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The Daode jing Commentary of Cheng Xuanying

Daoism, Buddhism, and the Laozi in the Tang Dynasty

Translated by Friederike Assandri

Publication Date - 09 November 2021

ISBN: 9780190876456

438 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches


This book presents for the first time in English a complete translation of the Expository Commentary to the Daode jing, written by the Daoist monk Cheng Xuanying in the 7th century CE. This commentary is a quintessential text of Tang dynasty Daoist philosophy and of Chongxuanxue or Twofold Mystery teachings. Cheng Xuanying proposes a reading of the ancient Daode jing that aligns the text with Daoist practices and beliefs and integrates Buddhist concepts and techniques into the exegesis of the Daode jing.

Building on the philosophical tradition of Xuanxue authors like Wang Bi, Cheng read the Daode jing in light of Daoist religion. Cheng presents Laozi, the presumed author of the Daode jing, as a bodhisattva-like sage and savior, who wrote the Daode jing to compassionately guide human beings to salvation. Salvation is interpreted as a metaphysical form of immortality, reached by overcoming the dichotomy of being and non-being, and thus also life and death. Cheng's philosophical outlook ties together the ancient text of the Daode jing and contemporary developments in Daoist thought which occurred under the influence of an intense interaction with Buddhist ideas. The commentary is a vivid testimony of the integration of Buddhist thought into an exegesis of the ancient classic of the Daode jing, and thereby also into Chinese philosophy.

Friederike Assandri frames this new translation with an extensive introduction, providing crucial context for a new reading of the Daode jing. It includes a biography of Cheng Xuanying, a discussion of the historical and political context of Daoism in early medieval China in the capital Chang'an, and a discussion of Cheng's philosophy in relation to the interaction of Daoism and Buddhism. This commentary is essential reading for students and scholars interested in the history of Chinese philosophy, Daoist thought, and the reception of Buddhism in China.


  • Includes an extensive introduction giving new context and insight into a classic ancient text
  • Provides thorough endnotes and footnotes to guide readers
  • Presents a classic Chinese philosophical text for the first time in English

About the Author(s)

Friederike Assandri studied Classical Sinology, modern Sinology and Indology at the University of Heidelberg, and Chinese Philosophy at the Universtiy of Nanjing. She holds a PhD from the University of Heidelberg. She has lived for 10 years in China and currently lives in Berlin and holds a research position at the University of Leipzig. Her research focuses on the encounter of Buddhism with Chinese culture, intellectual history, and early medieval Daoism.


"This is landmark translation, astutely introduced, and greatly contributing to our understanding of Táng Daoism. Assandri must be commended." -- Lukas Pokorny, Religious Studies Review

"This is landmark translation, astutely introduced, and greatly contributing to our understanding of Táng Daoism." -- Lukas Pokorny, Religious Studies Review

Table of Contents

    1. Cheng Xuanying - Biographical Data
    2. Context: The Challenges of Being a Daoist in Early Tang Chang'an
    3. Cheng Xuanying's Expository Commentary and "the Chinese Conquest of Buddhism"
    4. Conventions of this Book

    Scroll 1
    1. The Dao That Can Be Spoken of as Dao
    2. All Under Heaven Know
    3. Do Not Value the Wise
    4. The Dao Is Empty
    5. Heaven and Earth
    6. The Valley Spirit
    7. Heaven and Earth Are Long Enduring
    8. The Highest Goodness
    9. Holding It
    10. Carry the Souls
    11. Thirty Spokes
    12. Five Colors
    13. Favor and Disgrace
    14. Looking at It
    15. Of Ancient Times
    16. Bringing Emptiness to the Limit
    17. Taishang18. Great Dao
    19. Abolish Sagehood
    20. Abolish Learning
    21. Great Virtue
    22. Crooked, Therefore
    23. Sparing in Words
    24. He Who Stands on Tiptoe
    25. There Is a Thing
    26. Weightiness Is
    27. Skillfully Acting
    28. Knowing Masculinity
    29. Those Who Wish
    30. [One Who] Takes Dao
    31. Fine Weapons
    32. Dao Is Constant
    33. He Who Knows Other Men
    34. The Great Dao
    35. The Great Image
    36. If You Want to Contain Something
    37. Dao Is Forever Without Intentional Action

    Scroll 2: The Classic of Virtue
    38. Superior Virtue
    39. Formerly
    40. Returning
    41. The Person of Highest Capacities
    42. Dao Generates
    43. Under Heaven
    44. Fame or Your Self, Which Is Closer to You?
    45. Great Accomplishment
    46. When the World Has Dao