Daodejing Chapter 72 breakdown: an even greater terror

Richard Brown
2 min readOct 22, 2023

Chapter 72 of the Daodejing addresses the delicate balance between the authority of a ruler and the wellbeing of the populace. It encourages rulers to avoid using fear or oppression as tools of control and to create an environment where individuals can prosper naturally. By cultivating humility and self-awareness, a ruler can achieve a harmonious and sustainable relationship with the people he governs.

Section 1
When the people
No longer fear terror,
An even greater terror
Will descend upon them.

Laozi does not mince his words in the opening section of the chapter. If a ruler suppresses the people through fear and intimidation, the consequences will eventually be even more severe. Using fear as a tool of governance will eventually lead to resentment and rebellion.

Section 2
Do not limit their living space.
Do not oppress their livelihood.

In the second section, Laozi warns against restricting the basic freedoms and opportunities of the people. Limiting their living space refers not only to physical space but also to their ability to express themselves and pursue their goals. Oppressing their livelihood implies not imposing undue economic burdens or restrictions on their ability to make a living.

Section 3
Only when you do not oppress them,
Will the people not feel tired of living.

When people are not subjected to undue constraints and hardships, they will naturally thrive and find satisfaction in life. A ruler who respects the well-being and autonomy of the people will create an environment where individuals can flourish. In contrast, oppressive rule will lead to exhaustion and a sense of hopelessness among the populace.

Section 4
The sage knows self
But does not display self,
Cherishes self
But does not exalt self.
Rejects one and chooses the other.

A wise ruler is self-aware but does not draw attention to himself. He values himself without seeking excessive recognition or praise. His is a balanced approach that rejects self-aggrandizement in favor of a humble, self-effacing attitude.

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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.