THE POEMS AND SAYINGS of the mysterious book of wisdom called Dao De Jing have powerfully affected many aspects of Chinese philosophy, culture, and society. In the realm of aesthetics the idea of Dao, or the Way, a transcendent natural principle working throug hall things, has in spiredartist sand poets who have sought to represent nature in its raw wholeness or have depicted vast landscapes with in which human structures and path ways, over whelmed by mists, mountain faces, and water vistas, hold a tiny and precarious place. With regard to personal spiritual cultivation Daoism offers techniques of concentration and self-control, while in the realm of physiology the Daoist theory of natural cycles points toward systems of internal circulation and techniques of rejuvenation. 1 In its ethical application Daoism teaches self-subordination and frugality and warns of the self-defeating consequences of assertiveness and aggrandizement, whether political, military, or personal.
In the realm of governance political theorists in fluenced by Laozi have advocated humility in leadership and a restrained and concessive approach to statecraft, either for ethical and pacifist reasons or for tactical ends. The well-known line that opens stanza 60, “Rule a great state as you cook a small fish, ” has been used in China and in the West as an argument for a “light touch” in governing: the Way creates sufficient order. In a different political context, one mediated by legalist theories of government, a transcendent Way has served to legitimate state builders in constructing impersonal institutions and formulating all-powerful laws. Indeed the marriage of the Way with law (fa) is one of the earliest trans formations and