What makes a great state is its being (like) a low-lying, down-
flowing (stream);--it becomes the centre to which tend (all the
small states) under heaven.
(To illustrate from) the case of all females:--the female always
overcomes the male by her stillness. Stillness may be considered
(a sort of) abasement.
Thus it is that a great state, by condescending to small states,
gains them for itself; and that small states, by abasing
themselves to a great state, win it over to them. In the one
case the abasement leads to gaining adherents, in the other case
to procuring favour.
The great state only wishes to unite men together and nourish
them; a small state only wishes to be received by, and to serve,
the other. Each gets what it desires, but the great state must
learn to abase itself.
Tao has of all things the most honoured place. No treasures give
good men so rich a grace; Bad men it guards, and doth their ill
(Its) admirable words can purchase honour; (its) admirable deeds
can raise their performer above others. Even men who are not
good are not abandoned by it.
Therefore when the sovereign occupies his place as the Son of
Heaven, and he has appointed his three ducal ministers, though
(a prince) were to send in a round symbol-of-rank large enough
to fill both the hands, and that as the precursor of the team of
horses (in the court-yard), such an offering would not be equal
to (a lesson of) this Tao, which one might present on his knees.
Why was it that the ancients prized this Tao so much? Was it not
because it could be got by seeking for it, and the guilty could
escape (from the stain of their guilt) by it? This is the reason
why all under heaven consider it the most valuable thing.
(It is the way of the Tao) to act without (thinking of) acting;
to conduct affairs without (feeling the) trouble of them; to
taste without discerning any flavour; to consider what is small
as great, and a few as many; and to recompense injury with
(The master of it) anticipates things that are difficult while
they are easy, and does things that would become great while
they are small. All difficult things in the world are sure to
arise from a previous state in which they were easy, and all
great things from one in which they were small. Therefore the
sage, while he never does what is great, is able on that account
to accomplish the greatest things.
He who lightly promises is sure to keep but little faith; he who
is continually thinking things easy is sure to find them
difficult. Therefore the sage sees difficulty even in what seems
easy, and so never has any difficulties.
That which is at rest is easily kept hold of; before a thing has
given indications of its presence, it is easy to take measures
against it; that which is brittle is easily broken; that which
is very small is easily dispersed. Action should be taken before
a thing has made its appearance; order should be secured before
disorder has begun.
The tree which fills the arms grew from the tiniest sprout; the
tower of nine storeys rose from a (small) heap of earth; the
journey of a thousand li commenced with a single step.
He who acts (with an ulterior purpose) does harm; he who takes
hold of a thing (in the same way) loses his hold. The sage does
not act (so), and therefore does no harm; he does not lay hold
(so), and therefore does not lose his bold. (But) people in
their conduct of affairs are constantly ruining them when they
are on the eve of success. If they were careful at the end, as
(they should be) at the beginning, they would not so ruin them.
Therefore the sage desires what (other men) do not desire, and
does not prize things difficult to get; he learns what (other
men) do not learn, and turns back to what the multitude of men
have passed by. Thus he helps the natural development of all
things, and does not dare to act (with an ulterior purpose of
The ancients who showed their skill in practising the Tao did
so, not to enlighten the people, but rather to make them simple
The difficulty in governing the people arises from their having
much knowledge. He who (tries to) govern a state by his wisdom
is a scourge to it; while he who does not (try to) do so is a
He who knows these two things finds in them also his model and
rule. Ability to know this model and rule constitutes what we
call the mysterious excellence (of a governor). Deep and
far-reaching is such mysterious excellence, showing indeed its
possessor as opposite to others, but leading them to a great
conformity to him.
That whereby the rivers and seas are able to receive the homage
and tribute of all the valley streams, is their skill in being
lower than they;--it is thus that they are the kings of them
all. So it is that the sage (ruler), wishing to be above men,
puts himself by his words below them, and, wishing to be before
them, places his person behind them.
In this way though he has his place above them, men do not feel
his weight, nor though he has his place before them, do they
feel it an injury to them.
Therefore all in the world delight to exalt him and do not weary
of him. Because he does not strive, no one finds it possible to
strive with him.
All the world says that, while my Tao is great, it yet appears
to be inferior (to other systems of teaching). Now it is just
its greatness that makes it seem to be inferior. If it were like
any other (system), for long would its smallness have been
But I have three precious things which I prize and hold fast.
The first is gentleness; the second is economy; and the third is
shrinking from taking precedence of others.
With that gentleness I can be bold; with that economy I can be
liberal; shrinking from taking precedence of others, I can
become a vessel of the highest honour. Now-a-days they give up
gentleness and are all for being bold; economy, and are all for
being liberal; the hindmost place, and seek only to be
foremost;--(of all which the end is) death.
Gentleness is sure to be victorious even in battle, and firmly
to maintain its ground. Heaven will save its possessor, by his
(very) gentleness protecting him.
He who in (Tao's) wars has skill Assumes no martial port; He who
fights with most good will To rage makes no resort. He who
vanquishes yet still Keeps from his foes apart; He whose hests
men most fulfil Yet humbly plies his art.
Thus we say, 'He ne'er contends, And therein is his might.' Thus
we say, 'Men's wills he bends, That they with him unite.' Thus
we say, 'Like Heaven's his ends, No sage of old more bright.'
A master of the art of war has said, 'I do not dare to be the
host (to commence the war); I prefer to be the guest (to act on
the defensive). I do not dare to advance an inch; I prefer to
retire a foot.' This is called marshalling the ranks where there
are no ranks; baring the arms (to fight) where there are no arms
to bare; grasping the weapon where there is no weapon to grasp;
advancing against the enemy where there is no enemy.
There is no calamity greater than lightly engaging in war. To do
that is near losing (the gentleness) which is so precious. Thus
it is that when opposing weapons are (actually) crossed, he who
deplores (the situation) conquers.
My words are very easy to know, and very easy to practise; but
there is no one in the world who is able to know and able to
There is an originating and all-comprehending (principle) in my
words, and an authoritative law for the things (which I
enforce). It is because they do not know these, that men do not
They who know me are few, and I am on that account (the more) to
be prized. It is thus that the sage wears (a poor garb of) hair
cloth, while he carries his (signet of) jade in his bosom.
To know and yet (think) we do not know is the highest
(attainment); not to know (and yet think) we do know is a
It is simply by being pained at (the thought of) having this
disease that we are preserved from it. The sage has not the
disease. He knows the pain that would be inseparable from it,
and therefore he does not have it.
When the people do not fear what they ought to fear, that which
is their great dread will come on them.
Let them not thoughtlessly indulge themselves in their ordinary
life; let them not act as if weary of what that life depends on.
It is by avoiding such indulgence that such weariness does not
Therefore the sage knows (these things) of himself, but does not
parade (his knowledge); loves, but does not (appear to set a)
value on, himself. And thus he puts the latter alternative away
and makes choice of the former.
He whose boldness appears in his daring (to do wrong, in
defiance of the laws) is put to death; he whose boldness appears
in his not daring (to do so) lives on. Of these two cases the
one appears to be advantageous, and the other to be injurious.
When Heaven's anger smites a man, Who the cause shall truly
On this account the sage feels a difficulty (as to what to do in
the former case).
It is the way of Heaven not to strive, and yet it skilfully
overcomes; not to speak, and yet it is skilful in (obtaining a
reply; does not call, and yet men come to it of themselves. Its
demonstrations are quiet, and yet its plans are skilful and
effective. The meshes of the net of Heaven are large; far apart,
but letting nothing escape.
The people do not fear death; to what purpose is it to (try to)
frighten them with death? If the people were always in awe of
death, and I could always seize those who do wrong, and put them
to death, who would dare to do wrong?
There is always One who presides over the infliction death. He
who would inflict death in the room of him who so presides over
it may be described as hewing wood instead of a great carpenter.
Seldom is it that he who undertakes the hewing, instead of the
great carpenter, does not cut his own hands!
The people suffer from famine because of the multitude of taxes
consumed by their superiors. It is through this that they suffer
The people are difficult to govern because of the (excessive)
agency of their superiors (in governing them). It is through
this that they are difficult to govern.
The people make light of dying because of the greatness of their
labours in seeking for the means of living. It is this which
makes them think light of dying. Thus it is that to leave the
subject of living altogether out of view is better than to set a
high value on
Man at his birth is supple and weak; at his death, firm and
strong. (So it is with) all things. Trees and plants, in their
early growth, are soft and brittle; at their death, dry and
Thus it is that firmness and strength are the concomitants of
death; softness and weakness, the concomitants of life.
Hence he who (relies on) the strength of his forces does not
conquer; and a tree which is strong will fill the out-stretched
arms, (and thereby invites the feller.)
Therefore the place of what is firm and strong is below, and
that of what is soft and weak is above.
May not the Way (or Tao) of Heaven be compared to the (method
of) bending a bow? The (part of the bow) which was high is
brought low, and what was low is raised up. (So Heaven)
diminishes where there is superabundance, and supplements where
there is deficiency.
It is the Way of Heaven to diminish superabundance, and to
supplement deficiency. It is not so with the way of man. He
takes away from those who have not enough to add to his own
Who can take his own superabundance and therewith serve all
under heaven? Only he who is in possession of the Tao!
Therefore the (ruling) sage acts without claiming the results as
his; he achieves his merit and does not rest (arrogantly) in
it:--he does not wish to display his superiority.
There is nothing in the world more soft and weak than water, and
yet for attacking things that are firm and strong there is
nothing that can take precedence of it;--for there is nothing
(so effectual) for which it can be changed.
Every one in the world knows that the soft overcomes the hard,
and the weak the strong, but no one is able to carry it out in
Therefore a sage has said, 'He who accepts his state's reproach,
Is hailed therefore its altars' lord; To him who bears men's
direful woes They all the name of King accord.'
Words that are strictly true seem to be paradoxical.
When a reconciliation is effected (between two parties) after a
great animosity, there is sure to be a grudge remaining (in the
mind of the one who was wrong). And how can this be beneficial
(to the other)?
Therefore (to guard against this), the sage keeps the left-hand
portion of the record of the engagement, and does not insist on
the (speedy) fulfilment of it by the other party. (So), he who
has the attributes (of the Tao) regards (only) the conditions of
the engagement, while he who has not those attributes regards
only the conditions favourable to himself.
In the Way of Heaven, there is no partiality of love; it is
always on the side of the good man.
In a little state with a small population, I would so order it,
that, though there were individuals with the abilities of ten or
a hundred men, there should be no employment of them; I would
make the people, while looking on death as a grievous thing, yet
not remove elsewhere (to avoid it).
Though they had boats and carriages, they should have no
occasion to ride in them; though they had buff coats and sharp
weapons, they should have no occasion to don or use them.
I would make the people return to the use of knotted cords
(instead of the written characters).
They should think their (coarse) food sweet; their (plain)
clothes beautiful; their (poor) dwellings places of rest; and
their common (simple) ways sources of enjoyment.
There should be a neighbouring state within sight, and the
voices of the fowls and dogs should be heard all the way from it
to us, but I would make the people to old age, even to death,
not have any intercourse with it.
Sincere words are not fine; fine words are not sincere. Those
who are skilled (in the Tao) do not dispute (about it); the
disputatious are not skilled in it. Those who know (the Tao) are
not extensively learned; the extensively learned do not know it.
The sage does not accumulate (for himself). The more that he
expends for others, the more does he possess of his own; the
more that he gives to others, the more does he have himself.
With all the sharpness of the Way of Heaven, it injures not;
with all the doing in the way of the sage he does not strive.