Does anyone know of a decent English translation of the Tao Te Ching?

I recently picked one up at a used book store, but it’s based on a translation from 1891, with tons of unnecessary commentary in the footnotes. It’s a really crappy translation (it was only a dollar though).

I’ve had Stephen Mitchell’s translation recommended, but was wondering if there might be a better or different as well one out there.


9 thoughts on “Does anyone know of a decent English translation of the Tao Te Ching?

  1. *wax on, wax off*

    Wat u say, big eyes?

    Wow, people really can’t take a joke, huh? My first son was part Chinese and I’m sure he would have laughed at this. Some people….

  2. There are about a gazillion translations and editions. Browse in a biggish bookstore, and get one that pleases your senses. Some are beautifully illustrated, some beautifully bound.

    It’s a subtle work in any language, and I think different people have used their translations to push one attitude or another.

  3. Tao Te Ching
    The Tao Te Ching, (Pinyin Dào Dé Jīng ) is a Chinese classic text. Its name comes from the opening words of its two sections: 道 dào “way,” Chapter 1, and 德 dé “virtue,” Chapter 38, plus 經 jīng “classic.” According to tradition, it was written around 6th century BCE by the Taoist sage Laozi (or Lao Tzu, “Old Master”), a record-keeper at the Zhou Dynasty court, by whose name the text is known in China. The text’s true authorship and date of composition or compilation are still debated.
    Rev. TomCat – Computer translation

  4. My current copy was translated by D. C. Lau and I am quite pleased with his translation. It is not translated to the point of dumbing it down.

  5. The Stephen Mitchell version is one of my favorites but it does tend on your personal preferences. A lot of people object to the Stephen Mitchell version because it’s not a strict translation, he doesn’t even speak or read Chinese. His focus is on in conveying the spiritual meaning within the text rather then the literal words. If you’re a stickler for such things then I would go with Thomas Cleary instead, he’s one of my favorite translators of Taoist texts. Shambhala publishing carries a lot of his work and you can order directly from them and they are highly respected.

  6. I think they even have Taoism for Dummies or the Idiots Guide to Taoism. I don’t know what I have, I loaned it out.

  7. imho, mitchell takes too many liberties with the original text in an attempt to be contemporary. my favorites are by d.c. lau and lin yutang.

    i made a chart of 5 different translations and the literal chinese in order to construct a translation for the book of baddite, and lau and yutang were the ones i used most often to interpolate difficult phrases. arthur waley’s is pretty good, too, but a little archaic.

    i’m guessing you got edmund arnold’s translation? i got his bhagavad gita before i realized it was the same goofball whose tao i deleted. florid and pretentious doesn’t begin to describe his style.

    if you want me to narrow it down to one, go for the yutang.

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