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Laozi or Lao Tzu — Writer of Tao Te Ching and Founder of Taoism

Laozi or Lao Tzu (about 571 BC — ?), original name Li Er or Li Dan and honorific name Boyang, respected as Lao Zi, Lao Dan, or Lord Lao, was one of the greatest philosophers, authors, and historians in Chinese culture.


His masterpiece Lao Zi, also named Dao De Jing (or Tao Te Ching), is the foundational text of Taoism, one of the most influential philosophical schools in Chinese Culture.

Centuries later, he came to be believed as the incarnation of Tai Shang Lao Jun, one of the most honorable deities in Taoism Religion that was formed in the late Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD). 

Additionally, the emperors of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907) revered Laozi (or Lao Tzu) as their ancestor, specifically honoring him as Emperor Xuanyuan of the Tang Empire.

Laozi or Lao Tzu, the Great Philosopher and Founder of Taoism

Early Life Experiences of Laozi in the Zhou Dynasty


Born into a noble family in ancient China, Laozi started to learn history, astrology, and the military when he was a toddler.

As a knowledgeable, diligent wunderkind, a few years later, his teacher believed that he had mastered everything he knew; therefore, he recommended Laozi move to the capital city of the Zhou Empire and learn from the most knowledgeable scholars there.

Soon, as a 13-year-old boy, he left his parents and hometown and went to the capital city, where he studied and mastered more knowledge.

Then, Laozi worked in the Zhou Empire as a historian and a librarian, when he had read many books and mastered the entire documented history.

Soon, many people, including some eminent Chinese philosophers, worshipped him as a sage and learned from his ideas because of his exceptional insight and talent. 

The contemporary Confucius had traveled long distances to consult Laozi several times, to talk about the universe, life, history, politics, etc.


Confucius was inspired after each meeting and compared Laozi to a mysterious and powerful dragon.

Stone Relief of the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD), Portrayed Confucius' Consulting to Great Philosopher Lao Zi

Stone Relief of the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD), Portrayed Confucius' Consulting to Laozi — Beilin Museum of Xi'an (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Writing of Dao De Jing and Mysterious Ending of Laozi

Decades later, the Zhou Empire entered a chaotic era, so Laozi decided to leave this kingdom.

The chief commander recognized him when he arrived at Hangu Pass, an important military site on the border.

This commander stopped and welcomed Laozi, saying a master like him should leave the world his knowledge.

Laozi agreed, wrote down a five-thousand-word book, and gave it to this commander. 

Afterward, he disappeared from the public forever.

Silk Manuscript of Dao De Jing (Tao Te Chin), Unearthed From Tomb of Prime Minister Li Cang (? — 185 BC)

Silk Manuscript of Dao De Jing (Tao Te Chin), Unearthed From Tomb of Prime Minister Li Cang (? — 185 BC) — Mawangdui Museum of Hunan Province

But the book he handed over before he left, Lao Zi or Dao De Jing or Tao Te Ching, was widespread nationwide.


Centuries later, it became the fundational text of the philosophy of Taoism, and significantly influenced Chinese culture and history.

The content of this masterpiece, some people believe, is about teaching the ruling class how to be a good monarch.

In contrast, others consider it to reveal the essence of the universe, nature, and society.

In a word, everyone could learn different things from it, based on their various perspectives.  

Ancient Taoist Temples on the Mount Hua of the Shaanxi Province

Ancient Taoist Temples on the Mount Hua of the Shaanxi Province

Principal Beliefs of Laozi or Lao Tzu

  • Everything has two sides, and they are transferable.

Everything is complicated and keeps changing. Hence, there's no absolute and permanent right or wrong, beauty or ugliness.

Therefore, people's definitions and cognition of the universe are always limited and require constant progress.  

  • Humans adhere to the pattern of the earth; the earth responds to the change of heaven; heaven obeys the Dao; Dao follows the doctrine of nature. 

For instance, human agricultural activities need to adhere to the change of seasons and rainfall, and temperature or moisture on Earth results from the Sun's movement. 

The pattern of the whole universe could be recognized as the Dao, the essence of nature.


  • Everything in the universe follows the Dao, the ultimate principle of nature. Humans can perceive, define, and use it, but no one can change it.

Chinese Character "Dao" Written by Emperor Li Longji (685 — 762)

Chinese Character "Dao" Written by Emperor Li Longji (685 — 762)

  • Denial of Theism.

Dao dominates the universe, not any immortal or supernatural force. 

  • Dao treats everyone and everything between heaven and earth equally, with no preferences for humans or any other kind.

Hence, everyone could think and pursue their own Dao as an essential means to find and be themselves without being forced to follow some absolute, universal rules or standards set by others. 

  • A great person could know, overcome, and never lose themself.

  • Value the Doctrine of Inaction.

When the ruling class does not advocate luxury goods and man-made secular values, civilians do not have many resembling desires or imitate certain behaviors.

Monarchs should master and respect the law of nature and avoid intervening in society frequently through excessive policies.

Inaction is the methodology, not the purpose. It doesn’t mean doing nothing; it means more learning, being insightful, being capable of seeing the bigger picture while less interfering, and trusting others to do their job. That way, the inaction could lead to better achievement.

Doctrine of Inaction
Great Philosopher Lao Zi (or Lao Tzu), Founder of Taoism and Writer of Dao De Jing.
  • Nurture, but don't take forcible possession of everything, having made contributions to but not take advantage or impose on others. 


This is the most significant moral standard to treat other people, like one's children, friends, relatives, or colleagues. 

  • Value the Conciliatory Thought, in which water is the best representative.

Water is exceptionally soft and flexible and can be shaped into everything. It nurtures and cleans everything but is modest and quiet.

However, water also can be solid and powerful since it can destroy everything.

Water doesn't compete with anything, but it is invincible. 

Therefore, being soft and compromising doesn't mean being weak or useless; humble and quiet don't equal being a coward or incapable.

Everything in the world is convertible. ​

Ancient Temple (Lao Jun Tai) to Memorize Lao Zi in Luyi City of Henan Province (Hometown of Lao Zi), Built Around 742.

Ancient Temple (Lao Jun Tai) to Memorize Lao Tzu in Luyi City of Henan Province (Hometown of Laozi), Built Around 742. 

  • War is strongly opposed.

People shouldn’t be proud of or afraid of war; righteous war is necessary. 

Strategy in war is necessary and welcome, which could end the war as soon as possible and achieve victory.

The ruling class shouldn’t advocate or praise military success. 

  • Everything starts from zero.

A long journey begins with a single step, and a giant tree grows out of a tiny seed.

The big dream is made of countless and consistent hard work, as well as complicated and subtle details.

  • Everything comes from nothingness and goes to nothingness. 

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