Works on the Way is a new project and blog that will see me produce creative responses to individual verses of the ancient book of Chinese mysticism and one of the primary texts on Daoist thought, the Dao De Jing.
What is the Dao De Jing?
One of the most profound works that has issued from the mind of man.
Paul K. T. Sih.
The Dao De Jing is an ancient Chinese text commonly split into 81 short verses (also referred to as chapters or poems), in which wisdom on the nature of our world is presented. Themes explored throughout the text include virtue; non-action (wu wei); moderation; leadership and self-awareness.
The work is usually attributed to the Daoist thinker Laozi, who was probably a contemporary of Confucius; however, evidence as to Laozi’s existence is scarce, and the Dao De Jing may have in fact been authored by numerous hermits, mystics and dissidents in ancient China. Being written in classical Chinese, the original text is void of punctuation, it includes archaic characters, and was written in a time when other philosophical texts were widely read, and so may contain references to ancient cultural memes that are lost on the modern reader.
These elements, added to the fact that the authors employed a number of poetic devices, such as double meanings and puns; seem to encourage contradictory interpretations. Indeed, the Dao De Jing has been translated into Western languages over 250 times, each time differently and each translation falling short of the original. (You can read 76 versions of the first verse here.)
In spite, or perhaps because, of these characteristics, the Dao De Jing has been enjoyed by readers for thousands of years and has been called “ancient China’s great contribution to the literature of philosophy, religion, and mysticism”.
Why are you making this blog?
I have wanted to make work inspired by the Dao De Jing since I discovered the book whilst living in Chengdu, Sichuan, China in 2013 and found its content fascinating. It’s only now, having the time to devote to my personal art practice, that I’m able to approach the project with the time and resources it requires.
In presenting the project through the format of the blog, I hope to achieve a number of things. First and foremost, I hope that taking the time to research the Dao De Jing verse-by-verse will help me gain a deeper understanding of it and its ideas. Furthermore, I want to use the structure and rhythm of this project to test ideas as they come and develop my creative process, as well as my skills in different media. Additionally, in writing the blog in both English and Chinese I’ll be able to develop my Chinese vocabulary and writing style. And finally I hope that by making my work public through this blog, as well as presenting work in physical locations where possible, I’ll be able to share my creative practice with a wider audience in China and internationally.
My starting point for each work is going to be the original verse in Chinese. As these are written in classical Chinese, I’ll also be relying on modern Chinese interpretations to understand the text and gain insight. Once I feel I have a good grasp of the ideas in the verse, I’ll be creating an artistic response or ‘work’. I’ll then look to find an English translation that I feel does the original best justice, or one which best translates the ideas that I have taken as my inspiration for the work. Throughout the blog, translations from the text will be followed by the translator’s name in brackets.
Each post will include my response in the form of a work; a simplified Chinese version of the verse; an English translation; and a written explanation of the work and my thinking in English and Chinese.
Notes on the Title
As a Mandarin speaker, I’ve decided to use the pinyin version of the Chinese title of the book throughout this blog - Dao De Jing. The book’s title is also commonly translated as Tao Teh Ching/Tao Te Ching in the Wade-Giles Romanization of the language, and the title in simplified Chinese Characters is 道德经, which translate individually as:
道 Dao*/Tao**, path, road; method, way
德 ethics, morality, virtue
经 classic works
*The authors of the Dao De Jing believed that they had found that that had existed before heaven and earth, an eternal force that governs all in nature and beyond. In in order to write about this thing they had to choose a character to represent it. They decided on the character 道, which at the time was also used by Confucius and other thinkers to mean ‘the way [to do something]’. But Daoism’s Dao is more like ‘the eternal way’.
**The terms Dao and Tao seem to be used interchangeably and point to the same thing. I will be using Dao throughout this blog, however I will retain uses of Tao when presenting quotes or translations that have used it.
It’s from the translation of 道 as ‘the way’ that the title for this blog is derived.
I hope you’ll enjoy the rest of the blog. Feel free to leave comments and please share the blog with your friends if you think they’ll find it of interest.
欢迎参观《道的经》（Works on the Way）
Works on the Way是一个新的艺术项目。在此博客上，我会对《道德经》的篇章分别做出艺术感应。
Paul K. T. Sih.
《道德经》是古代中国的哲学经典之作，即道教思想的主要道藏之一。在现代，它被后人分成八十一篇章。《道德经》的主题包括‘道’、美德、无为、修身、领导、节制等。虽然短，作者Brian Browne Walker认为《道德经》具有“对每个生活问题的答案、每个困境的解决办法、每种伤口的药膏。”
作为一个汉语学习者，我决定在此博客中，使用《道德经》的汉语拼音写法Dao De Jing。该书的名称用威妥玛式拼音法为Tao Teh Ching或Tao Te Ching。本项目的名称是Works on the Way，是可以翻译成“关于道的作品”。