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Anaphors or Cataphors? A Discussion of the Two Qi 其 Graphs in the First Chapter of the Daodejing

From: Philosophy East and West
Volume 60, Number 3, July 2010
pp. 391-421 | 10.1353/pew.0.0108



Since the third century b.c.e ., interpreters of the Daodejing have taken the two qi 其 graphs (conventionally translated as "its") in the first chapter as anaphoric, that is, as denoting an entity previously mentioned in the discourse/text. Almost unanimously, commentators have assumed that this anaphor refers to Dao 道, the most salient discourse entity to that point. Referential expressions (such as this, it, its, 之, 此, and 其), however, do not function solely as anaphors. They can also function as cataphors, in which case the entity they denote follows rather than precedes the referential expression. Cataphoric expressions are often used to highlight the entity they refer to. We suggest that the two instances of qi in the first chapter of the Daodejing were meant also to be cataphoric, and that they refer to the "gateway of all marvels" (眾眇之門). We further suggest that this "gateway" is a metaphor not only for the Dao but also for inviting the reader to enter the book and to penetrate the mystery of the Dao by reading it. In sum, we argue that the author/redactor of the first chapter of the Daodejing composed it as an introduction to the entire text, where he points out the problems inherent in writing and reading a text such as the Daodejing—which he perceived to be an image of the Dao itself. The text is the message.

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