My Five Favorite Translations of the Daode Jing

Gregory Ripley
3 min readJan 25, 2024
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My five favorite translations of the Daode Jing, in no particular order. They each bring something different and worthwhile to the table, and are quality translations. One thing they have in common is historical context. None of these play fast and loose with the translation or seek to remove the text from its cultural and historical context and treat it as a book which exists in a vacuum, as so many English language “translations” have. While it has always been read and commented on by many different perspectives and traditions throughout Chinese history (Daoists, Buddhists, Confucians, scholars, and literati of various flavors) it has always held a central place in Daoism. That said, there are also another 2000 years worth of other texts, scriptures, and commentaries in the Daoist Canon which inform the living tradition of Daoism. (I’ll point the reader to some of these in another post.) To treat the Daode Jing as the sole text/classic/scripture of Daoism is a mistake.

Red Pine’s translation is a bilingual edition and includes excerpts from many different commentaries written throughout Chinese history. This gives the reader a taste of how the text has been read and interpreted from many different perspectives long before its journey to the West.

LaFargue’s translation reorders and groups the chapters thematically, while also providing an in depth commentary which gives much historical context of the time period in which it was written.

Assandri’s is a translation of the text with a complete commentary by one of the founders of the Chongxuan Daoist philosophical school from the Tang Dynasty. This work is extremely important in understanding how Daoism and Buddhism influenced each other in China and the commentary of Cheng Xuanying itself is a philosophical masterpiece. While it’s generally accepted that the Daode Jing as we know it was written and compiled by many different authors and editors, Cheng was able to systematically analyze the text in such a way as to describe why each chapter appears in the order we find it in the accepted text. A truly monumental feat. And of course, Assandri’s translation is excellent.

Reid offers a translation of Heshang Gong’s commentary which was the first commentary from a Daoist perspective and influenced all later Daoist commentaries. An important contribution for understanding how the Daode Jing has been understood from a Daoist perspective.

Komjathy’s translation includes an extensive introduction which outlines the history of the text as well as its many translations. The introduction alone is invaluable, but the translation is also excellent.

If you’re of a more scholarly persuasion, I’d recommend Komjathy’s as the best overall. For a more general reader, I’d recommend Red Pine. That said, I absolutely love what Cheng Xuangying was able to accomplish with his commentary, so Assandri’s book is a personal favorite.



Gregory Ripley

I’m the author of The Hundred Remedies of the Tao and The Tao of Sustainability. I’m an ordained Daoist Priest and Nature & Forest Therapy Guide.