Chapter 78 How to trust in sincerity.
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(Version and commentary of He Shanggong in English)


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78. 1  
Within the world nothing surpasses water in tenderness and weakness.

This means: water is pliable and soft. Within a round [basin] it becomes round, within a square one square. If dammed in, it stays. If let off, it moves.

But when it attacks what is firm and strong, nothin is able to vanquish it.

Water is able to embrace mountains, to move hills, to grind iron and to dissolve copper. But nothing is able to achieve the merit of vanquishing water.

That the weak vanquishes the strong, that the pliable vanquishes the unbending,

Water is able to annihilate fire, Yin is able to dissolve Yang. The tongue is weak, the teeth are strong, but the teeth perish before the tongue,

everybody in the empire knows.

Who knows weakness is enduring. Who keeps long to strength will be hurt.

[But] nobody is able to act [according to it].

Who is ashamed of humility likes to be arrogant.

Therefore a saint says:

The following exposition is meant.

Who loves the dirt of the country is called lord of the altars.

If a prince is able to take up the dirt of his country, like the [Yang-tse-]chiang and the sea which are not opposed to the small watercourses, then he is able to protect his altars and to become lord of the united empire.

Who loves the misfortune of the country is called king of the empire.

If a ruler is able to take [the responsibility for] mistakes upon himself, then he himself becomes the substitute for his people. If he takes misfortune upon himself, he may possess the empire as a king.

Correct words seem perverted.

These are thus the correct words. The men of the world do not know this. Therefore they think them perverted.

- Chinese :

《道德經》: 天下莫柔弱於水,而攻堅強者莫之能勝,其無以易之。弱之勝強,柔之勝剛,天下莫不知,莫能行。是以聖人云:受國之垢,是謂社稷主;受國不祥,是謂天下王。正言若反。

《老子河上公章句·任信》: 天下莫柔弱於水,而攻堅強者莫之能勝,以其無以易之。弱之勝強,柔之勝剛,天下莫不知,莫能行。是以聖人云:受國之垢,是謂社稷主;受國不祥,是為天下王。正言若反。

《馬王堆·老子甲德經》: 天下莫柔□□□□□堅強者莫之能□也,以其無□易□□□□□□□勝強,天□□□□□□□行也。故聖人之言云曰:受邦之詬,是胃社稷之主;受邦之不祥,是胃天下之王。□□若反。

《馬王堆·老子乙德經》: 天下莫柔弱於水,□□□□□□□□□,以其無以易之也。水之朕剛也,弱之朕強也,天下莫弗知也,而□□□□也。是故聖人之言云曰:受國之詬,是胃社稷之主;受國之不祥,是胃天下之王。正言若反。
(⁎)
- He Shanggong (Chinese) :

天下莫柔弱於水,圓中則圓,方中則方,壅之則止,決之則行。而攻堅強者莫之能勝,水能懷山襄陵,磨鐵消銅,莫能勝水而成功也。以其無以易之。夫攻堅強者,無以易於水。弱之勝強,水能滅火,陰能消陽。柔之勝剛,舌柔齒剛,齒先舌亡。天下莫不知,知柔弱者久長,剛強者折傷。莫能行。恥謙卑,好強梁。是以聖人云:謂下事也。受國之垢,是謂社稷主;人君能受國之垢濁者,若江海不逆小流,則能長保其社稷,為一國之君主也。受國不祥,是為天下王。人君能引過自與,代民受不祥之殃,則可以王天下。正言若反。此乃正直之言,世人不知,以為反言。
(Ⅱ)
- Wing-Tsit Chan (1963) :

There is nothing softer and weaker than water, And yet there is nothing better for attacking hard and strong things. For this reason there is no substitute for it.
All the world knows that the weak overcomes the strong and the soft overcomes the hard. But none can practice it.
Therefore the sage says: He who suffers disgrace for his country Is called the lord of the land. He who takes upon himself the country's misfortunes Becomes the king of the empire. Straight words seem to be their opposite.
(Ⅲ)
- Ellen Marie Chen (1989) :

Nothing under heaven
Is softer (jou) and weaker (jo) than water,
Yet nothing can compare with it
In attacking the hard (chien) and strong (ch'iang).
Nothing can change (i) place with it.
That the weak overcomes the strong,
And the soft overcomes the hard,
No one under heaven does not know (chih),
Though none can put it into practice.
Therefore a sage said:
"One who receives the filth of a state,
Is called the Master of the Altar of the Soil and Grain;
One who shoulders the evils of a state,
Becomes the king under heaven."
Straightforward words (yen) appear to be their reverse.
(Ⅳ)
- Ch'u Ta-Kao (1904) :

The weakest things in the world can overmatch the strongest things in the world.
Nothing in the world can be compared to water for its weak and yielding nature; yet in attacking the hard and the strong, nothing proves better than it. For there is no other alternative to it.
The weak can overcome the strong and the yielding can overcome the hard: This all the world knows but does not practise.
Therefore the Sage says:
He who sustains all the reproaches of the country can be master of the land;
He who sustains all the calamities of the country can be king of the world.
These are words of truth,
Though they seem paradoxical.
(Ⅴ)
- World by world translation :

Traditional // simplified // pinyin // definition // dictionary
天下 // 天下 // tiān xià // ① empire céleste // Chinese-French
天下 // 天下 // tiān xià // ① land under heaven ② the whole world ③ the whole of China ④ realm ⑤ rule // CC-CEDICT
莫 // 莫 // mò // ① ne...pas ② sans // Chinese-French
莫 // 莫 // mò // ① surname Mo // CC-CEDICT
莫 // 莫 // mò // ① do not ② there is none who // CC-CEDICT
柔弱 // 柔弱 // róu ruò // ① faible ② délicat // Chinese-French
柔弱 // 柔弱 // róu ruò // ① weak ② delicate // CC-CEDICT
於 // 于 // yú // ① dans ② à ③ de ④ par ⑤ que // Chinese-French
於 // 于 // yú // ① in ② at ③ to ④ from ⑤ by ⑥ than ⑦ out of // CC-CEDICT
於 // 於 // wū // ① en ② dans ③ pour ④ par // Chinese-French
於 // 於 // wū // ① (literary) Oh! ② Ah! // CC-CEDICT
於 // 於 // yū // ① surname Yu ② Taiwan pr. [Yu2] // CC-CEDICT
水 // 水 // shuǐ // ① eau ② liquide ③ 85e radical // Chinese-French
水 // 水 // shuǐ // ① surname Shui // CC-CEDICT
水 // 水 // shuǐ // ① water ② river ③ liquid ④ beverage ⑤ additional charges or income ⑥ (of clothes) classifier for number of washes // 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
攻堅 // 攻坚 // gōng jiān // ① prendre d'assaut les places puissamment fortifiées ② s'emparer des positions fortifiées // Chinese-French
強 // 强 // qiáng // ① fort ② puissant ③ de force // Chinese-French
強 // 强 // qiáng // ① surname Qiang // CC-CEDICT
強 // 强 // qiáng // ① strong ② powerful ③ better ④ slightly more than ⑤ vigorous ⑥ violent ⑦ best in their category, e.g. see 百強|百强[bai3 qiang2] // CC-CEDICT
強 // 强 // qiǎng // ① faire un effort ② forcer // Chinese-French
強 // 强 // qiǎng // ① to force ② to compel ③ to strive ④ to make an effort // CC-CEDICT
強 // 强 // jiàng // ① obstiné ② têtu ③ inflexible // Chinese-French
強 // 强 // jiàng // ① stubborn ② unyielding // CC-CEDICT
者 // 者 // zhě // ① (placé après un adjectif ou un verbe est utilisé comme substantif pour désigner une personne ou une chose) // Chinese-French
者 // 者 // zhě // ① (after a verb or adjective) one who (is) ... ② (after a noun) person involved in ... ③ -er ④ -ist ⑤ (used after a number or 後|后[hou4] or 前[qian2] to refer to sth mentioned previously) ⑥ (used after a term, to mark a pause before defining the term) ⑦ (old) (used at the end of a command) ⑧ (old) this // CC-CEDICT
莫 // 莫 // mò // ① ne...pas ② sans // Chinese-French
莫 // 莫 // mò // ① surname Mo // CC-CEDICT
莫 // 莫 // mò // ① do not ② there is none who // 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
能 // 能 // néng // ① capacité ② énergie ③ pouvoir ④ être capable de // Chinese-French
能 // 能 // néng // ① surname Neng // CC-CEDICT
能 // 能 // néng // ① can ② to be able to ③ might possibly ④ ability ⑤ (physics) energy // CC-CEDICT
勝 // 胜 // shèng // ① remarquable ② excellent ③ supérieur ④ être égal à ⑤ être à la hauteur de ⑥ pouvoir supporter ⑦ victoire ⑧ succès ⑨ vaincre ⑩ remporter la victoire sur ⑪ surpasser ⑫ dépasser // Chinese-French
勝 // 胜 // shèng // ① victory ② success ③ to beat ④ to defeat ⑤ to surpass ⑥ victorious ⑦ superior to ⑧ to get the better of ⑨ better than ⑩ surpassing ⑪ superb (of vista) ⑫ beautiful (scenery) ⑬ wonderful (view) ⑭ (Taiwan pr. [sheng1]) able to bear ⑮ equal to (a task) // 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
無 // 无 // wú // ① non ② 71e radical // Chinese-French
無 // 无 // wú // ① not to have ② no ③ none ④ not ⑤ to lack ⑥ un- ⑦ -less // CC-CEDICT
以 // 以 // yǐ // ① prendre ② utiliser ③ selon ④ à cause de ⑤ pour // Chinese-French
以 // 以 // yǐ // ① abbr. for Israel 以色列[Yi3 se4 lie4] // CC-CEDICT
以 // 以 // yǐ // ① to use ② by means of ③ according to ④ in order to ⑤ because of ⑥ at (a certain date or place) // CC-CEDICT
㕥 // 以 // yǐ // ① old variant of 以[yi3] // CC-CEDICT
㠯 // 以 // yǐ // ① old variant of 以[yi3] // CC-CEDICT
易 // 易 // yì // ① changer ② échanger ③ facile ④ simple ⑤ changement ⑥ mutation // Chinese-French
易 // 易 // yì // ① surname Yi ② abbr. for 易經|易经[Yi4 jing1], the Book of Changes // CC-CEDICT
易 // 易 // yì // ① easy ② amiable ③ to change ④ to exchange // 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
弱 // 弱 // ruò // ① faible ② fragile ③ inférieur ④ un peu moins // Chinese-French
弱 // 弱 // ruò // ① weak ② feeble ③ young ④ inferior ⑤ (following a decimal or fraction) slightly less than // 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
勝 // 胜 // shèng // ① remarquable ② excellent ③ supérieur ④ être égal à ⑤ être à la hauteur de ⑥ pouvoir supporter ⑦ victoire ⑧ succès ⑨ vaincre ⑩ remporter la victoire sur ⑪ surpasser ⑫ dépasser // Chinese-French
勝 // 胜 // shèng // ① victory ② success ③ to beat ④ to defeat ⑤ to surpass ⑥ victorious ⑦ superior to ⑧ to get the better of ⑨ better than ⑩ surpassing ⑪ superb (of vista) ⑫ beautiful (scenery) ⑬ wonderful (view) ⑭ (Taiwan pr. [sheng1]) able to bear ⑮ equal to (a task) // CC-CEDICT
強 // 强 // qiáng // ① fort ② puissant ③ de force // Chinese-French
強 // 强 // qiáng // ① surname Qiang // CC-CEDICT
強 // 强 // qiáng // ① strong ② powerful ③ better ④ slightly more than ⑤ vigorous ⑥ violent ⑦ best in their category, e.g. see 百強|百强[bai3 qiang2] // CC-CEDICT
強 // 强 // qiǎng // ① faire un effort ② forcer // Chinese-French
強 // 强 // qiǎng // ① to force ② to compel ③ to strive ④ to make an effort // CC-CEDICT
強 // 强 // jiàng // ① obstiné ② têtu ③ inflexible // Chinese-French
強 // 强 // jiàng // ① stubborn ② unyielding // CC-CEDICT
柔 // 柔 // róu // ① souple ② flexible ③ doux // Chinese-French
柔 // 柔 // róu // ① soft ② flexible ③ supple ④ yielding ⑤ rho (Greek letter Ρρ) // 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
勝 // 胜 // shèng // ① remarquable ② excellent ③ supérieur ④ être égal à ⑤ être à la hauteur de ⑥ pouvoir supporter ⑦ victoire ⑧ succès ⑨ vaincre ⑩ remporter la victoire sur ⑪ surpasser ⑫ dépasser // Chinese-French
勝 // 胜 // shèng // ① victory ② success ③ to beat ④ to defeat ⑤ to surpass ⑥ victorious ⑦ superior to ⑧ to get the better of ⑨ better than ⑩ surpassing ⑪ superb (of vista) ⑫ beautiful (scenery) ⑬ wonderful (view) ⑭ (Taiwan pr. [sheng1]) able to bear ⑮ equal to (a task) // CC-CEDICT
剛 // 刚 // gāng // ① juste ② exactement ③ tout à l'heure ④ à peine ⑤ fort ⑥ ferme ⑦ dur // Chinese-French
剛 // 刚 // gāng // ① hard ② firm ③ strong ④ just ⑤ barely ⑥ exactly // CC-CEDICT
天下 // 天下 // tiān xià // ① empire céleste // Chinese-French
天下 // 天下 // tiān xià // ① land under heaven ② the whole world ③ the whole of China ④ realm ⑤ rule // CC-CEDICT
莫不 // 莫不 // mò bù // ① none doesn't ② there is none who isn't ③ everyone // 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
莫 // 莫 // mò // ① ne...pas ② sans // Chinese-French
莫 // 莫 // mò // ① surname Mo // CC-CEDICT
莫 // 莫 // mò // ① do not ② there is none who // CC-CEDICT
能 // 能 // néng // ① capacité ② énergie ③ pouvoir ④ être capable de // Chinese-French
能 // 能 // néng // ① surname Neng // CC-CEDICT
能 // 能 // néng // ① can ② to be able to ③ might possibly ④ ability ⑤ (physics) energy // CC-CEDICT
行 // 行 // xíng // ① marcher ② agir ③ faire ④ pratiquer ⑤ appliquer ⑥ d'accord ⑦ c'est bon ! ⑧ chacun des éléments : l’eau, le feu, le bois, le métal, la terre ⑨ bagages ⑩ quitter la maison ⑪ se marier (pour une fille) ⑫ ballade // Chinese-French
行 // 行 // xíng // ① to walk ② to go ③ to travel ④ a visit ⑤ temporary ⑥ makeshift ⑦ current ⑧ in circulation ⑨ to do ⑩ to perform ⑪ capable ⑫ competent ⑬ effective ⑭ all right ⑮ OK! ⑯ will do ⑰ behavior ⑱ conduct ⑲ Taiwan pr. [xing4] for the behavior-conduct sense // CC-CEDICT
行 // 行 // háng // ① classe ② sorte ③ rang ④ maison de commerce // Chinese-French
行 // 行 // háng // ① a row ② series ③ age order (of brothers) ④ profession ⑤ professional ⑥ relating to company // CC-CEDICT
行 // 行 // xìng // ① action // Chinese-French
是以 // 是以 // shì yǐ // ① par conséquent ② donc // Chinese-French
是以 // 是以 // shì yǐ // ① therefore ② thus ③ so // CC-CEDICT
聖人 // 圣人 // shèng rén // ① saint // Chinese-French
聖人 // 圣人 // shèng rén // ① saint ② sage ③ refers to Confucius 孔子[Kong3 zi3] ④ the current reigning Emperor // CC-CEDICT
云 // 云 // yún // ① (classical) to say // CC-CEDICT
雲 // 云 // yún // ① nuage ② dire ③ parler ④ (nom de famille) // Chinese-French
雲 // 云 // yún // ① surname Yun ② abbr. for Yunnan Province 雲南省|云南省[Yun2 nan2 Sheng3] // CC-CEDICT
雲 // 云 // yún // ① cloud ② CL:朵[duo3] // CC-CEDICT
受 // 受 // shòu // ① recevoir ② subir ③ éprouver ④ supporter ⑤ tolérer // Chinese-French
受 // 受 // shòu // ① to receive ② to accept ③ to suffer ④ subjected to ⑤ to bear ⑥ to stand ⑦ pleasant ⑧ (passive marker) // CC-CEDICT
國 // 国 // guó // ① pays ② royaume ③ État // Chinese-French
國 // 国 // guó // ① surname Guo // CC-CEDICT
國 // 国 // guó // ① country ② nation ③ state ④ national ⑤ CL:個|个[ge4] // 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
垢 // 垢 // gòu // ① saleté ② crasse ③ honte ④ sale ⑤ crasseux // Chinese-French
垢 // 垢 // gòu // ① dirt ② disgrace // CC-CEDICT
是 // 是 // shì // ① être ② oui ③ correct // Chinese-French
是 // 是 // shì // ① is ② are ③ am ④ yes ⑤ to be // CC-CEDICT
昰 // 是 // shì // ① variant of 是[shi4] ② (used in given names) // 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
社稷 // 社稷 // shè jì // ① Etat ② pays ③ patrie // Chinese-French
社稷 // 社稷 // shè jì // ① state ② country ③ the Gods of earth and grain // CC-CEDICT
主 // 主 // zhǔ // ① hôte ② propriétaire ③ patron ④ dieu ⑤ seigneur ⑥ diriger ⑦ présider ⑧ être pour ⑨ principal ⑩ essentiel // Chinese-French
主 // 主 // zhǔ // ① owner ② master ③ host ④ individual or party concerned ⑤ God ⑥ Lord ⑦ main ⑧ to indicate or signify ⑨ trump card (in card games) // CC-CEDICT
受 // 受 // shòu // ① recevoir ② subir ③ éprouver ④ supporter ⑤ tolérer // Chinese-French
受 // 受 // shòu // ① to receive ② to accept ③ to suffer ④ subjected to ⑤ to bear ⑥ to stand ⑦ pleasant ⑧ (passive marker) // CC-CEDICT
國 // 国 // guó // ① pays ② royaume ③ État // Chinese-French
國 // 国 // guó // ① surname Guo // CC-CEDICT
國 // 国 // guó // ① country ② nation ③ state ④ national ⑤ CL:個|个[ge4] // CC-CEDICT
不祥 // 不祥 // bù xiáng // ① sinistre ② inquiétant ③ néfaste // Chinese-French
不祥 // 不祥 // bù xiáng // ① ominous ② inauspicious // CC-CEDICT
是 // 是 // shì // ① être ② oui ③ correct // Chinese-French
是 // 是 // shì // ① is ② are ③ am ④ yes ⑤ to be // CC-CEDICT
昰 // 是 // shì // ① variant of 是[shi4] ② (used in given names) // 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
天下 // 天下 // tiān xià // ① empire céleste // Chinese-French
天下 // 天下 // tiān xià // ① land under heaven ② the whole world ③ the whole of China ④ realm ⑤ rule // CC-CEDICT
王 // 王 // wáng // ① roi ② prince ③ (nom de famille) // Chinese-French
王 // 王 // wáng // ① surname Wang // CC-CEDICT
王 // 王 // wáng // ① king or monarch ② best or strongest of its type ③ grand ④ great // CC-CEDICT
王 // 王 // wàng // ① régner sur // Chinese-French
王 // 王 // wàng // ① to rule ② to reign over // CC-CEDICT
正 // 正 // zhèng // ① droit ② positif ③ correct ④ justement ⑤ précisément // Chinese-French
正 // 正 // zhèng // ① straight ② upright ③ proper ④ main ⑤ principal ⑥ to correct ⑦ to rectify ⑧ exactly ⑨ just (at that time) ⑩ right (in that place) ⑪ (math.) positive // CC-CEDICT
正 // 正 // zhēng // ① (calendrier) nouveau // Chinese-French
正 // 正 // zhēng // ① first month of the lunar year // 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
若 // 若 // ruò // ① si ② comme // Chinese-French
若 // 若 // ruò // ① to seem ② like ③ as ④ if // CC-CEDICT
反 // 反 // fǎn // ① tourner ② renverser ③ révolter ④ lutter contre ⑤ s'opposer ⑥ anti- ⑦ contraire ⑧ inverse // Chinese-French
反 // 反 // fǎn // ① contrary ② in reverse ③ inside out or upside down ④ to reverse ⑤ to return ⑥ to oppose ⑦ opposite ⑧ against ⑨ anti- ⑩ to rebel ⑪ to use analogy ⑫ instead ⑬ abbr. for 反切[fan3 qie4] phonetic system // CC-CEDICT
(Ⅵ)
- Yi Wu (1989) :

Nothing is softer and weaker
And, at the same time, stronger, than water
While it is attacking the strong and hard in the world.
Only water can keep being the weakest steadfastly.
All the world knows the weak defeats the strong
And the soft defeats the hard,
But none can be courageous enough to do it.
Therefore, the wise person says:
"One who bears the worst disgrace
Is the glorious lord of a land;
One who suffers the worst disaster
Is the greatest savior of a nation."
The most truthful words always seem the most absurd.
(Ⅶ)
- Lynn (2004) :

Of all under Heaven, nothing is more soft and pliable than water, yet for attacking the hard and stiff, nothing can beat it, so it is impossible to take its place.
That the soft conquers the stiff and the pliable conquers the hard, none among all under Heaven fails to know, yet none can practice it.
Therefore, according to what the sage says, he who sustains disgrace on behalf of the state is referred to as the master of altars dedicated to the soil and grain [its rightful ruler], and he who sustains misfortune on behalf of the state is referred to as a sovereign for all under Heaven.
These are true words that seem false.
(Ⅷ)


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