Daodejing Chapter 72: staying in the background

Richard Brown
1 min readOct 20, 2023

When the people
No longer fear terror,
An even greater terror
Will descend upon them.
Do not limit their living space.
Do not oppress their livelihood.
Only when you do not oppress them,
Will the people not feel tired of living.
The sage knows self
But does not display self,
Cherishes self
But does not exalt self.
Rejects one and chooses the other.


If you push people to extremes, they will eventually lose their fear and rise against you. A wise leader stays in the background and lets people get on with their daily lives, intervening only when it is necessary. The greater the space you give people to lead their lives as they wish, the greater the prosperity everyone will enjoy.

Chapter 17 has a similar theme:
The best ruler is
Unknown to his people.

See also Chapter 66:
Whoever wants to stand
Above the people,
Must speak to them
From below.
Whoever wants to lead
The people from the front,
Must follow them from behind.
The sage is above,
But the people
Do not feel any burden,
Is in front,
But the people
Do not feel any threat.



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.