Dao de Jing: The Book of the Way

By Laozi; Moss Roberts | Go to book overview
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1. Man alive is tender, gentle,
2. Hard and fast in death.
3. Living plants are tender, fragile,
4. Dry and frail in death.
5. For fast and hard are marks of dying,
6. And gentle, tender marks of life.
7. Strength in arms brings destruction,
8. As the strong branch will be broken.
9. Let strength and might be put below,
10. And tender, gentle in control.

COMMENT This stanza uses physiology and botany to lead into a comment on military tactics and governance—a pattern resembling the xing and bi, the “thought-provoking analogies, often opening the poems in the Book of Odes (Shijing).

The emphasis here is on life as sacred, rather than on the dead. The lives of human beings, as one of the ten thousand, are to be measured by season only, by natural time, not by generation, which is socially measured time. Thus Daoist thought is distinguished from Confucian and Mohist, which stress hereditary continuity through patriarchal social organization as the basis for the domination of other people and of the natural world of the ten thousand. Lines 9 and 10 suggest the superiority of the female or maternal principle, that is to say, the biological or reproductive over the social or generational.


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