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This review is taken from PN Review 234, Volume 43 Number 4, March - April 2017.

Cover of Daodejing
Shengchi HsuA Way
Laozi (trans. Martyn Crucefix)
Daodejing
(Enitharmon Press, 2016) £9.99
LAOZI’S DAODEJING (or Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching) is one of the best-known Chinese classics in the West. Written using five thousand Chinese characters, Daodejing is composed of two sections with a total of eighty-one chapters. The book sets out to explain the philosophy of Dao through a variety of juxtaposed examples Laozi observed in nature. This philosophy later provided the founding principles of Taoism. The text owes some of its popularity to Winnie-the-Pooh and his adoption of Tao as a way to demonstrate his life’s philosophy. It is not uncommon for readers of Daodejing to take the text purely as a philosophical and spiritual guide to life. What is rarely discussed in academia or in public is the literary value of the text.

Laozi’s sophisticated literary techniques are clear: he uses neat paralleled rhymed verses, repetition, metaphors, and vivid images drawn from everyday objects to convey his thinking. The Chinese language’s tonal system adds to the musicality and pace of these verses. Given the literariness in Daodejing, and the difficulty in deciphering ancient Chinese texts’ economical diction, translating Laozi’s philosophy and poetics into languages distant from the Chinese language system poses real challenges to translators.

These challenges have not deterred translators from producing new translations; a simple search discloses more than a thousand versions available to readers, ranging from Arthur Waley’s translation in 1934 to the New York Times best-selling translation by Stephen Mitchell.

Martyn Crucefix follows in the footsteps of these translators to produce his new ‘versions’ of Daodejing. ...


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