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Lao Tzu for Everyone


Students, Scholars,

& Seekers


Chinese-English Interlinear

Peter Gilboy, Ph. D.



the Way

A Note

regarding the characters

used in this translation.

Lesson 31

On Using Force

(Part 2)



 ​​   bīng

 ( 廾two hands + 斤 axe)

soldiers, troops, weapons

       It is  too much to expect that ruler also be a sage; so, these are simply practical words of restraint while at the same time offering a benefit—achieving one’s personal goals, which a ruler would understand.  The sage, on the other hand, has no personal goals.

Line 1


Line 1

Now, as for weapons

there are instruments which

foretell hostility.



 夫fū   兵bīng   者zhě

  (intro) weapons   one who

不bù  祥xiáng   之zhě  器qì  也yě

 not   good omen  (poss.)    vessel/device   (part.)

Now, as for weapons,

they are the not vessels

of good omens.


​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .



Line 2

Line 2

Even some things

despise them


​​​   物wù  或huò  惡è   之zhī

 thing    some   evil/hate (pron.) 

Regarding things,

some of them hate them.


    ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​. ​​​​. . . . .


Line 3

Line 3

Therefore, a person

of ambition*

does not abide in them.


​​故gù   有yǒu  欲yù  者zhě  弗fú  居jū

therefore    have     desire   one who   not it    sit

Therefore, one who has desire/the Way

​does not dwell on them.


The standard editions are are quite different.  Where the MWT A text has 欲yù “desire”, the Wang Bi, Fu Yi and Heshang going editions  have 道tào “way.”  The line would then refer to "a person of the Way" not abiding in them rather than "a person of desire."


Henricks thinks that "a person of the Way" is correct and argues that the the character  道tào, "way" is the proper character here because "the small seal forms of "desire" and "Way" are not all that dissimilar." Robert G. Henricks, Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, (New York, Ballantine Books, 1989) p.248.

The use of "desire," though, may be Lao Tzu's way of emphasizing just how onerous weapons of war are, in that even an ambitious or acquisitive person "does not abide in them."


​​​​​​​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .


Line 4

Line 4

A moral leader*

values the left

while those who wage war
value the right.**


君jūn  子zǐ   居jū   則zé   貴guì   左zuǒ 

 (moral person)   dwell   then   expensive   left

用yòng  兵bīng  則zé  貴guì   右yòu

use      weapons    rule   expensive   right

The moral person resides, then, valuing the left;

 using the military, then, valuing the right.


*君jūn  子zǐ, is variously translated “gentleman,” “moral person.” In translations of Confucian writings, most often translated as “superior person.” Literally: 君 ruler 子 child.

**Waley offers an explanation of valuing of left over right. He quotes from Chapter 32 of 逸yì  周zhōu  書shū The Lost Book of Chou: “In rites of good omen, circumambulation is the left; it follows the way of earth, in order that the performers themselves may be benefited. In ceremonies of war, circumambulation is to the right; it follows the way of Heaven, in order that the weapons may gain in sharpness.” (Waley, 251)

  ​​​​​​​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .


Line 5

Line 5

Therefore, weapons are not

instruments of the moral leader,

for weapons only

lead to hostility.


故gù    兵bīng   者zhě  

therefore  weapons   one who

非fēi  君jūn 子zǐ    之zhī  器qì  也yě

not    (moral person)   (poss.)   device   (part.)

兵bīng   者zhě 

weapon   one who

不bù  祥xiáng   之zhī    器qì    也yě  

not  good omen   (poss.)    devise   (part.)  

  Therefore, as to those have weapons,

they are not the moral person’s instrument,

The weapons are not instruments of good omens.


.​ ​​​​. . . . .


Line 6

Line 6

But when left with

no choice but to use them,

then quick force is better

though never preferred.


​​​​   不bù  得dě   已yǐ   而ér  用yòng  之zhī  


 not      get      stop    and      use       (pron.)    

  銛xiān   襲xí   爲wéi   上shǎng   

sharp      attack  do/act    highest

勿wù  美měi 也yě

sharp      attack  do/act    highest

If you don’t get to stop using them,

a sharp attack is superior, never beautiful.




*Note: When Lao Tzu says, “But when left with no choice but to use them …” he makes a specific moral claim upon the leader that when weapons are necessary, there are to be used regretfully.

. . . . .



Line 7
Line 8

Line 7

Those who find

weapons appealing

take delight in

killing people.



​​​​   若ruò   美méi  之zhī 

 same as  beautiful   (pron.)

是shì   樂yuè   殺shā  人rén  也yě

this    music/glad    kill     person    part.

Same as beautifying them,

this is to be glad about killing people.

  . . . . . .


Line 9

Line 8

To be sure

whoever takes delight in

killing people

will not be able to

impose their will

upon the empire.



​​​​​   夫fū     樂yuè    殺shā  人rén

(intro)    music/glad        kill        person

不bù   可kě    以yǐ

 not       able    by means of


得dé  志zhì    於yú  天tiān  下xià  矣yǐ

 get   purpose/will   prep.  heaven   under (exclaim)

Now then, as to those who

take delight in killing people,

by doing this they do not obtain

their purpose in the world.



. . . . .



Line 10
Line 11

Line 9

That is why the left

is best for joyful events

while the right is best

for mournful events.



​​ 是shì  以yǐ    吉jí      事shì   上shàng

(this is why)   fortunate  matter   superior   

左zuǒ   喪sāng  事shì  上shàng  右yòu

left       death      matter superior     right   



​​​ . . . . .


Line 10

It is also why

the deputy commander*

sits on the left

while the commander

sits on the rights,

which is to say

like at a funeral.



​​​ 是shì   以yǐ    便biàn     將jiāng   軍jūn  居jū  左zuǒ  

 (that is why)  convenience will/general   army    dwell     left


上shàng     將jiāng    軍jūn   居jū    右yòu  

  high/superior    will/general   army     dwell    right


言yán  以yǐ  喪sàng  禮lǐ   居jū  之shī  也yě     

  say       use     death     ritual   dwell    pron.     (part.)

​For this reason, the convenience-leader

of the army dwells on the left,

and it’s highest leader of the army

dwells on the right;

saying, like in a death ritual





*"Deputy commander," literally "convenience general," in the sense of being at one’s disposal, such as a deputy.

. . . . .


Line 12

Line 11

When many men are killed

we stand and grieve for them.


​​​​  殺shā   人rén   眾zhòng 

  kill       person     many   by means   grief  

以yǐ   悲bēi    依yī   立lì   之zhī      

by means   grief   rely on   stand   (pron.)

Many people are killed,

because of this we stand

and grieve for them.


.​​​ . . . . .


Line 12

Victory is like

being at a funeral.


​​​​    戰zhàn  勝shèng

  war         victory


以yǐ    喪sàng  禮lǐ   處shǔ      之zhī 

 use     death       ritual  dwell/place  (pron.)

War that is victorious

becomes a place

for a death ritual for them.


.​​​ . . . . .


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