Education About Asia: Online Archives

The Classic of the Way and Virtue: A New Translation of the Tao-Te Ching of Laozi As Interpreted by Wang Bi

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Translated by Richard John Lynn

Reviewed by Jeffrey L. Richey

Since 1868, almost fifty major English translations of the ancient Chinese classic known as Laozi (Lao-tzu) or Daodejing (Tao Te Ching) have appeared in print—to say nothing of the countless, less reliable translations which seem to sprout on bookstore shelves like mushrooms after spring rains. The student or teacher of Chinese literature, religions, philosophy, or history might well ask: “Why another translation?” In this case, the appearance of yet another translation is distinguished by two distinctive contributions to the way in which English-speaking readers encounter the text. Richard John Lynn has juxtaposed his translation of the text with its most influential early commentary, that of Wang Bi (226–249 C.E.), and has rendered both in a masterly, clear, and dignified English prose. Those who pick up this new volume will discover—or rediscover—old treasures of early Chinese thought, made more profound and in many ways more accessible by these twin gifts of commentary and clarity. They also will find that this translation, like the many which precede it, stakes out controversial positions regarding the nature of the text, the relationship between the movements which have claimed it for their own, and the meaning of key terms.