江海所以能為百谷王者,以其善下之;故能為百谷王。是以聖人欲上民,必以言下之,欲先民,必以身後之。

1. That whereby the rivers and seas are able to receive the homage and tribute of all the valley streams, is their skill in being lower than they;—it is thus that they are the kings of them all. So it is that the sage (ruler), wishing to be above men, puts himself by his words below them, and, wishing to be before them, places his person behind them.

是以聖人處上而民不重,處前而民不害。

2. In this way though he has his place above them, men do not feel his weight, nor though he has his place before them, do they feel it an injury to them.

是以天下樂推而不厭。以其不爭,故天下莫能與之爭。

3. Therefore all in the world delight to exalt him and do not weary of him. Because he does not strive, no one finds it possible to strive with him.

Legge's Comments

後巳, 'Putting one's self Last.' The subject is the power of the Dao, by its display of humility in attracting men. The subject and the way in which it is illustrated are frequent themes in the Jing. See chapters 8, 22, 39, 42, 61, et al.

The last sentence of par. 3 is found also in ch. 22. There seem to be no quotations from the chapter in Han Fei or Huainanzi; but Wu Cheng quotes passages from Dong Zhongshu (of the second century B.C.), and Yang Xiong (B.C. 53–A.D. 18), which seem to show that the phraseology of it was familiar to them. The former says:—'When one places himself in his qualities below others, his person is above them; when he places them behind those of others, his person is before them;' the other, 'Men exalt him who humbles himself below them; and give precedence to him who puts himself behind them.'