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Tao Te Ching (Lao Tzu) - A Comparative Study


The numbering of the chapters is the conventional one found in most translations. Originally being inscribed on separate bamboo tiles, any ordering assigned to them subsequently is likely to have been somewhat arbitrary. The different schemes for rearranging them continue to be debated. It has been suggested that the text once began at Chapter 38 - ie the section on Virtue (Te) coming before the section on The Way (Tao).

Although the leading figure is nearly always described as male ("the sage", "the wise man", "the truly good man" etc), and indeed may well have been intended to refer to a man, the original Chinese does not differentiate and could equally well be taken to refer to a woman. Ursula K Le Guin solves this ambiguity admirably by keeping her translation gender free.

Unlike Chuang-Tzu and Lieh-Tzu, the other two classics of the philosophical (non-shamanic) school of Taoism, Lao Tzu contains no names, places or dates. It scarcely mentions objects or living things. It recounts no famous conversations, tells no stories, and refers to no other books.

The two oldest known versions of Lao Tzu were discovered in 1973 and are known as the Ma-wang-tui Texts after the village where they were found. Text A, which has more lacunae, is thought to have been written sometime before Text B which has been dated to approximately 200 BC.

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revised 7 March 2019
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