September 29, 2007 at 9:16 am #24611
The Lao Tzu
“Originally published in The Journal of Chinese Religions,#23, Fall 1995, pp. 1-28”
Sorry no Author cited in this clipped out email from late 199o’s, that was forwarded to me..cleaning out my eamil and files after a decade and anything that is a good article will post here that relates to this forum…Snow Lion
The text of Lao Tzu has long been regarded as problematic. Some think that an originally coherent text has been disarranged and perhaps corrupted; others, that the text has never been anything other than a rather loose anthology; and still others, that Lao Tzu is a layered text — probably a “contemplative” core overlaid with “purposive” material. So far none of the competing theories has carried the day, and only a few of the them have even been argued in detail.1
Interpretation of the book is thus also problematic. There is an apparent tension within the book between private- contemplative and public-political themes, as well as between the acceptance of death and the pursuit of immortality. Furthermore, the politics proposed in the political chapters is sly and even unscrupulous — hardly what you would expect from a contemplative who had decided to enter the political arena. Without some theory of the history of the text, readers of the book are left with two unsatisfactory alternatives: either to accept everything while explaining away the apparent contradictions (thus flying in the face of the widespread — though not universal — belief that the book is not the work of a single author); or else haphazardly to pick and choose on the basis of hunches and common sense.
What follows is my attempt to resolve this problem. I believe that Lao Tzu is a layered text, with the earliest layer probably an anthology, and with three well-defined layers of later material. By means of simple and strictly limited operations on the text of Lao Tzu, I have divided the text into Early, Late, Middle, and Added layers. Of these, the early and late layers have been defined in relation to one another both positively and negatively — both by the presence of certain themes in each of these two layers, and by the respective absence of these same themes in the other layer.
After briefly describing my method, I will first present my conclusions, listing the indicator themes (which are charted in appendices) and briefly characterizing each layer. Next I will characterize the layers more fully, discussing the affinities of each with various other thinkers and tendencies: Shen Tao, Shen Pu-hai, Han Fei Tzu, Sun Tzu, Huang Lao, the Syncretists, and the Primitivists. Finally I will sum up my results, presenting my theory of the history of the text and of the evolution of the school of Lao Tzu.
My method was trial-and-error. I reached my conclusions over the period of decade, making many passes over the text and producing at least six drafts. With each pass I changed both my conclusions and my criteria, dropping whatever seemed doubtful and adding new ideas which seemed promising. My result appeared gradually — there was no eureka experience when I discovered that the textual history of the book could be unravelled with the help of a single powerful insight.2
My starting point was something like this: if we assume that the text of Lao Tzu is stratified, there should be some way for us to show how it was stratified. If we cannot do so, then perhaps it is not stratified at all. What I hoped for, in confirmation of my belief that the text is in fact stratified, was the following. First, the dissection of the existing text must be limited to a few simple operations (rather than hopping around picking and choosing at will.) Second, these simple operations should be consistent with a plausible theory of how the editor or editors worked. Third, the stratification should make sense in terms of what we know about the evolution of Chinese philosophy and of the Taoist or Laoist school. And finally, I hoped that the dissection would produce some unexpected but convincing insights.
My criteria for my choices were mixed, though I tried to especially emphasize form and thematic distribution. I worked on the assumption that the text we have is not garbled, but is approximately as the final editor left it. This allows us to look for signs of his work in the sequence we find in the text. I have also accepted many of the chapter-divisions, and thus often speak of the beginnings and ends of chapters. As the work progressed, some of my original indicator themes proved useless, and new ones emerged; many themes are seen in all layers, often with new twists in the late layer.
Except for the Han taboo words and the poetic particle hsi, there is no purely linguistic evidence (e.g. archaic particles) for my thesis. During the hundred schools period, philosophical evolution was accelerated in the courts of various patron rulers. (These courts probably also accelerated linguistic standardization). Thus, my late layer as a whole may not be more than a decade or so later than the latest passages in the early anthology. (There is probably more historical distance between different passages in the early layer than there is between the latest early passages and the late layer as a whole). “Early” and “late”, in any case, refer to the time of entry into the text, rather than to time of composition, and the late editor may well have introduced some material which was older than some passages in the early layer. (It should also be noted that thinkers contemporary to one another can influence one another, so that a chronologically younger author might very well be an important influence on one of his elders.)3
My final dissection can be summed up in seven simple principles. First, the end of the book (Chs. 57-81) is late (except for most of Ch. 59, which is added.) Second, Chs. 38-49 are middle (except for tags at the ends of Chs. 42, 44, 46, and 47). Third, Chs. 1-37 and 50-56 can be early, middle, late, or added. Fourth, within a chapter the early-middle-late-added order is not violated. Fifth, all passages introduced by the phrase “Therefore the Sage” are late. (But references to the Sage outside these passages are not necessarily late)4. Sixth, six whole chapters in Chs. 1-56 are late, expressing Primitivist themes. Seventh, the chain-arguments are all added except for the first lines of the chain-argument in Ch. 25.
These seven principles are not self-evident and not sufficient in themselves to define the layers, but they are plausible, and by limiting rather strictly the operations which can be performed on the text, they make it more likely that the layers defined are real subgroups within the text, and not merely the artifacts of arbitrary methodology. My results are consistent with a plausible story of how the text was put together. The late editor took an existing anthology (which was already divisible into early and middle layers), added his own chapters to the end, added marked and unmarked comments to the ends of some chapters, and inserted some whole chapters into the existing anthology. Last of all, a Han glossateur added one whole chapter and appended material to the end of a number of chapters.
Many of my results are also consistent with the widely accepted contemplative/ purposive distinction. Contemplative themes found almost exclusively in the early layer include the female, the child, and return (kui ). Purposive themes found almost exclusively in the late layer include strategic and political thinking, the state and the people, bandits, non- contention, and the power of the small, lowly and humble. (Holes, emptiness, and namelessness are early-middle but not late; reversal and strangeness are middle-late but not early.)
However, there are some surprises. Strategic Taoism and “immortality-Taoism” (lumped by Creel as purposive) are not related: traces of “immortality-Taoism” are seen both in the added layer and in the early layer, but hardly at all in the late strategic layer. Another surprise is the fact that the power of the small, lowly, and humble is a late strategic theme, and not an early contemplative theme as might have been expected. Furthermore, while the early layer is less politicized than the later layer, not only are Huang-Lao political themes already clearly expressed in this layer, but many passages have an affinity with such militarist texts as Sun Tzu.
My detailed conclusions follow. For the reader’s convenience I have relegated most of my documentation and argumentation to footnotes; key groups are displayed, and indicator themes charted, in appendices. Where I divide chapters I give the Lau numbers or else indicate that I have deviated from Lau.
It makes sense to begin with the late layer, since the late editor was substantially responsible for the present shape of the text. My principles make the definition of this layer virtually automatic. This layer consists of Chs. 57-81 (except for the end of Ch. 59); the primitivist chapters 3, 12, 17-19, and 53; the “Therefore the Sage” tags in the chapters 2, 7, 22, 27, 29, 34, and 47; the chapter-ending tags in Chs. 13 and 28; and the beginning of the chain-argument in Ch. 25. Only the the unmarked tags in Chs. 13, 25, and 28 and the primitivist chapters require explanations; these are found in Appendices II and III.
This layer, which comprises about two-fifths of the book,5 is the primary locus of the sly political devices which gave Lao Tzu a bad name with Confucians. Besides the primitivist passages (which are late by definition), this layer includes many passages with strong affinities to Shen Tao, Shen Pu-hai, Han Fei Tzu, Huang-Lao and Sun Tzu, as will be discussed below, and with military strategy and practical statecraft generally.
With some exceptions, chapters which are late in their entirety read as unified pieces, without the jumbled feeling of many of the multi-layer chapters. (This is true even when the formula “Therefore the sage” appears; when this formula concludes late chapters, it does not introduce extraneous material.) Themes which I believe can be seen as markers of the late layer include the state pang, the people min, reversal fan, strangeness ch’i, bandits tao tsei, non-contention pu cheng, and the advocacy of the lower (or rear) position. (This and the other layers will be further described later in this article).
The added layer, while relatively unimportant (less than a tenth of the text), is easily defined and should be discussed next. It consists of Ch. 54 in its entirety; the chain-arguments in Chs. 16, 25, 52, 55, and 59; and the chapter-ending tags in Chs. 14 (Lau 34), 21 (Lau 49a, 49b), 22 (Lau 50d), 30 (Lau 70), 33 (the last three couplets: Lau only marks the last two as Lau 76)) 42 (Lau 97), 44 (not marked by Lau), and 46 (Lau 105a).6 The themes characteristic of this layer are endurance, longevity, and promises of success. Most of the themes characteristic of the early layer (and even more so of the late layer) are absent from the added layer, and many of the chapter- ending tags are hard to interpret or simply irrelevant.
This is the only layer which is pejoratively defined (as mediocre, irrelevant, or inconsistent with the rest of the text.) But it has been defined within the bounds of my operating principles (whole chapters or ends of chapters), and there are objective textual reasons — for example the taboo words in the chain-arguments — for regarding this layer as distinct. Nothing I have to say about the late and early layers is dependent on the rejection of the added layer. Because this layer adds little to the book, and because it has little affinity either with the early layer or the late layer, what I say about it has little relevance to what I say about the rest of the book. This in itself is a justification for its sequestration. (Appendix IV cites the chapter-ending tags which I have included in the added layer.)
The early layer altogether comprises somewhat more than a quarter of the text. This layer consists of Chs. 1, 4, 5, 6, 10, 15, 20, 31, 32, 35, 37, 50, 51, and 56, together with the opening passages of Chs. 2 (Lau 4), 7 (Lau 18), 13 (Lau 30-30a), 14 (Lau 32-33), 16 (most of Lau 37), 21 (Lau 48-49), 23 (Lau 51-51a), 25 (Lau 56), 28 (Lau 63), 30 (Lau 69, 69a, 69b), 34 (Lau 76,76a), 52 (Lau 117-118), and 55 (Lau 125). (In Chs. 13, 14, 21, 28 and 30, only the final line or couplet is not early.)
Themes marking the early layer include the mother, the female, the child, huntun, namelessness, and return kui. The phrases “Heaven and Earth” t’ien ti and “myriad creatures” wan wu are seen almost entirely in this layer, as is the poetic particle hsi . Most of the poetic, contemplative passages are in this layer, as are many of the passages including cultivation of life or immortality themes (though the latter also appear in the added layer.) The strategic-political themes characteristic of the late layer, in turn, are almost entirely absent (although Huang Lao political formulae are seen in Chs. 32 and 37), and several chapters explicitly reject the pursuit of fame, high position, honor and military glory.
The middle layer, which also comprises somewhat less than a fourth of the text, consists of Chs. 38-49, except for the Late or Added endings of Chs. 42 (Lau 97), 44 (not marked in Lau), 46 (Lau 105a), and 47 (Lau 107); Chs. 8, 9, 11, 24, 26, and 36; the beginnings of Chs. 2 (Lau 4-5), 22 (Lau 50), 27 (Lau 60), 29 (Lau 66-67), and 33 (Lau 74, first two couplets); the middle of Ch. 2 (Lau 5); and the end of Ch. 23 (Lau 52-53).
The core of this layer, Chs. 38-49, precedes the bulk of the late layer and follows the bulk of the early layer. It shares some themes (holes, nothing, namelessness) with the early layer, but it does not include the most important indicator themes (the female, the mother, the child, return). It shares the paradox sequences and reversal/ strangeness with the late layer, but not state-and-people, the power of the low and small, non-contention, or bandits. The majority of the paradox-sequences are seen within this group, together with most of the puns on te.k “virtue/ get”; these might be regarded as the defining themes of the middle layer.
The meat of my argument in this paper the mutual disjunction between the early and the late layer. The middle layer is to a certain degree a residual class, and some chapters have been included faute de mieux. At various times I have thought of calling this layer “Indeterminate”, or of merging it with either the early or the late layer. To have done so would have made a few of my Early/Late disjunctions less sharp, but would not have destroyed my argument. But, as mentioned, this layer does have certain characteristic themes of its own, and within chapters it does conform to the early-middle-late sequence.
Appendix I shows the distribution of the indicator themes within the text of Lao Tzu. As can be seen, what I have defined as early themes or markers are seen 48 times in the early layer, 11 times in the late layer, twice in the added layer, and three times in the middle layer. Late themes are seen 44 times in the late layer, 6 times in the early layer, 3 times in the added layer, and 6 times in the middle layer. Added themes are seen 18 times in the (very brief) added layer, 5 times in the early layer, 5 times in the late layer, and once in the middle layer. As expected, the middle layer is not sharply defined: the only two predominantly middle themes (paradox sequences and “virtue/ get”) are seen 14 times in the middle layer, nine times in late layer, and once in the early layer. It would be a mistake to take statistical analysis of such rough indicators too seriously, but the distribution of early, middle, and late themes does in fact support my thesis.7
CHARACTER AND AFFINITIES:
In this and the following sections I will further characterize the various layers and discuss their affinities with other ancient Chinese schools of thought. Questions of historical priority and influence here are extremely difficult, since the establishment and dating of texts is so uncertain. The Chinese reverence for the past has confused the issue here enormously, since it has caused them to ascribe texts to ancient worthies who in some cases were probably entirely legendary, but who in any case could not have produced the text in question. (My own bias is the opposite: Lao Tzu is a late culminating work which develops earlier themes in unexpected directions).
There are many internal relationships within the early layer. Closely-related passages are seen in Chs. 52 and 56; chs. 10, 34, and 50; and Chs. 32 and 37. “Beginning” and “mother” are rhymed in Chs. 1 and 52, in both cases in association with the child. Chs. 10 and 28 are built on virtually identical rhymes on “infant” and “female”.
I believe that Chs. 13, 30, and 31 are the oldest passages in the early layer, representing the initial break with the the state ritual universe, court life, and the pursuit of (usually military) honor. This break has been credited to Yang Chu and Sung Jung, and Chang Hsin-chih has in fact attributed all three of these chapters to Sung Jung.8
At least two of these chapters (13 and 31) seem garbled, as if text and commentary had been jumbled together; presumably this is the canonical form in which the text entered the anthology. The rejection of the pursuit of honor, which did not necessarily entail either pacifism or the total rejection of public life, was the deathknell of Confucianism, as Mencius knew very well; when private satisfactions are primary, ritual politics is helpless.9
Much of the early layer is contemplative and poetic: Lafargue has aptly described these poems as “meditation instructions”.10 Cultivation of life and deathlessness, which have been thought of as purposive and thus late, are well embedded in this layer: “The valley spirit never dies” (Ch.6); “The reason why heaven and earth can be enduring is because they do not give themselves life” (Ch. 7; my tr.); “When I no longer have a body, what trouble have I?” (Ch. 13); “People who move into the realm of death through valuing life also number three in ten. Now why is this so? Because they produce life” (Ch. 50; my tr. of MWT). Where the infant appears, it is a symbol of vitality: “poisonous insects will not attack it” (Ch. 55). I believe that these passages refer back to ascetic practices whereby, by avoiding the generation of life and attaining the innocence of childhood, liberation from the retributive cycles of life and death can be attained.11
Cultic practices probably underly these passages. The mother is seen four times, described as “the mother of the myriad creatures” (Ch. 1), “mother of the world” (Ch. 52), “mother of Heaven and Earth” (Ch. 25), and the “food-mother” (Ch. 20).11 The mother, female, child, and infant, so prominant here, are hardly seen in the rest of the book.
Holes/ emptiness/ fullness, together with something/nothing, comprise another early theme (shared with the middle layer): “The way is empty, but there is something that does not make it full” (Ch. 4); “Is not the space between heaven and earth like a bellows? It is empty without being exhausted” (Ch. 5); “Tenuous, it seems to exist; yet use will never exhaust it” (Ch. 6); “He who treasures the way desires not to be full” (Ch. 15); “I attain the utmost emptiness; I keep to extreme stillness” (Ch. 16); “The multitude all have more than enough; I alone am in want” (Ch. 20); “Yet use cannot exhaust it” (Ch. 35); “Block the holes, shut the doors, and all your life you will not run dry” (Ch. 52; variant in 56).12
Namelessness and elusiveness are other themes seen frequently in the early layer and not at all in the late layer. “Namelessness” appears in the early Chs. 1, 32, and 37 and the middle Ch. 41. “Unnamability” is seen in the early Chs. 15 (“can only be given a makeshift description”), 25 (“As yet I do not know its name”) and 34 (“does not assume the name of owner”). “Elusiveness” is seen in several early passages: Ch. 14: “Its upper part is not dazzling, its lower part is not indistinct….”; Ch. 35: “Insipid, it has no flavor….”; Ch. 56: “Thus you cannot get close to it, nor can you keep it at arm’s length….”). Finally, the ancient Chinese identification of “naming”, “commanding” and “honoring” (or condemning) justify the inclusion of “The people will be equitable though no one so decrees” (Ch. 32) and “The way is naturally revered and virtue honored, without anyone bestowing nobility on them” (Ch. 51, my tr.) The late editor did not develop these themes, probably because he did not really want to call social position, honors, law, and government edicts into question. (The theme of huntun, seen in Chs. 14, 15, 20, 21, and 25 is related both to the empty/ full and the namelessness/ unnamability/ nondistinction themes just discussed.)
The MWT Yuan Tao Huang-Lao text reads like a pastiche of phrases from the early layer Lao Tzu.13 Since it is well-known that Huang-Lao appropriated what it wanted from Lao Tzu, this is not at all surprising. However, in Chs. 32 and 37, at least, it is clear that early-layer Lao Tzu itself has a Huang-Lao message. In these chapters we see two versions of an archetypal Huang-Lao slogan: “Should Lords and Princes hold fast to it, the myriad creatures will submit of their own accord” (Ch. 32). Mark Edward Lewis has also found points of resemblance between Lao Tzu and such militarist writers as Sun Tzu: he talks of the “feminization” of the army (with respect to the male commander), which is expressed in language similiar to that of early-layer Lao Tzu. Even this is not as shocking as one might think: Wang Fu-chih theorized centuries ago that Lao Tzu was a militarist writer, and the military in ancient China was not profane, but sacralized in its own way. (The Zen samurai and similiar military cults played a part in World War Two and even the Vietnam war).
What is common to the “man of Tao” in early-layer Lao Tzu, the commander described by the militarist writers, and the Huang-Lao ruler is unnamability, mystery, and unpredictability. These men cannot be known. Because of difficult questions about dating, it would be unwise to be too sure that Lao Tzu influenced the political and military theorists rather than the other way around. It may be that Lao Tzu was drawing broader conclusions from the specific observations of the earlier more specialized authors.14
While some of the early-layer authors were probably genuine recluses, this aspect of the work is should not be exaggerated. What is primarily renounced in early-layer Lao Tzu is not necessarily public life itself or even war, but rather the pursuit of wealth, glory and honor. During this period, both the military and the state were being reorganized in a way which made military men and government officials more anonymous and less autonomous. The pursuit of glory and reputation was discouraged in favour of strict discipline and exact implementation of the ruler’s commands, and over-enthusiastic officers were subject to execution and mutilating punishment. Namelessness is not simply a theme for mystical contemplation or a speculation on the unreliability of language. It is part of a philosophy of minimal, anonymous government — without striving, fanfare, splendor, grand edicts, or glorious leaders.
CHARACTER AND AFFINITIES:
The middle layer shares the themes of holes/ nothingness and namelessness with the early layer. The paradox sequences and strangeness/ reversal, also seen in the late layer, enter the text here. Only the paradox sequences and the “virtue/ get” puns might be considered predominantly, though not exclusively middle. While this layer is transitional, it is clearly distinguishable from both the early and the late layer.15
Holes/ emptiness/ nothing/ fullness: “Something and nothing produce each other” (Ch. 2); “There may be gold and jade filling the chamber, but none can keep it safe” (Ch. 9); “Thus we gain by making it something, but we have the use by making it nothing” (Ch. 11); “The creatures of the world are born from something, and something is born from nothing” (Ch. 40); “That which is without substance ( wu yu) enters that which has no gaps” (Ch. 43); “Rather than fill it to the brim by keeping it upright, better to have stopped in time” (Ch. 9); “Hollow then full” (Ch. 22); “It means that not knowing when to stop in being full the valley will run dry” (Ch. 39); “Great fullness seems empty, yet use will not drain it” (Ch. 45).
Parallel sequences of paradoxes are seen seven times in the middle layer and three times in the late layer. Ch. 2: “Something and nothing produce one another”, etc.; Ch. 22: “Warped then true, hollow then full”, etc.; Ch. 27: “One who is good at travelling leaves no wheel tracks”, etc.; Ch. 29: “Some blow hot and some blow cold”, etc; Ch. 36: “If you would have a thing weakened, you must first strengthen it”, etc.; Ch. 41: “The sheerest whiteness seems sullied, ample virtue seems defective”, etc.; Ch. 45: “Great fullness seems empty”, etc.; Ch. 68: “One who is good at fighting is never roused in anger”, etc.; Ch. 69: “Marching forward when there is no road”, etc.; Ch. 73: “Is good at overcoming but does not fight”, etc. The paradox-sequences are just one expression of Lao Tzus central theme, reversal. This middle-late theme, which finds it classic expression in Ch. 40 (“Reversal is the movement of Tao”) can be related to several different thematic groups in every layer of the book. Nemesis, requital, retribution, and compensation (punishment for excess, arrogance, greed, etc.) are too pervasive in every layer to require discussion, and “return” in the early layer has already been mentioned; both are what Lafargue calls “quasi-superstitious” developments of traditional belief.16 Both in the middle and late layer we see reversal itself (often in a strategic form similiar to that seen in Sun Tzu), while the Shen Nung theme of “return to simplicity” also belongs to the late layer.
Puns on “virtue/ mana” and “get/ succeed” (both te.k in archaic Chinese) are seen in Ch. 38: “After losing Tao, there is virtue/getting”: . Ch. 23: “The man of virtue/attainment conforms to virtue/ getting; the man of loss conforms to loss. To him who conforms to virtue, Tao gets him [gives him virtue?]; to him who conforms to loss, Tao loses him [gives him loss?] Ch. 44: “Getting and losing, which is more harmful?”. Ch. 22: “With little you get” . Ch. 24: “From the point of view of the way, [bragging and display] are ‘excessive food/ virtue and excrescent conduct'” (“virtue” here is punned with “food”, as Liu Shih-p’ei pointed out, and probably also in Ch. 20.) Ch. 46: “There is no misfortune more painful than desiring gain” . (In Chs. 23 and 49 the Ma Wang Tui texts read “virtue/power” where “get/ succeed ” is usually seen.)
Characterizing the middle layer as a whole, it is less poetic and contemplative than the early layer, with fewer apparent connections with ritual and cult. On the other hand, there is much less stress on political devices than there is in the late layer. In many respects this is the most abstract and philosophical of the layers.
CHARACTER AND AFFINITIES:
Early themes are almost entirely absent from the late layer. Of the middle themes, holes and nothingness are not seen, but paradox sequences and reversal appear several times. Themes seen almost entirely in the late layer include the Shen Tao/ Primitivist themes (discussed in Appendix IV); the power of the low, small, and obscure; strangeness; and the “good/ skillful/ good man/ adept” ( shan.)
The low, small, and humble are especially prominent in Chs. 61-69; related themes include taking the rear position, non- contention, desirelessness, not-daring, and the downward tendency of water. “The large state is the lower reaches of a river” (Ch. 61). “The way is the reservoir for the myriad creatures” (Ch. 62). “The reason why the River and the Sea are able to be king of the hundred valleys is that they are good at humbling themselves before them…. in desiring to lead the people, of necessity, in his person, follows behind them.” (Ch. 66) “One who is good at employing others humbles himself before them” (Ch. 68). “To forsake my position in the rear for the lead is sure to end in death” (Ch. 67)17. “Hence it is because the sage never attempts to be great that he succeeds in becoming great” (Ch. 63). Other late appearances of these themes are seen in Chs. 3, 7, 22, and 34, mostly in “Therefore the sage” formulae; middle appearances are seen in Chs. 8 and 39, and there is an early appearance in Ch. 32.18
“Non-contention” is seen in Chs. 3, 22, 66, 81, 68 (all late) plus Ch. 8 (middle); “not daring” in Chs. 3, 64, 67, 69, 73, and 74 (all late), plus Ch. 32 (early); water is a theme in Chs. 61, 62, 66, and 78 (all late) plus Ch. 8 (middle), and Ch. 32 (early). Altogether these themes appear 35 times, 28 times in the late layer, 3 times in the early layer, and 4 times in the middle layer.
“Reversal” fan , as a middle-late theme can be contrasted to “return” kui , which appears five times in the early layer and three times elsewhere (twice non-thematically). The two themes share a common background in the cosmology of retribution and cyclic repetition, but whereas the significance of “return” is “returning to the source”, the significance of “reversal” is “becoming opposite” (as at the solstices). In one place fan “reversed, contrary” is in antithesis with cheng “normal, right” (Ch. 65); elsewhere “normal” is set against “strange” ch’i or “warped” wang (Chs. 57, 58, 22)19. “Reversal is the movement of the way” (Ch. 40, middle); “Dark virtue is profound, far reaching, and contrary to things” (Ch. 65; my tr.); “Straighforward words seem contrary” (Ch. 78); “Being far away, it is described as reversing” (Ch. 25, my tr.) “Govern a State by being straightforward [normal]; wage war by being crafty [strange, unexpected]” (Ch. 57). “The straightforward [normal] changes once again into the crafty [strange]….”(Ch. 58) “Warped then true [normal]” (Ch. 22, middle). A final late theme is the word “good” shan. Where this word is seen in the Analects it means “competent” and is put in antithesis with the phrase pu neng “inept”, though “good” is the more general meaning.20 In Lao Tzu we see “The good man is the teacher of the good man and the bad man is the material for the good man” (Ch. 27); “Treat as good those who are good. Treat also as good those who are not good” (Ch. 49)21; “The way is the reservoir for the myriad creatures; it is the treasure of the good man and that by which the bad is protected” (Ch. 62); “He who is good does not have much; he who has much is not good” (Ch. 81); “One who is good at being a warrior does not appear formidable”, etc. (Ch. 68); “The way of heaven is good at overcoming though it does not fight”, etc. (Ch. 73); “The way of heaven has no favorites; it is constantly with the good man” (Ch. 79). These passages overlap in many places with the Shen Tao/ Primitivist passages and the paradox sequences, and the passages from Chs. 27, 49, and 62 seem to have virtually the same theme.
While the late layer is the locus within Lao Tzu of most of the sly devices condemned by the Confucians, it should be pointed out that the principles advocated here are not entirely objectionable. The opposition to glory and splendor common to all layers of Lao Tzu leads to an opposition to war and excessive taxation. While many passages can be interpreted as advocating mystification, conspiracy and deception, the underlying lesson is foresight, alertness, and sensitivity to changing situations. The government advocated in these chapters is best described as a benevolent paternalism.
While the various layers of the text have been defined by disjunctures, there are also many continuities. Caution, foresight, modesty, frugality, stillness, simplicity, and minimal action are themes throughout (though least of all in the added layer).
Where a theme is seen in more than one layer it often can be shown that there is a consistent difference in interpretation in the different layers. For example, ching “still” appears in a contemplative sense in the early Chs. 15, 16, and 26; in a Huang-Lao formula in the middle-late Chs. 37, 45, and 57; and finally in a political context Ch. 61 (late).22 (In the early layer stillness indicates a state of awareness, whereas in the later layers it represents civil peace.) All but one of the appearances of cheng “right, normal” appear one of two well- defined contexts: either as part of this same Huang-Lao formula in the middle-late Chs. 37, 39, 45, and 57, or else contrasted with “strange” ch’i, “crooked” wang, and “reversed” fan in the middle-late Chs. 22, 57, 58, and 78. (The exception is in the middle Ch. 8). For another example, the graphs and “huntun” are seen in three contexts: contemplative (Chs. 14, 15, 20, 21, 25); political (Chs. 49 and 58); and primitivist, in an negative interpretation contrary to all the other appearances (Chs. 18 and again in 57).
Return ( kui) in the early layer and reversal ( fan) in the middle and late layers are related, but the contexts are different: contemplation of cycles of life and death in the former case, versus strategic calculation in the latter. (The middle appearance in Ch. 40 is transitional). Simplicity and confusion characterize the sage in the early layer, but the easily-governed common people instead in the late layer. Whether the late appropriations of early themes should be regarded as legitimate developments in a different context, or as opportunistic distortions, is not an easy question to answer.
My account leaves many unsolved problems. Its messiness is exactly what should be expected from a text built up by accretion over a considerable period. I do not know why there are several early chapters in Part II. (Almost every chapter from chapter 49 to chapter 62 has something dubious about it). The beginning of Chapter 35 and the middle of Chapter 8 seem to belong nowhere. The apparent citations of Chs. 32, 33, and 37 in Chs. 44 and 46 make little sense in the context of my overall theory of the development of the text. Other examples could be given.
The best way to judge my conclusions would be to cut up a photocopy of the MWT Lao Tzu, rearrange it as I have suggested, and ask whether the new arrangement makes the text more intelligible. I hope that at least a few readers will make the effort to do so.
Early layer Lao Tzu rejected the pursuit of wealth, glory, and high position, whether or not public service was entirely rejected. Contemplation and cultivation of life were the positive focusses at this stage, and it is probable that there was a mythic, ritual foundation to these practices. Even in this early stage, the attainment of social peace by indirect methods was a definite theme. Middle layer Lao Tzu developed the insights of the first layer in a more abstract, less contemplative way, but without emphasizing political devices much, and in this layer reversal (becoming-other, becoming- opposite) became the guiding theme. The middle layer is probably just a stage in a process, but the late layer, and the present form of the book, are the conscious product of an editor; in the late layer the full political development of the earlier insights was spelled out in detail. Finally, in the Han dynasty, the book came to be regarded, much against the original intent, as a recipe for success, and a vulgarized version was produced early in the Han dynasty.
The variety of material included, the variety of contexts within which this material was produced, and the vigor of the late Warring States debate produced a text which is validly applicable to a very broad range of real-world situations: public and private, political and religious, practical and philosophical. It should not be surprising that it remains to this day, even in the West, a work of widespread appeal and of more than purely historical interest.
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