Lao-tzu: Te-tao Ching: A New Translation Based On The Recently Discovered Ma-wang Tui Texts by Robert G. HenricksLao-tzu: Te-tao Ching: A New Translation Based On The Recently Discovered Ma-wang Tui Texts by Robert G. Henricks

Lao-tzu: Te-tao Ching: A New Translation Based On The Recently Discovered Ma-wang Tui Texts

byRobert G. Henricks

Paperback | June 30, 1992

Pricing and Purchase Info

$19.26 online 
$23.00 list price save 16%
Earn 96 plum® points

Prices and offers may vary in store


In stock online

Ships free on orders over $25

Not available in stores


Lao-tzu’s Te-Tao Ching has been treasured for thousands of years for its poetic statement of life’s most profound and elusive truths. Although the Te-Tao Ching is widely read, the author’s enigmatic style and the less than perfect condition of the Chinese originals make many of its brief poems difficult to understand. So readers of find literature hailed the discovery, in 1973, of two copies of the Te-Tao Ching which had been buried in 168 B.C.

These manuscripts are more than five centuries older than any others known, and they correct many defects of later versions: their grammar and vocabulary frequently make the classic easier to understand; lost lines are restored (as many as three in some poems); some sections follow a more logical sequence.

Such differences make it necessary to reevaluate traditional interpretations of the Te-Tao Ching, and Professor Henricks has done this in an extensive commentary to his excellent new translation. In addition, Professor Henricks has provided an introduction that explains the basics of Taoism and discusses the many other important finds from Ma-want-tui.
Robert G. Henricks is professor emeritus of religion at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. One of the most acclaimed authorities on classic Asian literature today, he has translated the highly regarded Lao-Tzu: Te-Tao Ching and is the author of other books, including Philosophy and Argumentation in Third-Century China and The...
Title:Lao-tzu: Te-tao Ching: A New Translation Based On The Recently Discovered Ma-wang Tui TextsFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:320 pages, 8.06 × 5.18 × 0.71 inShipping dimensions:8.06 × 5.18 × 0.71 inPublished:June 30, 1992Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345370996

ISBN - 13:9780345370990


Read from the Book

INTRODUCTION   Specialists on Chinese religion and thought find it useful to distinguish, initially at least, between the Taoist religion on the one hand and philosophical Taoism on the other. We agree in dating the formal beginning of the Taoist religion to the establishment of the Celestial Master Sect, c. A.D. 150, by a man named Chang Taoling; philosophical Taoism is best represented for us in the thought of two texts written in early China, one called the Chuang-tzu, which preserves the ideas of the philosopher Chuang Chou (fl. 350-320 B.C.), the other an anonymous product known as the Lao-tzu (which means “the Old Master” or “Old Philosopher”) or the Tao-te ching (The Book of the Way and Its Power). The Lao-tzu, like the Chuang-tzu, probably represents currents of thought in China around 300 B.C., though by tradition the Lao-tzu was written by a contemporary of Confucius named Li Erh, Confucius’ dates being 551-479 B.C.   There are many similar ideas in the texts of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu; there are major differences between the two texts as well. For example, a good part of the Lao-tzu is addressed to the man who would be king and is concerned with the correct, Taoist way to rule; Chuang-tzu has no interest in social-political matters. Chuang-tzu’s message is addressed to the rugged individualist who turns his back on social commitment in his search for the fulfilled life. There are also major differences between the two books in style. The Chuang-tzu is composed of thirty-three chapters, each chapter a mixture of philosophic discourse, anecdote, fable, and tale, stories filled with delightful, unforgettable characters. The Lao-tzu, by contrast, has a total of eighty-one chapters, each one being more like a poem in form.   I. THE MA-WANG-TUI TEXTS   A number of extraordinary textual discoveries have been made by archaeologists in China in the last twenty years, those discoveries providing the reason, and the materials, for the present translation series. At Yin-ch’üeh-shan in Shantung, for example, portions of a number of early philosophical texts—including the Kuan-tzu, the Yen-tzu ch’un-ch’iu, and the militarist treatises Sun Pin ping-fa and Sun Wu ping-fa (i.e., Sun-tzu’s Art of War)—have been unearthed; while at Shui-hu-ti in Hupeh archaeologists found, among other things, materials relating to a Ch’in (221-207 B.C.) code of law.   Of greatest significance to date, a tremendous discovery was made in the last months of 1973 in south-central China near Changsha (Hunan Province) in the small village of Ma-wang-tui. In Han Tomb No. 3 at Ma-wang-tui, the grave of the son of a man named Li Ts’ang, Li Ts’ang having been marquis of Tai and prime minister of Changsha in early Han dynasty times,* archaeologists discovered a rich cache of funerary goods including a large group of texts. An inventory slip in the tomb informs us that this man was buried on the equivalent in the Western calendar of April 4, 168 B.C., thus providing a terminus ante quem for these materials. But more precise dating is possible in some cases based on the style of the calligraphy used and the practice of taboo-name avoidance—the personal name of an emperor in ancient China was not to be used in texts copied during his reign (more on these matters below).   A total of fifty-one items have been identified in the find by Chinese specialists working on the materials; most of these are written on silk, though a few are recorded on slips of bamboo and/or wood. Though most of the materials found are texts, there are maps, charts, and diagrams among the finds as well.* The importance of these materials to our understanding of early Chinese philosophy, history, literature, political thought, scientific thought, etc., was recognized right from the start and can hardly be overestimated.   There are texts on medical theories and practices, texts on Yin and Yang and the Five Elements (or “Phases”—wu-hsing), texts on political philosophy, and texts on astronomy and astrology. The medical treatises treat such matters as the conduits of the circulatory system, the fatal signs exhibited by these conduits, remedies and prescriptions for fifty-two diseases (Wu-shih-erh ping-fang), childbirth, methods for nourishing life, and the benefits of grain avoidance in diet. One of the medical treatises may in fact be the long lost Huang-ti wai-ching (External Classic of the Yellow Emperor). The texts on astronomy and astrology are mainly concerned with good and bad omens. One of these plots the orbits of five planets for the years 246-177 B.C.: this is called Prognostications Related to the Five Planets (Wu-hsing chan). Another illustrated scroll called Prognostications Related to Astronomical and Meteorological Phenomena (T’ien-wen ch’i-hsiang chan) has twenty-nine vivid drawings of comets. Needless to say, these are extremely important materials for tracing the development of astronomy in early China.   One of the Ma-wang-tui texts contains anecdotal material similar to what we now find in the Tso-chuan, recording historical events in the Spring and Autumn (Ch’un-ch’iu) period in China (722-481 B.C.). Also found was an early version of the Chan-kuo ts’e (Intrigues of the Warring States), a version with a total of twenty-seven chapters, sixteen of these not previously seen, all of this providing new information on the history of this important age (c. 480-222 B.C.).   Most of the texts found at Ma-wang-tui are documents of which we had no prior knowledge, though in some cases we knew of the item by name. Most significant in this regard, perhaps, are the texts being identified as the lost Huang-ti ssu-ching (Four Classics of the Yellow Emperor). The Four Classics of the Yellow Emperor tell us much about the syncretic political thought known as “Huang-Lao” that was in vogue in early Han times. The Yellow Emperor texts present a view of good government which combines practical Confucian and Legalist principles with Taoist metaphysics and psychology.   In two important cases the manuscripts found at Ma-wang-tui provide us with what are now the earliest known versions of well-known Chinese philosophical classics. One of these is the I Ching (The Book of Changes), for which we find here the basic text for the sixty-four hexagrams and five different commentaries only one of which was previously known, the Hsi-tz’u, or “Appended Judgments” (the others are called Erh-san-tzu wen [“The Questions of the Disciples”], Mou Ho, Chao Li, and Yao).   The other case is the Lao-tzu: two copies of the Lao-tzu were found at Ma-wang-tui. Before this, the three earliest editions of the Lao-tzu were those associated with the commentaries of Yen Tsun (fl. 53-24 B.C.), Wang Pi (A.D. 226-249), and Ho-shang Kung (traditionally dated to the reign of Emperor Wen of the Han [179-157 B.C.], but dated by many to the third or fourth century A.D.). But all present versions of these three editions are “received” texts, having been copied many times over the centuries and thus passed down to the present. Our copies of these “early” texts, therefore, undoubtedly do not represent the text as it was seen by the commentators whose names they bear. The need for a new translation of the Lao-tzu based on the Ma-wang-tui texts is thus very clear.   II. THE MA-WANG-TUI MANUSCRIPTS OF THE LAO-TZU AND OTHER VERSIONS OF THE TEXT   The two Lao-tzu manuscripts, which we simply call Text A (chid) and Text B (i), are not exactly the same, neither in content nor in style, sure evidence that even at this early date there was more than one version of the Lao-tzu in circulation. Differences in content will be noted in Part Two, “Text, Commentary, and Notes,” below chapter by chapter. In terms of differences in style, the characters in Text A are written in “small seal” (hsiao-chuan) form, an old style of writing that was to be abandoned in the Han; the characters in Text B, by way of contrast, are written in the more modern “clerical” (li) script. This is one indication that Text A was copied before Text B. Further evidence proving this point is the fact that Text A does not avoid the taboo on the personal name of the founding emperor of the Han, Liu Pang (r. 206-194 B.C.) while Text B does, changing all pang’s (“country” or “state”) in the text to kuo’s (also “country” or “state”). Text B, on the other hand, does not avoid using the taboo names of Emperors Hui (r. 194-187 B.C.) and Wen (r. 179-156 B.C.), Liu Ying, and Liu Heng, while later texts all change ying (“full”) to man (also “full”) and heng (“constant”) to ch’ang (also “constant”). This seems to show that Text A was copied sometime before the reign of Liu Pang, while Text B was copied during it.   In comparing the Ma-wang-tui texts of the Lao-tzu to later editions, let us state clearly at the outset that the Ma-wang-tui texts do not differ in any radical way from later versions of the text. That is to say, there are no chapters in the Ma-wang-tui texts that are not found in later texts and vice versa, and there is nothing in the Ma-wang-tui texts that would lead us to understand the philosophy of the text in a radically new way. The differences tend to be more subtle. A different word is used here and there, or a word, phrase, or line is added in or left out, or the syntax of a phrase or line is not the same. One of the striking features of the Ma-wang-tui texts of Lao-tzu in fact is that they are much more “grammatical” than later editions, using many more grammatical particles than later editions, but for that very reason being grammatically much more precise.   The word, phrase, and line variants in the Ma-wang-tui texts are pointed out below in Part Two chapter by chapter. Here in this introduction we want to note three other interesting ways in which the Ma-wang-tui texts are different from later ones, all having to do with overall form.  

From Our Editors

Two of the earliest known copies of Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu's "Te-Tao Ching," recovered from a second-century B.C. tomb, have been translated and compiled into a short book of simple poems that express the Taoist way of life. Reprint.