Dao de Jing: The Book of the Way

By Laozi; Moss Roberts | Go to book overview
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1. Those who guide their leaders by the Way
2. Will not urge war to dominate the world,
3. For such a course is bound to haunt its taker.
4. Fields where armies camp grow thorns and weeds,
5. And plague and famine follow every war. 1
6. With the fruits of victory desist;
7. Never seek to break a beaten foe,
8. And flaunt no prowess with the victory,
9. Assert no strength, show no pride;
10. Be a victor against your will,
11. A victor who will not dominate.
12. “Beware old age in pride of manly might”:
13. This warns to work not against the Way.
14. “Work against the Way, die before your day. 2

COMMENT Lines 6–11 suggest a code of noble restraint by the victor in war, perhaps an aristocratic ethic more proper to the Spring and Autumn period than to the Machiavellian calculations of the Warring States era. This could mean a Spring and Autumn date for this stanza, or it may simply be a reminder of a lost code of honor.

One interpretive tradition sees the Laozi as a book on warfare. According to Tang scholar Wang Zhen, “Every one of its eighty-one stanzas has a military consideration. And Ming scholar Wang Fuzhi says that the Laozi is a “teaching guide for all who write on war.

Zhang Songru disagrees. “Although this stanza concerns how to wage war, it is actually using warfare to express the philosophy of 'not taking the initiative, not holding on, hence not incurring loss.' This stanza develops the previous stanza's idea that the world is a


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