Daodejing Chapter 75: tightening their belts

Richard Brown
2 min readNov 2, 2023

The people starve,
Because their rulers squander
Their taxes on food.
That is why the people starve.
The people are difficult to govern,
Because their rulers interfere too much.
That is why they are difficult to govern.
The people make light of death,
Because their rulers lead lives of excess.
That is why they make light of death.
Those who take life as it comes
Are wiser than those who try to force it.


「民之飢,以其上食稅之多,是以飢。民之難治,以其上之有為,是以難治。民之輕死,以其求生之厚,是以輕死。夫唯無以生為者,是賢於貴生。」

Beware the leader who talks of the need for everyone to tighten their belts because of the difficult economic tailwinds we are facing. By “everyone”, he naturally does not mean himself or his friends on the board. Even if they take a symbolic cut in pay or stock options to show that they are sharing the pain, they will already have worked out a plan to compensate themselves for the losses once the news cycle moves on.

Laozi is of course referring to what the Queen of Mean, Leona Helmsley, notoriously called the “little people” who grind away at the coal face and dutifully pay their taxes. They are the ones who are invariably forced to pay the price of management and government incompetence and excess.

No wonder people are beginning to find their voice! The only surprise is that it is not louder than it already is.

Notes
1.) It is important to note that although some figures such as Hu Shi (1891–1962) have gone as far as to describe Laozi as a rebel, he did not call for the common people to overthrow the ruling elite. His goal with the Daodejing was to encourage the elite to mend their ways in order to prevent social disorder from occurring.

2.) I took this image at the Baoan Temple in Taipei.

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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.