Daily Chinese Proverb: Power of Emptiness

Posted by Charlie @ Discovering Mandarin Sunday, 9 August 2009
This is a quote from - Dao De Jing (Lao Zi) previously known as Tao Te Ching (Lao Tsu) in the Wade Giles Romanisation. But has been updated for the new pinyin format.

It is Chapter 11 of the second most sold book in the world. It is also one of my favourite Quotations of all time. Part of me really does want to be able to read this properly in its purest form, understanding the intricacies of such a profound book.

It describes the power vested in nothing, emptiness and how non-existance can be harnesed for purpose.

Chapter 11 : - Dao


sānshí fú gòng yī gǔ,
dāng qí wú, yǒu chē zhī yòng.

shān zhí yǐwéi qì,
dāng qí wú, yǒu qì zhī yòng.

záo hùyǒu yǐwéi shì,
dāng qí wú yǒu shì zhī yòng.

gù yǒu zhī yǐwéi lì,
wú zhī yǐwéi yòng.

san1 shi2 fu2 gong4 yi1 gu3,
dang1 qi2 wu2, you3 che1 zhi1 yong4.

shan1 zhi2 yi3 wei2 qi4,
dang1 qi2 wu2, you3 qi4 zhi1 yong4.

zao2 hu4 you3 yi3 wei2 shi4,
dang1 qi2 wu2, you3 shi4 zhi1 yong4.
gu4 you3 zhi1 yi3 wei2 li4,
wu2 zhi1 yi3 wei2 yong4.

Thirty spokes join together in a wheel's hub,
It is the center hole that makes the wheel useful.
We shape clay to fashion jugs;
It is the hollowness within that makes a jug useful.
We cut doors and windows in a house wall;
It is these empty spaces that make the house useful.

Thus things are valuable because of what they have
And they are useful because of what they lack.


This is just one translation, and there are many. Dao De Jing has been translated into many languages, and even Chinese scholars still argue over the true translations due to the lack of ClassicalChinese punctuation marks, seperations of commas and full stops can drastically alter the meanings of passages.

This verse also for me is a metaphor; that we make sound; but it is the silence, which makes sound useful.

Translation Source:
Chinese Characters
Pinyin (I did myself, so I hope it is ok.)

Picture Source:
If you liked this please share to: |facebook |delicious|


  1. John Says:
  2. Thanks for posting the links. They eventually led me to three other translations through Yellow Bridge: http://www.yellowbridge.com/onlinelit/daodejing.php

  3. Hi John,

    You are more than welcome, this is my favourite verse of the book, and admit that the version of the book I have is actually much closer to the first two translations you found.

    I personally think language often used in the translations is quite dated e.g.'nave'.

    If I said that to my friends, I would struggle to get past that I fear.. rather than get to the point of the passage.

    However that third translation on that site, I think is actually very easy to understand without losing the meaning.

    Thank you for sharing. I Hope you drop by again.



Discovering Mandarin via email

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Blogumulus by Roy Tanck and Amanda FazaniInstalled by CahayaBiru.com

Popular Posts

About Me

My Photo
Charlie @ Discovering Mandarin
View my complete profile