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Lao Zi

, Lao-tzu
?604--?531 bc, Chinese philosopher, traditionally regarded as the founder of Taoism and the author of the Tao-te Ching



or Li Erh, author of the ancient Chinese classical Taoist treatise Lao Tzu (also known as the Tao-te ching). According to tradition, Lao-Tzu was an archivist at the Chou court in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. The majority of modern scholars believe that Lao-Tzu is a legendary figure, and that the treatise was written in the late fourth or early third century B.C., although it also contains some earlier materials.

The basic concept of the world view expounded in the treatise is that of Tao, a principle inaccessible to reason and inexpressible in words, in which the unity of being and nonbeing is realized and all contradictions are resolved. In the treatise, Tao is metaphorically likened to water: like water, it seems soft and yielding but in reality it is invincible. Behavior corresponding to Tao is characterized by nonaction (wu-wei), interpreted as compliance, submission, renunciation of desires, struggle, and bustling activity. Addressed to rulers, the doctrine of nonaction calls for the rejection of luxury and war, of violence toward human beings and of interference in their lives. The sage who heads the state, devoted to nonaction, should make the people happy by returning to them the primitive simplicity, purity, and ignorance that existed before the advent of civilization, culture, and morality. Written in aphoristic form in extremely laconic language, the treatise leaves a wide range for various interpretations. It was the canonical text of the religion of Taoism and was translated many times into European languages.


Drevnekitaiskaia filosofiia, vol. 1. Moscow, 1972. Pages 114–38.
Ian Khin-shun. Drevnekitaiskii filosof Lao-tszy i ego uchenie. Moscow-Leningrad, 1950.
Waley, A. The Way and Its Power. London-New York, 1956.
Kaltenmark, M. Lao-tseu et le Taoisme. Paris, 1965.
Fung Yu-lan. A History of Chinese Philosophy, vol. 1. Princeton, 1952.