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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"An ant on the move..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: An ant on the move does more than a dozing ox.

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"An ant on the move does more than a dozing ox."






There is no ant in Tao Te Ching, nor is there an ox except for a "feast of the ox" mentioned in chapter 20, which was the t'ai-lao sacrifice at spring. The saying here is humorous, but Lao Tzu would probably have frowned at it. His message of wu-wei, non-action, was closer to the dozing ox than the ant on the move.

       The oldest book I have found with this exact quote is Folk Wisdom of Mexico from 1994, by Jeff M. Sellers (page 36). It is called an anonymous Mexican proverb. Other books published later have also used the quote, describing it as a Mexican proverb.


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.


       In 2006, though, the Reader's Digest book Treasury of Wit & Wisdom edited by Jeff Bredenberg presented the quote as from Lao Tzu (page 130). The book also contains a short text about Lao Tzu (page 74) and several other quotes ascribed to him. Many of them are questionable, to say the least. Others are plausible, and the main source to them seems to be Wing-tsit Chan's 1963 version of Tao Te Ching - but there certainly is no ant on the move or dozing ox in it.

       It is hard to see how Bredenberg could make the mistake of ascribing a Mexican proverb to Lao Tzu, but there it is. And several books that followed inherited the mistake - not to mention plenty of web pages and memes.

       The oldest web page I have found containing the quote, with an ascertained date, is a blog post from August 7, 2008, accrediting it to Lao Tzu. On Facebook, the quote doesn't appear until February 2012 - in two posts, none ascribing the quote to anyone. The following year there is a post by Sunwarrior healthfood with a meme, ascribing the quote to Lao Tzu.

       Not only Lao Tzu has been ascribed to the quote. On Goodreads, there is a listing of it as a Zen proverb. I even came across a web page accrediting it to Mike Tyson.

Stefan Stenudd
September 13, 2020.



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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.

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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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