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.

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