Daodejing Chapter 60: like cooking a small fish

Richard Brown
2 min readSep 7, 2023

Governing a large state
Is like cooking a small fish.
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.
Since these two
Do not harm each other,
Their inner powers converge
And return to the source.

「治大國,若烹小鮮;以道蒞天下,其鬼不神;非其鬼不神,其神不傷人;非其神不傷人,聖人亦不傷人;夫兩不相傷,故德交歸焉!」

No matter whether you are running a small team or a huge company, a delicate touch is required. The more you attempt to control your staff, the more you will disrupt harmony and morale. Just as a small fish can fall apart if it is interfered with too much while being cooked, so too can an organization collapse if its leader meddles too much in its operations.

Notes
1.) By likening governing a large state to cooking a small fish, Laozi is illustrating the importance of adopting the principle of effortless action (無為/wúwéi) as a ruler. The more he interferes in people’s lives, the more trouble he is storing up for the future.

2.) The term demons (鬼/guǐ) refers to malign forces such as floods, famines, wars, and taxes, that stir up discontent and ultimately violence among the population. By not interfering in the lives of the people and governing in accordance with the principles of the Dao, a state ruler can neutralize the negative impact of these forces and prevent “harm” to the populace.

3.) I took this image at Longhu (Dragon Tiger) Mountain, a famous Daoist site about ten miles south of Yingtan in Jiangxi Province. A great place to visit!

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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.