When you look at the Chinese versions of the Tao Te Ching online (here, here, and elsewhere), there are periods (。), commas, semicolons, question marks, and exclamation marks!


There were no commas back then! What is this! :)

I am wondering what an "original" version of the Tao Te Ching would look like. The oldest versions. Did they completely lack punctuation? Did each poem have titles like these versions do, or were the titles added later? Were the poems/verses structured in any particular way, or was it just one big wall of text? Or was it like the Wikipedia version?

BTW, it would be interesting to know where I could find a primary source / reference to demonstrate the "original form", like if it's on a digital archive at a museum or something online.

1 Answer 1


So far, the earliest version of Tao Te Ching found is on the Guodian Chu Bamboo Slips, written in the Warring States era State of Chu.

From 楚簡書法网 (http://www.cjsfw.net/Html/?287.html, http://www.cjsfw.net/Html/?283.html):

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The text is given in verses, beginning with an 8-character rhythm, and the punctuation marks are found on the bottom right of the terminal character for the verse, as a verse breaker. The punctuation does not strictly correspond to a full stop or comma of today.

  • 1
    Do these punctuation marks have a name?
    – Mou某
    Oct 25, 2019 at 12:53
  • @user3306356 wap.cnki.net/lunwen-1015336765.html looks like there are several types - I didn't scan through too many Chu bamboo slips to see the others.
    – dROOOze
    Oct 25, 2019 at 22:53
  • A correct, generic term for these punctuation marks is「句讀」
    – dROOOze
    Oct 25, 2019 at 23:01
  • @droooze, i think that "句讀" is the "technique" to mark the pause and stop. these marks, it might be treated as "點" (圓的叫圈,頓的叫點) as in "圈點" dict.revised.moe.edu.tw/cgi-bin/cbdic/… Oct 26, 2019 at 14:35
  • @水巷孑蠻 sorry, I mean 句讀號 :) the thesis above says 郭店楚簡 shows four kinds of different shapes of punctuation, 小短横句讀號、墨丁句讀號、鈎識句讀號和長墨塊句讀
    – dROOOze
    Oct 26, 2019 at 14:58

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