In former editions we have translated the verb shang by its common meaning "to exalt," but here it is obviously a reflex verb meaning "to exalt oneself" or "to brag, to boast."
The word fu means literally "stomach"
or "the interior," but it may also mean "soul," for according to Chinese ideas the soul has its seat in the stomach.
The idea that the belly is the noblest part of the body where tender sentiments dwell was quite common among early peoples. Thus, e. g. the Hebrew rakhamim, 2 which originally means "entrails," is used in the sense of "compassion" and "love." In Japan that death was considered most worthy in which the first attack upon life was made upon the seat of the properly psychic faculties; therefore the victim of hara-kiri rips open his belly and is then beheaded by his best friend so as to shorten the pain of death. It is, however, quite probable that Lao-tze in this connection really means what he literally says, viz., that the holy man, when he governs, empties the people's hearts of desires, but takes care of their bodily wants, i. e., "fills their stomachs and strengthens their bones."
The word kuh might be translated (as
in former editions) "backbone," but in the original it reads "bones." To make a man strong-boned means to render him steady in character. I prefer to translate the passage literally in all its roughness and will leave the interpretation of it to the reader.