A random phrase from the 道德經 is 豫兮若冬涉川 .

I understand the part 若冬涉川 as "like crossing a stream in the winter" where "in the winter is used" is used adverbially, so a more verbatim translation might be "like winter-walking a stream"

I looked up the first characters as:

  • 豫 relaxed
  • 兮 character that marks an exclamation (maybe like a pronounced ! )

But I cannot make any sense when combining both parts, the only translation I can come up with would be:

relaxed yo ! like winter-walking the stream

which does not make sense to me, because it feels paradox .

1 Answer 1


You must know that the character 豫 means being caution, being extremely careful; 兮 is modal particle, like 啊.

So,the whole sentence means (他)犹豫小心,就如同冬天过河一样,不敢贸然下水似的. Being extremely caution so that he dare not cross the river in winter.

  • I am using the translation called "unihan definition" on ctext.org, but I start believing their translation is not right for literary chinese, what book or site are you using for your translation ? p.s. what does 贸然 mean ? Commented Oct 15, 2015 at 14:28
  • 贸然 means 轻率地;不加考虑地, in english,rashly;without careful consideration. I am Chinese native, majoring in English, so it is really easy for me to translate it. I noticed that you are reading 道德经, very good. If you need any help or advice, let me know, I will try my best.
    – Gerxy
    Commented Oct 15, 2015 at 14:52
  • i am just reading short random sentences from ctext.org to learn some literary chinese, but i am only a very beginner far from being able to try to read a whole text like that of daodejing. Commented Oct 15, 2015 at 15:13
  • If you are in the very beginning, daodejing will be hard for you I am afraid. Also, the phrase in daodejing is out of date and seldom used in daily life both the mainland and taiwan. That is just my personal advice, and be free to contact me by gmail, gerxy1986. I will try my best to help you.
    – Gerxy
    Commented Oct 15, 2015 at 15:23

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