Understanding the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching)《道德经》

Understanding the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching)《道德经》

Thursday, 2:00 – 3:30 PM
April 13 – June 1
8 sessions (12 hours)
$325 members / $365 non-member
(plus a $30 non-refundable registration fee)
*This course will be taught in English.

The three pillars of traditional Chinese culture, Confucianism (Rújiā), Buddhism (Fόjiā) and Daoism (Dàojiā), competed against each other, influenced each other, but maintained distinct features. Daoism (Dàojiā) originated from a book of about 5000 characters popularly known as the Dao De Jing, traditionally known as the Tao Te Ching, (DDJ, the Classic of the Way and Virtue) which was reputedly written by a legendary figure of the 6th century BC named Laozi. For more than 2000 years, this little book, despite its short length, has tremendously shaped traditional Chinese culture. As Wing-Tsit Chan, a famous Sinologist, said, “No one can hope to understand Chinese philosophy, religion, government, art, medicine—or even cooking—without a real appreciation of the profound philosophy taught in this little book.” In the 16th century, the DDJ entered the West, inspired many great thinkers such as Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Tolstoy, Jung, Needham and so on, and became a master key to help Westerners understand traditional Chinese culture. The DDJ is the second most translated book in the world after the Bible.

Just like the Bible, the DDJ is not an ordinary book. Instead, it is a classic for guiding to cultivate the Way and accumulate Virtue so as to elevate their life to a higher level. It covers a wide range of themes including philosophy, ethics, history, politics, literature, mythology, physics, regimen, and so on. Written largely in poems, it is full of proverbs and rhetorical speeches. The rich philosophical meanings, poetic meanings and implicit meanings which lie behind the cover of its simple words, have cultivated generations of DDJ fans in both China and around the world to explore its inexhaustible charm and draw spiritual nutrition from it.

Course Contents
Comprised of 5 lectures delivered in English, this course is offered to help the attendees gain an objective and comprehensive understanding of DDJ.

This course treats DDJ as philosophy in literature, or literature for philosophy, and summarizes DDJ into 5 stories with 5 groups of philosophical questions which DDJ covers and answers:

1.The Story of the Dào / the Way 道的故事
What is the Dào / the Way?
How is the Dào / the Way related with our life?
How is “non-being / nothing” () related with our life?

2. The Story of the / Virtue 德的故事
What is the / Virtue?
How is the / Virtue related with the Dào?
How is the / Virtue related with the material wealth?

3. The Story of the Man 人的故事
Is the man a mystery?
Why does everyone deserve respect without discrimination?
Why does someone deserve more respect than others?

4. The Story of Wúwéi / Non-action 无为的故事
What is Wúwéi / Non-action?
How does a Way cultivator cultivate the Dào / Way?
What is an ideal and real man like?

5. The Story of the Rulers 王的故事
Is it possible to have an ideal and real government?
What is an ideal and real society like?
How to keep the hypocrites from the government?

Course Activities
Before each lecture the attendees are provided specific questions and reference materials for reading, thinking, and raising questions. On the lecture the teacher will analyze the ideas of DDJ with selected proofs and comparisons, raise and answer questions. PPT slides will be used. Free discussion and writing are encouraged. Different opinions are welcome.

Reference Materials
1. The English version of DDJ translated by Wing-Tsit Chan published by Princeton University;
2. The English version of DDJ translated by Shouwen Pan updated on his monograph《道德经解译》, Interpretation and Translation of Dao De Jing, published by Jilin People’s Publishing House;
3. A collection of the famous sayings of the great thinkers.

Sample Text from Dao De Jing《道德经》

Dào kě dào, fēi cháng dào; míng kě míng, fēi cháng míng. Wú, míng tiān dì zhī shǐ; yǒu, míng wàn wù

zhī mǔ. Gù cháng wú, yù yǐ guān qí miào; cháng yǒu, yù yǐ guān qí jiào. Cǐ liǎng zhě, tóng chū ér

yì míng, tóng wèi zhī xuán. Xuán zhī yòu xuán, zhòng miào zhī mén.

The ways can be talked about, but are not the eternal Way. The names can be named, but are not the eternal Name. Nothing is the name of the origin of the Heaven and the Earth, and something is the name of the mother of all creations. Therefore, by exploring nothing forever, you will observe its miracles; and by exploring something forever, you will observe its surfaces. Both are born of the same origin but have different names, and both are profound. The profounder one is the gate of all miracles.


Shouwen Pan

Shouwen Pan was a professor of English of Jilin University before joining China Institute in 2017. In 2000-2001 he was a William Fulbright Scholar sponsored by the US State Department and hosted by the University of Mississippi. In 2007 he received PhD degree of English Literature at Nankai University.

In 2008 he began to do research on Chinese classics by applying the Western literary critical theory.

In 2010-2014 he taught classical Chinese philosophy and literature at the Confucius Institute of Rutgers University.

In 2015 his monograph Interpretation and Translation of Dao De Jing《道德经解译》was published by Jilin People’s Publishing House, and his paper “On Lao Tzu’s Special Subjectivity and the Self-Sufficiency of Tao Te Ching” was published on Journal of Changchun University.

In 2016 he gave a lecture “On the Life Ethics of Laozi” as invited speaker at “the International Symposium on Influence and Changes of Language and Culture” held by Northeast Asian Languages and Culture Research Base in Changchun, China.

In 2017 he finished his research project on “International Promotion of Classical Chinese Philosophy and Literature” granted by Jilin University and Department of Education of Jilin Province.

2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
Instructor: Shouwen Pan