Emerson’s Laozi-in-Progress Online

John Emerson is working toward a new translation of the Daode Jing 道德經, and he’s posting his progress online. “In the course of time,” he writes, he will “add comments, a translation, crossreferences, notes on the interesting variants, and summary discussions of key topics.” He adds:

My editing might be called aggressive. Beyond selecting from the variant forms,  I have also divided and redistributed a few chapters (and have even abolished a few),  and I and have substantially changed the order of the chapters. This new arrangement is intended to make the Daodejing more coherent  and show its internal relationships more clearly. This new text is made up entirely of old materials, but it is not a scientific edition. It is an attempt to  produce a more readerly DDJ by clearing away some of the historical encumbrances it is burdened with, while at the same time making its history more apparent.


The original DDJ never existed. At every stage the DDJ has been an editorial composite made up of materials of diverse origins, and many of the individual chapters are composites too. This editorial process never ended, and the Guodian text shows us that earlier versions were not necessarily better. Over the centuries editor after editor has tinkered with the text in search of the ideal and unattainable Daodejing, and during this process of tinkering interesting themes have emerged. I am merely  the latest tinkerer in that long line.

Track his work here.

One thought on “Emerson’s Laozi-in-Progress Online

  1. I haven’t a kanji root’s worth of oriental language in me, but I like what you’re doing so far. Swings into some interesting places that older translation biases couldn’t reach. Should fetch better prices at end-of-Western-civilization fire sales, too. Don’t forget to put residuals in your publication contract. Your grand-kids will thank you.

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