top of page
Marble Surface

Lao Tzu for Everyone


Students, Scholars,

& Seekers


Chinese-English Interlinear

Peter Gilboy, Ph. D.


A Note

regarding the characters

used in this translation.

Lesson 24

The Self-Important





(食 food + 余 stretch)

extra, surplus, unnecessary


Note: What has come down to us as Lesson 24 in the later editions, follows Lesson 21 in the two Ma Wang Tui editions.  For convenience, the traditional numbering is retained here.

. . . . . .

Man 3 w4-unsplash.jpg
Line 1


Line 1

The blowhard

is not believed.


The self-centered person

is not revered.



​​吹chuī*   者zhě   不bù   立lì

blow/brag   one who     not      upright 

自zì  者zhě  視shì  不bù  章zhāng

 self      one who    look at     not       section

The one who boasts is not upright;

the one who looks at himself/herself

is not to be set apart.

     Over 2000 years ago, just like today, there were vain and boastful people. "There is nothing new under the sun."


That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which it may be said,
“See, this is new”?
It has already been

in ancient times before us.

Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 KJV


     Human nature hasn't changed in all this time.  That's one reason why wise words of the ancients are as valuable to us today as they were thousands of years ago.



*The first character of this line, offers us an example of how the Chinese language was still in flux during the Warring States period (481 BC to 221 BC), becoming uniform only after they were was united into a single nation under Qin Shihuang-di.

   The character here, 吹chuī, "brag," "boast," is actually not found in the two MWT texts or the standard editions. The MWT editions have 炊chuī, "cook," ostensibly the image of a person blowing on a fire. The other editions have 企qǐ, "to plan," or "to stand on tiptoe." 

     Following Henricks, the character used here,  吹chuī, a homonym of 炊chuī, is substituted as the most likely character.  As Henricks points out: “The entire chapter, after all, concerns egotism.”  Robert G. Henricks, Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, (New York, Ballantine Books, 1989) p. 230

     On the other hand, 企qǐ, "to plan," or "to stand on tiptoe," found in the standard editions, fits the theme of the chapter as well. One who stands on tiptoe is attempting to make his or her self taller and, literally, more “upstanding” then he or she is.

.​ ​​​​. . . . .

Line 2

Line 2

*The showoff

does not shine.

The conceited person

has nothing

to show for it.


自zì  見jiàn  者zhě  不bù 明míng

self       see       one who      not      bright        

自zì  伐fá    者zhě   无wú   功gōng

self     praise   one who     not have achieve

The one who sees oneself is not bright;

the one who praises oneself

does not have achievements.


* The later editions of the Tao Te Ching have a line that precedes this one, which is not found in either of the MWT editions:

One who is straddle-legged

cannot walk.

跨kuà  者zhě  不bù  行xíng

straddle/stride   one who   not     walk

One who straddles

does not walk.

​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .



Line 3

Line 3

The person who admires

himself or herself

will not long endure.


​​​ 自zì   矜jīn  者zhě  不bù  長chāng       

self   esteem/feel sorry   one who     not    long time

​The one who has esteem

​for oneself does not last long..

     We saw the character 矜jīn, "esteem," "pity," also in line 6 of Lesson 22.  There too, it was with reference to 長chāng, "endurance." What is done for personal reasons is fleeting.

     The person who acts "without doing," that is, to 无wú 為wéi, has no personal ends in sight. The reason he or she undertakes something is for the sake of that which is being done. Nothing more. There is no personal goal outside the action itself.


    Consider the firefighter entering a burning building; the mother who is nursing her child; each of us when we simply listening to music. At such times there is nothing personal about the doing. These moments are humble and pure, in that nothing else matters. This is 无wú 為wéi.


     Consider this with respect to line 7 of Lesson 14.


​​​​​​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .

Line 4

Line 4

Those who reside

in the Way

call these

"over-stuffing the belly

and pointless parading."


其qí  在zài  道tào  也yě  曰yuē

     pron.     exist      way       (part.)   say          

餘yú  食shí  贅zhuì  行xíng

extra  eat   surplus/unnecessary   walking

Those who dwell in the Way say:

Extra food, surplus walking


​​​​​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .


Line 5

Line 5

Even some things

despise these.

Therefore, those who

have the Way,*

are not like this.


物wù  或huò  惡è  之zhī

thing     some      evil     (pron. )   

故gù   有yǒu 道tào  者zhě  弗fù  居jū 

therefore    have  way   one who    not it     dwell         

Of things, some hate these.

Therefore, those who have the Way,

do not dwell on them.



*Here is another difference, a significant one this time, between the standard editions--Wang Bi, Fu Yi, and Heshang Gondg and the two Ma Wang Tui editions.

     Instead of 有yǒu 道tào  者zhě, literally "the one who has the Way.," the MWT editions have 有yǒu   欲yù 者zhě, "the one who has desire." This is odd, given Lao Tzu's other references to the sage being 无wú 欲 yù "without desire." See for example in line 5 of Lesson 1.  So, which one is correct--Way or desire?

      Hendricks offers a reasonable answer, explaining that 欲yù, "desire," was likely a copiest error. “Way,” he says, is the correct character, “the result of the fact that the small seal forms of ‘desires’ and ‘Way’ are not all that dissimilar.” Robert G. Henricks, Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, (New York, Ballantine Books, 1989) p.230.

     A student of the text may well wonder why a later edition of the Lao Tzu may be more accurate than an earlier edition.  The answer is likely due to the different lineages of the text. (See Who was Lao Tzu? And does it really matter?


    The lessons were apparently passed down the centuries first in oral form, and then at some point written down, without lessons numbers, recording that that society's oral tradition. Recalling that the Chinese language was still in a state of flux prior 221 BC., variances in the characters as well as scribal errors would not be uncommon.

     What is unusual, though is how strikingly alike the different editions are throughout the text, despite the different lineages. This is likely due to the well-known reliability of oral transmission within traditional societies, as well how highly regarded the wisdom of Lao Tzu was to ancient Chinese world.

​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .




bottom of page