Visualizing Tao Te Ching

Artist Book + Data Visualization, 2016
Mixed Media + Digital Print <> size: 6” x 8.3” (closed) 48” x 8.3” (open)

The intention of Visualizing Tao Te Ching is to depict the Taoist classic, one of the most influential books from ancient China, in a rhythmic graphical format.

Tao Te Ching has been translated into many western languages for numerous times, yet it is still considered as one of the most challenging tasks to be able to successfully render the original meaning of the text. Besides semantics, the unique rhetoric and structural styles used in the 81 brief chapters or sections are almost impossible to be portrayed into a different language. Visual language, on the hand, is internationally understood. Graphic representations benefit from the ubiquitous properties of visual perception, and it can form the more rational part of visual depictions. The visual approach may not be an accurate word-by-word reflection of the original text, but it can provide a more dynamic perspective to highlight the structure, style, and the theme of this ancient text.

The original text of Tao Te Ching was fluid organized without punctuations. Chinese characters, since ancient time, are known for having square-shaped forms. The content of the Visualizing Tao Te ching is mainly composed of individual black squares; each represents one of the 5042 characters of Tao Te Ching (Lou Guan Tai version). Then the top most frequently occurred characters are found using computational method and are being color-highlighted in the accordion-style book. The most frequently occurred character is 不 meaning “do not” followed by 为(for),无(no),天(heaven),人(people),有(have),道(Tao), 下(under), 善(virtuous), and 知(know).
The rate of the color occurrence also reveals patterns, such as showing the most frequently occurred conjunct characters, thus “a word” in Chinese. The two most repeatedly occurred words are 天下 meaning “world”, and 无为 meaning “inactive”. These two key words coincide the Taoist core ideology 无为而无不为 –“action through inaction”.