The soul of Chinese literature is poetry: from oldest "Book of Odes" to TangShu (Tang poetry) to SongZu (Song dynasty poetry) to YungQu (Yung dynasty poetry) . Underneath this glorious landscape were Lao Tzu's (551 B.C.) influences running through gem-like poems by Wang Wei, Li Po, Mon Ho Jung(701-761) and reached the sea of Japanese Haiku poets, Basho, Buson and Issa(1763-1827). It is obviously the prerequisite read for anyone who wants to understand Chinese culture and philosophies of Zen. Lao Tzu's impact goes further beyond that: as the "most widely translated book in world literature, after the bible," TAO TE CHING finds religious and political leaders, business owners and enlightened masters, readers and writers alike worldwide, return to the source of his words and find its use inexhaustible.
In certain times of ancient Chinese history, TAO TE CHING was reserved for emperors and rulers, while commoners were instructed to study Confucius and Mencius. This is because Lao Tzu's spiritual scripture is liberating and best suited for people ready to unlearn what they learned, let go of their egos and emptied their minds from the world of experience for the being of higher innocence. Thus Lao Tzu teaches truth through words of paradox:
All streams flow to the sea
because it is lower than they are.
Humility gives it its power. (66)
In 81 brief chapters that contains a mere 5000 Chinese words, Tao Te Ching "looks at the basic predicament of being alive and gives advice that imparts balance and perspective, a serene and generous spirit (Book cover). Mr. Mitchell interprets Lao Tzu, the erudite librarian and eminent scholar in his own time correctly when he writes, "it's clear from his teachings that he deeply cared about society, if society means the welfare of one's fellow human beings; his book is, among other things, a treatise on the art of government, whether of a country or of a child." The reactions upon reading Lao Tzu's words range from "babbling" to "lofty" but actually his teaching couldn't be easier:
I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures. (67)
TAO TE CHING in its original Chinese text is referred to as "one of the wonders of the world". Every word written by Lao Tzu is a microcosmic image of macrocosmic world, complete with sound, tone, shape, rhythm symmetry and metaphoric resonance. It is the Chinese written characters that makes TAO TE CHING (and Chinese Poetry) an Art of art's kind. Through translation, it is all lost. What can be saved is the philosophical wisdom of Lao Tzu and Mr. Stephen Mitchell, through his own genius had masterfully rendered Tao Te Ching into English poetry with brilliance. It takes a poet and a scholar to translate another. If Lao Tzu is the most-read Chinese philosopher in the West today, we have Mr. Mitchell's New English Version to thank for. While Mr. Mitchell's translation is the best place to start, other works such as Dr. Wu's translation that has original Chinese text in it are also recommended. They are puzzle pieces for a better glimpse of the continent of the Way. But as proverb goes, "don't look at the hand that points to the moon. Look at the moon." Ultimately, we should all be looking at the truth that Lao Tzu is pointing to within us, be it English or Chinese.
(This text refers to the Hardcover edition.)
Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching (Asian Institute Translations, No 1)