From Dao De Jing (道德經), part 12:

五色令人目盲 // Five colors make a man blind
五音令人耳聾 // Five notes make a man deaf

I have a problem with translation of the third line:

Five flavours make the mouth feel well.

It seems proper, but it doesn't make sense, and moreover, on ctext.org it is translated contrary. The third line should also be negative. Where am I wrong?


3 Answers 3


The overall meaning of the three is to suggest that the emperor shall not bathe in the wealth he possess and neglect the voice of his suffering people.


As mentioned in @huotuichang's comment below, this phrase does not only apply to emperors, although it might have originally been used to refer to emperors.

I'll explain each with their literal translation and connotation.


"Five colors blind your eyes."

Five colors refer to the treasures and jewelries. The various colors of luxuries shine to blind the eyes.


"Five notes make one deaf."

Five notes refer to the pleasing music pieces. While one enjoys the melodies being played, he is not able to hear the crying of his people.


"Five flavors make one loses taste."

Five flavors refer to the tasteful foods and drinks. 口爽 means losing one's taste. If one eats such foods daily, he will eventually lose his taste and will not be able to swallow the foods of the poor.

  • 2
    The clarification is good, although the first sentence, the "emperor" interpretation, is improper, insofar as I learned. In a nutshell, you don't have to relate this general saying to sovereignty stuff at all.
    – xiaohuamao
    Apr 14, 2015 at 3:32
  • I have updated the answer. Thanks for clarifying! Apr 14, 2015 at 13:51
  • 1
    "五" does not really mean "Five". It means the variety denoted by the representative elements. "五色", "五音" and "五味" are specific terms. Hence, we should capitalize them as "Five Colors", "Five Notes" and "Five Flavors".
    – Henry HO
    Apr 21, 2015 at 3:12
  • I understand that they don't mean literally "five" in quantity. But I thought these are figurative terms (metaphors) rather than named entities, right? Apr 21, 2015 at 4:05
  • 1
    They appear more like religious terms than figurative terms to me. (In fact, the translated version make perfect sense even when "five" is omitted. e.g. "Flavors dull your taste".)
    – Henry HO
    Apr 21, 2015 at 6:55

爽 = 爽傷



Five flavours will hurt the mouth (taste buds?) Too much flavourful food will gradually erode your ability to taste.



To make long story short, 爽=错 in ancient Chinese. It is a negative word.

You still see it in modern Chinese such as 爽約, break the appointment.

Or 屡試不爽,attempts many times without failure.

Sorry I cannot help you with the translation. But it is a negative word.

  • For example, "爽約"
    – Henry HO
    Apr 20, 2015 at 7:14

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