Heavy going but well worth it. I have been reliably informed by a western Taiji master (who studies in China) that this is one of the best translations of the text. I also found the detailed introduction, which sets the cultural context, most enlightening.
The Guodian tombs were unearthed in Jingmen, Hubei (China) in 1993. They were found to contain 804 bamboo (chu) slips, that preserved upon on them, a number of important Chinese wisdom texts - some known, some unknown. Amongst these texts was discovered the oldest known copy of the Dao De Jing - the Way of Virtue Classic - dating to around 300BCE. It compares favourably with the Mawangdui and Wang Bi versions, but has in edition an appended text entitled 'The Great One Gives Birth To The Waters.' Ames and Hall translate the entire Guodian Dao De Jing and this appended work.
The peperback (2004) edition contains 241 numbered pages, and is presented in what ammounts to two parts, with a number of explanatory chapters (9) dealing with Chinese philosophy and its finer points, a glossary of key terms forming the first part, and the translated text(s), with introduction and explanation forming the second part.
Ames and Hall present a very logical, and yet accessible translation. They have termed their translation of the earliest known version of Laozi's Daoist text as 'A Philosophical Translation', that although presented in the English language, nevertheless, conveys as near as possible the 'true' Chinese meaning and intent that lies with the Chinese source material. What is interesting is that Ames and Hall have managed to create a Western academic framework that allows ancient Chinese philosophical principles to be correctly observed and interpreted with the minimum of Western bias.
The result is a compelling 'literal' translation that may well appear unfamiliar to the general reader who has experienced other renderings. This may serve to indicate the 'freshness' of the translation under review. All translations are a compromise between the original language meaning, and the cultural-psychological structures of the receiving language. As Chinese and English have developed quite separately from one another, it takes skill, experience and knowledge to convey concepts from one to the other, if any meaningful structure is to be maintained. Such an uncertain science as 'translation' invariably results in diverse interpretations that tend to be 'snap-shots' of the time and place that has created them. In the European imperial era, for instance, many translations of Chinese texts into English contained a Christian bias, and a political disrespect. Much was not understood about ancient Chinese culture. Today, with the internet, extensive travel and multiculturalism, there is no reasonable excuse for incorrect academics. This work is careful and exact. A fine piece of Western academia at its best. Through it its lens, we discover the world.
This 'philosophical translation' provides a fresh view of daoist (taoist) concepts, uncontaminated by ages of Christian and Platonic interpretations of Chinese philosophy. It becomes clear that our (Western) language(s)as well as our idealistic or essentialist ways of thinking stand in the way of grasping the meaning - we should not say the 'essence' here, of course - of the ancient thinking attributed to Laozi. The insertion of the original characters invite the reader to participate in the process of interpretation. Unfortunately, my level of Chinese is not really sufficient, but still I got an idea of what the authors are trying to do: scrape off the layers of interpretations that hinder adequate understanding. Whether the process philopsophy of Whitehead, which seems to inspire the authors, consitutes an adequate frame or not, remains to be seen.