Anyone who may be looking for a stripped-down edition of the Tao Te Ching, one without Introduction, Commentaries, or Footnotes, so that one may immediately come to grips with this most fascinating and profound of texts without any distracting impedimenta at all, could hardly do better than get hold of a copy of this book.
A brief description of its translator, Dr John C. H. Wu, will be found in the Introduction to Red Pine's 'Lao-tzu's Taoteching.' From Red Pine, who attended a graduate course on the Tao Te Ching given by Dr Wu at the College of Chinese Culture in Taiwan many years ago, we learn that he was a person of considerable attainments.
Besides translating the Tao Te Ching, Dr Wu also translated the New Testament, drafted his country's constitution, and served as China's ambassador to the Vatican and it's chief representative to the Hague. Clearly we are dealing here, not with some sort of 'mystical' dreamer, but with an accomplished scholar, diplomat, and man of the world, and one who must have realized the world has never stood in greater need of Lao Tzu's religion of peace than it does in our present era of aggression.
After a brief Foreword, and a couple of pages of Editor's Notes, we are immediately confronted by the text. Here is an example of Dr Wu's style from the opening of Chapter 29, slightly adjusted since it should be set out as poetry:
"Does anyone want to take the world and do what he wants with it? / I do not see how he can succeed. // The world is a sacred vessel, which must not be tampered with or grabbed after. / To tamper with it is to spoil it, and to grasp it is to lose it" (page 59).
In the present age of manipulators both great and small, could there be any more apt words for us than these? And could they have been expressed more effectively? One doubts it.
But it gets better. Classical Chinese is an extremely rich language, a language of multiple meanings. No English translation, no matter how good - and Dr Wu's is very good indeed - could possibly hope to capture more than a fraction of the meaning inherent in the Chinese text. Given this, we see the hand of the diplomat at work in Dr Wu's next move, for facing each page of the English translation he has given us Wang Pi's edition of the original Chinese text.
Evidently Dr Wu went to some pains to present us with a truly striking version of this text, for we are told that it is reproduced from the Lao Chieh Lao edition compiled by Ts'ai T'ing Kan, and privately printed in 1922. It would seem we have been given a collector's item, and it is certainly one of the most beautifully printed Chinese texts of the Tao Te Ching that I have ever seen.
The traditional full-form Chinese characters are printed in a large, clear, bold font, and even a beginner, after a week's study of the Chinese radicals, would have no trouble at all making out the structure of even the more complex characters. Somehow I get the feeling that Dr Wu would like YOU to become that beginner...
There is of course enough to keep anyone busy pondering for years in any competent English translation of the Tao Te Ching. But for those who may find themselves stirred by the visual beauty of the Chinese characters, each of which is an exquisitely balanced and supreme work of art, and who may be curious to learn more about them and how they work and what they mean, there are a number of books that would help.
One of them is the 'Gate of All Marvelous Things : A Guide to Reading the Tao Te Ching' by Gregory C. Richter. This is an interlinear edition of the Tao Te Ching which gives the Chinese text in simplified characters, pinyin transliterations, a literal word-by-word gloss and a final translation. By means of this book you can learn to read the original, or some of your favorite passages, in Chinese.
I think that if one or two of you were so impelled, Dr Wu would be left feeling very happy indeed. He seems to be a man with a keen desire to share the most important and beautiful things he has found in life.