Weapons are nothing but ominous instruments: The Daodejing's view on war and peace

Ellen Ying ZHANG*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


The Daodejing (DDJ) is an ancient Chinese text traditionally taken as a representative Daoist classic expressing a distinctive philosophy from the Warring States Period (403-221 BCE). This essay explicates the ethical dimensions of the DDJ paying attention to issues related to war and peace. The discussion consists of four parts: (1) "naturalness" as an onto-cosmological argument for a philosophy of harmony, balance, and peace; (2) war as a sign of the disruption of the natural pattern of things initiated by the proliferation of desire; (3) defensive war and appropriate war conduct required when one has to be involved in warfare; and (4) the natural and spontaneous way of living that would prevent war from happening in the first place. This essay attempts to show that what makes the DDJ different from other military texts, or what is called the "art of war corpus" in China is that the discourse of war and warfare in the DDJ is presented via its unique understanding of peace at the personal and social levels. The DDJ is meant to be an inquiry into an effective method to prevent war from happening amid a world full of selfish interests and excessive desires. It proposes that peace is not only a condition in which there is freedom from war and overt violence, but a state of harmony that marks human life and its betterment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)473-502
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Religious Ethics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2012

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Religious studies

User-Defined Keywords

  • dao
  • Daodejing
  • ethics of war
  • harmony
  • naturalness
  • peace
  • war


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