Daodejing Translation: Chapter 76 — Chapter 81

Richard Brown
3 min readMar 24, 2024


Here is my new English translation of Chapter 76 to Chapter 81 of the Daodejing together with links to commentaries and breakdowns of each chapter.

Daodejing Chapter 76

People are born soft and weak.
They die hard and strong.
All creatures, plants, and trees
Are born soft and tender,
And die dry and brittle.
The hard and strong
Are companions of death.
The soft and weak
Are companions of life.
An army that does not yield
Is bound to suffer defeat.
A tree that does not bend
Is bound to break.
The hard and strong fall.
The soft and weak rise.

Daodejing Chapter 76: soft and weak
Daodejing Chapter 76 breakdown: the hard and strong fall

Daodejing Chapter 77

The Dao of heaven
Is like shooting with a bow.
If you aim it too high,
You lower it.
If you aim it too low,
You raise it.
If you use too much force,
You reduce it.
If you do not use enough force,
You increase it.
The Dao of heaven
Takes from those
Who have too much,
And gives to those
Who do not have enough.
The Dao of man
Does the opposite.
It takes from those
Who do not have enough,
And gives to those
Who have too much.
Who can give to the world
Everything they have in excess?
Only someone who
Has attained the Dao.
The sage gets things done
Without seeking profit.
He accomplishes his task
Without claiming credit.
He has no desire
To display his worth.


Daodejing Chapter 77: like shooting with a bow
Daodejing Chapter 77 breakdown: the Dao of heaven

Daodejing Chapter 78

Nothing in all-under-heaven
Is softer and weaker than water.
Yet it overcomes
The hard and strong.
Nothing can replace it.
The weak overcomes the strong.
The soft overcomes the hard.
Knows this truth,
Yet no one applies it.
This is why the sage says:
Whoever is willing to
Accept the filth of the state,
Will be lord of the altar
Of earth and grain.
Whoever is willing to
Accept the misfortune of the state,
Will be king of all-under-heaven.
Truths like these
Sound paradoxical.


Daodejing Chapter 78: the filth of the state
Daodejing Chapter 78 breakdown: like water

Daodejing Chapter 79

When a bitter dispute is settled,
Some bitterness is sure to linger.
How can this be resolved?
The sage holds the left tally,
But never makes a claim on the debtor.
Those who have inner power hold the tally.
Those who lack inner power call in their debts.
The Dao of heaven has no favourites.
But it stays consistently on the side of the good.


Daodejing Chapter 79: a bitter dispute
Daodejing Chapter 79 breakdown: holding the left tally

Daodejing Chapter 80

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


Daodejing Chapter 80: a primordial age of innocence
Daodejing Chapter 80 breakdown: living in splendid isolation

Daodejing Chapter 81

Trustworthy words are not beautiful.
Beautiful words are not trustworthy.
The good are not silver-tongued.
The silver-tongued are not good.
The wise are not learned.
The learned are not wise.
The sage does not hoard.
The more he serves,
The more he has.
The more he gives,
The more he receives.
The Dao of heaven is to
Benefit but never harm.
The Dao of the sage is to
Accomplish but never contend.


Daodejing Chapter 81: the last word
Daodejing Chapter 81 breakdown: a fitting conclusion



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.