Early Dao and Sage Dao: 道 經 與 聖 經

John Emerson
(emerson j at g mail dot com )


Starting from Lau’s thesis that the Daodejing (DDJ) is an anthology of writings of diverse origin, together with the common hypothesis that the DDJ consists of a relatively more mystical layer and a relatively more political layer, in this article I divide DDJ into two parts, roughly equal in length, which I call Early Dao (the Daojing 道 經; the mystical and metaphysical part) and Sage Dao (the Shengjing 聖 經; the part speaking more of strategy and state service).

My first step was simply to sort whole chapters of the unedited Wang Bi (WB) DDJ text into two groups on the basis of explicit textual criteria. There was one exception: I divided chapters 05 and 28 on well recognized fault lines, leaving the parts of these chapters in which the Sage appears in Sage Dao , and putting the remainder into Early Dao.

This gave me a DDJ of 83 “chapters”: 44 Early Dao chapters and 39 Sage Dao chapters. The phrase Sage 聖 人 is seen 26 times in the Sage Dao, but (by definition) never in Early Dao. (The word 聖 appears alone in chapter 19 of Early Dao, but sageliness is there rejected). Besides 聖 人 there are only a few few Sage Dao key words or phrases (難, 爭, and 天 道 / 天 之 道) commonly seen in Sage Dao passages but never in Early Dao passages, but nine words and phrases are seen at least 5 times in Early Dao but never in Sage Dao (足,門 ,中,象, 同, 沖, 不 殆, 辱,and 母) and to these can be added can be added eleven more words and phrases found only in Early Dao, though less often, which are the sole expressions in the Daodejing of the mother-and-child theme or other themes of central importance (牝, 雌, 赤子, 嬰兒, and 赤子 and 無名, 氣, 精, 陰, 陽, and 復 歸 ). Early Dao chapters make up 80% of the Guodian text (25 passages), while Sage Dao chapters make up only 20% (6 passages). Guodian chapters make up 56% of Early Dao but only about 30% of the Daodejing as a whole.

If Early Dao and Sage Dao are read separately, it will be seen that Early Dao includes the great majority of the metaphysical and mystical passages, while Sage Dao includes the great majority of the passages dealing with strategy and state service. At the bottom I have posted the Wang Bi Chinese text of the Deodejing, divided into Early Dao and Sage Dao, as defined here.

(My text and translation of Early Dao is here:
Early Dao: Text and Translation. The motive

and editing principles behind my text and translation are here.
My more or less complete writings on the Daodejing
are here: John Emerson on the Daodejing.


道 經 與 聖 經

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

— P. M. Thompson, “On the Formal Treatment of Textual
Testimony”, pp. 89-106 in Sarah Allan and Crispin Williams, eds.,
The Guodian Laozi, Society for the Study of Early China, 2000.

More than 50 years ago D. C. Lau argued that the DDJ is a rather loose anthology, united by nothing more than “a common tendency of thought”, which had been assembled by one or more editors from a variety of sources, and then later divided into sometimes-arbitrary chapters.1 He suggested that the book had been put together somewhere around 300 BC under the auspices of the Jixia school in the state of Qi, and that it had appropriated the ideas and perhaps even the words of many thinkers whose other writings have mostly now been lost: Yang Zhu, Sung Keng, Yinwenzi, Liezi, Guanyinzi, the Primitivists, and Shen Dao.

While I agree that the DDJ is an anthology, I believe that the DDJ’s editors were active, purposeful, and selective. Much of the DDJ’s apparent incoherence disappears if you put the passages in a different order and divide them into subgroups. Furthermore, there are certain consistencies from the beginning to the end of the DDJ. One unique consistency is that there are no proper names in the book – no mention of any teacher, cultural hero, god, Chinese state, or historic individual or event – not even any mention of Laozi. Cosmology is also held to a bare minimum – rather than any of the more elaborated cosmologies, we read about 天 地 and the 萬 物 ( Heaven and Earth and its myriad beings). And while I do believe that the DDJ can be divided into two contrasting parts, it can also be seen that the later authors of the DDJ listened to the earlier authors and developed their ideas, and such themes as “stillness” jing 靜 (chapters 15, 16, 26, 45, 57, and 61), desirelessness wu yü 無 欲 (不 欲 / 寡 欲: chapters 01, 03, 19, 34, 37, 46, 57, 61, 64, and 77), and confusion hun 渾 / 混 / 昏 (14, 15, 18, 20, 21, 25, 49, and 57) are developed in all layers the DDJ, even though their significance in one context is somewhat different than it is in the other.

About two decades ago I published two articles which are precursors of this one. In the first I found historical layers in the DDJ, and in the second I discussed the early Chinese philosopher Yang Zhu, whose message, I believe, played a key early role in the development of Daoism.2 Since those articles were written, the Guodian text has become available3 Roth has translated the Nei Ye chapter of Guanzi4, I have read and translated the Thompson edition of the surviving writings of Shen Dao5, and Perkins has made a detailed argument that chapters 67-81 of the DDJ are a distinct group strongly influenced by Mohist ideas.6 It is time for me to revise and further develop the argument of my earlier articles.

My starting point, then as now, has been the familiar hypothesis that the traditional DDJ is a hybrid text comprised of a sometimes-mystical first group of passages discouraging ambition and stressing “nurturing life” and “keeping the body whole”, together with a second group of passages which, while building on some of the earlier themes, focus on statecraft, strategy, and the world of politics. My new understanding of the DDJ here has much in common with that of my earlier articles, but it is also substantially different in many important respects: in particular, the partial Guodian text of the DDJ has provided me with many essential clues which had not been available to me before.

My division of the Daodejing into an earlier Early Dao (Daojing 道 經) and a later Sage Dao (Shengjing 聖 經) is textually grounded, but it is motivated by the general understanding of Warring States Chinese history sketched below though, because of the destruction of documents and the heavily edited condition of most of those that have survived, this context is only knowable in broad outline. My sketch is especially derived from the writings of Arthur Waley, Tang Junyi, and A. C. Graham.7


Between the time of Confucius (ca. 500 B. C.) and the unification of China under the Qin dynasty in 221 B.C., the small and medium-sized Chinese states were absorbed by the larger states in a series of increasingly brutal wars until finally only Qin remained. In a process which was already well under way in the time of Confucius (who dedicated his life to resisting it) the ancient traditionalist, ritualistic states were gradually replaced by militaristic, bureaucratized despotisms.

When the traditional states and their way were destroyed, the life of the surviving nobility was massively changed. The rulers of the victorious states dedicated themselves to a narrow range of specific goals: increasing agricultural productivity, making tax collection more efficient and more ruthless, building up larger and more powerful armies, and increasing the tax base by annexing more land in order to support an ever-more-luxurious royal lifestyles and ever-larger armies…. ad infinitum until defeat or final victory. During this period, capable men from ignoble families often replaced the proud aristocrats.

For Chinese aristocrats of that era violent death (either on the field of battle or as the outcome of court intrigues) had been an ever-present possibility. But before the consolidation of China into a few large states, aristocrats had had substantial autonomy and had at least shared in the glory. As the consolidation proceeded, the Chinese ruling class was transformed from a ranked group of semi-autonomous hereditary lords into a dependent group of well-rewarded but servile functionaries who who held office at the king’s pleasure and performed specific tasks assigned by him. The high functionaries of the surviving states, though they had great power and wealth, were also virtual slaves subject to sudden disgrace, public humiliation, and a cruel death. Court life remained the focus of wealth and power, and though it had lost many of its attractions, the surviving aristocrats from the destroyed states often had little choice but to accept the new reality and offer their services to one of the surviving states.

Early Chinese philosophy developed within this context and consisted of attempts either to resist the new order or to make the best of it. Confucius and the Confucians argued for a return to an idealized and reformed version of the earlier tradition. Mohists accepted and promoted many of the new rationalized political forms but, in a kind of utilitarian altruism, argued that the state should work for the interests of the people as a whole rather than just for the interests of the state and the royal family. The Legalists – Shang Yang, Hanfeizi, Shen Dao, Shen Buhai, and many others who are now little more than names on a list – accepted the new order, treating government as a technical business dedicated to advancing the interests of the state and of the ruler. Their writings taught rulers (but also officials) the cunning, competent, ruthless methods they would need to survive and flourish under the new order.

Yang Zhu’s philosophy, as a philosophy of private life rather than of public life, differed from all of these. Little is known about Yang Zhu, and his teachings have survived only in the polemics of his adversaries and in a few fragments (among which I think might be included several chapters of the DDJ). It has even been suggested that he was an entirely legendary figure, but in the late 4th century B.C. Mencius spoke of him as a real-world contemporary of Mozi (d. 367 B.C) while opposing both of them and caricaturing them as symmetrical opposites: pure selfishness and pure altruism.

Yang Zhu taught that the ambitious who dedicated themselves to state service in the pursuit of fame, wealth, and luxury were endangering what was really important to them (their life 生 sheng, their body 身 shen, and their heart / mind 心 xin) in the pursuit of lesser things which are valueless if these important things are gone. Glory and reputation are just words, and they entail dependency n the opinions of others, and the pursuit of these unreal things endangers what is real. Someone is better off living humbly and dedicating themself to long life and the nurturing of his vitality than they would be taking enormous risks in the pursuit of meaningless glory. Even public disgrace and demotion might not be intrinsically bad things, since they might save a man’s life by removing him from the struggle.

Before the time of the philosophers (of whom Confucius is the first whose words have been passed down to us in any length) there had been a sharp line between the splendid aristocrats at court and the ignoble majority of peasants, craftsmen, tradesmen, common soldiers, and beggars. All value converged on the royal court, where honors, positions of authority, and precious goods were distributed to noblemen by the king in a graded system of ranks, and the highest honors went to successful military men. In the traditional states a person’s merit depended on their proximity to the court and their rank within it. Everyone outside the world of the court was regarded as barely human, without merit or culture and only of any value at all as a taxpayer, a foot soldier, or some sort of lackey. The lives of aristocratic males were devoted to rising as high as they could in the court hierarchy in order to enjoy the fruits of their success. For aristocrats, no alternative career was really possible.

But as government became more despotic, bureaucratic, and efficient, public service and participation in court life, while remaining the main source of wealth and luxury, lost some of their appeal as they became more servile, and in any case the court was inaccessible to the unluckier of the dispossessed and degraded aristocrats. In this context the Yangists developed a philosophy and ethic for men who lived in retirement away from the court. Besides speaking against pride, ambition, and war, Yang Zhu himself probably primarilycounseled prudence and temperance (as does a fair proportion of the present Daodejing), but as time went on this new private world became increasingly rich, and the Daodejing, as a handbook for this new world, now includes meditations, mystical poetry, subtle philosophical doctrines, and passages pointing toward forms of self-care of the taiji / meditational type (some of which had perhaps been learned from Chinese or even non-Chinese shamans and healers).

It probably wasn’t long before some of the new practices started creeping into the world of the court. Presumably those still in government would at times look enviously at those living peacefully in retirement and try to adopt as much of that lifestyle as they could. Simultaneously, some of those in retirement might find themselves in real poverty and wonder whether it might be feasible to reach some kind of accommodation with the state. Whereas the Yangist Daoism of the道 經 Daojing rejected public service and military service entirely, the Sage Daoism of the 聖 經 Shengjing merely proposed taking an inglorious, relatively low position in the hierarchy and working slyly from there, retreating to retirement whenever it seemed prudent.. In the state context, late Yangist ideas came into dialogue with the Confucian, Legalist, and Mohist philosophies, developing and critiquing these ideas to produce the political, strategic Daoism of Sage Dao. Dobson even suggested that eventually the highest levels of the bureaucracy became infested with late Yangists, who used their positions merely as sources of income in order to finance luxurious forms of the “nurturing of life”, and in chapter 75 the DDJ seems to speak against something of that kind.7

Graham spoke of Yang Zhu’s privatism as a metaphysical revolution, and it may have been that, but I think that it more importantly was a transvaluation of values: the creation of a worthy private world, not defined as a kind of privation, and the transfer of the focus of value from public to private life and from the state to the person (and his family).8


The above sketch of the history early Chinese philosophy shows the rationale behind my partitioning of the text of DDJ. In what follows I will use a combination of textual, stylistic, and topical criteria to differentiate Early Dao (the 道 經 Daojing) from Sage Dao (the 聖 經 Shengjing).

My three main textual criteria can be simply stated. First, the Sage 聖 人 is found only in Sage Dao. Second, chapters 67-81 at the end of the Daodejing, none of which are part of the GD text, are part of Sage Dao. Third, the words or phrases 難, 爭, and 天 道 / 天 之 道 are seen many times in Sage Dao but never in Early Dao, while the words or phrases 母, 牝, 雌, 嬰, 赤 子, 精, 氣, 陰 陽, 辱, 不 殆, 復 歸, 無 名 / 不 名, 足, 門 ,中, 象, 同, and 沖 are found only in Early Dao. There are a certain number of adjustments that need to be made beyond these three points, but these points classify the great majority of the Daodejing in one group or the other. By and large, the later Sage Dao is more clearly defined than Early Dao, since Sage Dao is the product of a single later tradition which edited the Daodejing, whereas Early Dao consists of those passages from various sources which the Sage Dao editors chose to include.


The Sage 聖 人 defines Sage Dao and thus does not appear in Early Dao at all, but the word Dao 道 does not define Early Dao, since it also appears often in Sage Dao. However, these two words are seen in the same chapter less often than would be expected. Dao 道 appears in 37 chapters of the DDJ, and the Sage 聖 人 in 26 chapters. Randomly they would be expected to appear together in a chapter 12 times, but in fact they are seen together in only 6 chapters (chapters 47, 60, 73, 77, 79, and 81), and only in a few specific contexts. All but two of these co-appearances (in chapters 47 and 60) are in the DDJ’s longest consecutive group of chapters not included in the Guodian text (chapters 67-81), and five of the six appearances of the word 道 Dao are in the phrase 天 道 / 天 之 道 “Dao of Heaven”, which Perkins has argued subordinates 道 to天 and is a marker of Mohist influence.

The Sage is seen in 8 of the final 15 chapters, while Dao is seen in only 5 of them – but in 4 of these 5 cases Dao is seen in the same chapter as the Sage. By contrast, in chapters 1-66 Dao is seen in half the chapters, 33 times, and the Sage is seen in 19, but they are seen together in a chapter only twice (in chapters 47 and 60), whereas 9 co-appearances would be expected.

In 20 of the chapters in which the Sage appears, it is as part of stereotyped phrases of the type 是 以 聖 人 “Therefore the Sage….”, which in at least some cases seems to be an editorial marker. In one Early Dao chapter (chapter 19) sageliness is simply rejected (絕 聖) and in many DDJ chapters, all of them Early Dao chapters, non-Sages appear in places where the Sage would seem to belong: 上 善 “The highest good” (08), 古 之 善 為 道 “Ancients well versed in the Way”” (15), 太 上 “The greatest” (17), 孔 德 “Those of great Virtue” (21), 上 德 “The highest Virtue” (38), 大 丈 夫 “The great man” (38), 得 一 者 “Those who have achieved Oneness” (39), 善 攝 生 者 “Those good at preserving life” (50), and 含 德 之 厚 者 (55) “Those possessing Virtue in abundance”. The Sage stands on his own as the main topic in only 5 Daodejing chapters (chapters 05, 28, 49, 60, and 81, all in Sage Dao by definition), and I think that these chapters deserve special attention, since they tell us who the Sage actually is, rather than just using him in a set formula. (Chapter 60 is unique: both one of the few chapters in which Dao and the Sage appear together, and one of the few chapters in which the sage stands alone as a topic, and for this reason I think this chapter deserves special attention).


Below I work with an unedited Wang Bi text, and all I do at this stage (except for dividing and redistributing two chapters in the very last step) is to sort whole Daodejing chapters into the two groups of Early Dao and Sage Dao. In the later stages I will change the sequence of the chapters to put them into topical-historical groups, divide and redistribute a few chapters, and edit the texts of each chapter with special attention to the new discoveries of the last 60 years or so. But the basic rationale of my division of the Daodejing into the Early Dao and Sage Dao groups should be apparent in this first step.

To the 26 Sage chapters I then add the 15 chapters at the end of the Daodejing to Sage Dao, chapters 67-81. Snce the Sage is included in 8 of these 15 final chapters this adds a net of 7 chapters to bring the total to 33. These 33 chapters are the initial version of Sage Dao, and the 48 remaining unclassified chapters are mostly but not all Early Dao.


Sage Dao (the Shengjing 聖 經): Chapters 67-81, plus all other chapters in which the Sage is found in the WB text.

02 03 05 07 12 22 26 27 28 29 47 49 57 58 60 63 64 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81
The remaining 48 unclassified chapters

01 04 06 08 09 10 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 21 23 24 25 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 48 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 59 61 62 65


This 33-48 division, based on explicit criteria, is the foundation of my work and is reasonably satisfying as it stands, but there are adjustments which can be made on the basis of somewhat more subjective considerations (based on key words) which will produce more satisfactory groups. By trial and error I found two groups of key words which are found almost entirely either in the 33 chapter Sage Dao group on the one hand, or in the 48 chapter unclassified group on the other., but not both The disjunction between these two groups of key words is strong evidence that Early Dao and Sage Dao as I have defined them are meaningful subgroups within the Daodejing, and the key words seen in the unclassified chapters will serve as the core of an Early Dao which is better defined than just “not Sage Dao”.


Key WordsSage Dao: 33 chapters (Chapters 67-81, plus all other chapters in which the Sage is found in the WB text).Unclassified: 48 chapters

02 03 05 07 12 22 26 27 28 29 47 49 57 58 60 63 64 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 8101 04 06 08 09 10 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 21 23 24 25 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 48 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 59 61 62 65
聖 人
(26 total) . .
02 03 05 07 12 22 26 27 28 29 47 49 57 58 60 63 64 66 70 71 72 73 77 78 79 81None. The word 聖 is seen in chapter 19, but not the phrase 聖人, and in any case 聖 “sageliness” is rejected there.
02 03 12 63 64 73 7565
03 22 66 68 73 8108
天 道 / 天 之 道47 73 77 79 8109

44x in 33 chapters
(1.3 per chapter)
3x in 48 chapters
(0.06 per chapter)
TO HERE ****


Unclassified: 48 chapters . .Sage Dao, first step: 33 chapters (Chapters 67-81, plus all Sage chapters).

01 04 06 08 09 10 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 23 24 25 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 48 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 59 61 62 6502 03 05 07 12 22 26 27 28 29 47 49 57 58 60 63 64 66 / 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81
01 20 25 52 59
牝 / 雌06 10 20 55 6128
嬰 / 赤 子10 20 5528
無 名 / 不 名01 32 34 37 41 42
精 / 氣 / 陰 陽10 21 55
04 14 21 35 41
不 殆16 25 32 44 52
17 19 23 28 33 35 37 41 55
01 06 10 20 52 56
04 14 21 35 41
01 04 11 23 56
04 05 16 42 45
復 歸14 16 5128


Of the 48 unclassified chapters, 4 chapters (Chapters 08, 09, 30, and 65) can be classified as Sage Dao based on key words, 20 chapters (Chapters 01, 04, 06, 10, 14, 16, 20, 21, 25, 32, 34, 35, 37, 41, 42, 44, 52, 55, 59, and 61), can be classified as Early Dao based on key words, and 24 chapters cannot be classified (Chapters 11, 13, 15, 17, 18, 19, 23, 24, 31, 33, 36, 38, 39, 40, 43, 45, 46, 48, 50, 51, 53, 54, 56, and 62). This gives the following table :

Sage Dao (37 chapters)Early Dao (20 chapters)Unclassified (24 chapters )
02 03 05 07 08 09 12 22 26 27 28 29 30 47 49 57 58 60 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71
72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81
01 04 06 10 14 16 20 21 25 32 34 35 37 41 42 44 52 55 59 6111 13 15 17 18 19 23 24 31 33 36 38 39 40 43 45 46 48 50 51 53 54 56 62


From this point, while I can make an argument for any of my choices, my methods are eclectic and (if you will) subjective, and there is no pretense of rigor. At the same time, as I proceeded the outlines of the two groups have become clearer, so it became less difficult difficult to see where a given chapter should go. I put 21 of the 24 unassigned chapters in Early Dao, the exceptions being chapters 36, 53, and 62. I divided chapters 05 and 28 on long-recognized fault lines, putting one part of each in Sage Dao and the other in Early Dao. My criteria were primarily thematic but I also took into account location in the text and stylistic similarities with chapters already assigned. There were a certain number of chapters which puzzled me and some of my choices were probably mistaken. In any case, here is the final division:


EARLY DAO: 44 chapters SAGE DAO: 39 chapters
01 04 05 06 10 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 23 24 25 28 30 31 32 33 34 35 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 48 50 51 52 54 55 56 59 6102 03 05 07 08 09 12 22 26 27 28 29 36 47 49 53 57 58 60 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81



Early DaoSage Dao
聖 人02 03 05a 07 12 22 26 27 28b 29 47 49 57 58 60 63 64 66 70 71 72 73 77 78 79 81
02 03 12 63 64 65 73 75
03 08 22 66 68 73 81
天 道 / 天 之 道09 47 73 77 79 81


01 20 25 52 59
雌, 牝06 10 15 28 55 61
嬰 / 赤 子10 20 28 55
無 名 / 不 名 /
不 知 其 名
01 25 32 34 37 41
精 / 氣 / 陰 陽10 21 42 55
04 14 21 35 41
不 殆16 25 32 44 52
復 歸14 16 28 52
17 19 23 28 33 35 37 41 55
01 06 10 20 52 56
04 14 21 35 41
01 04 11 23 56
04 05 16 42 45
復 歸14 16 28 51


The Early Dao / Sage Dao contrast I have found is about what I was looking for. Early Dao is mystical and metaphysical but also practical, a philosophy of private life and self-cultivation which warns against participation in public life, though it also has traces of a political teaching. Early Dao includes most of the Yangist writings, most of the devotional poetry, and most of the examples of what might be called magical thinking, but the examples of cosmological and yin-yang thinking are very few compared to what is seen in other texts of that period thought of as Daoist.

I believe that editors affiliated with Sage Dao selected the Early Dao chapters from a larger body of writings produced within several traditions, and that it represents the part of their tradition that the Sage Dao editors wished to keep. Many Early Dao themes are also seen in Sage Dao: prudence, temperance, mercy, minimal action. Somewhat surprisingly, all of the “Primitivist” chapters (chapters 03, 12, 63, 75, and 80) are in Sage Dao, as are a large group of chapters recommending “not daring” and disparaging violence and anger.

While Sage Dao speaks of the same public world as the Legalists, Mohists, and Confucians, and while it responds to and develops ideas from these philosophies, its message is not derivative but entirely its own, and much of it can be seen to be public applications of principles (e.g. restraint, forbearance, and self-effacement) which were first presented in Early Dao. The DDJ’s survival and proliferation when many of the other “Daoist” writings were being lost is probably accounted for by its practical relevance for public life and for government.

I have worked very conservatively so far – with only two exceptions I have merely sorted whole chapters of the unedited Wang Bi DDJ. I did this because I wanted to present the Early Dao / Sage Dao contrast as starkly as possible, without raising other questions which might distract the reader and derail my presentation. In later publications I plan to go on to the other questions, dividing many more chapters, editing the texts of the chapters in light of the new variant texts as well as the Jiang Xichang variants, and changing the sequence of chapters in order to show subgroups.

Standing by itself, any particular piece of evidence I have brought forward – the presence or absence of the Sage or one of the other key words in a chapter, the presence or absence of a chapter in the 67-81 group or in the Guodian text – would be no more than suggestive. Furthermore, some of the classifications I made at the very end might be regarded as arbitrary. But the way that these multiple criteria reinforce one another to divide the DDJ into 2 discrete parts – above all the way that, once chapter 28 and chapter 05 have been divided, none of the 14 Early Dao keywords is ever seen in the same chapter as the Sage or one of the Sage Dao words – argues that the Early Dao / Sage Dao distinction that I have found is in the most important sense real, and I believe that this distinction should be an important clue for future interpretations of the DDJ. But as Thompson said (more or less), the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The final test of the Early Dao / Sage Dao distinction is how well it illuminates the meaning of the Daodejing.


1. D .C. Lau, Tao Te Ching, Chinese University of Hong King Press, 1982.

2. John J. Emerson, “A Stratification of Lao Tzu”, Journal of Chinese Religions, Volume 23, Fall 1995, pp. 1-28; John Emerson, “Yang Chu’s Discovery of the Body”, Philosophy East and West, Volume 46-4, October 1996, pp. 533-566.

3. Robert Henricks, Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching (Guodian), Columbia, 2000

4. Harold Roth, Original Dao, Columbia, 1999;

5. P. M. Thompson, The Shen Tzu Fragments, Oxford, 1979; P. M. Thompson, A Translation of the Shen Tzu Fragments, vol. 3 of unpublished dissertation, U. Washington, Seattle.; John Emerson, A Translation of Thompson’s Shen Dao, (unpublished).

6. Franklin Perkins, “Divergences within the Laozi: A Study of Chapters 67-81”, T’oung Pao, #100, 2014, pp. 1-32; Franklin Perkins, “The Mozi and the Daodejing”, Journal of Chinese Philosophy, vol. 41 #1-2, Mar-Jun 2014, pp. 18-32.

7. W.A.C.H. Dobson, tr., Mencius, Toronto, 1963, p. xvi

8. A. C. Graham, Disputers of the Tao, Open Court, 1989; Tang Junyi, Zhongguo Zhexue Yuanlun: Yuandao bian, Xinya Yanjiu Suo, 1976; Arthur Waley, The Way and Its Power, Grove, 1958.

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


Sarah Allan and Crispin Williams, eds., The Guodian Laozi, Society for the Study of Early China, 2000.

Beida Daodejing, http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_57c4f8f10101jlcx.html

Chinese Text Project, Wang Bi Daodejing, http://ctext.org/dao-de-jing

Chinese Text Project, Mawangdui and Guodian Daodejing, http://ctext.org/excavated-texts

Scott Cook, The Bamboo Texts of the Guodian, vol. I, Cornell U. E. Asia Program, 2012.

W.A.C.H. Dobson, (tr.), Mencius, Toronto, 1963, p. xvi

John Emerson, “A Translation of Thompson’s Shen Dao”, https://haquelebac.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/%E6%85%8E% E5%88%B0-shen-dao-text-and-translation/

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

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

A. C. Graham, Disputers of the Tao, Open Court, 1989.

A. C. Graham, Studies in Chinese Philosophy and Philosophical Literature, Institute of East Asian Philosophies, 1986.

Robert Henricks, Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching (Guodian), Columbia, 2000.

Robert Henricks, Lao-Tzu: Te-Tao Ching (Mawangdui), Ballantine, 1989.

Jiang Xichang, Laozi Jiaogu, Taiwan, 1980.

Russell Kirkland, Taoism, Routledge, 2004.

Konkordanz Zum Lao-Tzu, Publication der Faschshaft Sinogie München, No.19., 1968.

Paul Kroll, A Student’s Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese, Brill, 2015.

Michael Lafargue, The Dao of the Daodejing, SUNY, 1992.

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道 經
Early Dao
Wang Bi Text

01 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

04 道沖而用之或不盈。淵兮似萬物之宗。挫其銳,解其紛,和其光,同其塵。湛兮似或存。吾不知誰之子,象帝之先

05 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

06 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

10 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

11 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

13 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。

14 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。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。執古之道,以御今之有。能知古始,是謂道紀

15 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,故能蔽不新成

16 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

17 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

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

19 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。

20 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

21 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,以閱衆甫。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

24 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。

25 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

28 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。

30 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

31 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。

32 道常無名。樸雖小,1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

33 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。

34 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。

35 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

37 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。

38 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。

39 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

40 反者道之動;弱者道之用。天下萬物生於有,有生於無。

41 上士聞道,勤而行之;中士聞道,若存若亡;下士聞道,大笑之。不笑不足以為道。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。

42 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。

43 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。

44 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。

45 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。

46 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。

48 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。

50 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。

51 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。

52 天下有始,以為天下母。既得1其母,以2知其子,既知其子,復守其母,沒身3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。

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 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

56 知者不言,言者不知。塞其兑,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。

59 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。

61 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。

02 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

聖 經
Sage Dao
(Wang Bi text)

03 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1知者不敢為也。為無為,則無不治

05 天地不仁,以萬物為芻狗;聖人不仁,以百姓為芻狗。

07 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

08 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

09 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

12 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

22 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

26 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。

27 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。

28 樸散則為器,聖人用之,則為官長,故大制不割

29 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

36 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

47 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。

53 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!

57 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。

58 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。

60 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。

62 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。

63 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。

64 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。

65 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。知此兩者亦𥡴式。常知𥡴式,是謂玄德。玄德深矣,遠矣,與物反矣,然後乃至大順。

66 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。

67 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。

68 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。

69 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。

70 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。

71 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。

72 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。

73 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。

74 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。

75 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。

76 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。

77 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。

78 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。

79 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。

80 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。

81 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