以道佐人主者不以兵強天下。其事好還。

1. He who would assist a lord of men in harmony with the Dao will not assert his mastery in the kingdom by force of arms. Such a course is sure to meet with its proper return.

師之所處,荊棘生焉。大軍之後,必有凶年。

2. Wherever a host is stationed, briars and thorns spring up. In the sequence of great armies there are sure to be bad years.

善有果而已。不敢以取強。果而勿矜,果而勿伐,果而勿驕。果而不得已;果而勿強。

3. A skilful (commander) strikes a decisive blow, and stops. He does not dare (by continuing his operations) to assert and complete his mastery. He will strike the blow, but will be on his guard against being vain or boastful or arrogant in consequence of it. He strikes it as a matter of necessity; he strikes it, but not from a wish for mastery.

物壯則老。是謂不道:不道早已。

4. When things have attained their strong maturity they become old. This may be said to be not in accordance with the Dao: and what is not in accordance with it soon comes to an end.

Legge's Comments

儉武, 'A Caveat against War.' War is contrary to the spirit of the Dao, and, as being so, is productive of misery, and leads to early ruin. It is only permissible in a case of necessity, and even then its spirit and tendencies must be guarded against.

In translating by 'striking a decisive blow,' I have, no doubt, followed Julien's 'frapper un coup décisif.'1 The same 果 occurs six times in par. 3, followed by 而, and Jiao Hong says that in all but the first instance the 而 should be taken as equivalent to , so that we should have to translate, 'He is determined against being vain,' &c. But there is no necessity for such a construction of 而.

'Weakness' and not 'strength' is the character of the Dao; hence the lesson in par. 4.

From A History of Chinese Political Thought2

2. Where armies have been stationed, thorns and brambles grow. After a great war, harsh years of famine are sure to follow.


  1. "strike a decisive blow" [transcriber translation] 

  2. See Introduction, Addenda