Daodejing Chapter 61: lying beneath

Richard Brown
2 min readSep 11, 2023

A large state lies downstream.
It is where everything converges.
It is the female of all-under-heaven.
The female invariably prevails
Over the male through stillness.
In her stillness, she lies beneath.
By lying beneath a small state,
A large state wins over the small state.
By lying beneath a large state,
A small state wins over the large state.
Whether it lies beneath to win,
Or it lies beneath and wins,
A large state wants to bring
A small state into its orbit,
A small state wants to enjoy
The embrace of a large state.
Since both sides get what they want,
The large state should lie beneath.

「大國者下流,天下之交,天下之牝。牝常以靜勝牡,以靜為下。故大國以下小國,則取小國。小國以下大國,則取大國。故或下以取,或下而取。大國不過欲兼畜人小國不過欲入事人。夫兩者各得其所欲,大者宜為下。」

Even if you have a much stronger hand in a negotiation, it pays to treat the other party with consideration and respect rather than arrogance and disdain. Quite apart from making it easier for you to achieve your short-term objectives, it will lay the foundation for a deeper and more productive long-term relationship.

Besides, you never know when the tables will be turned.

Notes
1.) A large state lies downstream because the convergence of all the rivers and streams leads to the creation of a rich and fertile flood plain with the capacity to produce a surplus that the state can draw on to grow. Laozi describes a large state as the “female of the world” because it has great creative potential.

2.) Even for a large and powerful state, conquest of other states is a risky and expensive way of boosting security and expanding influence. Alliances provide a highly attractive alternative, as long as they are approached in a humble and respectful manner that is mutually beneficial. When conducted in the right spirit, both sides come out as winners.

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.