Lao-tzu's Taoteching

Bill Porter (Red Pine), trans.

Lao-tzu’s Taoteching is an essential volume of world literature, and Red Pine’s beautifully nuanced English translation—updated and reissued, published with the Chinese text en face—is the most authoritative version of this important text. What distinguishes this volume is its commentary: here as well are the voices of scores of poets, monks, recluses, adepts, scholars, and emperors. More than a translation, more than a book of poetry or religious teachings, this edition gathers the wisdom, thought and individual voices, of its readers across millennia. “I envisioned this book,” Red Pine notes in his introduction, “as a discussion between Lao-tzu and a group of people who have thought deeply about his text.”

Paperback: $18.00 list price

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ISBN: 9781556592904

Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9781556595554

Format: Hardcover


Were I sufficiently wise
I would follow the Great Way
and only fear going astray
the Great Way is smooth
but people love byways
their palaces are spotless
but their fields are overgrown
and their granaries are empty
they wear fine clothes
and carry sharp swords
they tire of food and drink
and possess more than they need
this is called robbery
and robbery is not the Way

About the Translator

Bill Porter assumes the pen name Red Pine for his translation work. He was born in Los Angeles in 1943, grew up in the Idaho Panhandle, served a tour of duty in the US Army, graduated from the University of California with a degree in anthropology, and attended graduate school at Columbia University. Uninspired by the prospect of an academic career, he dropped out of Columbia and moved to a Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. After four years with the monks …

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About the Author

Lao Tzu was a native of Huhsien prefecture in the state of Ch’u. Nowadays, Huhsien is called Luyi. Lao Tzu was born there in 604 B.C., or 571 B.C., depending on which account of historians we accept.

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“Red Pine’s revised edition of this ancient Chinese classic is a welcome addition to our on-going love affair with this extraordinary document… The uniqueness of Porter’s edition, however, does not lie in comparisons between versions of the text but in Porter’s use of excerpts from China’s vast commentarial tradition… What is notable about this translation is the range, in terms of both historical era and perspective, of the sources that Porter has culled from China’s rich history.” —Tom Pynn, Southeast Review of Asian Studies

“Read it in confidence that it comes as close as possible to expressing the Chinese text in English.” —Victor H. Mair, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature, University of Pennsylvania

“A refreshing new translation… Highly recommended.” —Library Journal

“Red Pine… introduces Western readers to both the text itself and the traditions it has inherited… he lets the book speak for itself, while helping us hear what it might be saying.” —Virginia Quarterly Review

“The introduction to this Taoteching is an unequivocal pleasure. Red Pine lived many years in China, and walked the Taoist landscape as well as studying its geography, history, philosophy, and letters. Informed and easy, Red Pine’s prose interweaves the transmission of Lao-tzu’s text and its place in Chinese culture with a personal narrative… The backmatter glossary lists and illuminates proper names and Chinese terms; it gives the brief bios and dates of all the commentators and sources of the selected quotations. This dispels much strangeness attached to who, what where, and when.” —Books and Culture

“Red Pine’s translation is one of the most poetically concise, and he follows each chapter with excerpts from 2,000 years of traditional Chinese commentaries.” —Ken Knabb, Bureau of Public Secrets