A New Daodejing.

Longtime LH commenter John Emerson writes:

For about 40 years I have been studying the Daodejing (Tao Te Ching, Laozi, Lao Tzu) and am now writing a book about it. Eventually it will include a translation and commentaries, but right now I only have a reedited Chinese text. Please tell any of your Classical-Chinese-reading friends about it!

So here‘s his Haqelebac post with the text (“My editing might be called aggressive”); if you have any interest, go over and check it out, and if you are knowledgeable, JE will be glad of your input.


  1. aldiboronti says

    Memories. Both Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu were my ‘guide, philosopher and friend’ back in 1967 when I was 19, although I’m sure I had the shallowest grasp of their teachings. In fact they almost got me thrown in the can when, reporting to my probation officer at the time and asked why I hadn’t got a job yet I rambled on that it was all so unimportant, success and failure are the same, you know, the Tao, man. Of course I quickly realized that half-baked Taoism and probation were not a good mix!

    I had ambitions of learning Chinese when young and if they’d been realized I’m sure John Emerson’s site would be just the ticket. As it is I can only see as through a glass darkly and envy those with clearer vision. BTW I see that it’s mainly Laozi and Zhuangzi now. I’m sorry, Wade-Giles dies hard with me although I suppose I may have to change eventually but don’t get me started on the right of the English language to anglicize foreign names. (Although I do concede that the Romanization of Mandarin Chinese is not quite the same thing.)

  2. In the old Jesuit style, of course, they were Laocius and Sancius.

  3. I guess this would be an appropriate place to quote the start of Boodberg’s translation (if that’s what it can be called):

    Lodehead lodehead-brooking : no forwonted lodehead;
    Namecall namecall-brooking : no forwonted namecall.
          Having-naught namecalling : Heaven-Earth’s fetation,
          Having-aught namecalling : Myriad Mottlings’ mother.
    Desired—for to descry in view the minikin-subliminaria,
    Desired—for to descry in view the circuit-luminaria…

  4. J.W. Brewer says

    Wow. The Boodberg sounds like someone gave Ezra Pound the wrong sort of drugs in dangerous dosages.

  5. J.W. Brewer says

    The anecdote re being hassled by probation officer in ’67 for some reason reminds me of the scene in Full Metal Jacket where Private Joker says to the Colonel “I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir.” “The what?” “The duality of man. The Jungian thing, sir.”

  6. I had a vague memory of that Boodberg translation being mentioned here before. Apparently it was 8 years ago. But that thread has been active as recently as last year, so maybe it wasn’t so long ago I saw it.

  7. @Keith

    The Boodberg translation came up again in a thread last year, which is probably why the memory seems fresh.


  8. What language was Boodberg translating into? Looks like it might be distantly related to English.

  9. “Did you got the lodeheads?”
    “Yes dear, I got everything on the list.”
    “You didn’t get the forwonted ones, did you? You know they give me gas.”
    “I’ll be right back.”

  10. David Marjanović says

    What language was Boodberg translating into?

    We had an interesting thread about that.

  11. And that post mentions that “Most notable among the Guodian texts is a version of the Daoist classic, Laozi’s Daodejing” — attention JE!

  12. Greg Pandatshang says

    So, this is a DDJ translation by someone who actually reads Classical Chinese? A novel approach.

  13. @aldiboronti

    You would have had to learn Old Chinese (I’m not sure of the periodisation). Modern Chinese wouldn’t have got you very far.

  14. I wonder if it would make any sense to try to learn Old Chinese without studying Modern Chinese first. That way you’d get the grammar, patterns of ideas, etc. without interference from later developments.

  15. I guess, at least in principle, that wouldn’t be any worse than learning Latin, Classical Greek, Biblical Hebrew or Sanskrit without learning their later antecedents – which seems relatively (though not massively) common.

  16. In Japan (and I believe Korea also), the art of wrangling the Chinese classics so is advanced that schoolchildren read untranslated passages from Confucius without even learning Old Chinese, let alone Middle or contemporary.

  17. Wait, why did I use the word “antecedents” there? Shame on me.

  18. @Lazar: I just read a poem by Paula Bohince in the latest New York Review of Books that uses “ancestor” to mean “descendant.”

  19. Greg Pandatshang says

    What would Jesus do? Be the branch and the root of Jesse, that’s what!

  20. The ancestor/descendant thing is clearly one of those random mutations that the historical linguists of the future will look at with bafflement, some even seeking other explanations in borrowings from Basque or Sumerian. “How could they possibly have mixed these two words up? They mean exactly the opposite thing and don’t sound anything alike!”

  21. I always wondered how the Chinese manage to avoid mixing up

    买 “mǎi” (to buy), 卖 “mài” (to sell) and 买卖 “mǎimài” (trading)

  22. Greg Pandatshang says

    And what if a Chinese trader were heard to exclaim in bemusement or delight “Well, my my my …”?

  23. 买 “mǎi” (to buy), 卖 “mài” (to sell) and 买卖 “mǎimài” (trading)

    Incidentally, Schuessler’s ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese argues/points out (depending on your perspective) that “mǎi” and “mài” are related, the latter being the “exoactive” form of the latter; their Minimal Old Chinese forms are *mrêʔ and *mrêh respectively, and that -h is doing the work. So I suppose the difference between the two was synchronically transparent right up until it wasn’t.

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