Taoism — Definition, Belief, History, and Facts

Definition of the Taoism (or Daoism)

Taoism (or Daoism) is an ancient Chinese philosophical school that is in respect to the law of nature and freedom, the Dao. It pays attention to the essence and patterns of the universe, and the relationship between humans and nature. 

Unlike other Chinese philosophies such as Confucianism, Legalism, and Mohism that are active participants of the society, Taoism is a neutral observer.


Hence, Taoism tries to experience and comprehend the universe and society, and the inner fundamental principles of everything. 

Gradually, Taoism evolved out related fields of Taoist literature, science, military, medicine, music, art, religion, governance and military methodology, self-cultivation, martial art, and longevity preservation. 

Taoism Aesthetic Unearthed Porcelain Plate of the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907) — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)


Founder and Philosophers of Taoism (or Daoism)

Taoism or Daoism originated in China around 5,500 to 6,000 years ago. Yellow Emperor (Huang Di) (2717 BC — 2599 BC) and strategist Jiang Ziya (1156 BC — 1017 BC) formulated some fundamental ideas of Taoism.

Centuries later, after the great philosopher Lao Zi (or Lao Tzu) (about 571 BC — 471 BC) having finished his masterpiece Tao Te Ching (or Dao De Jing), Taoism was officially established. 

Hence, Lao Zi is respected as the founder, and Tao Te Ching is the most important classic of Taoism.

Another contributive philosopher is Zhuang Zi (about 369 BC — 286 BC), who further developed ideas of Taoism, as an exceptional philosopher and writer. 

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


Extension and Influence of Taoism

As a fundamental philosophy, Taoism has influenced other ancient Chinese ideologies to different extents. 

Confucius had visited and consulted Lao Zi several times and was highly impressed by his ideas and talent. 

Legalism and Mohism had referred to some ideas from Taoism; in other words, they also could be considered as extensions of certain Taoism ideas in different directions. 

Most importantly, Taoism Religion, one of the most significant religions in China, was evolved out of the Taoism philosophy. 

Taoism Lotus Shaped Jade Guan (Used to Decorate Tied Hair of Men) of the Song Dynasty (960 — 1279) — Capital Museum


Flourishing of Taoism and Its Powerful Believers

Since Emperor Liu Bang established the Han Dynasty in the year 202 BC, Taoism had been implemented as the official philosophy of the empire. 

Until the year 134 BC, Emperor Liu Che respected Confucianism as the dominant ideology, under the suggestion of philosopher Dong Zhongshu

Afterward, Taoism was sometimes suppressed, while in other eras was frequently applied with Confucianism together. 

Centuries later, emperors of the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907) respected Lao Zi as their honorable ancestor and Taoism Religion as their state religion.

In the Song Dynasty (960 — 1279) and Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644), Taoism was quite popular as well; many emperors during these eras were all genuine believers. They wore Taoist robes, did alchemy, celebrated Taoism holidays, so on and so forth. 

Taoist Robe of Educated Civilian of the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644), by Xiefang Zhuren Dong Jin.

Nowadays, Taoism ideology still plays an important role in guiding people to respect the law of nature, to get to know themselves, to understand the essence of society, to perform well in every social role, and to live a life that they are proud of. 


Main Ideas of the Taoism (or Daoism)

  • Everything in the universe follows certain principles, the Dao; humans and our society are only a part of the whole universe.

Hence, everything and everyone is equal constituents of the whole world, no one is superior or inferior.


  • The only permanent thing is changing. Human understandings are unlimited.

  • Following nature, or the Dao is better than fighting against it. 

Therefore, there should be no pre-set of absolute ideologies and responsibilities for people nor society.  


Part of Painting "Thousands Miles of Mountains and Rivers" (Qian Li Jiang Shan Tu), by one of Taoism Believer Emperor Zhao Ji’s Student, Artist Wang Ximeng (1096 — 1119) — The Palace Museum

  • Everything and everyone has their own nature and follows their own Dao, freely. In the end, they would develop on their own path.

There’s no absolute right or wrong, good or bad. On the contrary, all sides are transformable.

Hence, people need to find unique, changing, and genuine themselves on their own.

  • Integration of the Universe and Humanity.

As a small part of the whole universe, humans should follow, correspond to, and integrate into nature.

  • Understanding the Dao, people would be able to see the essence of everything, fit, and behave well in all circumstances. 

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