Dusty Quotations


Who is Lao Tzu?

Laozi (/ˈlaʊdzə/Chinese老子), also romanized as Lao Tzu and various other ways, was a semi-legendary ancient Chinese Taoist philosopher, credited with writing the Tao Te Ching. Laozi is a Chinese honorific, generally translated as “the Old Master”. Although modern scholarship generally regards him as a fictional person, traditional accounts say he was born as Li Er in the state of Chu in the 6th century BC during China’s Spring and Autumn Period, served as the royal archivist for the Zhou court at Wangcheng (modern Luoyang), met and impressed Confucius on one occasion, and composed the Tao Te Ching in a single session before retiring into the western wilderness.

A central figure in Chinese culture, Laozi is generally considered the founder of Taoism. He was claimed and revered as the ancestor of the 7th–10th century Tang dynasty and is similarly honored in modern China with the popular surname Li. In some sects of Taoism and Chinese folk religion, it is held that he then became an immortal hermit or a god of the celestial bureaucracy under the name Laojun, one of the Three Pure Ones. His work had a profound influence on subsequent Chinese religious movements and on subsequent Chinese philosophers, who annotated, commended, and criticized his work extensively. In the 20th century, textual criticism by modern historians led to theories questioning Laozi’s timing or even existence, positing that the received text of the Tao Te Ching was not composed until the 4th century BC Warring States Period.

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