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What's up with these Tao Te Ching posts? [Apr. 14th, 2009|08:03 pm]
The Tao Te Ching (or Dao De Jing) is an classic Chinese work, very short and very frequently translated. Here's a link to 29 versions! Because the original can carry really different meanings, translations vary wildly. So once you get into it, there's an itch: what does it really say? Is it a mystical book with political asides, or is it a political book with mystical asides? In my twenties I read several versions and started writing down a version that appealed to me, but had no way to check my accuracy (or lack thereof). These days there are several verbatim translations available, including one that's freely downloadable. (Click on the Matrix Translation.)

So I've started back on creating an English version that fits for me. I don't know Chinese, let alone archaic Chinese, so this isn't a translation; but the verbatim translations let me hew closer to accuracy than I could imagine thirty years ago. Such non-translations are almost as common as real translations: I follow Ursula K. Le Guin (whose version I admire very much), Stephen Mitchell, Aleister Crowley, and many others.

For now I'm just trying in each chapter to come up with language that captures something of the poetry of the original (and doesn't mangle the meaning!) When I get through with all 81 I'll go back and wrestle with the Hobgoblin of Consistency.

If you're intrigued, I'd start with Le Guin's version. She is a wonderful poet, and she uses the fact that Chinese doesn't make gender or singular/plural distinctions to talk about wise people rather than the (male) Sage. (As do I.) The book by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English remains the most readable true translation I've found. Gregory Richter's Gate of All Marvelous Things is a very approachable verbatim translation, while Jonathan Star's offers many alternative meanings for each word.

P.S. on Tao Te Ching versus Dao De Jing: These days more and more people use the pinyin romanization (Dao De Jing), rather than the older Wade-Giles system, and I may well start using that as a title.

[User Picture]From: luguvalium
2009-04-15 04:37 am (UTC)
The version I first read was the Gia-Fu Feng / Jane English one and it changed my life. Thanks for reminding me.
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[User Picture]From: angelweed
2009-04-16 02:28 am (UTC)
My pleasure!
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[User Picture]From: morgan2007
2009-04-20 10:55 pm (UTC)

learning Chinese

In Acupuncture school, I am required to translate a chapter of the Su Wen Nei Jing, the classical book from 3000-4000 years ago that gives the foundation for the style of acupuncture I will practice.

If you decide you want to delve deeply into the Chinese Characters in the Dao de Jing, I can tell you that it could be easier than you think to translate some of the key terms. You may not wish to bother with this, with all the English Language resources available to you. However, just in case, the book you might use is "Chinese Characters" by Weiger. What I have learned from my translation efforts so far is the multiple layers of meaning each character contains. English is relatively one-dimensional in its ability for one word to contain all the nuances provided by a Chinese character.

I've been enjoying your posts - I have been required to study the Dao de Jing in my Chinese History class and have really appreciated this post as a resource. Thank you.

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From: (Anonymous)
2009-10-27 09:40 pm (UTC)
A Daoist I know recommends the translation by Red Pine.

He also says the Lao Tzu (as it's often called) can be used quite well as a mediation manual.

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