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Thursday, 06 February 2014


Eh. I disagree. Waley's "The Way and Its Power" is far more authoritative in every way, and reads quite well.

One of the problems with ancient Chinese texts today is that people familiar with modern Chinese, including native Chinese speakers, think they can read and understand ancient works. What they often don't realize is that some of the words (ideograms) in these texts no longer mean what they did 2000+ years ago. The introductory essay to Richard Rutt's superb translation of the Zhouyi (the earliest form of the I Ching, without the later commentaries) discusses this issue in detail as it applies to that work, and the same difficulties apply to the Daodejing.

[I agree that Waley is essential. I might not recommend it as the first version to read for someone unfamiliar with the work. --Mike]

Thanks a lot for posting!
I tried hard to find this book just a month ago - but I could not find the version with the photos. It really is a very good combination of the old text, calligraphy and photos. Love it.. Very inspiring indeed!
By the way; thank you for a great site.

Certainly one of the great combinations of translation and presentation of this classic.

How is the photo reproduction quality? Our 1972 original has only so-so image quality. Hard to see buying another one unles it is visually more pleasing.

Their Chuang Tsu, Inner Chapters is excellent, too.


My understanding is that the oldest evidence for the Daodejing in something like its current form comes through the Mawangdui texts, which date to the early second century BCE, but have diverged enough from each other to suggest a nontrivially earlier origin, and that the earliest text that recognizably corresponds to a substantial part of the Daodejing is found in the Guodian slips, dated around 300 BCE. I don't believe there's really solid evidence to put its origin (to the extent that it has a precise origin point) "six centuries before Christ", although this impression on my part is based on vague recollections and hasty internet research.

Tradition places Laozi in the sixth century BCE, but, as you note, it's not really clear that he was a historical figure, and dating him to this time period seems suspiciously like a move intended to make him a contemporary of Confucius.

In any case, it's clearly a pretty old book.

[I'm not a specialist and I'm not up on the current research, but your understanding is pretty much mine too--I've always felt intuitively that Taoism was probably a reaction to Confucianism and probably came later, so the traditional assignation of Lao Tzu as a contemporary of Confucius was probably defensive at some point--"our guy is as old as your guy" kind of thing. The 300 BCE estimate is one I've heard as well. The latest book I have on the Ma-wang-tui texts is dated 1989.... --Mike]

I have the original, given to me by a special friend. For me, the stilted, clumsy translation is what makes the first edition so special; its child-like English manages to somehow articulate the 'inarticulable' that is the mystery of being and knowing. I never liked the ancient Chinese text, whose compactness and passive tone strike me as too perfect, too knowing, too... smug -- which contradicts the text, or at least the spirit of the text. English's quiet, impenetrable images otoh are just perfect. Can this new version be better? Guess I'll have to buy one and see for myself.

I read it along time ago... don't remember which version. Your review convinced me to buy again(through your link of course).... and I tacked on 5 rolls of 120mm TMax 100. No more drinking while reading TOP.... not my first impulse buy here....

I still have my original 1972 edition, along with Chuang Tsu - Inner Chapters, by the same authors. Both highly recommended.

Ahhh, yes. I have that book. A few years ago, I took a Tao Te Ching workshop from Ken Cohen, and the Gia-Fu Feng translation was Ken's favorite translation as well. We compared a lot of translations in that class, and this one was the most poetic, while still sticking closely to the original text. And pictures!

One interesting tidbit I learned in that class...the word Tao is used three hundred and some times in the text, and each time the word had a different meaning. This Tao and that Tao were all different Taos...

The first translation of the Tao Te Ching that I ever read was by Stephen Mitchell and I was instantly hooked. Soon after, I became aware that there were many more translations out there but most of them that I read through seemed disappointing in one way or another. Although I will always love the simplicity and modern language of Mitchell's translation, I am still eager to read other recommended translations. I had not yet heard of the Feng/English/Lippe version until you posted this today. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

30 different versions? No wonder you are so wise... O TOP Sage ;)

Lovely book design, I like the photographs accompanying the text!
I have several copies of various English translations, the one I like the best is a bi-lingual version with commentaries by Red Pine aka Bill Porter

Lesson learned. Book purchased immediately instead of hemming and hawing around (e.g. Pentti, Abelardo Morrell) and then not being able to get a good deal.

THIS is the Tao of buying books Mike recommends . . . .

Have to also recommend the work of Victor Mair at the University of Pennsylvania.

Never realized that Laozi is well read outside China. The Dao classics, including Daodejing and Zhuangzi, are hard to understand for me, and as a Chinese I have a fairly good education in ancient Chinese text. The difficulty is in the meaning. They must be difficult to translate to other languages too, just like old style Chinese poem. Hard to preserve the "taste".

About the meaning of Zi in this context: I was thinking to clarify it last night but today I see Dennis Ng is right, So I will shut up. Laozi is still used by Chinese man sometime today to refer to himself, as "I", but usually in a playful way or when he is angry.

Went to my bookshelf to see what translation I owned. Yup, the 1972 Feng. So flows the Tao.

Thanks for pointing this out. It's a beautiful edition of one of my favorite books, and a very different translation from the others that I already have. It will take some getting used to after spending so much time with the Philip Ivanhoe translation. But I'm looking forward to it.

As a calligrapher (http://facebook.com/richardmancalligraphy), Daoist, photographer (http://facebook.com/richardmanphoto), and part time Chinese scholar (mainly in classic martial arts text), doing a project like this is on a short bucket list of things I want to do in the next 10 years.

BTW, there is no way that Tao Te Ching is a reaction to Confucianism. Taoism/Daoism, comes from the long line of indigenous shamanic practices (Wu 巫), dated back to the days of the oracle bones.

Studied that in my history lessons. Not much in the way of practical applications.

Any good novels (written in English) to recommend which might introduce a person to the non-fictional Tao via the character's lives in the fictional story?

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