Talk to Sinologists: What makes a book a classic?

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In the world of education and cultural promotion, the importance of teaching often goes hand in hand with the need for promotion. This rings especially true when the aim is to enlighten a broader audience about the core principles of Taoism. Just as crucial as imparting knowledge is the active dissemination of it, ensuring that the profound insights and wisdom of Taoist philosophy are widely accessible.

This balance between teaching and promotion is exemplified by the work of Misha Tadd, associate professor at Nankai University’s College of Philosophy and director of the Global Laozegetics Research Center. In his capacity, Tadd not only delves into the scholarly exploration of Taoist texts but also takes on the essential role of sharing these discoveries with a wider audience.

The term “Global Laozegetics” encapsulates the dual mission of the center, Tadd explained, highlighting its aim to adopt a worldwide perspective while also addressing tangible realities. Over time, Tadd has undertaken a global endeavor to gather all the diverse translations of the “Tao Te Ching” in various languages. This ancient text has undergone many translations and publications, with the count growing rapidly each year. Presently, there are over 2,052 translations available in 97 languages, making it one of the most translated books in history.

Tadd noted that what makes a classic is not just its age but its enduring relevance – each generation finds new value in these ancient words. For instance, the “Tao Te Ching” struck a chord with him as a 14-year-old American, and its resonance persists into the 20th century.

Furthermore, exploring these historical encounters, such as how renowned figures like Leo Tolstoy drew inspiration from the “Tao Te Ching,” unveils a vast and captivating topic. It highlights the universal allure of Taoist wisdom and its capacity to inspire and enlighten individuals across diverse cultures and eras.

(Cover image designed by Yu Peng; video edited by Qi Jianqiang)