Doubtful Passages

The Daodejing includes a dozen passages, some of them fairly long, which I feel add little or nothing to the text. These passages consist of chapter-ending tags to chapters 14, 16, 21, 22, 25, 33, 42, 52, 55b, and 59, an insertion into chapter 08, and the entirety of chapter 54.

These passages apparently were added rather early (since 4 of them are included in the GD text ) and amount to less than a tenth of the text. The Daodejing is a composite edited work made up of chapters of diverse origin which are often themselves edited composites, and the recently discovered texts together with the variants collected by Jiang Xichang show that the editing process continued even after the Daodejing took more or less its present form. There can hardly be any question of an “original text”, and if a seemingly- composite chapter reads well it’s been my policy to let sleeping dogs lie.

But these passages tend to be rather trivial, with little significant thematic relationship to anything else in the Daodejing except to one another, and at times they even seem inimical to the rest of the DDJ (e.g. when they speak of 強 strength). While it is barely possible that some of these passages have an underlying meaning inaccessible to us, many of them seem merely to be naive offhand comments added early on by an admiring reader (perhaps someone in a position of some authority), while others merely consist of strings of fine-sounding slogans which make no real statement, and especially no specifically Daoist statement. From my point of view, there are only two themes in these passages I would be interested in seeing further developed. First, in chapter 59 the phrase 國 之 母contrasts with the 天下母 “mother of the world” in chapters 25 and 52 and the 萬物母 “mother of the myriad beings” in chapter one, and seems to come from a state-religion context. I know nothing more about this. Second, the phrase 道 法 自 然 in chapter 25 subordinates Dao to 自 然, and would take the DDJ in an entirely different direction. Its use in chapter 25 seems quite unlike the appearances of 自 然 in chapters 17, 23, 51, and 64, and perhaps the chapter 25 passage foreshadows post-Daodejing developements of this theme.

Many of the doubtful passages are immediately practical, without much mysticism, poetry, metaphysics, or cunning strategic advice, but the prudent warnings against pride, ambition, and violence found in the earliest chapters are not found. These passages slogan words generally deal with wellbeing and prosperity (豐, 普, 富), longevity and permanence (長, 壽, 久, 常, 固), good and ill fortune (凶, 命, 不 殆, 祥, 殃), high position (大, 公, 王, 有 國), and power (強 , 有 力, 有 志, 無 不 克, 積 德). They seem to want to change the Daodejing from a warning about the uncertainties of life and the perils of ambition into a recipe for success and triumph, and sometimes there is a magical or occult aspect.

The doubtful passages can be divided into three groups. First, chapter 54, the only complete chapter I would eliminate (though chapter 33 comes close). Second, brief and inconsequential end-tags or inserts in chapters 08, 14, 21, 22, 33. And finally, longer chain tags at the ends of chapters 16, 25, 52, 55, and 59.

Chapter 54

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 有 餘
修 之 於 鄉
其 德 乃 長
修 之 於 邦
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 邦 觀 邦
以 天 下 觀 天 下
吾 何 以 知
天 下 然 哉?
以 此
What is well established cannot be uprooted.
What is firmly held cannot be torn away.
Children and grandchildren in an unending line
will offer sacrifice.

Cultivate it in your person
and your virtue will be real.
Cultivate it in your family
and your virtue will be abundant.
Cultivate it in your neighborhood
and your virtue will be long-lived.
Cultivate it in your state and your virtue will be rich
Cultivate it in the empire
and your virtue will be comprehensive.

So look at your person in terms of your person,
look at your family in terms of your family,
look at your neighborhood in terms of your neighborhood,
look at your state in terms of your state,
look at the empire in terms of the empire.
How do I know that the empire is so?

From this.

This chapter reads well enough but is banal and could have been written by anyone. The 身/ 家 / 鄉 / 邦 / 天 下 progression is interesting but not really relevant to the Daodejing. In the words of Man-jan Cheng: “This chapter is discordant with the teachings of Lao-Tzu. Therefore I leave it without further comment” (Lao-Tzu: “My words are very easy to understand”, North Atlantic Books, 1981, p. 171).

Chapters 08b, 14b, 21b, 22c, 33b, and 42c

By contrast to Chapter 54, and all of the chain argument chapters, none of these passages have been added to chapters which are part of the GD text. Many of them seem like a reader’s rather casual comments.

居善地 心善淵 與善仁 言善信 正善治 事善能 動善時

In residence value location, In mind value depth, In sharing value humaneness, In speech value reliability, In governance value order, In action value ability, In movement value timeliness.

A string of truisms which could have come from anywhere, and 仁is not a Daoist value.

執 今之道 以御今之有 以知古始 是謂道紀

(WB: 執 古 之 道 以 御 今 之 有) Hold to the Dao of today in order to manage today’s reality, and thus know the ancient beginnings. This is the leading thread of Dao.

I have translated the earlier MWDA, MWDB, BD version, which advocates the use of today’s Dao to manage today’s world. By the time of Wang Bi, the DDJ was ancient wisdom, and his version reads 執 古 之 道 以 御 今 之 有 “Hold the ancient Dao in order to manage today’s reality”.


From now back to ancient times its fame is not lost and by it we follow the fathers of all. How do I know that the fathers of all are so? From this.

Like the tag to chapter 14, this tag centers on the contrast of the ancient and the contemporary 古/今, and as in that tag,古 and 今 are reversed in WB (WB 自古及 今 甫). Chapters 14 and 21 are part of the same subgroup and these two tags must be related in some way.

甫 is seen only in WB and is a fancy word for male ancestor. In the DDJ the word 父 is seen only in this tag and in the tag at the end of chapter 42; in general the DDJ honors the mother and the female (chapters 01, 20, 25, 52, and 59).

以此: 21 54 57.

22b 古之所謂曲全者幾語哉 誠全而歸之. 豈虛言哉!
The ancient saying “Bent yet intact” is quite something! Certainly wholeness comes with it! How could these be empty words?

This enthusiastic praise for the chapter can hardly be regarded as part of the chapter, and it adds nothing to it. 古 “the ancient” appears again.

33b 強行者有志也 不失其所者久也 死而不忘者壽也
The forceful get their way. Those who keep their place endure. Those who die unforgotten are long-lived. (WB: Those who die but are not lost are long-lived).

This lines violate the syllable count and the rhyme scheme, and the enthusiasm for 強 strength / violence is uncharacteristic of the Daodejing. Like several of the other doubtful passages, this passage seems like little more than generic success-worship. (The body of chapter 33 isn’t too impressive, but it’s at least consistent with the rest of the Daodejing).

吾將以為學父 WB 得其死 / 教父
A bandit who is not killed — I will take him for teacher.

There have been differing interpretation of this passage, but none of them make it seem to fit the rest of this patchy chapter or to belong in the DDJ at all. My first translation here is literal and is not accepted by anyone.

C. Chains 16b 25b, 52b, 55b, 59b

The 5 chain arguments take the form A–> B, B–>C, C–>D…. They are basically strings of slogans, many of which appear in several chains. (notably 明, 常, and 強). Many of these slogan words are seen exclusively in the doubtful passages (e.g. 常 in MWDA and 殃, 命, 豐, 壽, and 普 in all versions).


靜曰 復 命
復 命 曰 常 也
知 常 曰 明 也
不 知 常 妄 凶

知 常 容
容 乃 公
公 乃 王
王 乃 天
天 乃 道
道 乃 久
沒 身 不 殆

Stillness is called returning to your destiny.
Returning to destiny is called the constant.
Knowing the constant is called discernment
Not knowing the constant
you rashly bring disaster.

One who knows the constant is all-embracing;
if all-embracing, impartial;
if impartial, royal;
if royal, of Heaven;
and if of Heaven, of Dao
What is of Dao is enduring

To the end of your life without peril.

16b 命 常 明 常 凶 容 公 王 天 道 25b 道 天 地 王 人 地 天 道 自然 (or 天 地 道 王 sequence) 52b 明 強 光 明 殃 常 55b 常 明 祥 強

*25b 故 道 大 天 大 地 大 王 亦 大
域 中 有 四 大 而 王 居 一 焉 人 法 地 地 法 天 天 法 道 道 法 自 然

So Dao is great Heaven is great, Earth is great, The king is also great.
In the universe there are four Great Ones, and the king is one of them. Man is modeled on Earth, Earth is modeled on Heaven, Heaven is modeled on Dao, And Dao is modeled on what is naturally so.

GD BD 天地道王
國 中 王 居 其 一 焉


見 小 曰 明 守 柔 曰 強 用 其 光 復 歸 其 明 毋 遺 身 殃 是 為 習 常

To perceive the small is to be discerning To protect the weak is to be strong. Use the light
Return to discernment Do not bring misfortune on yourself.. This is called following the norm.

央 襲 常

*55b DONE
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

To know harmony is the normal. To know the normal discernment. To increase vitality is food fortune For the mind to control the energy is strength.
When the robust becomes decrepit this is against Dao. What is against Dao soon comes to an end.

物 壯 則 老 etc. also chapter 30


夫 唯 嗇 是 謂 早 早備 是謂 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Now only the frugal are called early; Early readiness accumulates great virtue. With great virtue you cannot be resisted. If you cannot be resisted your limit cannot be known. If your limit cannot be known You can possess a state. If you possess the mother of the state You can endure long. This is called deep roots and a firm foundation, The Dao of long life and enduring vision.


55b16 52 5516 52 5516 52 55All
恆 (恒)ManyManyManyManyNone
59b25b 59bAllAllAll
17 54 57ManyNoneNoneNone
ManyManyManyManyOnce (chapter 02)

The Han taboos on the words 恆 (恒) and 邦are invariably honored by the WB tex, where these words are never seen, and the WB text violates the Han taboo on the word 弗 only once (in chapter 02). The GD and MWDA texts honor none of these taboos, while the MWD B and BD texts honor only the taboo on 邦. This is evidence that the GD and MWDB texts are pre-Han, while the MWDB and BD ttexts are early Han. However, the words 常and 國 used in the WB text to substitute for 恆 (恒) and 國 are seen a few times in the earlier texts, but only in the chain tags 16d, 25b, 52b, 55b, and 59b. I believe that this is evidence that these chain tags as a group are different in origin than the rest of the Early DDJ (though it does not, of course, prove a specifically Han origin for these tags, since these texts were found in pre-Han burials). All of these chapters (unlike the tag chapters discussed just above) are part of the GD text, though in the cases of chapters 16 and 52 the chains are not included in GD.

18 54 579xNoneNoneNone
5516 52 5516 52 55AllAll

A second argument for the special status of the chain arguments is the 明 + 常 + 強 rhyme found as a whole or in part in chapters 16, 52, and 55. The emphasis on 強 strength /force here, as in chapter 33, is uncharacteristic of the Daodejing, and in fact, even 明 brightness / clarity is of ambiguous significance in the DDJ, where 玄 darkness or attenuated forms of brightness 微 明are often favored.

Seen only in doubtful passages
明 常 and /or 明 + 強16b 52b 55b常明 15
明 常 強明 強 常 52 55 33 自勝者強 42 強梁者 * * * * * 76 弱 強 78 柔弱 堅強 43 柔堅 03 強其骨 15 強為之容 25 強為之名 29 或強或羸 30不欲以兵強於天下 3 36 將欲弱之必固強之

Boltz Schaberg 居 善 地 心 善 淵 與 善 仁 言 善 信 正 善 治 事 善 能 動 善 時 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 有 餘 修 之 於 鄉 其 德 乃 長 修 之 於 邦 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 邦 觀 邦 以 天 下 觀 天 下 吾 何 以 知 天 下 然 哉? 以 此 道 大 天 大 地 大 王 亦 大 域 中 有 四 大 而 王 居 一 焉 人 法 地 地 法 天 天 法 道 道 法 自 然 自 古 及 今 其 名 不 去 以 閱 衆 甫 執 古 之 道 以 御 今 之 有 能 知 古 始 是 謂 道 紀 知 和 曰 常 知 常 曰 明 益 生 曰 祥 心 使 氣 曰 強 見 小 曰 明 守 柔 曰 強 用 其 光 復 歸 其 明 毋 遺 身 殃 是 為 習 常 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 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 古 之 所 謂 曲 則 全 者 豈 虛 言 哉 誠 全 而 歸 之 人 之 所 教 我 亦 教 之 強 梁 者 不 得 其 死 吾 將 以 為 教 父 物 壯 則 老 謂 之 不 道 不 道 早 已