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|OXFORD WORLD'S CLASSICS|
the guardian Sat 08 November 2008
Were these ambiguous 6th-century BC Chinese pronouncements meant to be about the governance of a human body, or a nation's people, or both? They're certainly a philosophy, encoded as poetry with everlasting metaphors; the central Dao, or Tao, meaning "way", of the imagery isn't just the right path through life, but the Milky Way - Silver River in Chinese - vast and tranquil above us all. (And, surprisingly, female.) This text is different from all previous Tao te Ching translations I've read and not just because of the changed transliteration of title and author's name; it adjusts to rearrangements of line order and other variants revealed by 1970s tomb finds at Mawangdui, Changsha, and applies a calm neutrality to their interpretation. There's a sense of an already old understanding of the limits of human order and of the need to keep balance in all things, especially human desires: "There is no bigger disaster than not to know what is enough ... to know that enough is enough, this is ever to have enough."