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Tao Te Ching (Signet Classics) Mass Market Paperback – January 2, 2007


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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

The way of life defined in the Tao Te Ching was developed by ancient sages who lived in China some two thousand years ago. Lao Tzu, known as the Old One, was one such sage who practiced "the way," although there were almost certainly other religious thinkers who contributed further ideas and wisdom to it.

R. B. Blakney, past president of Olivet College, former missionary and teacher in China, and author of many volumes on Eastern religions, made this splendid translation of a great gem of Chinese religion and provided an illuminating interpretative commentary.

Richard John Lynn is Professor Emeritus of Chinese Thought and Literature, Department of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto, Canada. His books include Chinese Literature: A Draft Bibliography in Western European Languages, Guide to Chinese Poetry and Drama, and The Classic of Changes: A New Translation of the I Ching as Interpreted by Wang Bi. He is the editor of James J. Y. Liu’s Language—Paradox—Poetics:  A Chinese Perspective.
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Product Details

  • Series: Signet Classics
  • Mass Market Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Signet; 1st. edition (January 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451530403
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451530400
  • Product Dimensions: 4.1 x 0.5 x 6.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (401 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,223,487 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

This has to be one of the best translations of the Tao Te Ching I have read.
Amazon Customer
Stephen Mitchell's translation of this masterful text is, by far, the best out there.
Eric Trout
Each page is one chapter, so you can read this book in an hour or in a lifetime.
wandering monk

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

413 of 426 people found the following review helpful By R. Tarbell on January 26, 2007
Format: Paperback
Tao Te Ching is ancient, now a couple of millenia in print. Stephen Mitchell has not translated this classic, but rather has paraphrased it -- as he admits in the Foreward. But he is a Zen student of a couple of decades and has good insight into the Zen of the Tao (Zen Buddhism is Buddhism heavily dosed with Taoism).

Mitchell's version of the Tao Te Ching is very, even extremely, modern. Perhaps to the point of being "politically correct." However, he does have a way with words and this is a very readable version of the Tao. To show how modern it is, let's take an example and compare his version of the beginning of chapter 46 with two other versions:

- Mitchell
"When a country is in harmony with the Tao,
the factories make trucks and tractors.
When a country goes counter to the Tao,
warheads are stockpiled outside the cities."

- Victor Mair
"When the Way prevails under heaven,
swift horses are relegated to fertilizing fields.
When the Way does not prevail under heaven,
war-horses breed in the suburbs."

- Addiss & Lombardo
"With TAO under heaven
Stray horses fertilze the fields.
Without TAO under heaven,
Warhorses are bred at the frontier."

Obviously, there were no factories, trucks, tractors, or warheads in ancient China. So, Mitchell is providing a modern interpretation of the Tao Te Ching, while Mair as well as Addiss & Lombardo are closer to a literal translation (which is not possible however, because the Chinese language and the English language are so completely different from one another.)

None of this is to find fault with Stephen Mitchell. This is just to say that his book cannot be definitive, because it is less literal and not really a translation.
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360 of 401 people found the following review helpful By Kerry Walters VINE VOICE on October 30, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm amazed at the storm that Mitchell's version of the Tao Te Ching has churned up. Reading previous reviews, there seem to be two factions: those who find Mitchell's version thought-provoking and soul-stirring, and those who focus on what they see as its poetical liberties with the original. The first group is primarily interested in using the text as a catalyst for reflective insight into the nature of reality. The second group is primarily interested in the text as an historical document. The first group seeks transformation. The second group seeks scholarship.

I don't know that there's any intrinsic dissonance between the methods of scholarship and the goal of transformation, but I do know this: as a professor of philosophy who wants his students to read texts as tools for discovery rather than as sacred cows to be worshipped, I'll take Mitchell's version over more "scholarly" translations any day. For the nonspecialist who's not interested in parsing Chinese, which is really more important: entering into the spirit of the Tao Te Ching so that the reading of it becomes a lived, integrated experience, or memorizing a lot of scholarly footnotes? Mitchell's version breathes new life into a 2500-year-old text that most people today would find too arcane if they read a more literal translation. What a pity to begrudge contemporary readers an opportunity to discover the Tao simply because we don't think that the vehicle made available to them is "scholarly" enough!
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396 of 477 people found the following review helpful By DocCaligari on April 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
As Mitchell admits, he doesn't read Chinese. Instead of calling this a "translation," he calls it an "English version." But why would you want to read a loose English paraphrase by someone who can't read either the original or the early Chinese commentaries on it when you could read a translation by any one of a number of gifted and insightful scholars?
The standard defense of a "version" like Mitchell's is that he has some special insight into the text that entitles him to interpret it. But the danger of an interpretation like Mitchell's is that it projects modern Western preconceptions onto the Tao Te Ching instead of allowing us to be challenged by the powerful, paradoxical, and even frightening original text. In fact, Mitchell projects Zen Buddhist and New Age ideas into his "interpetation." (And, No, Zen Buddhism is not the same as Taoism, any more than Catholicism is the same as Judaism.) Someone who actually reads the original Classical Chinese, and is familiar with the historical and cultural context in which the text was composed is much more likely to be insightful about the text. Another common comment is that someone like Mitchell doesn't get lost in boring scholarly stuff. But there are plenty of exciting, fun to read translations by people who can actually read the original. The first Tao Te Ching translation I read was by D.C. Lau. He was a truly great scholar, but his translation is very elegant and very readable. Other terrific translations by people who actually know the "text and context" include those by Victor Mair, Robert Henricks, and Philip J. Ivanhoe. (Ivanhoe's translation is available both as a separate book, and as part of the anthology he co-edited, Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy.)
Oh, and the "editorial review" that Amazon lists above is actually not a review of Mitchell's translation at all. (There is no way to report that using their "corrections" button.)
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67 of 78 people found the following review helpful By New Jersey, USA on December 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have read a few different versions of translation of Tao Te Ching including translations by some Chinese and Korean scholars. Evem I am not a Chinese scholar, I studied and used Chinese characters over twenty years in Korea like most Korean students. I agree that Stephen Mitchell's book is not the best if you are looking for literal translation of the original ancient Chinese Toa Te Ching. But the literal translation often does not make sence to me and to the most readers in English speaking countries. Even among Chinese scholars there are many different opinions about the true meaning or interpretations of the original Tao Te Ching because it was written more than a thousand years ago in ancient Chinese.

Tao Te Ching is written by "Noza". In Chinese character "Noza" means an old man. "Old men" in oriental countries are very respectable. But in America "Old men" is not as respectable as in China. So how could you interepret "Noza" in English? Tao Te Ching is written by an old man literally. But better translation could be: "Toa Te Ching" is written by an "Old Wise Man", "Sage", or "Master" instead of (senile) old man.

If you, as a serious student, are looking for the literal translation of the original Tao Te Ching, you'd better read a few different translations by Chinese scholars. But if you are looking for a book to learn Tao Te Ching's intent and spirit, I have not found any other English translation smoother than Mitchell's.
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