Daodejing Chapter 60 breakdown: when the Dao prevails

Richard Brown
2 min readSep 9, 2023

Chapter 60 of the Daodejing uses the metaphor of cooking a small fish to illustrate the need for a ruler of a large state to govern with a light touch to maintain social stability and balance.

Section 1
Governing a large state
Is like cooking a small fish.

The metaphor in the opening line sets the tone for the rest of the chapter. Just as cooking a small fish requires delicate handling to avoid breaking it apart, governing a large state demands a gentle and measured approach. Ruling with minimal interference is more effective than attempting to control everything with force.

Section 2
When the Dao prevails
Over all-under-heaven,
Demons lose
Their spiritual powers.
What powers
The demons still possess,
No longer harm the people.
Not only do the demons
No longer harm the people,
But the ruler also
Does not harm the people.

The Dao represents the natural order of things, the underlying principle that governs the universe. When it prevails over the world, it signifies a state of harmony and alignment with the natural order.

Demons (鬼/guǐ) symbolize disruptive forces of both the natural and human type such as famines, floods, wars, and taxes that create poverty, discord, and unrest within society. When a ruler applies the principles of the Dao to governing the state, he neutralizes these malign influences by protecting the people from harm and ensuring their wellbeing.

Section 3
Since these two
Do not harm each other,
Their inner powers converge
And return to the source.

The closing lines of the chapter highlight the dual benefits of a ruler who does not harm the people and a state where negative influences are diminished. When these two elements are in harmony, their inner powers “converge and return to the source.” This implies that the ruler’s actions, aligned with the natural order, lead to a harmonious situation where both the ruler and the governed thrive. The concept of “returning to the source” also refers to a return to the fundamental principles of the Dao, which leads to equilibrium and unity.

Chapter 60 of the Daodejing encourages rulers to adopt a gentle and balanced approach to governance, following the principles of the Dao. When this is achieved, harmony prevails, negative influences lose their power, and both the ruler and the people benefit in a state of mutual well-being and convergence with the natural order.

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Daodejing Chapter 60: like cooking a small fish

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Richard Brown

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.