Above all, these reviewers applaud language that is readily understandable: ‘It is the duty of the translator to attempt to restate a classic for his or her generation, in a language that they can best understand’; ‘Le Guin’s “rendition” startled me with its everyday language and showed me the Tao in a new light.’ Just what is so desirable about ‘everyday language’? We do not go to the theater in order to hear Othello speak as though he were born in our generation. Americans make statements about the Daode jing that they would think twice before saying with regard to any other classic.

The Daode jing is old; it is alien; it is Chinese; and it is difficult. These are the recalcitrant facts that too many readers seem disinclined to accept. Instead, they seek out the most facile translations and consume insipid approximations of the original. This phenomenon must be attributable at least in part to intellectual laziness. The public is not obliged to restrict itself to academic monographs, but readers still have a responsibility to investigate the merit of a translation before adopting it. Not much research is necessary to discover that there is more to Daoism than ‘letting events take their course’, and that the scary political overtones cannot be disregarded as the detritus of imaginary interpolators. Like any profound work of philosophy, the Daode jing is dangerous. We do it no justice by pretending that it is easy to swallow.

Paul R. Goldin, «Those Who Don’t Know Speak: Translations of the Daode jing by people who do not know Chinese,» Asian Philosophy: An International Journal of the Philosophical Traditions of the East 12, no. 3 (2002): 183-95.

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