September 2018 archive
The Tao Te Ching is written in Classical Chinese, which can be difficult to understand completely. Classical Chinese relies heavily on allusion to a corpus of standard literary works to convey semantic meaning, nuance, and subtext. This corpus was memorized by highly educated people in Laozi's time, and the allusions were reinforced through common use in writing, but few people today have this type of deep acquaintance with ancient Chinese literature. Thus, many levels of subtext are potentially lost on modern translators. Furthermore, many of the words that the Tao Te Ching uses are deliberately vague and ambiguous.Amazon offers numerous English language translations of the Tao Te Ching but they lump customer reviews together. When a review says "did not like the translation" you have to click on the title of the review to find out which translation the reviewer didn't like. If you want just the reviews for one edition, you're out of luck.
I realized something was amiss when I called up Amazon's page for Victor Mair's translation and found a review saying that the author didn't even know Chinese.