人之生也柔弱;其死也堅強。萬物。草木之生也柔脆;其死也枯槁。

1. Man at his birth is supple and weak; at his death, firm and strong. (So it is with) all things. Trees and plants, in their early growth, are soft and brittle; at their death, dry and withered.

故堅強者死之徒;柔弱者生之徒。

2. Thus it is that firmness and strength are the concomitants of death; softness and weakness, the concomitants of life.

是以兵強則不勝;木強則兵。

3. Hence he who (relies on) the strength of his forces does not conquer; and a tree which is strong will fill the out-stretched arms, (and thereby invites the feller.)

強大處下,柔弱處上。

4. Therefore the place of what is firm and strong is below, and that of what is soft and weak is above.

Legge's Comments

戒強, 'A Warning against (trusting in) Strength.' To trust in one's force is contrary to the Dao, whose strength is more in weakness and humility.

In par. 1 the two characters which I have rendered by '(so it is with) all things' are found in the texts of both Heshang Gong and Wang Bi, but Wu Cheng and Jiao Hong both reject them. I should also have neglected them, but they are also found in Liu Xiang's Shuo Yuan (X, 4 a), with all the rest of pars. 1 and 2, as from Laozi. They are an anakoluthon, such as is elsewhere found in our Jing; e.g. 天 下 之 牝 in ch. 21, par. 21.

The 'above' and 'below' in par. 4 seem to be merely a play on the words, as capable of meaning 'more and less honourable.'


  1. This must be a typographical error in the original. The characters 天下之牝 appear in chapter 61, par. 2. [transcriber note]