(Originally published June 2009)
Robert Henricks asks:
“Is the Guodian chapter (A1 / 19) the original form of the chapter, which was changed at some point to make the chapter more pointedly anti-Confucian? Or, is the wording in later editions the original wording, meaning that the Guodian chapter was altered by someone who wished to downplay the anti-Confucian tone of the book? Recall that the other texts found in this tomb were predominantly Confucian.”
“One question raised is whether these two questions sum up all our options. It is conceivable, after all, that there never was an ‘original’ version of the Laozi. That is, given the work of Michael LaFargue and others who point to signs of ‘orality’ in so many parts of this book (three- to four-line series that are metric, parallel, and rimed), it is possible that slightly different versions of some of these chapters, or portions of chapters, circulated in China before any form of the text was written down. Moreover, different versions of parts of the text could have been written down, for the first time, at different times in different parts of the country.” (Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching: A Translation of the Startling New Documents Found at Guodian p. 13)
Henricks (p. 14), Qiu Xigui (The Guodian Laozi p. 61) and Chen Guying (The Guodian Laozi p. 161) all take the first suggestion, that the original Laozi text was not anti-Confucian. I don’t see how we can be sure, one way or the other. Perhaps the safest position to take is the third, that there existed different versions circulating at the same time. Any opinions are welcome.