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Tao Te Ching

by Laozi, trans. James Legge

The Daodejing (better known in the West by its older Wade-Giles title, the Tao Te Ching) is one of the great classics of Chinese literature, and an important spiritual text for Daoists. The book was most likely written around 2400 years ago; the popular account ascribes the book to the legendary sage Laozi, but historians may never definitively prove his identity or existence. Since its writing, it has influenced untold generations of artists and intellectuals in China and around the world. 

The text comprises 81 short chapters of verse, commonly divided into two parts—the book of Dào, the Way, and the book of , virtue/power, usually in that order. The book spends an amount of time examining the fundamental principle of the universe, the Dao, and the comportment of an ideal practitioner. The related Chinese word dàodé is often translated as "ethics." The words' specific meanings can be very complex. This underscores the text's legendary resistance to being translated; Classical Chinese is often a challenge for modern readers and translators, and the Daodejing is full of ambiguous wordplay and imagery.

The challenge of the translation and the book's enduring popularity might explain why it's been translated over 250 times. The translation here is the famous English edition by Oxford scholar James Legge (a Scottish missionary and the first ever professor of Chinese at Oxford). Legge translated this and many other texts for Oxford's Sacred Books of the East in the 1880s. While there have been more faithful or nuanced translations in the last century, Legge's Tao Te Ching is perhaps the most influential version of the book in English.

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