[Ads-l] A Chinese Proverb of dubious provenance

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Sat Nov 1 20:26:37 UTC 2014

Just a guess, but it sounds like a paraphrasing of wuwei (无为 wúwéi) or wei wu wei (为无为?). The term is on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_wei <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_wei>) but not the Oxford Dictionary site or Wiktionary. 

Wúwéi is well attested in English. The earliest mention I see is 1853 or 1854 (http://bit.ly/1wTiS3o <http://bit.ly/1wTiS3o>):

Article IV. Notice of the Wu-Wei-Kiau.
Transactions of the China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Parts 4-6:

p. 63: The phrase “Wu-wei,”—to do nothing,—occurs in the writings of the early Tauists, long before Buddhism appeared in China.

p. 64: I give another quotation—it is from the second of the great Tauist authors, Chwang-tsi: “The way of heaven,” he says, “is not to act, (wu-wei,) and therein and thereby to be the most honoured of all things. The way of men is to act (yeu-wei,) and to be involved in trouble."

I didn’t search for earlier mentions of the Wu-Wei-Kiau/Kiao (无为教) sect.

Chwang-tsi appears to be Zhuang Zhou (Zhuāngzǐ) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhuang_Zhou <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhuang_Zhou>). I imagine that yeu-wei is 有為 (yǒuwéi).

Benjamin Barrett
Formerly of Seattle, WA

Learn Ainu! https://sites.google.com/site/aynuitak1/home

> On Nov 1, 2014, at 8:53 AM, George Thompson <george.thompson at nyu.edu> wrote:
> The punch line of an obituary in yesterday's (Friday, October 30) NYTimes
> -- "Warren Anderson, 92, Dies; Faced India Plant Disaster"
> In 1984, an article in The Times said that in dealing with Bhopal, Union
> Carbide, which is now part of Dow Chemical, had to find a balance between
> =E2=80=9Cthe instincts of human compassion, the demands of public relations=
> and the
> dictates of corporate survival.=E2=80=9D  The article noted that a paperwei=
> ght on
> Mr. Anderson=E2=80=99s desk quoted his favorite Chinese proverb, suggesting=
> his
> preferred light-handed approach: =E2=80=9CLeader is best when people barely=
> know he
> exists.=E2=80=9D

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