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Daoist Thought

(This article is excerpt from Introducing Daoism written by Livia Kohn(2008), London: Routledg. )

Daoist thought in the West is represented first and foremost in the Daode jing, the best-known representative of Daoism wherever it appears. In the West, it attracted first attention through a translation into Latin by Jesuit missionaries, presented to the British Royal Society in 1788. This rendition hoped to show that the mysteries of the Christian faith were known to the ancient Chinese, matching Dao with God, like logos conveying the triple sense of supreme being, reason, and word.

The first English translation by James Legge (1831-1905) appeared in 1891. It, too, attempted to impose Christian theology onto the Chinese text. This changed in the course of the twentieth century, so that by the end of World War II a number of translations and interpretation had appeared that attempted to read the text in its own right and do justice to Chinese thinking. By now, there are over 300 English translations of the text and its concepts have made major inroads into Western societies. The dominant mode of apperception is individual and personal; people appreciate the philosophy as it helps them to change their own thinking and their way of being in the world. Unlike in China, where the text has always also had a strong public dimension, there are very few political concerns associated with the Daode jing in the West.

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This article is from the free online course:

Taoism and Western Culture

DeTao Masters Academy