Laozi in translation

It occurred to me that he most striking difference in translation of the last century is probably that between a translation of a section of the Daodejing (Tao Te Ching) by the late Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hawaiï, Chung-yuan Chang, and that of Étiemble (Gallimard 1967).

In Prof. Chung-yuan Chang the first four lines of chapter 59 run as follows:

In guiding people and working according to nature,
It is best to follow renunciation.
Following renunciation means returning soon.
Returning soon means accumulating attainment.

In Étiemble’s translation we read:

Pour gouverner les hommes et pour servir le ciel,
rien ne vaut la modération,
car seul celui qui pratique la modération
se soumettra de bonne heure au Tao.

(Étiemble’s translation goes on with:
Qui se soumet de bonne heure au Tao
aura double réserve de vertu;
qui a double réserve de vertu
triomphera en tout.
Qui triomphe en tout
ne connaîtra pas de limites à son pouvoir.
Qui ne connaît pas ces limite
peut posséder un royaume
peut le garder longtemps.
Qui possède la mère du royaume
peut le garder longtemps.
Voilà ce qu’on apelle :
la voie de la racine profonde,
de la souche solide,
de la longue et de la vision durable.)

It is striking that Prof. Chung-yuan Chang, who knew his mother tongue best, choose the word “nature“, whereas Étiemble gives “ciel” (heaven[s]).
Moreover, Prof. Chung-yuan Chang gave “renunciation“, where Étiemble chose “modération” (moderation).

I cannot cut this cake; my Chinese is no longer what it used to be. I would like to see how the Professor solved the word-problems that follow after these first four lines, but it appears that the book in which we might find this particular translation is no longer available. A Buddhist overseas reproduced these four lines after wading through his library no doubt. It would be interesting to see the rest of Prof. Chung-yuan Chang’s rendering of Laozi’s (Lao Tse) poem or aphorism.

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