Daodejing Chapter 80 breakdown: living in splendid isolation

Richard Brown
2 min readNov 23, 2023

Daodejing Chapter 80 is the penultimate chapter of the text. It brings together many of Laozi’s major themes by advocating a return to a mythical golden age of simplicity when everyone lived in harmony and contentment within their own small community and had no desire or need to venture further afield.

Section 1
Let a state be small
And its population sparse.

In the opening line, Laozi envisions a world of small, self-contained agrarian communities that can sustain themselves without the need for aggressive expansion or even direct contact with their neighbours.

Section 2
Let it have powerful tools
That never need to be used.
Let its people be so mindful of death
That they never journey far.
Let it have boats and carriages
That never need to be ridden in.
Let it have weapons and armour
That never need to be deployed.

Laozi is realistic enough to understand that each community should possess the most modern technology and equipment to deter possible attacks from aggressors. However, his hope is that none of these will ever need to be employed.

Section 3
Let its people return to:
Using knotted cords for writing,
Tasting sweetness in their food,
Finding beauty in their clothes,
Experiencing contentment in their homes,
Taking joy in their customs.

Laozi calls for a return to a primordial age of innocence in which everyone finds peace and contentment in everyday aspects of life — food, clothing, homes, and customs — rather than in extravagance or material wealth. He even goes as far as advocating the replacement of writing with knotted cords for basic record-keeping to prevent excessive bureaucratic interference in people’s lives.

Section 3
Neighbouring states can be seen,
Crowing cocks and barking dogs can be heard,
But the people grow old and die,
Without ever meeting each other.

With everyone leading happy and fulfilled lives in their own community, they have no need or desire to interact with people from other places or chase dreams driven by selfishness and greed. They live and die together with family and friends they love and treasure in a place where they have deep roots rather than rotting away unnoticed amid distant strangers who mean nothing to them.

Related Links
Daodejing Chapter 80: a primordial age of innocence

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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.