Dào Dé Jīng with footnotes: 9

Standard disclaimer

Holding back and filling, this is not the same as it stopping. [i] [ii] [iii]

Torrents clash and gather, this cannot be long sustained. [iv] [v] [vi]

Gold and jade filled rooms, these no-one can keep safe. [vii]

Rich, noble, and arrogant, self-neglect condemns them.

Working and yielding integrity, the sky’s way. [viii] [ix]


[i] This verse consist of five sets of paired lines. I have combined the pairs into single lines with a comma in the middle as that seems the best way to preserve the overall structure in English. In doing so, by putting ‘this’ after the comma, I have effectively moved the zhī  (之) at the end of the original lines one and three to the start of the original lines two and four (from the first half to the second half of lines one and two here). This changes it from a direct object pronoun (‘it’/’them’) into a demonstrative adjective (‘this’) (Kroll 2015, 603); but only doing so allows me to keep the paired-line structure without undue wordiness.

[ii] This line has received numerous interpretation. Ivanhoe (2003, 98) links it to a story in Xunzi chapter 28 about a tilting vessel that empties itself after filling to a certain point. Lau (1963, 13) makes a similar connection. In contrast, Ryden (2008, 171) notes that some have linked it to the tautness of a bow (弛 for 持? See Kroll 2015, 51). In light of the Guodian version of the following line (see footnote 4), another interpretation suggests itself: wet field rice cultivation. Chí (持), often given as ‘hold’ can also mean ‘hold back’ (Kroll 2015, 51). In other words, holding back the water and filling the fields is not the same as the water stopping in its attempt to flow downhill. This fits very well with Allan’s (1997) thesis about the centrality of water and plant metaphors, and fits with the (其) in this line (footnote 3). Henricks (2000, 79) gives ‘accumulate’ rather than hold back, but seems to have a similar image in mind.

[iii] Qí yǐ (其已) is ‘it stopping’ or even ‘it’s stopping’, not ‘stopping it’ (Kroll 2015, 353). Agency remains with ‘it’.

[iv] This follows the Guodian version, which Henricks (2000, 80) links to later lines by Li Kang ‘when a mound stands out from the shore, the fast flowing water is sure to overwhelm it’. This version directly continues the water metaphor from the previous line. In contrast, the Ma-wang-tui and received versions have ‘Hammering and honing, this cannot be long sustained’. The difference seems to one of emphasis. The received version emphasises the intrinsic limits of human efforts, but the Guodian emphasises external forces beyond human control.

[v] ‘Sustained’, bǎo (保) also means ‘protected’, which emphasises the parallel with ‘keep safe’ in the next line (Kroll 2015, 10).

[vi] There is an extended undertone beginning in this line that cannot be preserved on translation. ‘Sustained’, bǎo (保), suggests tàibǎo (太保), the grand guardian, a high-ranking courtier (Kroll 2015, 10). In the received version, ‘rooms’ in the next line, táng (堂), also means ‘dais’ (Kroll 2015, 444); and ‘keep safe’, shǒu (守), suggests tàishǒu (太守), another chief official (Kroll 2015, 419). In the fourth line, (遺), ‘neglect’, also means ‘inheritance’, giving ‘their own inheritance condemns them’ (Kroll 2015, 543). In the final line, ‘yielding’, tuì (退) also means to retire from a position (Kroll 2015, 462). These double-meanings give the political point a sharper edge, with stiff advice to have nothing to do with the institutions of power.

[vii] ‘Rooms’ in the Ma-wang-tui and Guodian versions differs to in the received version. They have shì (室), which means the private inner chambers or storeroom (Kroll 2015, 416) but the received version has táng (堂), which means the large public hallway (Kroll 2015, 444).

[viii] ‘Working’ is gōng suì (功遂), both characters of which mean both to perform a task and to succeed (Kroll 2015, 134, 436). ‘Working’ has a similar ambiguity: both ‘it is working’, ‘it works’; and ‘we must do the work’. Nevertheless, this is not shì (事), which is also translated as ‘work’ in chapters 2 and 8.

[ix] On ‘integrity’, shēn (身), see chapter 7, footnote 5. As shēn also refers to the self, there is a subtle distinction being made, lost in most translations, in this line and the last: ‘self-neglect condemns them’ but ‘yielding’ self is the sky’s way. To arrogantly fail to attend to yourself it is a fault, but to yield yourself in work is admirable. The self-neglect of the ‘rich and noble’ paradoxically prevents them from yielding themselves.

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Dào Dé Jīng with footnotes: 8

Standard disclaimer

The highest good is like water. [i] [ii]

Watery good benefits countless creatures, for it does not argue. [iii] [iv] [v]

It remains in places that the crowds find foul, so it is close to the way. [vi] [vii]

Resting, the good is the earth. [viii]

Feeling, the good is deep. [ix] [x]

Giving, the good is the sky. [xi] [xii]

Talking, the good is sincere.

Governing, the good is orderly.

Working, the good is skilled.

Moving, the good is timely. [xiii]

Only by not arguing is it without fault. [xiv] [xv]


[i] This chapter in particularly significant to Allan’s (1997) argument for the centrality of water metaphors to works from this era. She notes (24) that like the dào, water gives everything life without taking apparent action.

[ii] Henricks (2000, 18) notes that although this chapter does not appear in the Guodian texts, water plays a significant role in the cosmology in the Taiyi shengshui, ‘The Great One Gave Birth to Water’ part of those texts.

[iii] Roberts (2001, 46) notes that ‘benefit’, (利), is a Mohist term for the impersonal good that government should provide the people, but that the scale here is much larger than the merely human.

[iv] Ma-wang-tui A has ‘and is tranquil’. Text B has ‘and it argues’, which is almost certainly an error (Henricks 1989, 202).

[v] Allan (1997, 138) links ‘not arguing’ to ‘without action’ (wúwéi).

[vi] This follows Ma-wang-tui A. Ma-wang-tui B and the received version have ‘crowds of people’ (Henricks 1989, 202).

[vii] Roberts (2001, 45) notes that this may be a response to Analects 19.20, in which Zigong says ‘The gentleman hates to dwell in low places, because all the badness in the world gathers there’ (Slingerland 2003, 227).

[viii] Lau (1963, 126) suspects this line, which breaks the rhyme pattern, is a later interpolation; but it does appear in the Ma-wang-tui finds.

[ix] ‘Feeling’ is literally heart, Xīn (心) as a verb (see chapter 3, footnote 3). English contains no single verb with its range. In addition to feeling it includes thinking, judging, and intending. Pairing ‘feeling’ with ‘deep’ captures more of the sense than the alternatives, but is imperfect.

[x] ‘Deep’, yuān (淵), could be ‘a deep pool’, which supports Allan’s (1997, 86) claim that this is the central metaphor for Xīn. Note that a term applied to dào in chapter 4 is the used for the (good) heart here.

[xi] This follows Ma-wang-tui B (Henricks 1989, 202). For ‘sky’, tiān (天), the received version has ‘humane’, rén (仁). Given the first line of chapter 5, this substitution seems to make a significant change to the meaning. Note also that in the Ma-wang-tui version, xīn (心), ‘hearts’ (see fn 9) appears naturally between the classic pair of sky and earth. In this version, the water metaphor extends into the list: earth is where water rests, hearts are deep pools, and the sky rains water.

[xii] ‘Giving’, (與), includes ‘joining with’ (Kroll 2015, 570).

[xiii] ‘Moving’, dòng (動), emphasises the initiation of movement. It includes being moved emotionally (Kroll 2015, 90).

[xiv] Lau (1963, 12) notes that this line seems continuous in sense and maybe rhyme with the start of chapter 20.

[xv] Ryden (2008, 18) notes the similarity between this line and the declarations of diviners on oracle bones (1350-1100BC). Similar phrases to wú yóu (無尤), ‘without fault’, abound in the I Ching (Redmond 2017, 372).

Dào Dé Jīng with footnotes: 7

Standard disclaimer

The sky lasts, the earth endures. [i] [ii]

As for why the sky and earth can last and endure, they do not give life to themselves. [iii] [iv]

So they can last.

Thus, wise people put their integrity to the back, but integrity leads. [v]

Cast out their integrity, but integrity survives.

Is it not because they are without interests that they can fulfil their interests? [vi] [vii] [viii]


[i] Henricks (1989, 200) links this to the traditional saying ‘The sky covers and the earth supports’ (the countless creatures).

[ii] Ryden reads cháng (長) as zhǎng, giving ‘heaven [the sky] grows’. This seems difficult to parse.

[iii] Wang Bi comments ‘If one exists for oneself, he will contend with others, but if he does not exist for himself, others will come to him in submission’ (Lynn 1999, 63).

[iv] Shēng (生), ‘give life’, means both ‘generate’/‘gives birth to’ and ‘live for’ (Kroll 2015, 408). It is hard to translate in one phrase both the creative sense of ‘generate themselves’ and also the teleological sense of choosing either selfless or selfish purposes (think of the English phrase ‘living for themselves’). ‘Give life’ is not perfect, but leaves open the teleological sense of giving care and attention to others, while keeping the creative sense of ‘generate’.

[v] ‘Integrity’, shēn (身) also means ‘torso’, body’, ‘myself’, ‘moral quality’, and ‘social statuses’ (Kroll 2015, 406). ‘Integrity’ captures this range well and allows the structure of the Chinese to be preserved: they put ‘their integrity’ (其身) to the back but ‘integrity’ (身) leads. Significantly, the second ‘integrity’ is no longer ‘theirs’.

[vi] ‘Interests’, (私), means self-interest in the narrow sense of favouring the self; but also to show preference because of a (family) relationship (a serious issue at this time), and private interests as opposed to public interests generally (Kroll 2015, 428). Roberts (2001, 43) links this chapter to Mozi’s ideal of impartial rule; but points out that Mozi wished to increase the humanity’s power over nature, where Laozi wishes to limit it.

[vii] Wang Bi comments that ‘without interests’, (無私) means to ‘make no conscious effort for one’s own sake’ (Lynn 1999, 63).

[viii] Lau (1963, 11) treats this line as a later editorial comment.

Dào Dé Jīng with footnotes: 6

Standard disclaimer

The valley spirit does not die. [i] [ii] [iii]

Call her dark dell. [iv]

Dark dell’s gateways. [v] [vi]

Call them the sky and earth’s roots. [vii] [viii]

Delicate, delicate, seeming to survive. [ix]

Their use is no toil. [x]


[i] This line could also be read as ‘is not dead’ or ‘is not dying’.

[ii] Roberts (2001, 41) notes that (谷), ‘valley’ had associations of ‘death and night as well as female’.

[iii] Ryden (2008, xxiv – xxv) discusses three interpretations this line has had: Heshanggong reads (谷), ‘valley’, as ‘nourish’ and so takes the line as advice of self-cultivation; Wang Bi reads the ‘valley sprint’ as the space between the hills, a metaphor for wú, absence; Xiang’er replaces with yu, desire, and so reads the chapter as instructions on what to do if you ‘desire that your spirit not die’. Ryden himself (14) takes ‘valley spirit’ to mean ‘river’, intended as a metaphor for dào.

[iv] This line is often given as something like ‘Call her the Mysterious Female’, capitals and all. This loses both the verse’s sustained landscape metaphor and a certain playfulness. Pìn (牝) means both ‘a female animal’ and ‘a ravine or valley’ (Kroll 2015, 346), and so links to the (谷), valley, in the previous line. The ‘her’ of ‘call her dark dell’ preserves the ‘female’, and the ‘dell’ preserves the valley synonym. The combination hopefully preserves the playfulness, the landscape metaphor, and the original’s suggestion of the female genitals.

[v] Making mén (門), ‘gateways’, plural here is unusual, but the singular would make the next line ‘Call it the sky and earth’s root’, and this loses the image of delicate, thread-like root networks that follows. Beyond that, saying ‘the gateway’ here, and in chapter 1, implies a single road to a transcendent dào, and this is best avoided.

[vi] Wang Bi links this to the gateway in chapter 1 and says ‘Do you wish to say that it does exist? Well we do not see its form. Do you wish to say that it does not exist? Well the [countless creatures] are produced by it.’ (Lynn 1999, 62). I would pluralise this, see fn 5.

[vii] Roberts (2001, 41) links this to the Tree of Dawn, Fusang, which is fed by an underground river that, overnight, carries the fallen sun. The dead were thought to dwell in the same river system (Roberts 2001, 196).

[viii] What sort of gateways can be called roots? The obvious meaning would be the point where a smaller valley formed by a stream opens into a larger one that holds the river that the stream feeds. If, as Ryden thinks (footnote 3) the river itself is the valley spirit, then it might mean both the upstream, to smaller valleys, and downstream, to bigger valleys, openings. As you move upstream, such valleys get finer and finer, fitting well with the next line. There may also be a visual image here. Looking at one mountain from another, then ravines and valleys can look like both like root networks, but also like vertical ‘gateways’. On this interpretation, the first line would be better pluralised: ‘valley spirits do not die’. The only reason not to do this is the absence of a specifically feminine plural in English means that some of the second line would be lost (footnote 4).

[ix] Mián (綿), ‘delicate’, is repeated. It means ‘cotton’, ‘fine spun thread’, ‘twisted’ (Kroll 2015, 305). One visual image is of tiny roots, so small that they are on the edge of vision. This would fit well with Allan’s (1997) emphasis on plant imagery, although she does not mention it. Ryden (2008, 14) takes it more literally as cotton, and points out that weaving was probably female work. Lynn (1999, 63) takes the repetition of the character to give it the sense ‘on and on’.

[x] Most translations take this line to be about someone else using the roots, something like ‘[someone else] using them is no toil’, rather than about how they themselves work. Ames and Hall, Goddard, and (according to Lynn), Wang Bi take it as saying that they ‘function inexhaustibly’ (Lynn 1999, 62). The first option seems a more natural reading of zhī (之) here, but I have attempted to preserve some ambiguity (contrast: ‘using them is no toil’).

Dào Dé Jīng with footnotes: 5

Standard disclaimer

The sky and earth are not humane. [i] [ii]

They use countless creatures as straw dogs. [iii]

Wise people are not humane.

They use all families as straw dogs. [iv] [v]

The sky and earth’s space, is it like bellows? [vi] [vii]

Empty and not collapsed, moving and expelling more. [viii] [ix]

Too much talk often exhausts. [x] [xi]

It does not compare to preserving the centre. [xii] [xiii]


[i] Wang Bi contrasts ‘sky and earth’, which make no conscious effort and allow things to manage themselves, with the ‘humane’ who make conscious effort, establish institutions, and influence behaviour. Influencing behaviour causes people to lose authenticity and fail to preserve their integrity. In contrast, ‘The sky and earth do not make the grass grow for the sake of beasts, yet beasts eat grass.’ He ends his comment with ‘As long as you use kindness derived from a personal perspective, it indicates a lack of capacity to leave things to themselves’ (Lynn 1999, 60). Roberts (2001, 38) translates a passage from Su Che (1039-1112) with a similar sentiment.

[ii] ‘Humane’ is rén (仁), often also rendered ‘benevolent’. It is a central Confucian virtue of proper graded affection first to family and then outwards to others. See Roberts (2001,38), who renders it as ‘kin-kindness’, for a brief discussion of its appearance here, and Cua (2003, 643) for a general introduction.

[iii] Lau (1963, 9) draws attention to the Zhuangzi comment that straw dogs were treated with deference before the offering, only to be trampled upon afterwards (Palmer 2006, 120; Mair 1994,136).

[iv] ‘All families’, bǎi xìng (百姓), is often given as ‘the common people’ or ‘the hundred families’. Bǎi is both ‘one hundred’ and ‘all (of that type)’ (Kroll 2015, 7). Xìng is literally ‘surname’ or ‘descendent’ (Kroll 2015, 510). ‘All surnames’ would be more literal, but confusing in English. ‘People’ is too undifferentiated, and misses the point that the wise person treats them as straw dogs regardless of surname, important in a discussion of rén (see fn 2). ’Clan’ and similar terms tend towards unnecessary exoticism.

[v] Roberts (2001, 39) points out that these lines may be a deliberate counter to Mozi’s ‘the sky loves all families’, and his vision of an interventionist divine order.

[vi] Lau (1963, 9, 106) notes the connection between this part of the verse and the first 4 lines seems weak. His point is strengthened by the appearance on these two lines alone in the Guodian texts (Henricks 2000, 58).

[vii] ‘Bellows’ is tuó yuè (橐蘥). Most commentators read it as a compound, but Wang Bi reads tuó as bellows and yuè as a musical pipe (Lynn 1999, 61). Ryden (2008, 170) reads the Guodian version in a way that supports Wang Bi’s interpretation.

[viii] Ryden (2008, 13, 170) reads this as (modified) ‘As it empties it inhales less, as it closes it expels more’.

[ix] Roberts (2001, 39) notes that this and the previous line use ‘mechanical’ imagery characteristic of Mozi and suggests this passage may date from his era (just after 478BC).

[x] This follows the received version. The Ma-wang-tui version reads ‘too much learning/hearing often exhausts’ (Henricks 1989, 196; Ryden 2008, 171). The received version seems to connect better with the previous line, although either would fit into the text as a whole. Wang Bi’s version appears to have been ‘words/talk’ (Lynn 1999, 61).

[xi] Lau (1963, 9) again notes that these last two lines seem only loosely connected to what goes before (see fn 6). Roberts (2001, 40) suggests that they were added to tie together the ‘straw dogs’ and ‘bellows’ sections through the multiple meanings of zhōng (see fn 12,13).

[xii] Zhōng (中) ,‘centre’, may also be zhòng: to hit the target, be in balance (Kroll 2015, 611).

[xiii] For zhōng (中),‘centre’, Ryden (2008, 13, 170) reads a homophone (盅? See Ames and Hall 2003, 206) giving (modified) ‘It does not compare to preserving emptiness’. This fits well with Wang Bi’s commentary, which draws a direct parallel between this line and the emptiness of the bellows (Lynn 1999, 61).

Dào Dé Jīng with footnotes: 4

Standard disclaimer

The way swells; but using it, what exists does not fill. [i] [ii] [iii] [iv]

Deep! It seems to be countless creatures’ ancestor. [v] [vi]

Fathomless! It sometimes seems to survive. [vii]

I do not know whose child it is.

Its image preceded the lord. [viii]


[i] ‘Swells’, chōng (沖) also means ‘sublime’, ‘modest’, and ‘empty’ (Kroll 2015, 53). ‘Empty’ is the most common translation, but loses a lot. If taken to suggests only ‘empty’ like a cup, it misses the dynamism of chōng, which also means ‘surges’ and ‘bubbles up’ (Kroll 2015, 53). Instead it may mean ‘empty’ like a spring, a space in the earth that produces water (Allan 1997, 76: this leads to resolvable difficulties with the final yíng (盈), ‘fill’, see footnotes 3, 4). Finally, chōng may be ‘empty’ like a wave, shifting and ‘empty of shape’ (see footnote 4). ‘Swell’ captures both this and the spring metaphor better than ‘empty’, and preserves the link to the water imagery in following lines, but is not perfect. ‘The way is empty; and using it, what exists does not fill’ would better bring out the parallel between the ‘empty’ dào and the ‘not full’ object (see footnote 4)

[ii] ‘What exists’, yǒu (有) follows the Ma-wang-tui (Hendricks 1989, 194). Wang Bi seems to have also had a version with yǒu (Lynn 1999, 58), but the received version has instead ‘may/sometimes’, huò (或). Henricks, Ames and Hall, and Lynn all substitute yòu (又), ‘again’; but like Roberts (2001, 36) and Ryden (2008, 11), this version takes yǒu as written. ‘What exists’ (Kroll 2015, 565: 3), was reached by elimination: yǒu as ‘with’/’to have’ seems incoherent here; and yǒu as an existential modifier ‘there is not fullness’ would be more naturally written wú yíng (無盈), not yǒu bù yíng (有不盈). For yǒu, this leaves: ‘a thing that exists’ (a particular, if poorly specified, object); ‘any existing thing’ (any member of the set of all existing things); or ‘all existing things’ (the set of all existing things). ‘A thing that exists’ seems implausible. It is oddly unspecific, and next line suggests that the author is concerned with the general relationship between dào and yǒu. This leaves a choice between any existing thing’ and all existing things’. To me, both the line and the English phrase ‘what exists’ are ambiguous between these two remaining meanings.

[iii] Lau (1963, 8), Allan (1997, 76), and others change ‘fill’, yíng (盈),  to ‘drain’ based on similar phrases in the text. If, however, ‘fill’ is a corruption, it is an old one, predating the Ma-wang-tui finds (Hendricks 1989, 194).

[iv] What is not filled, dào or ‘what exists’? If yǒu (有) is replaced with huò (或) or yòu (又) (see footnote 2) it seems to be dào. When, however, yǒu (有) is preserved, then the second clause introduces a new subject, ‘what exists’; and there is, for instance, no final zhī (之), indicating ‘using it, what exists does not fill it [dào]’. By default, it seems that ‘what exists’ is probably the thing that is not filled. This modifies how the metaphors in the line work (see footnote 1). The image of dào as empty and bubbling up like a spring can be preserved, but it is whatever drinks from the spring that is not filled. The idea that dào is constantly creative, an important link to the following lines, is present without any need to change the final yíng (盈), ‘fill’, to ‘drain’ (footnote 3). Furthermore, if it is yǒu, not dào, that does not fill, this suggests a further metaphor: one continuous with the ‘deep’, yuān (淵), and fathomless’, zhàn (湛), of the following lines. Reading chōng (沖) as ‘empty’ of particular shape like a wave, which is close to its core meaning, suggests a boat metaphor with two intertwined meanings. First, ‘what exists’, if it uses dào, is like a boat that rides waves without filling. The contrast is with a boat that works against the waves, and so takes on water. Second, the parallel between chōng, ‘empty’, and yíng, ‘not fill’, suggests that ‘what exists’, in order to use dào, must be ‘not full’ in the same way as a boat cannot be overloaded without sinking. In other words, the relationship is iterative. Being ‘not full’ allows one to use dào, and using dào allows one to avoid becoming full. Although, I find this interpretation persuasive, I have attempted to leave the English as ambiguous as the Chinese: ‘does not fill’, not ‘does not fill itself’.

[v] Yuān (淵), ‘deep’ also means ‘an abyss’, a ‘whirlpool’, and ‘profound’ (Kroll 2015, 575).

[vi] Most versions follow this line with the following four:

Blunt their edges.

Untangle their threads.

Soften their light.

Share their dust.

This version follows Roberts’ (2001, 36) omission; and he, in turn, follows an existing line of practice. As he notes, these lines seem to fit where they appear in chapter 56 (see also chapter 52), but interrupt the logic here (see also Lau 1963, 109).

[vii] ‘Sometimes’, huò (或), could also be ‘may’ (Kroll 2015, 178).

[viii] Wang Bi says that ‘the lord’ refers to ‘the lord of the sky’ (Tiandi, 天帝) (Lynn 1999, 58). Hendricks (1989, 194) notes that (帝) was the supreme deity of the Shang (1766 – 1122 BC) and that the name was similarly used by the Chou (1122 – 221 BC). Allan (1993, 20 – 21) discusses the possibility that this originated as an ancestor, group of ancestors, or nature spirit.

Dào Dé Jīng with footnotes: 3

Standard disclaimer

Not preferring the worthy allows people to not argue. [i] [ii] [iii]

Not prizing hard to obtain goods allows people to not act like thieves.

Not displaying what can be desired allows people’s hearts to not be troubled. [iv] [v] [vi] [vii]

Thus, the wise person’s order empties their hearts and fills their bellies. [viii]

Weakens their wills and strengthens their bones. [ix]

Always allows people to be without knowledge, without desire. [x]

Allows those that know to not dare to act. [xi]

Acts without action, so that nothing is not orderly. [xii]


[i] This line is a direct reversal of Mozi’s meritocratic ‘prefer the worthy’ (Lau 1963, xxxi). Roberts (2001, 33-34) suggests that this chapter’s absence from the Guodian texts supports the idea that it postdates Mozi (approx. 485-410BC).

[ii] Shǐ (使), ‘allows’, is sometimes translated ‘makes’ or ‘causes’. In the context, this seems too strong. Shǐ also means ‘to give free reign to’ (Kroll 2015, 414), so the coercive implications of the English ‘makes’ are misplaced here. Similarly, Lau (1963, 7) gives ‘keeps from’ and Ames and Hall (2003, 81) give ‘saves from’.

[iii] ‘Argue’, zhēng (爭), is often given as ‘contends’; but this gives it a stuffy narrowness that seems at odds with the context. Academics ‘contend’. People argue. ‘Argument’ in normal usage still contains, for instance, academic arguments. No two Englishmen ever had a ‘contention’ in the pub.

[iv] ‘Heart’, xīn (心), is closer to older English usages than modern. Modern English puts rationality and emotions in conflict and associates ‘heart’ with the latter; but in older English uses, and here, ‘heart’ includes the two in alignment. Xīn is broad, it includes a person’s thoughts, emotions, judgments, and intentions (Cua 2003, 795; Pregadio 2008, 1100) without implying mind/body duality (Allan 1997, 85). Allan interprets the core metaphor as pool that may be either clear or cloudy (with certain emotions) (1997, 86).

[v] The Ma-wang-tui texts in omit xīn (心), ‘heart’ (Henricks 1989, 192), giving ‘…allows the people not to be troubled’.

[vi] Heshang Gong’s commentary says of the start of this chapter that ‘for the sage, governing the kingdom is no different to governing the person’ (Roberts 2001, 34)

[vii] Ivanhoe (2003, 85) links this line to Analects 12.18 (Slingerland 2003, 133).

[viii] ‘Order’, (zhì, 治) is often given as ‘government’. Its meaning, however, is wider: ‘setting things in their proper channels’, of which good governance is just one example (as is curing in medicine) (Kroll 2015, 608). ‘Order’ carries the wider associations better than ‘government’, while still emphasising the political reading.

[ix] In the context, (其), ‘their’, probably refers to the people; but if this line and the one preceding it appeared alone, then ‘their’ would refer to the ‘wise person’, and the couplet would look like advice on self-cultivation. This reinforces Heshang Gong’s comment on the start of the chapter (footnote 6). Lau (1963, 108) makes a sustained argument that the chapters sometimes seem to combine miscellaneous sayings, so it is possible that in this phrase did originally refer to the wise person.

[x] Wúyù (無欲), ‘without desire’ also appears in line 5 of chapter 1. At first glance, its appearance here seems to undermine the idea that the text is neutral about the ‘with desire’ and ‘without desire’ options in that chapter, and instead support the idea that ‘always be without desire to watch its subtlety’ is preferred (see further Lau 1963; xxiv – xxxiii; Henricks 1989, 188). Things are probably not, however, so straightforward. If being without desire is favoured, is it to be desired? The interpretation risks unnecessary contradictions. They can be avoided. This line does not say ‘do not allow the people to be with desire’, merely ‘do allow them to be without desire’. It is not a contradiction to allow both ‘with’ and ‘without’ desire (see footnote 2). It is merely an example of wúwéi.

[xi] Wang Bi interprets ‘those that know’ as simply ‘those that know how to act’ (Lynn 1999, 56). Roberts believes it refers to ‘travelling political counsellors’ (2001, 34). In the context, the two may be the same.

[xii] The Ma-wang-tui version of the last two lines is slightly different. The reference to wúwéi, ‘acts without acting’, is absent (Hendricks 1989, 192).