Pre-chin Daoism先秦道家:
I. Laozi (551-479B.C.???)
 The “author” (?) of Daodeching
 An older contemporary of Confucius
 some said he lived to a great age
 D.C. Lau (1921-2010):
 the translator of The Analects, The Mencius, Dao De Ching (Penguin
Classics version)
 Laozi was not a historical figure at all.
 stories in other texts (e.g. Zhuangzi) can’t be taken as historical
 Purposeful: “Lao” (老) “zi” (子) means “an old man/ old men”
 In 4 & 3 B.C., at least two works with titles meaning “elder” and “older
man of mature wisdom.”
 these works were more or less anthologies
 complied from short passages by an editor or a series of editors.
II. The Period when Laozi was Born
Late Zhou Dynasty Spring-autumn Period
& Warring Period
a golden age of Chinese thought: Hundred
Schools Period諸子百家時代
1st time in China:
Scholars/philosophers of the common people
Help the feudal lords and win wealth, prestige, fame.
III. Laozi’s Dao De Ching道德徑
(Classic of Dao and De)
# Only 5250 Chinese characters
 The shortest among the few most important ancient texts
 More commentaries than any other classics
 Many passages are lost / only in fragments
 Maybe a development from Yang Chu楊朱’s teachings:
 Yang Chu said, “Even simply pulling out a hair of mine and the
whole empire will be benefited. I will not do it.拔一毛以利天下不
 NOT egoism in modern sense
 Yang Chu: To preserve life is the most important !!!
• Living in a period of warfare
• A piece of your hair is much precious that an empire
IV. How to read the Dao De Ching道德經
 Laozi’s Book: Dao De Ching
 Structure: similar to texts in that period (e.g. The
 How to read? To look for key concepts, and to
relate them
 Laozi’s Dao De Ching
For the sage-ruler & the common people:
rules the state/ live successfully by non-interference
V. Daosim vs. Confucianism
 Confucianism:
 social order and an active life
 conformity; self-cultivation/morality
 Daoism:
 individual life and tranquility
 non-conformity; a transcendental spirit
 Both: long-term influence (even for modern Chinese)
 Philosophy; art
 Cultivating and preserving life, on handling things
 Government
 Religion, Medicine
 Even Cooking etc.
 Laozi
emphasize weakness/ emptiness無
NOT a philosophy of withdrawal
NOT a philosophy of negativism/ of absolute quietism
NOT for the hermit,
 i.e. NOT to desert the world
BUT to follow “Nature”
 (D 25) “Man models himself on earth, earth on tian, tian on
dao, and dao on that natural [what is naturally so]”人法地,
-- wu-wei
“taking no action that is contrary to Nature”
Or, to let Nature take its own course
not meant literally “inactive”/ “doing nothing”
(D 48) “In the pursuit of learning one knows more every
day; in the pursuit of Dao one does less every day. One
does less and less until one does nothing at all, and
when one does nothing at all there is nothing that is
undone. It is always through not meddling that the
empire is won. Should you meddle, then you are not
equal to the task of winning the empire.” 為學日益;為道
VI. The Teachings of Laozi
wu-wei無為 -- NOT literally means “sitthere & doing nothing”
 “taking no action” = instrumental
a practical tactics for successful action
(D 3)“Do that which consists in taking wei-wu
[no action], and order will prevail” 為無為,則
 Dao: “path,” “road,” “way,” “extended to mean
principle,” “system,” “truth,” “Reality”…
In many other schools (e.g. Confucianism), dao
means a system or moral truth
For Laozi, Dao is The One, which is natural, eternal,
spontaneous, nameless, indescribable
Dao is both the beginning of all things and the way
which all things pursue their course.
VII. Major Ideas in the Dao De Ching
1. Dao道(the Way)
2. Opposite Terms e.g. strong/weak強弱
3. Turning back反
4. Development & decline
5. Contentment & when to stop
Dao De Ching. ch.1
“Dao that can be spoken of is not the constant dao;
The name that can be named is not the constant name.
The nameless was beginning of Tian and earth,
The named was the mother of the myriad creatures.
Hence always rid yourself of desires in order to observe its secrets;
But always allow yourself to have desires in order to serve its
These two are the same but diverge in name as they issue forth.
Being the same they are called mysterious,
Mystery upon mystery— The gateway of the manifold secrets.”
之又玄,眾妙之門. (Dao De Ching 1)
 Laozi:
 rejected names in favor of the nameless
unique in Chinese philosophies
(D 32) “Dao is for ever nameless.”道常無名
(D 41) “Dao conceals itself in being nameless.”道隱無名
without names = simplicity
 for when names arise (i.e. when the simple oneness of
Dao is split up into individual things by various names),
Dao is no longer in full.
 No name is applicable to the Dao
 language is totally inadequate to talk about Dao
 BUT: if we want to talk about dao, we have to use language -- no
matter how inadequate!!!
 EVEN the term “dao” is not its proper/real name, but a
name we use for the sake of discussing its features:
 i.e. the term “dao” = a name for the sake of “convenience”
 if we insist on characterizing dao in some manner, we can only
describe it as “great大” (D 25)
 Dao = “nameless = closer to simplicity”
 when names arise (i.e. when the simple oneness of Dao is split up
into individual things by various names), Dao is no longer in full.
 = “The One” (D 39)
 When an individual “things” “possess” dao, Laozi’s term is that it is of de 德.
 The book: Dao De Ching = Text of Dao & De
 (D 39) “Of old, these came to be in possession of the One:
Tian in virtue of the One is limpid;
Earth in virtue of the One is settled;
Gods in virtue of the One have their potencies;
The valley in virtue of the One is full;
The myriad creatures in virtue of the One are alive;
Lords and princes in virtue of the One become leaders in the empire…”
-- i.e. “dao” “nameless,” “One” in Dao De Ching are interchangable
-- to grasp dao, also read passages with terms like “nameless” & “The One/one”
1. Dao
 Dao = “create & support” the myriad creatures
 “The myriad creatures“ = “everything in the universe”
 (D 42) “Dao begets one; one begets two; two begets three; three
begets the myriad creatures.” 道生一,一生二,二生三,三生萬物
 Laozi: dao existed before the universe came into being
 This is the only feature we know about dao.
 But beyond this there is nothing we can say about the dao
 Dao= nameless = “The one” = great
 CANNOT to provide information for us (human) to understand dao
 To describe “dao” in physical terms/ using worldly things:
(D14)“…Its upper part is not dazzling;
Its lower part is not obscure.
Dimly visible, it cannot be named
And returns to that which is without substance.
This is called the shape that has no shape,
The image that is without substance.
This is called indistinct and shadowy.
Go up to you and you will not see its head;
Follow behind it and you will not see its rear...”
1. Dao
 Even to say that dao produced the universe (D42) is
 The usage of the term “produce” in (D 42 ) [“dao produce the
universe”] is not our common usage of the term “produce.
 e.g. Dao does not produce in the same way as a father produces
a son
 Dao produces the universe only in a figurative sense:
 (D 4) “Deep, it is like the ancestor of the myriad creatures… It
images the forefather of God” 淵兮似萬物之宗…象帝之先
 “like” the ancestor of the myriad creatures
 “images” the forefather of God is to say that the
Laozi’s Dao :
totally different from Plato’s Form
For those who know Plato:
Plato: a plurality of Forms, each distinct in
character from all others, yet there is a unifying
principle: the Form of Good
Plato’s insistence that of anything real we must
be able to make a statement to the exclusion of
its contradictory seems to stem from the
assumption that the totally real must be totally
Laozi: one dao, yet the Daoist takes the
opposite position. Dao is unknowable.
The relationship between Tian and Dao
-- In ancient text e.g. The Book of Poetry詩經, The Book of
History書經, The Analects, Mencius
 Traditionally, the role of creator belonged to tian. This was
so from the earliest times
 tian天= the “highest order”
 In relation to tian it means the way that tian follows, and in
relation to man it means the way that one ought to follow.
dao道= “the way of something”
 e.g. “the way of Zhou Dynasty”
Tian vs. Dao
*** Dao = the creator of the universe is
an innovation of the Spring-Autumn春秋&
Warring States戰國 Period
The Laozi is one of the works
The relationship between Tian and Dao
 In the Laozi, dao
no longer “the way of something”
a completely independent entity
replaces tian in all its functions
dao = the way of the inanimate universe &
 Sometimes the line is blurred
dao as an entity
dao as an abstract principle
The relationship between Tian and Dao
In The Laozi
dao replaces tian
tian = no longer an intelligence and to be moral
model-man: to model himself on dao.
2. Opposite Terms in the Laozi
 Pairs of opposites:
strong/ weak强/弱
 hard/ submissive剛/柔
 The lower terms:
e.g. weak弱, submissive柔
far more useful/ far less misleading as descriptions of
the dao
Nothing is often used to indicate dao
(D 15) “The myriad creatures in the world are born from
Something, and Something from Nothing.” 萬物生於有,
2. Opposite Terms in the Laozi
 The lower terms:
 negative form: preferred, does not have the same limiting
function as the positive terms
 positive terms: limiting function that makes specific terms unfit to
describe the dao
 (D.36) “The submissive and weak will overcome the hard
and strong.” 柔弱勝剛強
 (D 40) “Weakness is the means dao employs” 弱者道之用
 (D 78) “In the world there is nothing more submissive and weak
than water. Yet for attacking that which is hard and strong
nothing can surpass it. This is because there is nothing that can
take its place.” 天下莫柔弱於水,而攻堅強者莫之能勝,以其無以
2. Opposite Terms in the Laozi
 (D 52) “To see the small is called discernment; to hold
fast to the submissive is called strength. Use the light but
give up the discernment. Bring not misfortune upon
yourself. This is known as following the constant.” 見小
 Laozi’s advice:
 Hold fast to the submissive and weak.
 BUT opposite-terms = not cyclical
 if change is understood as cyclical
 1. a thing that reaches the limit in one direction will revert to the
opposite direction
 2. his precept is both useless and impracticable
2. Opposite Terms in the Laozi
 (D.76)”A man is supple and weak when living,
but hard and stiff when dead. Grass and trees
are pliant and fragile when living, but dried and
withered when dead. Thus the hard and strong
are the comrades of death; the supple and the
weak are the comrades of life. Therefore a
weapon that is strong will not vanquish; a tree
that is strong will suffer the axe. The strong and
big takes the lower position.”
3. “Turning back”反 in the Laozi
 “Turning back”:
NOT turning from one opposite term back to the other
i.e. NOT hard to soft/ soft to hard
 To turn back is “to return to one’s roots
one’s roots = the submissive and the weak
i.e. turn-back = back to the lower end
 Once reaching the maximum development, it,
automatically, return to its roots,
i.e. will decline.
3. “Turning back”反 in the Laozi
 (D 16) “I do my utmost to attain emptiness; I hold firmly to stillness.
The myriad creatures all rise together and I watch their return. The
teeming creatures all return to their separate roots. Returning to
one’s roots is known as stillness. This is what is meant by returning
to one’s destiny. Returning to one’s destiny is known as the constant.
Knowledge of the constant is known discernment. Woe to him who
wilfully innovates while ignorant of the constant, but should one act
from knowledge of the constant one’s action will lead to impartiality,
impartiality to kingliness, kingliness to heaven, heaven to Dao, Dao
to perpetuity, and to the end of one’s days one will meet with no
danger.” ”致虛極;守靜篤.萬物並作,吾以觀復.夫物芸芸,各復歸其捉.歸根
3. “Turning back” in the Laozi
-- (D 78) “Straight words seem paradoxical.” 正言若反
When one has returned to its roots, Laozi
does not say what will happen
BUT definitely: the process of change is
4. Development vs. Decline
 Development and decline:
 totally different in nature
 Development:
 a slow and gradual process
 every step needs deliberate effort
 Decline:
 quick and abrupt
 comes about naturally and inexorably
 The process of change from development to decline:
 NOT a merry-go-round
 BUT like a children’s slide
4. Development vs. Decline
 Children’s slide:
 one climbs laboriously to the top
 but once over the edge the downward movement
 the natural fall/decline is quick & complete
 Laozi’s advice:
 1. to holding fast to the submissive
 2. to avoid the fall should one become hard
 3. Especially In the times of the Spring-autumn & Warring Period:
 difficult to protect one’s life
 be submission
 if one is strong, it’s more likely to lose one’s wealth/ power/ life
5. Contentment 知足 & When to stop知止
 (D 44) Thus, one should “Know contentment and you will suffer no
disgrace; know when to stop and you will meet with no danger. You
can then endure.” 知足不辱,知止不殆,可以長久
 (D 33) “He who knows contentment is rich.” 知足者富
 (D 46) “There is no crime greater than any having too many desires;
there is no disaster greater than not being content; there is no
misfortune greater than being covetous. Hence in being content, one
will always have enough.” 罪莫大於可欲,禍莫大於不知足,咎莫大
5. Contentment and when to stop
Only when a man realizes that he has
enough can he learn not to aim at winning
greater wealth and more rank, the
ceaseless pursuit of which will end only in