小國寡民,使有什伯之器,而不用;使民重死,而不遠徙。

1. In a little state with a small population, I would so order it, that, though there were individuals with the abilities of ten or a hundred men, there should be no employment of them; I would make the people, while looking on death as a grievous thing, yet not remove elsewhere (to avoid it).

雖有舟輿,無所乘之;雖有甲兵,無所陳之。

2. Though they had boats and carriages, they should have no occasion to ride in them; though they had buff coats and sharp weapons, they should have no occasion to don or use them.

使民復結繩而用之。

3. I would make the people return to the use of knotted cords (instead of the written characters).

甘其食;美其服;安其居;樂其俗。

4. They should think their (coarse) food sweet; their (plain) clothes beautiful; their (poor) dwellings places of rest; and their common (simple) ways sources of enjoyment.

鄰國相望,雞犬之聲相聞,民至老死,不相往來。

5. There should be a neighbouring state within sight, and the voices of the fowls and dogs should be heard all the way from it to us, but I would make the people to old age, even to death, not have any intercourse with it.

Legge's Comments

獨立, 'Standing Alone.' The chapter sets forth what Laozi conceived the ancient government of simplicity was, and what he would have government in all time to be. He does not use the personal pronoun 'I' as the subject of the thrice-recurring 使, but it is most natural to suppose that he is himself that subject; and he modestly supposes himself in charge of a little state and a small population. The reader can judge for himself of the consummation that would be arrived at;—a people rude and uninstructed, using quippos, abstaining from war and all travelling, kept aloof from intercourse even with their neighbour, and without the appliances of what we call civilisation.

The text is nearly all found in Sima Qian and Zhuangzi. The first member of par. 1, however, is very puzzling. The old Jesuit translators, Julien, Chalmers, and V. von Strauss, all differ in their views of it. Wu Cheng and Jiao Hong take what I have now rendered by 'abilities,' as meaning 'implements of agriculture,' but their view is based on a custom of the Han dynasty, which is not remote enough for the purpose, and on the suppression, after Wang Bi, of a in Heshang Gong's text.