2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Philosophers

Laozi's names
Chinese name: 老子
Pinyin: Lǎozǐ
Wade-Giles: Lao Tzu
Other spellings: Lao Tse, Laotse,
Lao Tze, Laotze
Actual name: Lǐ Ěr
Courtesy name: Bó Yáng
Posthumous name: Dān

Laozi (Chinese: 老子, Pinyin: Lǎozǐ; also transliterated as Lao Tzŭ, Lao Tse, Laotze, and in other ways) According to Chinese tradition, Laozi lived in the 6th century BC, however many historians contend that Laozi actually lived in the 4th century BC, which was the period of Hundred Schools of Thought and Warring States Period. Laozi was credited with writing the seminal Taoist work, the Tao Te Ching (also known simply as the Laozi).

His life

Whether Laozi even existed is the issue of strong debate, because he is the author of he Tao Te Ching (Dàodéjīng). Laozi became an important cultural hero to subsequent generations of Chinese people. Ostensibly, Lao Tzu's wise counsel attracted followers, but he refused to set his ideas down in writing, worrying that written words might solidify into formal dogma. Lao Tzu laid down no rigid code of behaviour. He believed a person's conduct should be governed by instinct and conscience. He believed "simplicity" to be the key to truth and freedom. Lao Tzu encouraged his followers to observe, and seek to understand the laws of nature; to develop intuition and build up personal power; and to wield power with love, not force.

According to the legend and the biography included in Sima Qian's work, Laozi was a contemporary of Confucius, and worked as an archivist in the Imperial Library of the Zhou Dynasty (1122–256 BC). Hearing of Lao Tzu's wisdom, Confucius travelled to meet him. Confucius put a lot of emphasis on traditional rituals, customs and rites. Confucius met him in Zhou, near the location of modern Luoyang, where Confucius was going to browse the library scrolls. According to this story, Confucius and Laozi discussed ritual and propriety (cornerstones of Confucianism) over the following months. Laozi strongly opposed what he felt to be hollow practices. Taoist legend claims that these discussions proved more educational for Confucius than did the contents of the libraries. Lao Tzu perceived that the kingdom's affairs were disintegrating, so it was time to leave. He was travelling West on a buffalo when he came to the Han Gu Pass, which was guarded. The keeper of the pass realized Lao Tzu was leaving permanently, so he requested that Lao Tzu write out some of his wisdom so that it could be preserved once he was gone, Lao Tzu climbed down from his buffalo and immediately wrote the Tao Te Ching. He then left and was never heard of again.

According to the Taoist fables Laozi lived for over 900 years old up which explained he was both the senior and then the contemporary of Confucius, and Laozi had held court advisor positions in all of his previous twelve incarnates starting at the time of the Fuxi (伏羲), one of the three August Ones and five Emperors, but there is no historical text to support this belief.

Laozi, from Myths and Legends of China (1922) by E.T.C. Werner
Laozi, from Myths and Legends of China (1922) by E.T.C. Werner


Laozi's work, the Tao Te Ching, is one of the most significant treatises in Chinese philosophy. It is his magnum opus, covering large areas of philosophy from individual spirituality and inter-personal dynamics to political techniques. The Tao Te Ching is said to contain 'hidden' instructions for Taoist adepts (often in the form of metaphors) relating to Taoist meditation and breathing.

Laozi developed the concept of " Tao", often translated as "the Way", and widened its meaning to an inherent order or property of the universe: "The way Nature is". He highlighted the concept of Wei wuwei, or "action without action". This does not mean that one should hang around and do nothing, but that one should avoid explicit intentions, strong wills or proactive initiatives.

Laozi believed that violence should be avoided as much as possible, and that military victory—which logically would be attained through use of force—should be an occasion for mourning rather than triumphant celebration.

Similarly to the arguments fowarded by Plato in The Republic on various form of governing, Laozi said that the codification of laws and rules into the society created difficulty and complexity in managing and governing.

As with most other ancient Chinese philosophers, Laozi often explains his ideas by way of paradox, analogy, appropriation of ancient sayings, repetition, symmetry, rhyme, and rhythm. The writings attributed to him are often very dense and poetic. They serve as a starting point for cosmological or introspective meditations. Many of the aesthetic theories of Chinese art are widely grounded in his ideas and those of his most famous follower Zhuang Zi.

The libertarian economist Murray N. Rothbard suggests that Laozi was the first libertarian, likening Laozi's ideas on government to F.A. Hayek's theory of spontaneous order. (See also: .) Similarly, the Cato Institute's David Boaz includes passages from the Tao Te Ching in his 1997 book The Libertarian Reader. Philosopher Roderick Long, however, argues that libertarian themes in Taoist thought are actually borrowed from earlier Confucian writers.

Some people suggest that his philosophy that "greater is the man who resists control" is an excuse to lose control.


Laozi's most famous follower, Zhuang Zi, wrote a book that had a great deal of influence on Chinese Literati, through the ideas of individualism, freedom, carefree living, and art, which may well be the cornerstone of Chinese aesthetic, although the author never speaks about it.


The name "Laozi" is an honorific. Lao means "venerable" or "old". Zi or tsu translates literally as "boy", but it was also a term for a rank of nobleman equivalent to viscount, as well as a term of respect attached to the names of revered masters; thus, "Laozi" can be translated roughly as "the old master".

Laozi's personal name may have been Li Er. His courtesy name may have been Boyang, and also Dan, which also means "mysterious".

Laozi is also known as:

  • Laodan
  • Great Lord
    • Li the Great Lord
    • Lao the Great Lord
  • Laozi the Lord of Tao

During the Li Tang Dynasty, in order to create a connection to Laozi as the ancestor of the imperial family, he was honoured as The Emperor of Xuanyuan, meaning "Profoundly Elementary" with a temple name of Shengzu, meaning "Saintly/Sagely Progenitor".

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