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Taoism or Daoism — Definition, Belief, History, and Facts

Taoism Symbol

Taoism or Daoism Definition

Taoism or Daoism is an ancient Chinese philosophy about 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 traditional Chinese philosophies such as Confucianism, Legalism, and Mohism, which are active participants in society, Taoism is a neutral observer.

 

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

Gradually, Taoism developed some related fields, such as Taoist literature, science, military, medicine, music, art, folk religion, governance and military methodology, self-cultivation, martial art, and longevity preservation. 

Definition
Taoism Aesthetic Unearthed Porcelain Plate of the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907)

Chinese Taoist Aesthetics, Unearthed Porcelain Plate of the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907) — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Founder and Philosophers

Taoism or Daoism Founder and Influential Philosophers

Taoist thoughts 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 thoughts.

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

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

Another contributive philosopher is Zhuang Zi or Chuang Tzu (about 369 BC — 286 BC), who further developed Taoist belief 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)

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

Extension and Influence of Taoist Philosophy

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 referred to some ideas from Taoist classics; in other words, they could also be extensions of specific Taoist ideas in different directions. 

Most importantly, Taoism Religion, one of China's most significant folk religions, evolved out of this philosophical school. 

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

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

Powerful Believers

Flourishing of Taoism and Its Powerful Believers

Since Emperor Liu Bang established the Han Dynasty in 202 BC, Taoism has 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, Taoist ideology 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 Daoism Religion as their state religion.

It was popular in the Song Dynasty (960 — 1279) and Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644); many emperors were genuine believers during these eras.

 

They wore Taoist robes, did alchemy and other Taoist practices, celebrated Taoist holidays, and so forth. 

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

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

Nowadays, Taoist ideology still plays an essential role in guiding people to respect the laws of nature, get to know themselves, understand the essence of society, perform well in every social role, and live a life that they are proud of; meanwhile, Taoist religious practices are still participated by many Chinese people. 

Main Beliefs

Main Daoism or Taoism Beliefs

  • 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 are 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 or 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

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

  • Everything and everyone has their original nature and follows their own Dao freely. In the end, they would develop on their 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 could see the essence of everything, fit, and behave well in all circumstances. 

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