Daodejing 31


Powerful weapon: inauspicious instrument.
The person on the Way disapproves of such instruments.
Such are disgusting.

The worthy person in daily life respects the Left as place of honor.†
The person in time of war regards the right as place of honor.

Weapons are inauspicious instruments
not a tool of the worthy person.

When there remains no choice left but to use such tools,
be most calm.

Win the victory, but do not praise it.

The one who praises takes great delight in killing.
The one who takes great delight in killing
can never achieve his ambition under-heaven.

*Translation by LU Wenlong & Keith Wayne Brown, ©2013.
†Left hand/Right hand: This poem makes use of the standard practice in Chinese culture for seating at a banquet. The guest of honor always sits to the LEFT of the host. Here, Laozi uses a common trope to distinguish between the order of tranquil everyday life and the disorder that arises with war.


  1. Thank you so much. It is a fun exercise. I was surprised as we did this to see how much leeway is taken with translations, even some of the ones that are quite well respected.

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