Gems of Chinese Literature/Lao Tzŭ-Sayings

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LAO TZŬ.

7th and 6th Centuries b.c.

[Lao Tzŭ was a great Teacher whose birth has been assigned to various ages, of which 604 b.c. has perhaps the best claim. Legend has gathered around his name, and it has even been stated that he was the son of a virgin. He is known to the Chinese as the author of a number of remarkable sayings which have been preserved in the writings of ancient philosophers and which were brought together and issued, with a large amount of absurd padding, in the form of a book―the so-called Tao Tê Ching―possibly as early as the Second century b.c. He is regarded as the founder of Taoism, the doctrine of the WAY.]

THE goodness of doing good is not real goodness.

When merit has been achieved, do not take it to yourself; for if you do not take it to yourself, it shall never be taken from you.

By many words wit is exhausted; it is better to preserve a mean.

Keep behind, and you shall be put in front; keep out, and you shall be kept in.

He who grasps more than he can hold, would be better without any; he who strikes with a sharp point, will not himself be safe for long.

Good words shall gain you honour in the market-place; but good deeds shall gain you friends among men.

To see oneself is to be clear of sight.

He who knows how to shut, uses no bolts,―yet you cannot open; he who knows how to bind, uses no ropes,―yet you cannot undo.

He who does not desire power nor value wealth,―though his wisdom be as a fool's, shall he be esteemed among men.

He who, conscious of being strong, is content to be weak,―he shall be a cynosure of men.

A great principle cannot be divided.[1]

The empire is a divine trust; it may not be ruled. He who rules ruins; he who holds it by force, loses it.

Mighty is he who conquers himself.

If you would contract, you must first expand. If you would weaken, you must first strengthen. If you would take, you must first give.

Fishes cannot be taken from water; the instruments of government cannot be delegated to others.

If the WAY prevails on earth, horses will be used for agriculture; if not, war-horses will breed in camp.[2]

To the good I would be good. To the not-good I would also be good,―in order to make them good.

In governing men and in serving God, there is nothing like moderation.

Govern a great nation as you would cook a small fish.

Recompense injury with kindness.

Desire not to desire, and you will not value things difficult to obtain.


  1. You must not approbate and reprobate.
  2. No campaign will ever end.