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Fake Lao Tzu Quotes

Fake Interview

Fake Interview with the Author of Fake Lao Tzu Quotes, Stefan Stenudd

Fake Interview with the Author of Fake Lao Tzu Quotes, Stefan Stenudd


I call this a fake interview because I interviewed myself. My excuse is a background in journalism, and I thought it might be fun to ask myself about my experience writing a book about fake Lao Tzu quotes. So, here it is.






Stefan Stenudd has recently released the book Fake Lao Tzu Quotes, examining 90 quotes falsely ascribed to the legendary Taoist, explaining why they are not the words of Lao Tzu and tracing their true origins.

So, Stefan, why did you write this book?

       Ė I got tired of all the nonsense quotes on the web, claiming to be from Lao Tzu, mainly in memes. A lot of them were pathetic, far from the brilliant mind of the writer of Tao Te Ching. They had to be exposed.

Why 90 quotes? There must be more than that?

       Ė Oh yes! And more keep coming. There are websites producing and spreading such memes continuously. And social media are willing targets. But I think I got the most widely spread ones, and the worst of them. That happened to be 90. Still, surely more are coming.

Then, whatís the point?

       Ė I hope that my book can help making people question the authenticity of those quotes. Thatís why I also put my texts about them on my Taoistic website. Hopefully, when people google those quotes they will also find my web pages debunking them.


Fake Lao Tzu Quotes - Erroneous Tao Te Ching Citations Examined. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Now it's a book, too!

90 of the most spread false Lao Tzu quotes, why they are false and where they are really from. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

       More about the book here.


If you have those texts on the web, why write a book?

       Ė Itís what I do. I write books. Thatís how I get to the bottom of things and go the extra mile, so to speak. When I worked as a journalist for newspapers, I usually wrote my text one day, and it was published the next. With a book I work for several months or even years.

So how long did Fake Lao Tzu Quotes take to write?

       Ė Letís see. I started thinking about it early this year, and the writing began in April. It was finished in the beginning of September. So, five months of writing. Thatís unusually quick to be me. Itís probably because I had great fun with it.
       Ė Also, I had actually started earlier, on my Taoistic website. Back in 2017 I posted texts about some fake Lao Tzu quotes. I got to about 20, before I paused for other projects. But it made my writing of the book much easier to begin with.

Who made you a judge of what Lao Tzu quote is fake or not?

       Ė Of course I can only speak for myself. I presented my arguments in every case, so that people should be able to make their own judgments. Itís really a question of becoming familiar with the thoughts presented in Tao Te Ching. Once you do, the judgment is not that difficult.
       Ė My own relation with that book began in the early 1970ís, when I got my hands on a version of it, which was that by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English. I fell in love with the text immediately, just by reading its first chapter. Almost 20 years later, I published my own version of Tao Te Ching in Swedish, and 20 years after that I released a version in English Ė after much hesitation, I must add.

What made you hesitate about your English version?

       Ė Well, in publishing the general rule is that a translator should primarily be excellent with the language to which a book is translated, not necessarily to the same extent the language from which it is translated. That might seem counter-intuitive, but it is what works the best. Otherwise the translated text might get awkward and hard for the readers to comprehend and appreciate.
       Ė My native language is Swedish, so I was not sure that I could give the text full justice in English. Also, there are so many versions of Tao Te Ching in English. What sense would one more make?

But then you still went ahead with it. Why?

       Ė I tried it and felt comfortable about it. Also, reading all these prominent and some not so prominent translations, I felt that there was something I could bring to the table.

What was that?

       Ė The simple and direct language of Lao Tzu might even be easier to portray for someone not that equilibristic in English. I think the major thing with that text is not to complicate it, or decorate it with elaborate linguistic finesse, and I would not accidentally fall into that trap. I just wouldnít be able to.
       Ė Moreover, I had found a way of writing the book, with each chapter followed by my commentary and explanations. Thatís really the traditional way in both Chinese and European handling of a classic. I had not seen it done like that before, at least not as I wanted to do it. So I had to give it a go.
       Ė But I didnít decide on publishing until it was finished. I was not at all sure I would be pleased enough by the result. To my surprise, I was. The readers might agree or disagree. Now itís up to them.

How different is your version from the others?

       Ė Not much at all. Well, not from the ones staying as close as they can to the original Chinese text in its context. In my comments, though, I took the liberty of explaining the chapters both from the historical Chinese mindset to which it spoke, as far as I was able, and from a modern application of Lao Tzuís thoughts relevant to the world we live in now.
       Ė The latter, I believe, is additional help for the reader to approach the essence of Lao Tzuís Taoism. When we can apply his ideas to our own world and lives, then we can really understand his message.

So, are you a Taoist?

       Ė Well, after living for almost half a century with Tao Te Ching, I might have become indoctrinated into one...
       Ė Seriously, I have always found Lao Tzuís thoughts convincing. Most of them. And I have found that I sort of live according to his principles. For example, I strongly believe that action should be balanced, usually even minimized, or it will just create new problems, more severe than the ones at the outset. And I am very hesitant about accepting praise. It worries me.
       Ė So yes, to a large extent I live according to the Taoistic ideas. But not completely. I reserve the right to form my own opinions and adapt my actions to circumstances, even if that means deviating very far from Tao. Iím not much of a devotee.

That might be Taoistic, too, donít you think?

       Ė It might. I like to think that Lao Tzu would have enjoyed such an attitude. In any case, there it is.

Letís get back to Fake Lao Tzu Quotes. Have you found some patterns in those quotes? Is there a common ground in them?

       Ė A lot of them come from writers with their own agenda, deforming Tao Te Ching to fit their values and beliefs. In particular, there are many interpretations made by people in the fields of self-realization, mindfulness, motivational speech, affirmations, New Age, and all that. They tend not to shun at all from bending Lao Tzuís words to fit them. And they are not that big on being true to the sources, or even checking with them.
       Ė Another frequent tendency is to make Tao Te Ching approach Buddhism, especially Zen. There definitely are similarities between Taoism and Zen, but also significant differences. They tend to be ignored or even consciously hidden in such interpretations.

Whatís the tendency in the versions from self-realization and such?

       Ė The main one is that they make Tao Te Ching ego centered, which it is not. They make Lao Tzuís advice about how to get ahead in the world, while he spoke about how to adapt to it. Lao Tzuís perspective was always what would benefit the whole world, and not just single individuals.
       Ė It is kind of the same with the Zen versions. They tend to promote detaching from the world, but Lao Tzu was very much involved in it. For example, he said in chapter 13 that only those who love the world as much as themselves can be entrusted with it.

Doesnít that sounds like something Jesus might have said?

       Ė Yes. Iíve found lots of similarities between the words of Jesus and those of Lao Tzu. If you strip away the religion and miracles from the former, you end up very near Lao Tzuís message.

Are all fake Lao Tzu quotes from self-realization or Zen people?

       Ė Oh no. I found many other origins to quotes, later claimed to be from Lao Tzu. Some came from centuries old collections of proverbs, some from dialogues in fiction, and so on. One was 1960ís graffiti on a wall in Texas, another from the 1982 movie Blade Runner. Several sure sounded like they could be from Tao Te Ching, containing similar messages. Others were so way off I marveled at the mistaken accreditation.

So itís not only an Internet meme thing?

       Ė Far from it. That was a surprise to me. Most of the fake quotes were from books older than the Internet. We canít blame social media for anything other than spreading those fake quotes more effectively than books did before.
       Ė Actually, Iím optimistic about critical thinking having a better chance with the Internet. Books have been overly trusted. Something is not true just because itís in a book. Nowadays, everyone can search the Internet and find that out.

Was that what you did, writing this book?

       Ė Yes. Iíd even say that the research I did on the web would have been impossible to do without it. I canít even imagine how enormous my work would have been without it, and still not reaching even halfway in most cases. Itís a tremendous resource. By time it must lead to more trustworthy information. Fakes will be revealed so much easier.

Are there many more fake than authentic Lao Tzu quotes around?

       Ė Iím not sure of that. There are many, certainly, but during my work I also came across a lot of quotes and memes that are indeed from Tao Te Ching Ė or close enough. On the other hand, many of the most popular Lao Tzu quotes are fake. I would say most of them.
       Ė I give you one example. There are lots of Lao Tzu quotes on the big website Goodreads. The by far most popular one is ďBeing deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.Ē Thatís a fake quote. It has well over 30,000 likes. Number two only has one sixth of that, 5,000 likes. Thatís cause for concern.

What advice can you give on revealing fake Lao Tzu quotes?

       Ė Lao Tzuís perspective was not religious. He did not care about gods or an afterlife. Nor did he discuss love or any other emotion as such. He was quite matter-of-factly. Thatís a give-away, since many fake quotes venture into those fields and become kind of sentimental.
       Ė Another thing to consider is that Tao Te Ching was written in ancient China some 2,400 years ago, approximately. Modern concepts of the universe, psychology, and ideology were just not there. Many fake quotes have modern ingredients that would be very alien to Lao Tzu.
       Ė But the best antidote is to read one or more of the trustworthy Tao Te Ching versions out there. You quickly get the hang of it.

Which ones are trustworthy?

       Ė There are many. I put a commented bibliography at the end of my book, so that the reader will be able to pick. Itís on my Taoistic website, too.
       Ė For example, the translations by D. C. Lau, James Legge, Arthur Waley, and Wing-tsit Chan are highly regarded. Iím also impressed by those by Robert G. Henricks and Philip J. Ivanhoe.

You donít include your own version?

       Ė Oh, I forgot. Well, I regard it as trustworthy. But itís for the readers to decide.

(September 30, 2020)



Fake Lao Tzu Quotes

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My Taoism Books:


Tao Te Ching - The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Tao Te Ching

The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained. The great Taoist philosophy classic by Lao Tzu translated, and each of the 81 chapters extensively commented. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

       More about the book here.


Tao Quotes - the Ancient Wisdom of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Tao Quotes

The Ancient Wisdom of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. 389 quotes from the foremost Taoist classic, divided into 51 prominent topics. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

       More about the book here.


Fake Lao Tzu Quotes - Erroneous Tao Te Ching Citations Examined. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Fake Lao Tzu Quotes

Erroneous Tao Te Ching Citations Examined. 90 of the most spread false Lao Tzu quotes, why they are false and where they are really from. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

       More about the book here.



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Other Books by Stefan Stenudd:


Cosmos of the Ancients. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Cosmos of the Ancients

The Greek philosophers and what they thought about cosmology, myth, and the gods. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.


QI - increase your life energy. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Qi - Increase Your Life Energy

The life energy qi (also chi or ki) explained, with exercises on how to awaken, increase and use it. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.


Aikido Principles. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Aikido Principles

Basic concepts of the peaceful martial art. Aikido principles, philosophy, and fundamental ideas. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.


Life Energy Encyclopedia. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Life Energy Encyclopedia

Qi, prana, spirit, ruach, pneuma, and many other life forces around the world explained and compared. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.


Stefan Stenudd, Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction. Stefan Stenudd


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I'm a Swedish author and aikido instructor. In addition to fiction, I've written books about Taoism and other East Asian traditions. I'm also an historian of ideas, researching ancient thought and mythology. Click the image to get to my personal website.

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