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What did the garrulous Lao Zi know?

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dú lǎo zi

yán zhě bù zhī zhī zhě mò
cǐ yǔ wú wén yú lǎo jūn
ruò dào lǎo jūn shì zhī zhě
yuán hé zì ruò wǔ qiān wén

Reading Lao Zi

Speak person not know know person silent
This saying I hear from old gentleman
If Way old gentleman be know person
Reason what confident five thousand characters

Reading Lao Zi

Bai Juyi

Those who speak do not know, those who know are silent,
I heard this saying from the old gentleman.
If the old gentleman was one who knew the way,
Why did he feel able to write five thousand words?

Published Version

This poem is volume (juàn) 455, no. 1 in the Complete Tang Poems (quán táng shī).

My Source

Mark Alexander who has a book available at GBP 7.99.


I am not a Chinese-speaker. Nor do I have a copy of the original poem. But I think there may be mistakes in the Chinese at the top. I have corrected the characters in three places.

言者不知, 知者默.




  1. Cindy Cindy

    Hello Joe,

    Interesting to find a Lao Zi here.

    Actually, I think the first Chinese version is correct especially the first line (not a poem person not sure what should be called)

    言者不如知者默 — people who talk/say cannot compare to person who knows and keep silent

    in plain English:

    Person who talks about what he/she knows is not as knowledgeable as a person who has the knowledge and not talk about it to show-off his/her knowledge

    … I think one has to put the Chinese cultures here to really understand why … Chinese, we are supposed to be humble, so not to yak about how much one knows.

    On the other hand, I always feel that people who wants others to know how much he/she knows are generally have inferiority complex. And therefore the need to let others know how much he/she knows!

    People who actually have the knowledge (superior) does not feel the need to show-off because he knows!

    And that comes to one interesting point as far as KM is concerned. KM promotes knowledge sharing. So the person who says a lot does that mean this person knows a lot OR should we go to the silent ones ?


  2. Yes, I agree that there is nothing “wrong” with the Chinese. Remember, Laozi/Zhuangzi etc are classical Chinese texts, wherein punctuation was hardly used.

    “言者不知知者默” from Laozi Chapter 15 《老子·五十六章》is actually very similar to “知者不言,言者不知” from Laozi Chapter 50 《老子·五十六章》which is translated as “He who knows does not speak; he speaks does not know.”

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