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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"Man's enemies..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: Man's enemies are not demons, but human beings like himself.

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"Man's enemies are not demons, but human beings like himself."






Lao Tzu would laugh at this statement. Of course men are not demons. They can't be, since they are human beings. Not that Lao Tzu cared much at all for supernatural beings, not even deities, but he could tell the difference. He would regard the quote as pure nonsense.

       Stephen Mitchell, author of a very popular version of Tao Te Ching from 1988, obviously sees it differently. The quote is from his rendering of chapter 31, with the slight difference of writing "his" instead of "man's." That's surely an edit when the quote was taken out of its context.


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       But Mitchell's version is so far off from the original that I have trouble seeing what line he interpreted this way. Here is the relevant part of Mitchell's chapter 31, listing what "a decent man" prefers:


Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn't wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?


       Here is my version of the same part, referring to the preferences of "the noble ruler":


Peace and quiet are preferred.
Victory should not be praised.
Those who praise victory relish manslaughter.
Those who relish manslaughter
Cannot reach their goals in the world.


       And here is James Legge's version from 1891 (page 74), speaking about "the superior man":


Calm and repose are what he prizes; victory (by force of arms) is to him undesirable. To consider this desirable would be to delight in the slaughter of men; and he who delights in the slaughter of men cannot get his will in the kingdom.


       Mitchell has allowed himself to expand with his own words on why the enemy should not be despised, which may be commendable but also unnecessary in this context.

       Lao Tzu did not feel the need to explain that enemies are people, too. What else could they be? Instead he focused on the importance of regarding war with grief and regret, even when it is won.

       For more about Stephen Mitchell and his version of Tao Te Ching, see the chapter A good traveler has no fixed plans.

Stefan Stenudd
April 2, 2017, revised September 9, 2020.



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