Tao Te Ching Translation Errors

By Master Jhian

There are many English translation of Tao Te Ching. It is really impossible to established a basic/authorized translation or the best one. This is because the ancient Chinese language, based mainly on images of objects and phenomena, requires special skill in order to be translated into a modern language.

A list of several English versions may be found here. A PDF version may be downloaded from here. Below we published an essays on the translation errors by Master Jhian.

Every new translation of Tao-te ching claims its originality and truthfulness to the given text. Every new author pretends he is the best as he caught the essence of the Tao, and here’s his version. Fact is that one may consider the quality of a translation from the very beginning of the Book, namely the first part of the first paragraph. Here’s a new translation of this part:
If you can talk about it,
it isn’t Tao.
If it has a name,
it’s just another thing.
Tao doesn’t have a name. (Ron Hogan)
As you see it is not so much original because the idea of a Tao one can’t talk about is very familiar to the Tao-te ching readers. It sounds right in tune with our main Christian topics including especially the mighty God father (1) whom ways nobody knows. One may as well translate the first part:
We can’t talk about God. If one gives Him a name it is no more God.
God has no name, and so forth.
This kind of approaching Tao-te ching is not Taoist, nor Confucian. It is Christian. It’s like translating the Bible – namely the New Testament – in Taoist Chinese words. So there’s nothing new under the sun.
If one needs to grasp the meaning of the Tao-te ching text he must firstly accommodate with the Taoist philosophical concepts. Or, to recall the words of James Legge, one should capture the state of mind of the author of the book. One may acquire the same spirit.
But one can’t capture the state of mind of another man without having to empty his mind first in order to see clearly and be open to the other’s views. It is difficult to have this vision when you rose in a Christian environment!
Still what is the meaning of the above part of paragraph one? I already explained it’s meaning in my own course on what is Taoism. There we start right with this part and its specific meaning in Taoist view. Checkout this course at
1. The propensity to translate the word Tao as God is well known to the scholars. Here’s a short quote about it:
Thus, even though the term Tao is used of Christ in the Chinese translation of John’s Gospel, we should not infer that Taoism and Christianity are really about the same thing. They are not. Christianity proclaims a personal Creator who is morally outraged by man’s sinfulness and will one day judge the world in righteousness (Rom. 1:18–2:6). Taoism proclaims an impersonal creative principle which makes no moral distinction between right and wrong and which judges no one. (From Taoism and Christianity by Michael Greghorn,