Mr. Hansen’s Tao Te Ching

November 12th, 2011

I probably have the biggest collection of the Tao Te Ching in Texas. This photo of my bookshelf will attest to that. Twenty-five different versions in the photo with at least one stray version which I couldn’t locate.



What is it about this ancient text that holds such fascination for me?

I had never given it much thought until I found one of my latest additions in a bookstore recently – Chad Hansen’s new translation. (The striking blue book in the photo.)

I normally don’t get excited by new books, especially new translations of the Tao Te Ching. They follow pretty much the same pattern, the same formulaic approach. But Mr. Hansen’s version caught my eye immediately.

The standard procedure for pretty much the past hundred years has been to translate the second character ‘te’ as ‘virtue,’ (some have also translated it as ‘power’) but in his new translation, Mr. Hansen translated it as ‘virtuosity.’

Now you can see why I was so excited.

I suddenly saw my two biggest passions in life – the Tao Te Ching and virtuosity – converging in one place.

I decided to google ‘te’ and ‘virtuosity’ and I found that other authors have also latched on to this new translation of ‘te.’ Mr. Hansen is not so unique after all.

But who started this trend? Who was the first to have the nerve to buck over one hundred years of literary tradition and change the translation of ‘te’ from ‘virtue’ to ‘virtuosity?’ I have yet to find the answer. Perhaps it is Mr. Hansen himself.

It doesn’t matter, but it clarified everything for me.

I suddenly understood why I have been so fascinated with the book since I discovered it years ago in the school library. It’s because it mirrors perfectly my fascination with virtuosity. All these years, I had always intuitively sensed that the TTC is a manual on virtuosity, and not the heavy philosophical tract that it’s made out to be by scholars.

So does that make my AOV obsolete?

No, the AOV deals with the nuts and bolts of achieving virtuosity. It is an eminently practical book.

While the TTC approaches virtuosity from a more philosophical standpoint, and is mostly a collection of aphorisms about achieving virtuosity.

If you’re interested in Mr. Hansen’s translation, here’s a link to one of his earlier versions:

The printed version differs slightly from this online version.

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