天下莫柔弱於水,而攻堅強者莫之能勝;其無以易之。

1. There is nothing in the world more soft and weak than water, and yet for attacking things that are firm and strong there is nothing that can take precedence of it;—for there is nothing (so effectual) for which it can be changed.

弱之勝強,柔之勝剛,天下莫不知,莫能行。

2. Every one in the world knows that the soft overcomes the hard, and the weak the strong, but no one is able to carry it out in practice.

是以聖人云:
受國之垢,
  是謂社稷主;
受國不祥
  是謂天下王。

3. Therefore a sage has said,
    'He who accepts his state's reproach,
      Is hailed therefore its altars' lord;
    To him who bears men's direful woes
      They all the name of King accord.'

正言若反。

4. Words that are strictly true seem to be paradoxical.

Legge's Comments

任信, 'Things to be Believed.' It is difficult to give a short and appropriate translation of this title. The chapter shows how the most unlikely results follow from action according to the Dao.

Par. 1. Water was Laozi's favourite emblem of the Dao. Compare chapters 8, 66, et al.

Par 2. Compare ch. 36, par. 2.

Par. 3. Of course we do not know who the sage was from whom Laozi got the lines of this paragraph. They may suggest to some readers the lines of Burns, as they have done to me:—

'The honest man, though e'er so poor,
    Is king o' men for a' that.'

But the Daoist of Laozi is a higher ideal than Burns's honest man.

Par. 4 is separated from this chapter, and made to begin the next by Wu Cheng.