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Source Materials About Freedom


1. A state may be ruled by (measures of) correction; weapons of war may be used with crafty dexterity; (but) the kingdom is made one's own (only) by freedom from action and purpose.


2. How do I know that it is so? By these facts:—In the kingdom the multiplication of prohibitive enactments increases the poverty of the people; the more implements to add to their profit that the people have, the greater disorder is there in the state and clan; the more acts of crafty dexterity that men possess, the more do strange contrivances appear; the more display there is of legislation, the more thieves and robbers there are.


3. Therefore a sage has said, 'I will do nothing (of purpose), and the people will be transformed of themselves; I will be fond of keeping still, and the people will of themselves become correct. I will take no trouble about it, and the people will of themselves become rich; I will manifest no ambition, and the people will of themselves attain to the primitive simplicity.'

Legge's Comments

淳風, 'The Genuine Influence.' The chapter shows how government by the Dao is alone effective, and of universal application; contrasting it with the failure of other methods.

After the 'weapons of war' in par. 1, one is tempted to take 'the sharp implements' in par. 2 as such weapons, but the meaning which I finally adopted, especially after studying chapters 36 and 80, seems more consonant with Laozi's scheme of thought. In the last member of the same par., Heshang Gong has the strange reading , and uses it in his commentary; but the better text of 法. is found both in Huainanzi and Sima Qian, and in Wang Bi1.

We do not know if the writer were quoting any particular sage in par. 3, or referring generally to the sages of the past;—men like the 'sentence-makers' of ch. 41.

From The Libertarian Reader2

2. The more prohibitions there are,
The poorer the people will be.

The more laws are promulgated,
The more thieves and bandits there will be.

3. Therefore a sage has said:
So long as I "do nothing" the people will of themselves be transformed.
So long as I love quietude, the people will of themselves go straight.
So long as I act only by inactivity the people will of themselves become prosperous.

From A History of Chinese Political Thought2

2. The more artificial taboos and restrictions there are in the world, the more the people are impoverished... The more that laws and regulations are given prominence, the more thieves and robbers there will be.

3. Therefore, the Sage says: I take no action yet the people transform themselves, I favor quiescence and the people right themselves, I take no action and the people enrich themselves...

  1. While Wang Bi may have used 令 in his text (at least one source disagrees), the Mawangdui Silk Text B and Guodian versions use 物, so we have used the latter in our transcription. [transcriber note] ↩︎

  2. See Introduction, Addenda. ↩︎