 德 之 厚 者 (55) – and beyond that there’s  絕 聖 opening line of chapter 19: “get rid of the Sage”.

Every time but once when Dao and Sage appear together Dao is part of the phrase “Dao of Heaven” 天 道  (天 之 道).  In “Divergences within the Laozi”, Franklin Perkins has persuasively argued that the Dao of Heaven is a mark of a distinct final stage of the DDJ’s development in which Dao has been appropriated by a more purposeful, more theistic, more moralistic, possibly Mohist-influenced tendency.   Perkins also argues that this tendency dominates chapters 67-81, the long closing section of the DDJ not included in the GD text. Four of the six co-appearances of Dao and the Sage are in chapters 67-81, always in the phrase “Dao of Heaven”, and in fact in these chapters Dao is seen only once in the absence of the Sage (in chapter 67) – a pattern almost the opposite to that of the rest of the book. (Dao and the Sage are also seen together in chapters 47 and 60, and the phrase “Dao of Heaven” is also seen in chapters 09 and 47).

Thus my investigation will key on two things, chapters 67-81 and the Sage. My initial hypothesis is that the later DDJ (which I will call Sage Dao) chapters are all those which include the Sage 聖 人, together with chapters 67-81 whether they include the Sage or not. This first cut of Sage Dao totals 35 chapters, about 43% of the DDJ: the 28 Sage chapters found in any of the well-known texts of the DDJ, plus the remaining 7 Sage-free chapters in chapters 67-81. My method throughout  this article will be as simple as could be imagined. I first define these 35 chapters en bloc as Sage Dao, in my second step I move 8 more whole chapters into Sage Dao even though they hadn’t met my initial criteria, and only in the final step do I divide two chapters (chapter 05 and 28). This method seems too good to be true, but as we will see, it checks out well.


The first cut very successfully finds Sage Dao chapters; there are only two half-chapters that must be moved out of the first version of Sage Dao. But this first cut of  misses seven chapters which belong in Sage Dao, and for this reason, the 46 chapters here distinguished from Sage Dao should not be thought of as Early Dao. These chapters have hardly been looked at and at first I will just call them the unexamined chapters.

Sage Dao, first cut: 35 chapters
Sage chapters:
02 03 05 07 12 19 22 26 27 28
29 34 47 49 57 58 60 63 64 66
70 71 72 73 77 78 79 81.Remainder of chapters 67-81:
67 68 69 74 75 76 80.
46 unexamined chapters, first cut
01 04 06 08 09 10 11 13 14 15
16 17 18 20 21 23 24 25 30 31
32 33 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42
43 44 45 46 48 50 51 52 53 54
55 56 59 61 62 65



My next step is to select key words from the first Sage Dao cut to find whether there really is a significant contrast between this version of Sage Dao and the 48 unexamined chapters. These key words (民, 難, 天 道, 爭,  敢, 治, 使, and 貨, all of them relevant to statecraft) should not be regarded as definitive; they are just used here for an initial check.

Sage Dao, first cut
(35 chapters)
46 unexamined chapters

(first cut)

02 03 12 63 64 73 75
03 64 67 69 73 74 30
03 22 66 68 73 81 08
天 道
(天 之 道)
47 73 77 79 81 09
使 03 74 80 53 55
03 60 64 74 75 08 10 59 65
03 19 57 58 64 66 72
74 75 80
10 32 53 65
03 12 64 44 53
45x in 20 of 35 chapters:
1.3 times per chapter.
15x in 10 of of 46 chapters: .32 times per chapter.

The Sage Dao key words are seen in 20 of the 33 chapters of Sage Dao (60%), 4 times more frequently per chapter there, on the average, than in the unexamined chapters. This is a pretty good contrast, and it will improve significantly once the unexamined chapters are looked at more closely.


My next step is to select 14 Early Dao key words (母, 牝, 雌, 赤 子, 嬰, 谷, 無 名, 天 地, 陰 陽, 精, 氣, 沖, 不 殆, 象) and check the two groups in terms of these to see whether they are found more often in the unexamined chapters than in the Sage Dao chapters. I chose these words on the basis of my own understanding of what the Early Dao should be: The Valley,  the female, the mother, the child, namelessness, Heaven and Earth, jing, qi, yin-yang, and a couple of other terms commonly thought of as belonging to the religious-mystical part of the DDJ. In effect, I am here testing my fundamental hypotheses about Early Dao against my cut of the text.

 Sage Dao, first cut,
35 chapters
46 unexamined chapters
01 20 25 52 59
牝, 雌 28 (雌) 06 10 20 55 61
嬰, 赤 子 28 10 20 55
28 66 06 15 32 39 41
無 名 01 32 37 41
天 地 05 01 06 07 23 25 32 39
陰 陽, 精, 氣 10 21 42 55
04 42 45
不 殆 16 25 32 44 52
04 14 21 35 41
5x in 3 of 35 chapters:
.14x per chapter.
46x,  in 24 of 46 chapters:
1x per chapter.

The contrast here is even more gratifying than it was in the case of the Sage Dao key words. As the table shows, the Early Dao keywords are seen 7 times more often in the unexamined group than they are in the Sage Dao group, and whatever the status of the unexamined chapters, only 3 of the 35 Sage Dao chapters include any Early Dao key words at all. We now have a pretty good two-way contrast, with the majority of the Sage Dao key words and very few of the Early Dao key words in the Sage Dao group, and the great majority of the Early Dao key words and only a moderate number of Sage Dao key words in the previously-unexamined chapters. In the second cut, this contrast will be made even sharper,  but these results are already impressive.

This first cut, the mechanical application of two simple rules, defines 40% of the DDJ as Sage Dao, a group which includes a high proportion of the DDJ chapters dedicated to statecraft and strategy, but only two of the religious / mystical chapters, thus contrasting sharply with the other 60% of the DDJ.  My first cut of Sage Dao includes almost 80% of the passages in the final cut and it gets very few false positives  — only two half-chapters which belong in early Dao instead of Sage Dao. This first cut provides a solid foundation for my closer look at the hitherto-unexamined chapters, which will, however, necessarily be a bit more ad hoc and less methodical.


The first cut of the DDJ, based on explicitly-stated general principles, was remarkably easy and remarkably successful. The Sage Dao thus produced will remain mostly intact. But the unexamined group of 48 chapters is still a miscellaneous leftover residual class, and it will become a well-defined Early Dao group only after 9 of its chapters are moved into Sage Dao despite their not satisfying my initial criteria (i.e., even though they do not include the Sage and are not part of chapters 67-81).

This final cut is less rule-bound than the first cut, though most of the moves are easily justifiable in terms of what has been done already,  and it gives us a relatively clean and intelligible Early Dao / Sage Dao separation. I begin by moving 08, 09, 17, 18,  36, 53, 61, 62, and 65 from the unexamined group into the Sage Dao group, giving us 43 Sage Dao chapters and 38 non-Sage-Dao chapters. I then divide chapters 05 and 28, leaving the passages including the Sage in Sage Dao, but moving the remainder of these chapters into the other group. The final count is 41 Sage Dao chapters + 2 fragments, and 38 Early Dao chapters + 2 fragments.

Since these is the last moves I will make, the previously-unexamined chapters can now be called “Early Dao”. Early Dao is still more miscellaneous than Sage Dao, because it is a selection from the accumulated wisdom of a tradition over a long period, rather than the product of a particular individual or group working at a particular time as Sage Dao is. I explain my reassignments below:


Chapter 05: The connection between the opening “straw dogs” passage of chapter 05 and the remainder of chapter 05 has always been doubtful, and the GD text does not include the straw dogs passage at all. This passage appropriates one of the central themes of  慎 到  Shen Dao and is central to the definition of the Sage in the DDJ.

Chapters 08 and 61: Chapter 08 includes the Sage Dao key word, 爭 “contend”.  The lower position and the downward flow of water might seem to be religious or mystical principles, but, like non-contention, “holding back” and “softness”,  this theme is usually seen in Sage Dao chapters discussing strategy, notably in chapter 66. (But the presence of the Early Dao terms 牝 and 谷 in chapters 61 and 66 makes these chapters anomalous, as I will discuss in the appendix).

Chapter 09:  The phrase 天 道 puts this chapter in Sage Dao despite the absence of the Sage. In its other 5 appearances the phrase “Dao of Heaven”  (天 道  / 天 之 道) is together in a chapter with the Sage, and 4 of this phrase’s 6 appearances are in the central Sage Dao group, the non-GD chapters 67-81.  (The other exception is in chapter 47, but this chapter does mention the Sage).

Chapters 17 and 18: These chapters are generally regarded as being closely linked to the Sage Dao chapter 19, and the three chapters are joined into a single chapter in the Beida DDJ. However, the fact that chapter 19 in its familiar form denounces the Sage, while the GD version of chapter 19 does not mention the Sage at all, together with the resonances between chapter 18 and 38, make these chapters anomalous and perhaps transitional. See the appendix.

Chapter 28: the connection between the closing tag speaking of the Sage and the rest of the chapter has always been unclear, though there is no textual warrant for cutting this chapter as there was for chapter 05. The remainder of the chapter is very closely related to Early Dao chapter 10, with which it shares three rhyme words.

Chapter 34: Many but not all texts of this chapter include the Sage, and while I included this chapter in my first cut Sage Dao, because of its affinities to chapters 32 and 37 (Dao nurturing the myriad creatures 萬 物,  the renunciation of greatness, and the water metaphor: “Dao overflows in every direction”), I have selected the Sage-free text of this chapter and have put it in Early Dao.

Chapters 36, 62, and 65: Chapter 65 includes the Sage Dao key words 民  and 治. Chapter 62 doesn’t include any of the key words I have been using, but it does include the word  寶  “treasure”, elsewhere seen only in Sage Dao chapters 67 and 69. Chapter 62’s 人 之 不 善,何 棄 之 有? is clearly related to the discussion of the 不 善 人 in chapter 27. All three chapters (along with chapters 05, 27, 57, and 58, at least) express moral skepticism and advocate devious and perhaps unethical methods in the language of  慎 到 Shen Dao and the militarist writers.

Chapter 53: includes the Sage Dao keywords 民, 使, and 貨, and its Primitivist theme is shared with chapters 03, 12, 75, and 80 in Sage Dao.


The entire DDJ has now been classified either as Early Dao or as Sage Dao, and we will find that the key words contrast significantly more sharply in the Final cut than they did in the first cut:

Early Dao, final cut:
38 chapters + 2 fragments
Sage Dao, final cut:
41 chapters and two fragments
01 04 05x 06 10 11 13 14 15 16 20 21 23 24 25 28x 30 31 32 33 34 35 37 // 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 48 50 51 52 54 55 56 59 02 03 05x 07 08 09 12 17 18 19 22 26 27 28x 29 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


Sage Dao, final cut

40 chapters + 2 fragments

 Early Dao, final cut

39 chapters + 2 fragments

02 03 12 63 64 73 75
03 08 22 66 68 73 81
03 64 67 69 73 74 30
使 03 53 74 80 55
03 12 53 64 44
天 道

(天 之 道)

09 47 73 77 79 81
03 19 53 57 58 64 65 66 72 74 75 80 10 32
03 08 60 64 65 74 75 10 59
53x in 23 of 40 chapters + 2 fragments:
1.2x per chapter or fragment. 7x more frequent per chapter than in the Early Dao chapters.
7x in 7 of 39 chapters + 2 fragments: .17x per chapter or fragment.(Chapters 10 and 59 will be further discussed  below).


 40 Sage Dao chapters and 2 fragments 39 Early Dao chapters and 2 fragments
01 20 25 52 59
不 殆 16 25 32 44 52
66 06 15 28 32 39 41
04 14 21 35 41
無 名 01 32 37 41
天 地 05 01 05 06 07 23 25 32 39
陰 陽, 精, 氣 10 21 42 55
04 42 45
牝, 雌  61 (牝). 06 10 20 28 55
嬰, 赤 子 10 20 28 55
3x in 3 of 41 chapters + 2 fragments:

.07x per chapter. (Chapters 05, 61 and 66 will be further discussed below.

49x in 22 of 39 chapters + 2 fragments: 1.2x per chapter.


17 times more frequent than in the Sage Dao.

My results have been very gratifying and I think that I have succeeded in defining real historical / philosophical groups within the text of the DDJ. At the same time, almost half of the chapters of the DDJ been unexamined since the first cut defining Sage Dao, and at least 9 chapters include anomalous key words contrary to what their group assignment would lead you to expect. In particular, I think that there are subgroups in Early Dao besides the mystical group from which I chose my key words. I will deal with these questions next.


Sage Dao is fairly consistent and I believe that it was written within a rather small window of time by one or a few authors who were in contact with one another. By contrast, Early Dao is relatively nameless and indescribable, and it is probably an anthology of earlier writings and sayings from a variety authors and more than one time period. The multiple variants of many of the Early Dao passages suggest that they circulated widely, sometimes orally,  before being brought into the final DDJ, and it is reasonable to suppose that the Early Dao chapters were selected relatively late from a large body of independent texts circulating within a loosely organized movement. The late editor’s selections were presumably somewhat tendentious, following the editor’s own principles, and important aspects of the Ur-Early Dao probably been left out. (At the same time, their attachment to a book of political cunning might be one of the reason’s why the mystical writings survived at all).

The GD texts which include all or part of 31 of the DDJ’s 81 chapters represent a fairly early stage in the gathering of the text, but that since these texts were put together under the auspices of the developing Sage Dao, they do not simply represent Early Dao. There are 9 Sage Dao chapters in the GD text, and 7 of them are substantially complete (chapters 02, 09, 17, 18, 19, 57, and 66; in GD, chapter 05 does not include the Sage); only chapters 63 and 64 are not more or less in their final form, and all of the material of chapter 64 is there, though partly in two different versions, and not gathered into a single chapter. By contrast, even though the GD text includes a higher proportion of Early Dao passages than of Sage Dao chapters, at least 7 of the 22 Early Dao chapters (chapters 05, 16, 20, 30, 46, 48, and 52) are missing important passages, and another is garbled. I think that this means is that most of the materials of Early Dao were already extant when the GD texts were produced, but that only some of them had been gathered.

According to this theory, the two texts at the very end end of GD-C (太 一 生 水 and 天 道 貴 弱) were candidate chapters which were ultimately rejected; chapters 63 and 64 were works in progress; the intact Sage Dao chapters in GD were the finished work of the editors or their contemporaries; the Sage Dao chapters not included were still unwritten; and the Early Dao chapters and passages not included remained to be gathered. And it is my belief that only a small part of the rich tradition of Early Dao has been preserved.

Early Dao as I have defined it includes most of the DDJ’s mystical poetry / philosophy (chapters 04, 05, 06, 07, 10, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 25, and 28), a paradoxical metaphysics, ethics,  and a theory of knowledge  (01, 11, 23, 38. 39, 40, 42, 43), meditations on physical vitality and the sources of life (chapters 50, 51, 52, 55, 56, and 59),  rules for study (41, 43, 45, and 48), polemics against war and ambition  (chapters 13, 30, and 31), a kind of political magic (chapters 32, 34, 35, and 37), practical advice (chapters 24, 33, 44, and 46) and one chapter whose relevance is uncertain (54).  It is not entirely apolitical but its politics is different in kind from the strategic politics of the Sage Dao.

Later Dao develops ideas from Early Dao and frequently quotes from Early Dao, so the most characteristic “Early” themes are simply those which were seldom or never picked up by the Sage Dao authors –  hundun / confusion, namelessness,  inexhaustible emptiness, the female, and the child. In the same way,  the characteristic Sage Dao themes are new and original and not found in the Early Dao. But there remain many shared themes, though they are usually developed in a different direction in the later Sage Dao.  I somewhat fear that my two-part interpretation of the DDJ will wrongly lead people to ignore the continuities between the two parts of the book.


Early Dao chapters 05x, 11, 13, 23, 24, 26, 30, 31, 33, 34, 38, 40, 43, 46, 48, 50, 51, 54, and 56 do not include any of the Early Dao key words that I used. These key words were never meant to be definitive and are not required for assignment to Early Dao; they were merely used as spot checks to establish the contrast between my initial two groups. They captured only the most mystical half of Early Dao, and additional key words would have been necessary to find the rest of the chapters. Below I discuss the non-conforming chapters, and in the Appendix I will further discuss the most problematic chapters.

Chapters 38-46

Probably with the intention of making the Early Dao / Sage Dao divide less apparent, the organization of chapters 1-31 of the DDJ is deliberately confused. Sage Dao chapters are salted in between Early Dao chapters, and there are no intelligible groups of any length. However, chapters 32-81 are less chaotic.  Part II begins with 9 consecutive Sage-free chapters and ends with 15 consecutive Sage Dao chapters, while chapters 32, 33, 34, 35, and 37 and chapters 50, 51, 52, 54, 55, 56, and 59 comprise two other rough locational subgroups of Early Dao.

By the same principle by that put the longest consecutive group of non-GD chapters into Sage Dao, the 9 opening chapters of Part II, the longest consecutive group of Sage-free chapters,  might have been defined as Early Dao right off at the beginning. As a fairly coherent group, these chapters probably represent a late stage in the editing. These chapters have distinct groups of themes, different from those picked out by my first group of key words, and some of these themes are later developed in Sage Dao.

Chapter 05

If the passage beginning chapter 05 which includes the Sage is cut, the remainder fits in a series with the opening lines of chapters 04, 06, and perhaps 07. (Chapter 07 will be discussed the appendix). Shared themes include Heaven and Earth 天 地, emptiness and permanence:

道 沖 而 用 之 或 不 盈
天 地 之 間 其 猶 橐 籥 乎
谷 神 不 死
天 地 所 以 能 長 且 久 者 以 其 不 自 生.

Chapters 11, 40, and 43

The 有 / 無 contrast here probably should be added to the list of Early Dao keys, though it is also seen in the Sage Dao chapter 02 (which is quite miscellaneous, resembling chapter 57 in that respect).

Chapters13, 30, and 31

These rather garbled and clumsy chapters form a group of their own. I believe that they are ancient and foundational,  going all the way back to Yang Zhu’s original break with court life and the world of ambition, and conceivably are the words of Yang Zhu himself, and (John Emerson, “Yang Zhu’s Discovery of the Body”).

Chapter 24

This chapter echoes 果 而 勿 矜 / 果 而 勿 伐 in chapter 30 and repeats the 物  或  惡  之 / 故 有 道 者 不 處 tag from chapter 31. Like chapters 33, 44, and 46 immediately below, this is a chapter recommending prudence,. (In turn chapter 22, a Sage Dao chapter, echoes this chapter, as well as chapters 10, 42 and 45 and the 不 爭chapters, and has almost no specific content of its own).

Chapters 33, 44, 46

These very practical moralizing chapters center on the 知 足 / 久 / 長 / 知 止 / 不殆 cluster. They are not terribly profound but fit well enough into Early Dao, and while they might be seen as precursors of Sage Dao’s moralizing chapters, they might just as well be seen as spinoffs of the Yang Zhu chapters 13, 30, and 31.

Chapter 48

This chapter shares the themes 損 / 益, 學 / 教, and 無 為 with chapters 42 and 43, though these themes are all also found in Sage Dao. By and large I think that it should be thought of as part of the 38-46 group, separated from its family by the chapter 47 interloper.

Chapters 50, 51, and 56

These chapters, along with chapters 52 and 55, are the DDJ chapters which speak most obviously of Yangist “nurturing life” (e.g.  執 生 /  攝 生 in Chapter 50).  Like chapters 13, 30, and 31 and 32, 34, 35, and 37, I think that these chapters can be understood as a distinct subgroup of the DDJ, a centrally important subgroup which has its own history and did not necessarily derive from the same origins as the rest of Early Dao.

Chapter 54

This chapter is Confucian, if anything, and no one knows why it is part of the DDJ. I suspect that early in the book-editing process some passages were added to please a political sponsor, and because of his status and the early date of the additions, the passages became canonical. (A number of other examples might be named, most of them rather pointless tags at the ends of chapters). Historically his chapter probably belongs to the 50, 52, 52, 54, 55, 56 cluster.

By and large, I think that the chapters above, despite the absence of any of my first group of Early Dao key words, fit very well into an extended and plural Early Dao within which chapters 38-46, chapters 32, 33, 34, 35, and 37, and chapters 50, 51, 52, 55, and 56 form three more or less distinct groups which stand beside the mystical group which the original key words defined. Few of these groups would fit well into Sage Dao and there’s nothing in them that absolutely forbids their being put into the company to the mystical group.


I began with the intention of distinguishing the early mystical DDJ from the later strategic DDJ. But at first I worked purely textually, just tallying words and sorting chapters without attending to their meanings. The ideas of the DDJ interpenetrate from beginning to end, so that any given idea might function as mysticism, metaphysics, practical knowledge, political strategy, or all four in turn, and this is a book that has been studied for more than 2000 years already.  By working mechanically on the text I believe that I might be able to partially untangle the sequence of the writing process, and thereby illuminate the meaning.

The keys I used were, first, the Sage, and the second, chapters 67-81, the final 15 chapters of the DDJ not seen in the Guodian text.  I first defined 35 chapters of Sage Dao  (chapters 67-81, plus all chapters speaking of the Sageby the mechanical application of these two criteria  –).  I then used two groups of key words to compare Sage Dao to the remaining 46 chapters: the first consisting of 7 key words extracted from the 35 Sage Dao chapters I had just selected, and the second consisting of 13 terms I had chosen to represent the “Early DDJ” which I hoped to find.

The initial contrast I found was encouraging:  the key words from from the 35 Sage Dao chapters were 4 times more frequent per chapter in that group than they were in the 46-chapter group, while the Early DDJ key words I had chosen were 6 times more frequent per chapter in the 46 chapters than they were in the 35 Sage Dao chapters.

My next step was to use additional, related, but less strict criteria to move 8 chapters from the still-miscellaneous 48-chapter group into the 35 chapter Sage Dao group, thus producing a 41 chapter “Sage Dao” group and a contrasting 40 chapter group. Finally, I divided chapters 05 and 28 of the Sage Dao group, leaving the Sage passages in Sage Dao group while moving the remainders of these chapters to the Early Dao Group. This produced a final Sage Dao group consisting of 41 chapters and 2 fragments and a final Early Dao group consisting of 38 chapters and 2 fragments.

This new textual cut checked out even better than the first cut. Sage Dao key words are seen 6 times more frequently per chapter in second-cut Sage Dao than they are in Early Dao, and Early Dao chapters are seen 18 times more frequently per chapter in second-cut Early Dao than in Sage Dao. At this point it becomes possible to interpret the chapters and perceive the specific differences between Sage Dao and Early Dao, which are not always what you would have expected.

My original proposal was a rather bold one: that take a text as complex and difficult as the DDJ can be significantly illuminated simply by using criteria as mechanical as these to sort the chapters into two groups. But I believe that this method has worked well.


I have been working on this project for many years, and every time I thought I had the problem solved five or ten chapters showed up that didn’t fit my theory. This is also true here, and 14 problem chapters are listed below. These problems are not necessarily insoluble, and given the ambition of my project, an 83% success rate wouldn’t be all that bad. I could define a middle group, but if I did that pretty soon I’d be distinguishing early middle from late middle, and so on indefinitely until I had broken up the DDJ up into 185 or so historical chunks, as Lau did. But I think that is case in which binary thinking is useful for highlighting a distinction,  even though the reality is rather more complex than the theory.

Chapter 07

I was sorely tempted to divide this chapter as I did chapters 05 and 28 but decided not to, partly because I wanted to keep my cuts to a bare minimum but mostly because the passage I wanted to remove could not stand independently. 是 以 聖 人 後 其 身 而 身 先, 外 其 身 而 身 存  closely mirrors passages in chapters 66 and 67, and without these lines chapter 07 can be forms a series with Early Dao chapters 04, 05, and 06. Without the Sage, the chapter is speaking of Heaven Earth, 天 地 throughout – the encompassing ground, is immortal because it includes and nurtures all creatures but has no self or interest or even life of its own. (But on the other hand, the Sage of the traditional chapter 07 is also the neutral, selfless Sage of chapters 05, 49, and 60, and these four chapters may form the link between the two major parts of the DDJ.

Chapters 08, 61, 66

Water and the lower position seem mystical, but chapter 66 includes the Sage and chapters 61 and 66 are clearly strategic and politically oriented. Furthermore, chapters 61 and 66 include the Early Dao key words 谷 “valley” and 牝  “female”.   These may also be links between the two parts of the DDJ.

Chapter 10

The lines 愛 民 治 國,能 無 知 乎?  (sometimes 能 無 為) are similar to  治 人 事 天  in chapter 59 and bring two Sage Dao key words “rule” 治  and “people” 民  and into what is otherwise an exemplary Early Dao chapter. Perhaps I should have removed these lines – the rather loose rhyme scheme doesn’t really need them. Because of its strong affinities with chapter 28, Chapter 10 is classified as Early Dao anyway, but this cut would improve my statistics.

Chapters 17, 18, 19, and 38

In all versions of the DDJ except GD, the Sage is rejected at the beginning of Chapter 19:   絕 聖 棄 智. In GD you see 絕 智 棄 辯, however, and chapters 17 and 18 were put into Sage Dao mostly because chapter 19 was already there, so all three chapters now will have to be looked at, and chapter 18 especially seems close to chapter 38 of Early Dao:

18: 大 道 廢,有 仁 義;智 慧 出,有 大 偽;六 親 不 和,有 孝 慈;國 家 昏 亂,有 忠 臣

38: 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。

Perhaps chapters 17-19 were written at about the same time as chapter 38, while the Lao circle was still differentiating itself from Confucianism but had not yet adopted the Sage.

Chapter 26

Chapter 26 is a non-problem problem, since it could easily fit into either Sage Dao or Early Dao. The Sage and the gentleman 君 子 are both found in many texts.  I have used the Sage version mostly because of the terms 輕 / 重, which are characteristic of the late rational-instrumentalist tendencies in Chinese philosophy and are seen elsewhere in chapters 63, 66, 69, 75, and 80 of Sage Dao, and only in chapter 59 of Early Dao.

Chapters 33, 34, and 37

These chapters have many Early Dao key words (無 名, 無 欲,  不 殆,  侯 王) but they also clearly point to the political development of Daoism and some of their themes (樸, 自 化, 無 為) were picked up and developed by Sage Dao chapters – e.g.,  chapter 57.

Chapter 59

The first line of chapter 59 治 人 事 天 莫 若 嗇 is parallel meaning and (partially) in form to the first line of the following chapter, chapter 60:  治 大 國 若 烹 小 鮮. The rest of chapter is just a chain of verbiage similar to the concluding passages of chapters 16, 52, 55 (and to a lesser degree, chapter 25). These concluding chains are among the few passages in the DDJ I’ve had trouble finding much value in, and I think that they should be dispensed with to the extent possible.

The Rearranged Daodejing

Sage Dao
41 chapters + 2 fragments

Below is the text of Laozi divided in accordance with my theory. Elsewhere I will suggest many edits to WB, but in order to avoid raising distracting questions I here use a standard edition, as posted at the indispensable website www.ctext.org. Let the reader decide.

天 下 皆 知 美 之 為 美,斯 惡 已。皆 知 善 之 為 善,斯 不 善 已。故 有 無 相 生,難 易 相 成,長 短 相 較,高 下 相 傾,音 聲 相 和,前 後 相 隨。是 以 聖 人 處 無 為 之 事,行 不 言 之 教;萬 物 作 焉 而 不 辭,生 而 不 有。為 而 不 恃,功 成 而 弗 居。夫 唯 弗 居,是 以 不 去。

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。常 使 民 無 知 無 欲。使 夫 知 者 不 敢 為 也。為 無 為,則 無 不 治。

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

The rest of the chapter, 天 地 之 間,其 猶 橐 籥 乎?虛 而 不 屈,動 而 愈 出。多 言 數 窮,不 如 守 中, has been moved into Early Dao as an independent fragment

天 長 地 久。天 地 所 以 能 長 且 久 者,以 其 不 自 生,故 能 長 生。是 以 聖 人 後 其 身 而 身 先;外 其 身 而 身 存。非 以 其 無 私 耶?故 能 成 其 私。

I have speculated about removing 是 以 聖 人 後 其 身 而 身 先;外 其 身 而 身 存 from this chapter and moving the chapter to Early Dao to form a series with chapters 4, 5, and 6.

上 善 若 水。水 善 利 萬 物 而 不 爭,處 衆 人 之 所 惡,故 幾 於 道。居 善 地,心 善 淵,與 善 仁,言 善 信,正 善 治,事 善 能,動 善 時。夫 唯 不 爭,故 無 尤。

持 而 盈 之,不 如 其 已;揣 而 銳 之,不 可 長 保。金 玉 滿 堂,莫 之 能 守;富 貴 而 驕,自 遺 其 咎。功 遂 身 退 天 之 道。

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。

太 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 焉。 悠 兮,其 貴 言。功 成 事 遂,百 姓 皆 謂 我 自 然。

大 道 廢,有 仁 義;智 慧 出,有 大 偽;六 親 不 和,有 孝 慈;國 家 昏 亂,有 忠 臣。

絕 聖 棄 智,民 利 百 倍;絕 仁 棄 義,民 復 孝 慈;絕 巧 棄 利,盜 賊 無 有。此 三 者 以 為 文 不 足。故 令 有 所 屬:見 素 抱 樸,少 私 寡 欲。

曲 則 全,枉 則 直,窪 則 盈,弊 則 新,少 則 得,多 則 惑。是 以 聖 人 抱 一 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。古 之 所 謂 曲 則 全 者,豈 虛 言 哉!誠 全 而 歸 之。

重 為 輕 根,靜 為 躁 君。是 以 聖 人 終 日 行 不 離 輜 重。雖 有 榮 觀,燕 處 超 然。奈 何 萬 乘 之 主,而 以 身 輕 天 下?輕 則 失 本,躁 則 失 君。

Because of 重 / 輕  theme I decided that this chapter belongs in Sage Dao so I chose the 聖 人 version.

善 行 無 轍 迹,善 言 無 瑕 讁;善 數 不 用 籌 策;善 閉 無 關 楗 而 不 可 開,善 結 無 繩 約 而 不 可 解。是 以 聖 人 常 善 救 人,故 無 棄 人;常 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。

樸 散 則 為 器,聖 人 用 之,則 為 官 長,故 大 制 不 割。

The body of the chapter, 知 其 雄,守 其 雌,為 天 下 谿。為 天 下 谿,常 德 不 離,復 歸 於 嬰 兒。知 其 白,守 其 黑,為 天 下 式。為 天 下 式,常 德 不 忒,復 歸 於 無 極。知 其 榮,守 其 辱,為 天 下 谷。為 天 下 谷,常 德 乃 足,復 歸 於 樸 has been moved to Early Dao as an independent fragment.

將 欲 取 天 下 而 為 之,吾 見 其 不 得 已。天 下 神 器,不 可 為 也,為 者 敗 之,執 者 失 之。故 物 或 行 或 隨;或 歔 或 吹;或 強 或 羸;或 挫 或 隳。是 以 聖 人 去 甚,去 奢,去 泰。

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,國 之 利 器 不 可 以 示 人。

不 出 戶 知 天 下;不 闚 牖 見 天 道。其 出 彌 遠,其 知 彌 少。是 以 聖 人 不 行 而 知,不 見 而 名,不 為 而 成。

*49      聖 人 無 常 心,以 百 姓 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 為 天 下 渾 其 心,百 姓 皆 注 其 耳 目,聖 人 皆 孩 之。

使 我 介 然 有 知,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;服 文 綵,帶 利 劍,厭 飲 食,財 貨 有 餘;是 謂 盜 夸。非 道 也 哉!

以 正 治 國,以 奇 用 兵,以 無 事 取 天 下。吾 何 以 知 其 然 哉?以 此:天 下 多 忌 諱,而 民 彌 貧;民 多 利 器,國 家 滋 昏;人 多 伎 巧,奇 物 滋 起;法 令 滋 彰,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 無 欲,而 民 自 樸。

其 政 悶 悶,其 民 淳 淳;其 政 察 察,其 民 缺 缺。禍 兮 福 之 所 倚,福 兮 禍 之 所 伏。孰 知 其 極?其 無 正。正 復 為 奇,善 復 為 妖。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。

治 大 國 若 烹 小 鮮。以 道 蒞 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。

大 國 者 下 流,天 下 之 交,天 下 之 牝。牝 常 以 靜 勝 牡,以 靜 為 下。故 大 國 以 下 小 國,則 取 小 國;小 國 以 下 大 國,則 取 大 國。故 或 下 以 取,或 下 而 取。大 國 不 過 欲 兼 畜 人,小 國 不 過 欲 入 事 人。夫 兩 者 各 得 其 所 欲,大 者 宜 為 下。

道 者 萬物 之 奧。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。

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;天 下 難 事,必 作 於 易,天 下 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 泮,其 微 易 散。為 之 於 未 有,治 之 於 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 者 敗 之,執 者 失 之。是 以 聖 人 無 為 故 無 敗;無 執 故 無 失。民 之 從 事,常 於 幾 成 而 敗 之。慎 終 如 始,則 無 敗 事,是 以 聖 人 欲 不 欲,不 貴 難 得 之 貨;學 不 學,復 衆 人 之 所 過,以 輔 萬 物 之 自 然,而 不 敢 為。

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 國,國 之 賊;不 以 智 治 國,國 之 福。知 此 兩 者 亦 稽  式。常 知 稽 式,是 謂 玄 德。玄 德 深 矣,遠 矣,與 物 反 矣,然 後 乃 至 大 順。

江 海 所 以 能 為 百 谷 王 者,以 其 善 下 之,故 能 為 百 谷 王。是 以 聖 人 欲 上 民,必 以 言 下 之;欲 先 民,必 以 身 後 之。是 以 聖 人 處 上 而 民 不 重,處 前 而 民 不 害。是 以 天 下 樂 推 而 不 厭。以 其 不 爭,故 天 下 莫 能 與 之 爭。

天 下 皆 謂 我 道 大,似 不 肖。夫 唯 大,故 似 不 肖。若 肖 久 矣。其 細 也 夫!我 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 成 器 長。今 舍 慈 且 勇;舍 儉 且 廣;舍 後 且 先;死 矣!夫 慈 以 戰 則 勝,以 守 則 固。天 將 救 之,以 慈 衛 之。

善 為 士 者,不 武;善 戰 者,不 怒;善 勝 敵 者,不 與;善 用 人 者,為 之 下。是 謂 不 爭 之 德,是 謂 用 人 之 力,是 謂 配 天 古 之 極。

用 兵 有 言: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。禍 莫 大 於 輕 敵,輕 敵 幾 喪 吾 寶。故 抗 兵 相 加,哀 者 勝 矣。

吾 言 甚 易 知,甚 易 行。天 下 莫 能 知,莫 能 行。言 有 宗,事 有 君。夫 唯 無 知,是 以 不 我 知。知 我 者 希,則 我 者 貴。是 以 聖 人 被 褐 懷 玉。

知  不 知 上;不 知 知 病。夫 唯 病 病,是 以 不 病。聖 人 不 病,以 其 病 病,是 以 不 病。

民 不 畏 威,則 大 威 至。無 狎 其 所 居,無 厭 其 所 生。夫 唯 不 厭,是 以 不 厭。是 以 聖 人 自 知 不 自 見;自 愛 不 自 貴。故 去 彼 取 此。

勇 於 敢 則 殺,勇 於 不 敢 則 活。此 兩 者,或 利 或 害。天 之 所 惡,孰 知 其 故?是 以 聖 人 猶 難 之。天 之 道,不 爭 而 善 勝,不 言 而 善 應,不 召 而 自 來,繟 然 而 善 謀。天 網 恢 恢,踈 而 不 失。

民 不 畏 死,奈 何 以 死 懼 之?若 使 民 常 畏 死,而 為 奇 者,吾 得 執 而 殺 之,孰 敢?常 有 司 殺 者 殺。夫 司 殺 者,是 大 匠 斲;夫 代 大 匠 斲 者,希 有 不 傷 其 手 矣。

民 之 飢,以 其 上 食 稅 之 多,是 以 飢。民 之 難 治,以 其 上 之 有 為,是 以 難 治。民 之 輕 死,以 其 求 生 之 厚,是 以 輕 死。夫 唯 無 以 生 為 者,是 賢 於 貴 生。

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 堅 強 者 死 之 徒 ,柔 弱 者 生 之 徒。是 以 兵 強 則 不 勝,木 強 則 共。強 大 處 下,柔 弱 處 上。

天 之 道,其 猶 張 弓 與?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,則 不 然,損 不 足 以 奉 有 餘。孰 能 有 餘 以 奉 天 下,唯 有 道 者。是 以 聖 人 為 而 不 恃,功 成 而 不 處,其 不 欲 見 賢。

天 下 莫 柔 弱 於 水,而 攻 堅 強 者 莫 之 能 勝,其 無 以 易 之。弱 之 勝 強,柔 之 勝 剛,天 下 莫 不 知,莫 能 行。是 以 聖 人 云:受 國 之 垢,是 謂 社 稷 主;受 國 不 祥,是 謂 天 下 王。正 言 若 反。

和 大 怨,必 有 餘 怨;安 可 以 為 善?是 以 聖 人 執 左 契,而 不 責 於 人。有 德 司 契,無 德 司 徹。天 道 無 親,常 與 善 人。

小 國 寡 民。使 有 什 伯 之 器 而 不 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,安 其 居,樂 其 俗。鄰 國 相 望,雞 犬 之 聲 相 聞,民 至 老 死,不 相 往 來。

信 言 不 美,美 言 不 信。善 者 不 辯,辯 者 不 善。知 者 不 博,博 者 不 知。聖 人 不 積,既 以 為 人 己 愈 有,既 以 與 人 己 愈 多。天 之 道,利 而 不 害;聖 人 之 道,為 而 不 爭。


Early Dao
38 chapters + 2 fragments

道 可 道,非 常 道。名 可 名,非 常 名。無 名 天 地 之 始;有 名 萬 物 之 母。故 常 無 欲,以 觀 其 妙;常 有 欲,以 觀 其 徼。此 兩 者,同 出 而 異 名,同 謂 之 玄。玄 之 又 玄,衆 妙 之 門。

道 沖 而 用 之 或 不 盈。淵 兮 似 萬 物 之 宗。挫 其 ,解 其 紛,和 其 光,同 其 塵。湛 兮 似 或 存。吾 不 知 誰 之 子,象 帝 之 先。

天 地 之 間,其 猶 橐 籥 乎?虛 而 不 屈,動 而 愈 出。多 言 數 窮,不 如 守 中。

The opening section of this chapter remains in Later Dao as an independent fragment.

谷 神 不 死,是 謂 玄 牝。 玄 牝 之 門,是 謂 天 地 根。綿 綿 若 存,用 之 不 勤。

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? 愛 民 治 國, 能 無 知 乎?天 門 開 闔,能 為 雌 乎?明 白 四 達,能 無 知 乎?生 之、畜 之,生 而 不 有,為 而 不 恃,長 而 不 宰,是 謂 玄 德。

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 牖  以 為 室,當 其 無,有 室 之 用 。故 有 之 以 為 利,無 之 以 為 用。

寵 辱 若 驚,貴 大 患 若 身。何 謂 寵 辱 若 驚? 寵 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,及 吾 無 身,吾 有 何 患?故 貴 以 身 為 天 下,若 可 寄 天 下;愛 以 身 為 天 下,若 可 託 天 下。

視 之 不 見,名 曰 夷;聽 之 不 聞,名 曰 希;搏 之 不 得,名 曰 微。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。無 狀 之 狀, 無 物 之 象,是 謂 惚 恍。迎 之 不 見 其 首,隨 之 不 見 其 後。執 古 之 道,以 御 今 之 有。能 知 古 始,是 謂 道 紀。

古 之 善 為 士 者,微 妙 玄 通,深 不 可 識。夫 唯 不 可 識,故 強 為 之 容。豫 兮 若 冬 涉 川;猶 兮 若 畏 四 鄰;儼 兮 其 若 容;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,能 蔽 不 新 成。

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

絕 學 無 憂,唯 之 與 阿,相 去 幾 何?善 之 與 惡,相 去 若 何?人 之 所 畏,不 可 不 畏。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 海,飂 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。自 古 及 今,其 名 不 去,以 衆 甫。吾 何 以 知 衆 甫 之 狀 哉?以 此。

*23      希 言 自 然,故 飄 風 不 終 朝,驟 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,道 者,同 於 道 ; 德 者,同 於 德;失 者,同 於 失。同 於 道 者, 道 亦 樂 得 之;同 於 德 者,德 亦 樂 得 之;同 於 失 者,失 亦 樂 得 之。信 不 足,焉 有 不 信 焉。

企 者 不 立;跨 者 不 行;自 見 者 不 明;自 是 者 不 彰;自 伐 者 無 功;自 矜 者 不 長。其 在 道 也,曰:餘 食 贅 行。物 或 惡 之,故 有 道 者 不 處

有 物 混 成,先 天 地 生。寂 兮 寥 兮 ,獨 立 不 改,周 行 而 不 殆,可 以 為 天 下 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。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。

知 其 雄,守 其 雌,為 天 下 谿。為 天 下 谿,常 德 不 離,復 歸 於 嬰 兒。知 其 白,守 其 黑,為 天 下 式。為 天 下 式 ,常 德 不 忒 , 復 歸 無 極 。知 其 榮,守  其 辱 ,為 天 下 谷  。為 天 下 谷,常 德 乃 足,復 歸 於 樸。

The closing passage of this chapter remains in Later Dao as an independent fragment.

以 道 佐 人 主 者,不 以 兵 強 天 下。其 事 好 還。師 之 所 處,荊 棘 生 焉。大 軍 之 後,必 有 凶 年。善 有 果 而 已,不 敢 以 取 強。果 而 勿 矜,果 而 勿 伐,果 而 勿 驕。果 而 不 得 已,果 而 勿 強。物 壯 則 老,是 謂 不 道,不 道 早 已。

夫 佳 兵 者,不 祥 之 器,物 或 惡 之,故 有 道 者 不 處。君 子 居 則 貴 左,用 兵 則 貴 右。兵 者不 祥 之 器, 非 君 子之 器,不 得 已 而 用 之,恬 淡 為 上。勝 而 不 美,而 美 之 者,是 樂 殺 人。夫 樂 殺 人 者,則 不 可 以 得 志 於 天 下 矣。 吉 事  尚 左,凶 事 尚 右。 偏 將 軍 居 左, 上 將 軍 居 右,言 以 喪 禮 處 之。殺 人 之 衆,以  哀 悲 泣 之,戰 勝 以 喪 禮 處 之。
道 常 無 名。樸 雖 小,天 下 莫 能 臣 也。侯 王 若 能 守 之,萬 物 將 自 賓。天 地 相 合,以 降 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,猶 川 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。強 行 者 有 志。不 失 其所 者 久。死 而 不 亡 者 壽。

大 道 汎 兮,其 可 左 右。萬 物 恃 之 而 生 而 不 辭 ,功 成 不 名 有。衣 養 萬 物 而 不 為 主,常 無 欲,可名 於 小 ;萬 物 歸 焉,而 不 為 主,可 名 為 大。以 其 終 不 自 為 大,故 能 成 其 大。

In my first cut I treated this chapter as though it included the Sage, as it does in many versions though not in the Wang Pi version. In the second cut I put this chapter into the Early Dao group.

執 大 象,天 下 往 。往 而 不 害,安 平 大。樂 與 餌,過 客 止。道 之 出 口,淡 乎 其 無 味,視 之 不 足 見,聽 之 不 足 聞,用 之 不 足 既。

道 常 無 為 而 無 不 為。侯 王 若 能 守 之,萬 物 將 自 化。化 而 欲 作,吾 將 鎮 之 以 無 名 之 樸。無 名 之 樸,夫 亦 將 無 欲。不 欲 以 靜,天 下 將 自 定。

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;下 德 為 之 而 有 以 為。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 處 其 厚,不 居 其 薄;處 其 實,不 居 其 華 。 故 去 彼 取 此。

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 貞。其 致 之 ,天 無 以 清 ,將 恐 裂;地 無 以 寧,將 恐 發;神 無 以 靈,將 恐 歇;谷 無 以 盈,將 恐 竭;萬 物 無 以 生,將 恐 滅;侯 王 無 以 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。

反 者 道 之 動;弱 者 道 之 用。天 下 萬 物 生 於 有,有 生 於 無。

上 士 聞 道,勤 而 行 之;中 士 聞 道,若 存 若 亡;下 士 聞 道,大 笑 之。不 笑 不 足 以 道。故 建 言 有 之:明 道 若 昧;進 道 若 退;夷 道 若 纇;上 德 若 谷;太 白 若 辱;廣 德 若 不 足;建 德 若 偷;質 真 若 渝;大 方 無 隅;大 器 晚 成;大 音 希 聲;大 象 無 形;道 隱 無 名。夫 唯 道,善 貸 且 成。

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。人 之 所 惡,唯 孤、寡、不 穀,而 王 公 以 為 稱。故 物 或 損 之 而 益,或 益 之 而 損。人 之 所 教,我 亦 教 之。強 梁 者 不 得 其 死,吾 將 以 為 教 父。

天 下 之 至 柔,馳 騁 天 下 之 至 堅。無 有 入 無 間,吾 是 以 知 無 為 之 有 益。不 言 之 教, 無 為 之 益,天下希 及 之。

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

大 成 若 缺,其 用 不 弊。大 盈 若 沖,其 用 不 窮。大 直 若 屈,大 巧 若 拙,大 辯 若 訥。躁 勝 寒 靜 勝 熱。清 靜 為 天 下 正。

天 下 有 道,卻 走 馬 以 糞。天 下 無 道,戎 馬 生 於 郊。禍 莫 大 於 不 知 足;咎 莫 大 於 欲 得。 故 知 足 之 足,常 足 矣。

為 學 日 益,為 道 日 損。損 之 又 損,以 至 於 無 為。無 為 而 無 不 為。取 天 下 常 以 無 事,及 其 有 事,不 足 以 取 天 下。

出 生 入 死。生 之 徒,十 有 三;死 之 徒,十 有 三;人 之 生,動 之 死 地,十 有 三。夫 何 故?以 其 生 ,生之 厚。 蓋 聞 善 攝 生 者,陸 行 不 遇 兕 虎,入 軍 不 被 甲 兵;兕 無 所 投 其 角,虎 無 所 措 其 爪,兵 無 所 容 其 刃。夫 何 故? 以其 無 死 地。

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,夫 莫 之 命 常 自 然。故 道 生 之,德 畜 之;長 之 育 之;亭 之 毒 之;養 之 覆 之。生 而 不 有,為 而 不 恃,長 而 不 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。開 其 兌,濟 其 事,終 身 不 救。見 小 曰 明,守 柔 曰 強。用 其 光,復 歸 其 明,無  遺 身 殃;是 為 習 常。

善 建 不 拔,善 抱 者 不 脫,子 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。

含 德 之 厚,比 於 赤 子。蜂 蠆 虺 蛇 不 螫,猛 獸 不 據,攫 鳥 不 搏。骨 弱 筋 柔 而 握 固。未 知 牝 牡 之 合 而 全 作,精 之 至 也。終 日 號 而 不 嗄,和 之 至 也。知 和 曰 常,知 常 曰 明,益 生 曰 祥。心 使 氣 曰 強。物 壯 則 老,謂 之 不 道,不 道 早 已。

知 者 不 言,言 者 不 知。塞 其 兌,閉 其 門,挫 其 銳,解 其 分,和 其 光,同 其 塵,是 謂 玄 同。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。

治 人 事 天 莫 若 嗇。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。

I have speculated that 治 人 事 天 莫 若 嗇 belongs at the beginning of chapter 60.

Published in: on September 6, 2017 at 7:38 pm  Comments (3)  

Why did I read the 1300 pages of Durrell’s “Avignon Quintet” (almost)?

Now that I’ve read most of the 1300 pages of Durrell’s Avignon Quintet, the first question most will ask is “Why?” One answer is that I am a grumpy, aging, cis-het male of letters and loved the Alexandria Quartet when I read it at age 17 and then again when I reread it 20 years later. This kind of thing is my dirty secret, my trash reading, the way pulp fiction used to be for serious-minded people.

But also: if there are good things in a book I am willing to ignore the bad things. (I call this “cleaning the fish”). And if a work of fiction is about something, I will be less critical of its flaws.  (I first noticed this with Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, which Sinclair himself knew was a terrible book but which had about 40 interesting pages, and which also sheds light on the life of Leon Czolgosz.  Another time it was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise, which was less artful than the later books but also spilled the beans about Fitzgerald and his ilk).

The Avignon Quintet is very literary  (or post-literary): post-preRaphaelite, post-Parnassian, post-Decadent, post-Bloomsbury, post-Aldous Huxley, post-D. H. Lawrence, post-Henry Miller, post-Pound, post-Eliot, and above all, post-Joyce. It is very nearly post-Writing. (It was not, unfortunately, post-Freud). Durrell seems to have lost his faith that Writing could ever have the power that those earlier writers believed it had – but he still Wrote. (Almost all of Durrell’s books include a version of his younger self as a clueless, earnest, overserious young author, and the Avignon books also portray his older self, the actual self writing the book, as not one but two depressed, cynical men who doubt the value of what they are doing, make dozens of horribly unfunny jokes, and seem to be drunk most of the time. There is lots of sententious world-civilizational thumbsuckery and sexological mysticism, plus lame banter, all wrapped up in a clumsy, sub-Calvino postmodern package. I would get rid of almost all of that and cut the set to a mere 700 pages.

These books call into question the idea that sexual repression was ever the main problem. Durrell’s characters are active and versatile, but they still have the earnest  Victorian need to justify and explain everything in terms of some higher purpose, and they all fear that their sexual activity is invalid, since it doesn’t work as they were promised it would. (D H Lawrence, Henry Miller, Bertrand Russell were respectively the street preacher, the PR man, and public health nurse of Phase I sexological mysticism — Freud was the St Augustine even though he came first. Its last dying twitches are here in the late Durrell).

Durrell is best on time, place, and situation, and that’s what you read him for: here, privileged over-educated, directionless Brits in the South of France and Egypt before, during, and after WWII. His plot, which involving a 20th c. Gnostic coven and the search for the Templars’ hoard, is ktschy but fun. I don’t find his main characters very interesting, even though they’re terribly complicated, but some of the secondary ones are (e.g. Smirgel, the Nazi double agent), and anyway, British one-dimensionality is one of Durrell’s themes.

Durrell (like most of his characters) was anti-political in a vaguely right-wing way.  He believed (rather like Hemingway) that the intimate, the personal and directly experience are the only things of real value, and that the public, the official, and the political are mostly harmful and fake. But both in his quartet and in his quintet the plot is driven by international and ideological politics, both of which he hated as a writer but knew a lot about as a low-level diplomat, and that’s one reason why he became a Gnostic of sorts. The Evil One rules this world.

P.S. Durrell was a sexist, homophobe, anti-semite, and racist who beat his wife. After I gave myself permission to read Celine or Hamsun the floodgates were open.



Published in: on June 21, 2017 at 7:50 pm  Comments (3)  

The Kevin Bacon of Mouffe and Moffett

As we know, Charnett Moffett and Chantal Mouffe are two different people and should never be confused. But is there any connection between them?

Yes! Moffett is three from Mouffe.

Ornette Coleman did the cover art for Castoriadis’s English-language “Castoriadis Reader”. In 1993 Moffett played with Coleman in Warsaw, and the year after that Castoriadis responded to a question of Mouffe’s on “the condition for the universalization of [Western] values”:

“The condition is that the others appropriate those values for themselves—and here, there’s an addendum, which, in my mind, is quite essential: Appropriating those values for themselves does not mean Europeanizing themselves. That is a problem that I am not up to resolving: if it is resolved, it will be done by history”.


Published in: on June 2, 2017 at 5:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Four Right Strivings for Today’s World

We need to develop a samyak-pradhāna (Four Right Strivings) for today’s world:

Right Antagonism
Right Negativity,
Right Resentment,
Right Closedmindedness.

Liberals have been educating their children to be nice and it just doesn’t work. I see them out there like soft-shelled crabs just waiting to be hurt, naked in the lion’s den, helpless in the shark pool. Usually they survive by withdrawing into safe places while the world goes on without them, dominated by sociopaths.

Published in: on May 31, 2017 at 8:01 pm  Comments (1)  

Michel Foucault: “Society must be defended” (Picador, 1997)

I used to be a Foucault believer, but I had gone on to other things by the time this book came out. I still think there’s a lot to learn  from his earlier books but I find this one annoying.

I liked his early thing about “specific intellectuals” (with a subject matter), as opposed to “general intellectuals” who pontificate on everything (he meant Sartre. But apparently his Collège de France job description required him to pontificate.  Europe’s humanist intellectual tradition has had its Pope since Voltaire, and the Collège wanted the position to stay in French hands. (The lineage: Voltaire/ Goethe / Victor Hugo* / Tolstoy /1914-1945 interregnum / Sartre. (George Bernard Shaw didn’t quite cut it when Tolstoy died. After WWII Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, Sartre’s cousin Albert Schweitzer, and Sartre fought it out, with Sartre the consensus winner except among analytic philosophers).

By the time of these lectures Foucault had made Power into an ontological substance, like Matter or Being or Man (and in fact, replacing Man). This might have been OK I suppose, but he still felt the anarchist-liberationist resentment of power, the state, and the Sovereignty, so his ontology was Manichaean .  We are all particles of light trapped in a world of sludgy darkness ruled by the evil demigod, Power. As if we ourselves aren’t Power too, and as if each of us is not, to others, the hated and repressive “Society”.  (When Foucault went to the bank I’m sure that he expected them to cash his checks and give him his money. Etc.)

Anyway, the whole biopower thing pisses me off. After all, biopower did get rid of cholera and plague and typhoid and typhus and smallpox and pellagra and rickets. Why minimize it with vaguely paranoid descriptions? Is medicine best described as a “political intervention technique with power effects”? Was increasing life expectancy really a Statist power grab? Is Social Security primarily a “subtle mechanism more economically rational than indiscriminate charity”? Should we regret that the Fascists drained the malaria swamps that killed poor Daisy Miller? Did it have to end up with Hitler? (Had Foucault even heard of Godwin?)

There are things to salvage here, when he talks about natalist policy, city planning, the medicalization of the population, and normalization. But I find the tone horribly annoying.

* Victor Hugo was huge in his time. In French Indochina (Vietnam) the modernizing Cao Dai sect put him into their pantheon as a God, and in Iowa my grandfather named his stud bull after Victor Hugo, who was famous for such capacities.

Published in: on May 28, 2017 at 6:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Nietzsche the pious

Gott ist ein Gedanke der macht alles Gerade krumm: “God is a thought that makes every straight thing crooked.” Nietzsche was a prissy Boy Scout whose transvaluations were only partial. Crookedness was transvalued by Laozi (who, however, was not a theist): 大直若屈 “The straightest thing seems bent”.

Published in: on May 24, 2017 at 7:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Nietzsche and Kahlil Gibran

Much in you is still man, and much in you is not yet man,
But a shapeless pigmy that walks asleep in the mist searching for its own awakening.
And of the man in you would I now speak.
For it is he and not your god-self nor the pigmy in the mist, that knows crime and the punishment of crime.
Oftentimes have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world.
But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you,
So the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also.

Nietzsche’s disciple Kahlil Gibran makes Zarathustra seem kitschy and hokey to me, a precursor of the fin-de-siècle decadence and orientalism. I’m not sure that this will ever entirely change. I find the book more readable in my (weak) German than it had been in English, and by now I’ve found some good parts, but (except for Mr. Natural) I find cave-dwelling prophets hard to take.

Published in: on May 24, 2017 at 7:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Civilization as we would like to have known in ended in 1914, or maybe 1871



The State of Exception
Giorgio Agamben

Pursuant to my policy of making sure that I don’t have any friends at all, here’s my review of Agamben:

Benjamin and Schmitt’s debate about violence reminded me of the debates of gestures and grimaces described by Rabelais and by Gombrowicz. I could understand scarcely a word. It was like listening to a debate among cannibals about the fine points of cannibal ethics.  But then again, I’m a naive American liberal radical anarchist nihilist populist.

I’ve always been dubious about the enlistment of the intelligentsia of the European high bourgeoisie into the revolutionary proletariat, when they put their Byzantine abstrusities at the service of the masses, starting with Marxo-Freudianism and then it getting worse from there. What could the proletariat possibly have been to Walter Benjamin? (Though if you like that kind of craziness, I recommend Edward Conze, the Bolshevik Hamburg streetfighter and Buddhologist).

Perhaps we should be orientalizing 19th century Europeans instead of Asians and savages. Economically and intellectually, 19th century Europe (centered in Germany and France) was the high point of human history up until that time, but those two nations could think of no better purpose than to go to war against one another. Even during times of peace their entire societies were mobilized for that,  and it wasn’t just the Germans. The French entered the Franco-Prussian War enthusiastically and expected to win. The Goncourt diaries for that period are depressing. The literary sophisticates of France – realists, Parnassians, and decadents, with the sole exception of the Enlightenment holdover Renan – showed themselves to be nationalists of the stupidest sort. When the Communards are massacred, they felt a sombre sort of satisfaction  – except for the rentier Flaubert, who felt that too few had been killed. (The literati who supported the Commune: Gustave Courbet, Jules Vallès, the teenaged Arthur Rimbaud,  and of all people, Paul Verlaine). After the Franco-Prussian War, and after WWI, neither side came to any other conclusion other than that they should do things better next time (though I have read that one of the French war planners, after viewing the carnage left by the Battle of the Marne – battle of the mud – did say, “That isn’t really what I had in mind”).

The ex-quasi-radical Edmund Wilson’s little piece on the politics of Flaubert should be read in this context. He argued that Flaubert was truly radical in his writing, even though he was entirely reactionary in his politics, and with this Wilson paved the way for the transformation of a generation of literary radicals en masse into Cold Warriors, neocons, and neoliberals.

My European readers may be offended at my American or Anglo-Saxon provincialism. But yes, the US also has blood on its hands, and the British too of course, and the moving finger of history has now selected us to be the bad guys of today. Don’t I know it! But then – we imported Leo Strauss and Friedrich Hayek to teach us the sophisticated European ways….

No, nothing I write is judicious and fair. Nothing.

Published in: on May 22, 2017 at 5:28 pm  Comments (3)  

Chapter 14 of the Daodejing



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

此 三 者 不 可 致 計
故 混 而 為 一

一 者
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 忽 望

隨 而 不 見 其 後
迎 而 不 見 其 首  (14)

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    (56)

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

故 為 天 下 貴     (56)





You look for it without seeing it —
it’s called minute.
You listen for it without hearing it —
it’s called faint;
You grab it but can’t hold it —
it’s called smooth.
These three do not register
and fuse into one.

The One:
Its topside is not bright,
its underside not dim;
Boundless, it cannot be named
and returns to thinglessness. 

It is called the formless form,
the thing-less image, flurried and vast.

Follow it and you don’t see its back.
Meet it and you don’t see its face.

So you can’t get close to it,
And you can’t drive it away,
You can’t help it,
And you can’t harm it;
You can’t ennoble it,
And you can’t degrade it.

 Dao is bland and flavorless.
If you look for it it’s invisible,
If you listen for it it’s inaudible,
But use will not exhaust it.

And so it is the most honored
in the world.


I have moved two passages from chapter 35 and 56 to the end of  chapter 14. Those two chapters (like chapters 22 and 42) have no apparent unity or train of thought, and I have divided them and redistributed the parts. I have also cut the ending of chapter 14 (執 今 之 道,以 御 今 之 有。以 知 古 始  / 以,是 胃 道 紀) and have moved it to Original Dao VII, for reasons which will be explained there.

This chapter has multiple affinities with chapters 15, 16, 20, 21, and 25, and, these chapters convey conscious experience (probably in the context of meditation) more than anything else in the DDJ. “Hundun” 混 敦 and similar binomes like 惚 恍 evoking confusion, transience, vastness, dimness, hurry and flurry, etc. are especially concentrated in these chapters. The “Nei Ye” chapter of Guanzi studied by Roth, a practical meditation handbook much more detailed and specific than the DDJ, also share vocabulary, literary form and style and content especially with chapter 14. A full study is beyond my scope, but these sentences will give you the idea: Nei Ye II, 忽 忽 乎 如 將 不 得 /  杲 乎 如 登  於 天 (Roth,  p. 49); Nei Ye IV,  眇 眇 如 窮 無 極 (Roth, p. 53); Nei Ye VI, 口 之 所 不 能 言 (Roth,  p. 57).

 繩 繩: also 尋 尋. Both terms mean “boundless”, but 繩 繩 also means “teeming, prolific, fertile” and also, confusingly, “cautious and careful”.

致 計: also 致 詰 (not cognate). 致 計 means “calculate, sum up, appraise, register”, as in accounting.  致 詰 means “interrogate, call to account, prosecute”.

名: also 命.  命  mjaengH is often used as the verbal form of 名  mjieng.

混 (昏, 渾, etc.): 14, 15, 18, 20, 25, 49, 57.

一: 10, 11, 14, 22, 25, 39, 42, 67.

皦: also 杲  / 謬: 14, 41; also compare chapter 01, 徼.

昧: also 忽 / 沒.

復 歸: see *28.

狀: 14, 21;  replaces  物 in some texts of chapter 16 and 25.

象: see *04.

忽 望: also  忽 恍 / 沒 芒.  忽: 14, 20, and 21.

疏:  also 踈.

賤: also 淺.

淡: 31, 35.

味: 12, 14, 63.

Published in: on April 11, 2017 at 8:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

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 April 1 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