Daodejing Chapter 68 breakdown: a great warrior is never roused in anger

Richard Brown
2 min readOct 8, 2023

Chapter 68 of the Daodejing promotes the paradoxical power of humble and non-contentious leadership, also referred to in the text as lying beneath. Whether you are the leader of an army or a state, you will achieve far more by creating an environment that fosters universal growth and harmony than striving for world domination through relentless division and conflict.

Section 1
A great soldier is not warlike.
A great warrior is never roused in anger.
A great conqueror does not engage the enemy.

In the opening section of the chapter, Laozi highlights the paradox that the greatest generals are those who are able to achieve victory by preventing conflict rather than charging into battle at the first opportunity.

Instead of promoting aggression and violence, a great soldier embodies discipline, strategy, and the ability to handle situations effectively without necessarily resorting to combat. Because of his competence and proficiency, a great soldier has the ability to deter conflicts before they even arise. His mere presence can lead to resolution without the need for combat.

A great warrior possesses not just martial prowess, but also emotional control. Because he understands that decisions made in anger are often flawed, he remains composed even in the face of provocation or challenges. This self-mastery prevents unnecessary conflict and promotes better decision-making. Wisdom and restraint are as valuable as combat skills in a warrior.

Even when it comes to conquering a territory, brute force is not necessarily the most effective method. Winning the hearts and minds of the people there or making strategic moves that avoid direct conflict can lead to a more sustainable and less destructive victory.

Section 2
A great leader lies beneath the people.
This is called the power of non-contention.
This is called harnessing the people’s strength.
This is called the union with heaven,
The supreme principle of the ancients.

Just as a great general resists the temptation to engage in unnecessary combat, a great leader avoids needless conflict and contention by serving the people and placing their needs above his own personal desires. By allowing his people to go about their daily lives, he paradoxically achieves stronger and more sustainable power than if he attempts to subjugate them to his will.

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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.