Chapter 17 On primitive customs.
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(Version and commentary of He Shanggong in English)


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17. 1  
In the highest antiquity the subjects knew that they existed.

By highest antiquity the nameless princes of highest antiquity are meant. The subjects knew that they existed [means]: the subjects knew that there was a prince above them, but they showed no trace of servile behaviour. This was the fulness of simplicity and naturalness.

In the next [period] they were attached to them -and praised them.

Their Te was visible, their benevolence was admired. Therefore they were loved and praised.

In the next one they feared them.

They devised laws and punishments. Thereby they ruled.

In the next one they reviled them.

They forbade many things and gave troublesome orders. It was impossible to be sincere. Therefore they were deceived and reviled.

If faith is not sufficient,

If the prince’s faith towards his subjects is not sufficient, then the subjects become a nation of swindlers.

Then there is no faith.

If the prince’s faith towards his subjects is not sufficient, then the subjects correspond to this and cheat their prince through faithlessness.

Cautious, o! are these precious words!

This wants to say: The princes of highest antiquity, whenever they had to undertake something, were cautious and rated it high to put stress on their words. They were afraid to detach themselves from Tao and to lose naturalness.

Merit is acquired, and the deed follows.

This is called the great peace of the world.

All the people say: we are natural.

The people do not know the fulness of their prince’s Te. On the contrary, they think it but natural.

- Chinese :

《道德經》: 太上,下知有之;其次,親而譽之;其次,畏之;其次,侮之。信不足,焉有不信焉。悠兮,其貴言。功成事遂,百姓皆謂我自然。

《老子河上公章句·淳風》: 太上,下知有之。其次,親之譽之。其次畏之。其次侮之。信不足焉,﹝有不信焉﹞。猶兮其貴言。功成事遂,百姓皆謂我自然。

《郭店·老子丙》: 大上,下知有之。其次,親譽之。其次,畏之;其次,侮之。信不足,焉有不信。猷乎,其貴言也。成事遂功,而百姓曰我自然也。

《馬王堆·老子甲道經》: 大上,下知有之;其次,親譽之;其次,畏之;其下,母之。信不足,案有不信。□□其貴言也。成功遂事而百省胃我自然。

《馬王堆·老子乙道經》: 大上,下知又□;其□,親譽之;其次,畏之;其下,母之。信不足,安有不信。猷呵其貴言也。成功遂事而百姓胃我自然。
(⁎)
- He Shanggong (Chinese) :

太上,下知有之。太上,謂太古無名之君。 下知有之者,下知上有君,而不臣事,質朴也。其次,親之譽之。其德可見,恩惠可稱,故親愛而譽之。其次畏之。設刑法以治之。其次侮之。禁多令煩,不可歸誠,故欺侮之。信不足焉,﹝有不信焉﹞。君信不足於下,下則應之以不信,而欺其君也。猶兮其貴言。說太上之君,舉事猶,貴重於言,恐離道失自然也。功成事遂,謂天下太平也。百姓皆謂我自然。百姓不知君上之德淳厚,反以為己自當然也。
(Ⅱ)
- Wing-Tsit Chan (1963) :

The best (rulers) are those whose existence is (merely) known by the people. The next best are those who are loved and praised. The next are those who are feared. And the next are those who are despised.
It is only when one does not have enough faith in others that others will have no faith in him.
(The great rulers) value their words highly. They accomplish their task; they complete their work. Nevertheless their people say that they simply follow Nature.
(Ⅲ)
- Ellen Marie Chen (1989) :

The best government, the people know it is just there.
The next best, they love and praise it.
The next, they fear it.
The next, they revile against it.
When you don't trust (hsin) [the people] enough,
Then they are untrustworthy (pu hsin).
Quiet, why value words (yen)?
Work is accomplished, things are done.
People all say that I am natural (tzu-jan).
(Ⅳ)
- Ch'u Ta-Kao (1904) :

The great rulers - the people do not notice their existence; The lesser ones - they attach to and praise them; The still lesser ones - they fear them; The still lesser ones - they despise them.
For where faith is lacking, It cannot be met by faith.
Now how much importance must be attributed to words!
(Ⅴ)
- World by world translation :

Traditional // simplified // pinyin // definition // dictionary
太上 // 太上 // tài shàng // ① titre de respect pour les taoïstes // Chinese-French
太上 // 太上 // tài shàng // ① title of respect for taoists // CC-CEDICT
下 // 下 // xià // ① sous ② suivant ③ prochain ④ bas ⑤ en bas ⑥ diminuer ⑦ descendre ⑧ arriver à (une décision, une conclusion) // Chinese-French
下 // 下 // xià // ① down ② downwards ③ below ④ lower ⑤ later ⑥ next (week etc) ⑦ second (of two parts) ⑧ to decline ⑨ to go down ⑩ to arrive at (a decision, conclusion etc) ⑪ measure word to show the frequency of an action // CC-CEDICT
知 // 知 // zhī // ① savoir ② connaître ③ connaissances // Chinese-French
知 // 知 // zhī // ① to know ② to be aware // CC-CEDICT
有 // 有 // yǒu // ① avoir ② posséder ③ il y a ④ exister // Chinese-French
有 // 有 // yǒu // ① to have ② there is ③ there are ④ to exist ⑤ to be // CC-CEDICT
之 // 之 // zhī // ① (remplaçant une personne ou une chose comme complément) ② (particule possessive dans différentes expressions) // Chinese-French
之 // 之 // zhī // ① (possessive particle, literary equivalent of 的[de5]) ② him ③ her ④ it // CC-CEDICT
其次 // 其次 // qí cì // ① ensuite ② deuxièmement // Chinese-French
其次 // 其次 // qí cì // ① next ② secondly // CC-CEDICT
親 // 亲 // qīn // ① parent ② proche ③ embrasser ④ de sang ⑤ intime ⑥ en personne // Chinese-French
親 // 亲 // qīn // ① parent ② one's own (flesh and blood) ③ relative ④ related ⑤ marriage ⑥ bride ⑦ close ⑧ intimate ⑨ in person ⑩ first-hand ⑪ in favor of ⑫ pro- ⑬ to kiss ⑭ (Internet slang) dear // CC-CEDICT
親 // 亲 // qìng // ① parents-in-law of one's offspring // CC-CEDICT
而 // 而 // ér // ① et ② mais ③ tandis que ④ alors que // Chinese-French
而 // 而 // ér // ① and ② as well as ③ and so ④ but (not) ⑤ yet (not) ⑥ (indicates causal relation) ⑦ (indicates change of state) ⑧ (indicates contrast) // CC-CEDICT
譽 // 誉 // yù // ① réputation ② louer // Chinese-French
譽 // 誉 // yù // ① to praise ② to acclaim ③ reputation // CC-CEDICT
之 // 之 // zhī // ① (remplaçant une personne ou une chose comme complément) ② (particule possessive dans différentes expressions) // Chinese-French
之 // 之 // zhī // ① (possessive particle, literary equivalent of 的[de5]) ② him ③ her ④ it // CC-CEDICT
其次 // 其次 // qí cì // ① ensuite ② deuxièmement // Chinese-French
其次 // 其次 // qí cì // ① next ② secondly // CC-CEDICT
畏 // 畏 // wèi // ① craindre // Chinese-French
畏 // 畏 // wèi // ① to fear // CC-CEDICT
之 // 之 // zhī // ① (remplaçant une personne ou une chose comme complément) ② (particule possessive dans différentes expressions) // Chinese-French
之 // 之 // zhī // ① (possessive particle, literary equivalent of 的[de5]) ② him ③ her ④ it // CC-CEDICT
其次 // 其次 // qí cì // ① ensuite ② deuxièmement // Chinese-French
其次 // 其次 // qí cì // ① next ② secondly // CC-CEDICT
侮 // 侮 // wǔ // ① mépriser ② insulter // Chinese-French
侮 // 侮 // wǔ // ① to insult ② to ridicule ③ to disgrace // CC-CEDICT
之 // 之 // zhī // ① (remplaçant une personne ou une chose comme complément) ② (particule possessive dans différentes expressions) // Chinese-French
之 // 之 // zhī // ① (possessive particle, literary equivalent of 的[de5]) ② him ③ her ④ it // CC-CEDICT
信 // 信 // xìn // ① avoir confiance ② croire ③ lettre // Chinese-French
信 // 信 // xìn // ① letter ② mail ③ CL:封[feng1] ④ to trust ⑤ to believe ⑥ to profess faith in ⑦ truthful ⑧ confidence ⑨ trust ⑩ at will ⑪ at random // CC-CEDICT
不足 // 不足 // bù zú // ① ne pas valoir ② insuffisant ③ pas assez // Chinese-French
不足 // 不足 // bù zú // ① insufficient ② lacking ③ deficiency ④ not enough ⑤ inadequate ⑥ not worth ⑦ cannot ⑧ should not // CC-CEDICT
焉 // 焉 // yān // ① (employé à la fin d'une phrase) ② comment ③ seulement ④ ici ⑤ cela // Chinese-French
焉 // 焉 // yān // ① where ② how // CC-CEDICT
有 // 有 // yǒu // ① avoir ② posséder ③ il y a ④ exister // Chinese-French
有 // 有 // yǒu // ① to have ② there is ③ there are ④ to exist ⑤ to be // CC-CEDICT
不 // 不 // bù // ① ne... pas ② non ③ (pour former une question placé à la fin d'une phrase, pour indiquer l'indifférence avec shen me ④ pour indiquer une alternative avec jiu) // Chinese-French
不 // 不 // bù // ① (negative prefix) ② not ③ no // CC-CEDICT
信 // 信 // xìn // ① avoir confiance ② croire ③ lettre // Chinese-French
信 // 信 // xìn // ① letter ② mail ③ CL:封[feng1] ④ to trust ⑤ to believe ⑥ to profess faith in ⑦ truthful ⑧ confidence ⑨ trust ⑩ at will ⑪ at random // CC-CEDICT
焉 // 焉 // yān // ① (employé à la fin d'une phrase) ② comment ③ seulement ④ ici ⑤ cela // Chinese-French
焉 // 焉 // yān // ① where ② how // CC-CEDICT
悠 // 悠 // yōu // ① long ② prolongé ③ doux ④ modéré ⑤ se balancer // Chinese-French
悠 // 悠 // yōu // ① long or drawn out ② remote in time or space ③ leisurely ④ to swing ⑤ pensive ⑥ worried // CC-CEDICT
兮 // 兮 // xī // ① (interjection utilisée en poésie indiquant l'émerveillement) ② Oh! // Chinese-French
兮 // 兮 // xī // ① (particle in old Chinese similar to 啊) // CC-CEDICT
其 // 其 // qí // ① son ② sa ③ ses ④ leur ⑤ leurs ⑥ il(s) ⑦ elle(s) ⑧ ceci ⑨ cela // Chinese-French
其 // 其 // qí // ① his ② her ③ its ④ their ⑤ that ⑥ such ⑦ it (refers to sth preceding it) // CC-CEDICT
貴 // 贵 // guì // ① cher ② coûteux ③ précieux // Chinese-French
貴 // 贵 // guì // ① expensive ② noble ③ precious ④ (honorific) your // CC-CEDICT
言 // 言 // yán // ① dire ② mot ③ parole ④ opinion ⑤ propos // Chinese-French
言 // 言 // yán // ① words ② speech ③ to say ④ to talk // CC-CEDICT
功 // 功 // gōng // ① mérite, services ② effort, travail // Chinese-French
功 // 功 // gōng // ① meritorious deed or service ② achievement ③ result ④ service ⑤ accomplishment ⑥ work (physics) // CC-CEDICT
成 // 成 // chéng // ① réussir ② devenir ③ résultat ④ fruit (d'un travail) ⑤ très bien ⑥ d'accord ⑦ capable // Chinese-French
成 // 成 // chéng // ① surname Cheng // CC-CEDICT
成 // 成 // chéng // ① to succeed ② to finish ③ to complete ④ to accomplish ⑤ to become ⑥ to turn into ⑦ to be all right ⑧ OK! ⑨ one tenth // CC-CEDICT
事 // 事 // shì // ① être occupé ② être engagé dans ③ affaire ④ chose ⑤ accident ⑥ trouble ⑦ travail ⑧ responsabilité ⑨ implication ⑩ empêtrement // Chinese-French
事 // 事 // shì // ① matter ② thing ③ item ④ work ⑤ affair ⑥ CL:件[jian4],樁|桩[zhuang1],回[hui2] // CC-CEDICT
遂 // 遂 // suì // ① alors ② satisfaire ③ exaucer ④ réussir // Chinese-French
遂 // 遂 // suì // ① to satisfy ② to succeed ③ then ④ thereupon ⑤ finally ⑥ unexpectedly ⑦ to proceed ⑧ to reach // CC-CEDICT
百姓 // 百姓 // bǎi xìng // ① peuple ② les gens du peuple // Chinese-French
百姓 // 百姓 // bǎi xìng // ① common people // CC-CEDICT
皆 // 皆 // jiē // ① tout ② tous // Chinese-French
皆 // 皆 // jiē // ① all ② each and every ③ in all cases // CC-CEDICT
謂 // 谓 // wèi // ① dire ② adresser la parole ③ être appelé ④ penser // Chinese-French
謂 // 谓 // wèi // ① surname Wei // CC-CEDICT
謂 // 谓 // wèi // ① to speak ② to say ③ to name ④ to designate ⑤ meaning ⑥ sense // CC-CEDICT
我 // 我 // wǒ // ① je ② moi // Chinese-French
我 // 我 // wǒ // ① I ② me ③ my // CC-CEDICT
自然 // 自然 // zì rán // ① nature ② naturel // Chinese-French
自然 // 自然 // zì rán // ① nature ② natural ③ naturally // CC-CEDICT
(Ⅵ)
- Yi Wu (1989) :

The best king rules so that people know that "there is a king."
The less wise king rules so that he is praised and loved.
The still less wise king rules so that he is feared.
The worst king rules so that he is cursed.
He who abides by nothing,
Who rules by saying and doing nothing misleading,
Achieves such political success that people all think
They are just following their own nature.
(Ⅶ)
- Lynn (2004) :

The "very highest" by those below is just known to exist.
The next is he who is a parent to them, in whom they rejoice.
The next is he whom they fear.
The next is he whom they treat with contempt.
If one fails to have trust, a corresponding lack of trust in him occurs.
He takes his time, oh, as he weighs his words carefully.
And, when success is had and the task accomplished, the common folk all say, "We just live naturally."
(Ⅷ)


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