As we have seen, the history of Lao Tzu is a multi-millenial open source project involving translators and poets in many languages and cultures, not just the Warring States period in China. But most readers still think of Lao Tzu as a static text. That causes a lot of confusion.
Academic literalists revere the jumble while modern poets sculpt new puzzle pieces of their own. Unlocking applies a scientific method to the process of translation, respecting the historical text as empirical data while working systematically to develop the simplest possible theories of reassembly of the whole.
This process employs the Agile software engineering method of refactoring. The Unlocking beta-book provides a line by line explanation of refactorings applied per chapter. But here’s a high level summary of the major rearrangements vs literal translations:
- Chapter 7 has been swapped with the second stanza of chapter 5.
- Chapter 5’s second stanza has been amalgamated with chapters 6 & 8.
- Chapter 10’s first stanza has been moved to become the second stanza of chapter 13.
- Chapter 10’s second stanza has been moved to become the second stanza of chapter 11.
- The last stanza of chapter 12 has been moved to become the second of chapter 3.
- The rest of chapter 12 has been amalgamated with chapter 9.
- Chapter 17 has moved to appear between chapters 24 & 25.
- The second stanza of chapter 22 has moved to become the first stanza of chapter 24.
- The last three lines of chapter 28 have moved to the end of Chapter 27.
- The last three lines of chapter 39 have moved to the end of Chapter 26.
- The order of lines of the first stanza of Chapter 35 has been reversed.
- The second last stanza of Chapter 41 has moved to Chapter 43.
- The first stanza of Chapter 42 has moved to the last stanza of Chapter 40.
- The last three lines of chapter 47 oppose most translations.
- The first stanza of Chapter 52 has moved to the last stanza of Chapter 51.
- The first three lines of chapter 54 have moved to the start of Chapter 38.
- The first line of chapter 60 has moved to the start of chapter 59.
- Chapter 64 is split in two per Guodian.
- In chapter 64a, the order of the second and third paragraphs is reversed.
- Chapter 63 has been moved to follow chapter 68.
- The last stanza of chapter 64b has moved to the second stanza of chapter 65.
- The first stanza of Chapter 67 has moved to the start of Chapter 70.
- The last four lines of Chapter 67 have moved to the start of Chapter 68.
- Chapter 74 has been moved to follow chapter 75.
The Chinese Lao Tzu was handwritten on bamboo slips tied together with string, thrown into damp dungeons by illiterate nobles to rot for generations, eventually reconstructed by priests and hand-copied onto silk scrolls that were in turn eaten by moths. Over and over for thousands of years. You can’t make sense of it without rearranging it. Nevertheless, I’m certain sinologists will regard this attempt as an academic heresy. Happily the only eye-witness account of Lao Tzu, the man rather than the book, refutes literalists better than I ever could.