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Lao Tzu for Everyone


Students, Scholars,

& Seekers


Chinese-English Interlinear

Peter Gilboy, Ph. D.


A Note

regarding the characters

used in this translation.

Lesson 26

Advice to

a Ruler


​​​   ​​​jūn


(口month + 尹 hand and rod, control)

ruler, gentleman, superior person

     Right governance--whether over our selves or the entire realm--is rooted in single-mindedness and tranquility. The single-minded person does not act rashly. Impetuousness leads to dire results. He or she does not succumb to the difficult trials of the moment but ever remains steady and self-possessed whether the conditions are unfavorable or favorable.

     If the person happens to be a ruler, then at least the appearance of being self-possessed must be maintained. The well-being of the empire and its people depend on it


​​. . . . . .



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Line 1


Line 1

The heavy is the

root of the light.

Stillness is the lord

of all movement.


重zhóng    為wéi     輕qīng   根gēn

  heavy/serious   make/do/to be    light     root/base

靜jìng 為wéi 趮zào 君jūn

still    make/do/to be   hasty   ruler

Heavy is light's root.

Stillness is the ruler of haste.


     We don't give much thought to foundations. We admire trees, but hardly gaze at the roots they rest upon. Buildings, too rest upon something stronger than themselves.

     Lao Tzu begins this lesson by reminding us that each thing has a ground, a rootedness upon which it depends. Not just nature, which owes its steadiness to its roots and to weight; human society too has a foundation which we call the family.  A person who is grounded we refer to  "down to earth." The opposite kind of person we may call "flighty" or "whimsical." Thoughts too have their ground. Those that are ill-considered we refer to as "light-weight."


     Stillness is also a kind of foundation. Regarding Lao Tzu's words here,  "Stillness is the lord of all movement," Wang Bi's (226 AD-249 AD) commentary reminds us of this when he says:



That which does not move [like the focal point of a pivot]

is that upon which all movement depends.

 不bù  行xíng 者zhě  便biàn   行xíng

    not   walk/move     one who     ease/thereupon walk/ move

That which does not move, thereupon (there is) movement.




​​    .​ ​​​​. . . . .


Line 2

Line 2

For this reason, though

a ruler may travel all day,

he or she does not

lose their composure

是shī  以yǐ   君jūn 子zǐ  眾zhòng  日rì  行xíng    

(for this reason)  ruler    child    all/whole      sun     walk/move     

不bù     離lí    其qí    甾zāi    重zhòng

not      depart   (pron)  cultivated ground heavy/serious

For this reason the ruler, all day walking

does not depart from his seriousness.


     The leader his a responsibility to the realm to retain at least the appearance of being self-possessed. We see this clearly enough in the next line, where the ruler is  to let down his or her composure only when in familiar surroundings. The final two lines of this lesson have the same emphasis, that a ruler dare not slacken his or her demeanor to the world. 



Note: There are two significant differences between this line, as found in the earlier Ma Wang Tui editions, and as it is found in the later editions by Heshang Gong (circa 1st century AD),  Wang Bi (226 AD - 249 AD), and Fu Yi (618 AD -907 AD)

    First, where the two Ma Wang Tui editions read 君jūn 子zǐ, meaning "ruler," each of the later editions read 聖shèng 人rén meaning "the sage."  It is doubtful that these are simply variants of one another, because in line 4 of all the editions we find the same specific reference, not to a sage, but to a ruler, namely a 王wáng "king."

   The second difference in editions regards the second to last character in this line. Where both Ma Wang Tui editions have  甾zāi,  meaning "cultivated ground," and sometimes even "calamity," the other versions have a somewhat related graph, 輜zī, meaning "cart" or "wagon."  Using 輜zī, the line then reads that while the ruler may travel all day, the ruler "does not part with the baggage-wagon."


     But the character 甾zāi, "cultivated ground," seems in proper keeping with the theme of the lesson regarding "root" and "foundation."  Translating literally using 甾zāi, the line reads to the effect that the ruler, while traveling all day, does not lose his "cultivated heaviness." For this reason, I regain the character 甾zāi over over 輜zī,, and choose "does not choose "does not lose their composure" over "does not part with the baggage-wagon."


It is also worth noting that the inclusion of the character 甾zāi, "cultivated ground," this lesson to the ruler is actually quite Confucian. (See Lesson 18 on the core differences between the two great teachers.)



​​​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .

Line 3

Line 3

Only when safely

among his or her own,

may the ruler display

a relaxed disposition.

唯wéi  有yǒu  環huán  官guān  燕yàn   處chǔ

only    have      encircle   official     comfort   locale    

則zé   超chāo 若ruò

then    transcend/pass over  same as

Only after the being among

officials in a comfortable locale,

then the ruler may be the same as transcending


Note: The two Ma Wang Tui editions of this line are quite different from the other editions. The others read:

Though there be

glorious sights to see,

the ruler remains

at ease in his own home.

雖suī 有yǒu 榮rong 觀guān

although   have  glory   look at

燕yàn 處chù 超chāo 然rán

comfort  local  transcend/pass over   thus/so

  Though having glories to look at

comfortable location, transcending thus.*

*Note: One reason literal translations of ancient Chinese are frequently very awkward, is because the subject of the line is rarely stated. It must be inferred from the overall content of the writing, along with the general topic of the sentence. Here the unstated subject is the "ruler," and the topic is his or her disposition.

​​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .




Line 4

Line 4

How could it be

that a power ruler

would slacken

his or her demeanor

to the world?




若róu   何hé    萬wán  乘shèng 之zhī 王wáng

like/same as     (interrog)     10,000      chariot       (poss.)      king  

而ér 以yǐ  身shēn  輕qīng  於yú 天tiān 下xià

and    use    body      light        (prep)     heaven   under

If a king of 10,000 chariots,

how can his body be light

to those under heaven?

   ​​​​​​​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .


Line 5

Line 5

Slacken, and you will

lose your footing.

Be restless and you will

lose your authority.


​​​輕qīng  則zé  失shī  本běn   

light      then     lose     root/origin     

  曰yuē  大dà

say      great

Lightness, then lose root;

restless, then lose rule.


Note how the literal translation of this line is a bookend to the first line.

.​ ​​​​. . . . .


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