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lao zi
The Portrait of Lao Zi

Speaking of the origin of Chinese culture and Chinese spirituality, Lao Zi(老子) was always the first figure that we must focus on. Due to his complicated identities as the teacher of Confucius, the founder of Chinese Taoism, the originator of Chinese philosophy, the greatest saint of Chinese spirituality, the supreme god next to Jade Emperor(玉皇大帝,Yu Huang Da Di or The Supreme Being of Jade Emperor ) in Chinese mythological system and the forefather of Tang Dynasty, the most powerful dynasty in China’s history. Lao Zi in the mind of Chinese people was extraordinarily superior to Confucius, Zhuang Zi, Mencius, Xun Zi, Zhu Zi and other great saints and masters in spirituality history of China. He was the first man shaping the foundation and structure of Chinese civilization. In a word, it is insufficient no matter how highly we comment him. In comparison with western spirituality, Lao Zi was the oriental Jehovah, and Confucius was Jesus in eastern world. We also could regard Lao Zi as the father of Confucius, whose real father died at his childhood, on the basis of the classic saying: a teacher for one day equals a father for the whole life(yi ri wei shi, zhong sheng wei fu, 一日为师,终生为父). Lao Zi was the eternal spiritual emperor of human and gods in China.

The Biography of Lao Zi

Lao Zi (approximately BC 571~ BC471) whose courtesy name was Boyang(伯阳), also called Lao Dan(老聃), and Li Er(李耳. As for why he was also named Li Er, the historical legend was closely connected with Emperor Wudi, who in a certain period of his reign objected to the Thought of Huang Lao Branch of Taoism for promoting Confucianism, he ordered to use half of two characters of”聃季” to replace Lao Zi and called Lao Zi with this name in an opposite turn, which finally was Li Er), is a world-famous philosopher and ideologist of ancient China, and the initiator of Taoism, and was crowned to be Tai Shang Lao Jun(太上老君, One of the Three Pure Ones or literally translated to be The Senior Lord of Supremacy) by Empress Wuzetian(武则天) and Emperor Minghuang of Tang Dynasty. He was born at today’s Guoyang, Anhui province.

In a book named Biography of Immortals(神仙传) written by Ge Hong(葛洪), Lao Zi’s mother was deeply influenced by the big falling stars and gave birth to Lao Zi. There is another hearsay: Lao Zi was the descendant of Pengzu(彭祖). Lao Zi’s mother was a woman with a surname of Li(理), and he was pregnant for 81 years and Lao Zi was born at the age of 81. And he saw a plum tree(李树) in the courtyard and told his mother that Li(李)would be my surname. Lao Zi was also the teacher of Confucius, and this story is available in the biography of Confucius Lao Zi once acted as the librarian of National Library of East Zhou Period. He was quite multi-oriented and talented. Confucius at once learnt from Lao Zi, which was clearly written in the Record of Grand Historian. At his old age, Lao Zi went towards west by riding an ox, and in the region of Hangu Pass, he approximately completed his famous work Tao Te Ching. Legendarily, Lao Zi taught Yin Xi(尹喜, a local general of troop) a lot, and then he continued his journey to Zhouzhi(盩厔) in Shaanxi province, and he stayed there and built a tower with wood and grass. Living in this humble tower, Lao Zi wrote out his great masterpiece. Today, there is also a Sightseeing Platform of Tower(楼观台)left, and it belongs to the key tourist site under the national protection and national 4-A tourist area. In the tourist area, there are also more than 300 steles created by scholars or celebrated figures of different generations. Historically, this place is considered to be the cradle of Chinese Taoism. After Lao Zi passed away, he was buried in Xilouguan, roughly 8 kilometers away from Sightseeing Platform of Tower. Today, the tomb of Lao Zi is available, but many people do not think this is the real tomb of Lao Zi, because according to the historical record, nobody knows where Lao Zi went and when he died, and somebody even believes Lao Zi became an immortal finally, and he did not die at all.

Lao Zi and Taoism

tao te ching
The Book of Dao De Qing or
Tao Te Ching

Lao Zi was widely known as the founder of Taoism(道家, an academic school was prominent before Qin Dynasty, but as the religion, the founder of religious Taoism(道教) was Zhang Ling(张陵) who was crowned to be Zhang Tianshi(张天师, the Taoist Master Zhang) and he was the originator of Taoism as a religion. Zhang Ling changed Lao Zi’s masterpiece into Daode Zhenjing (道德真经), and from then on, Lao Zi originally as an academic masterpiece transferred to being the complication of multiple roles. This book since then trended to mystery. Beginning from the book of Lie Xian Zhuan(列仙传, or Biography of Immortals), a famous classics in ancient China, Lao Zi was written into the list of immortals, and also said that Lao Zi paid more attention to Fang Zhongshu(房中术, exactly means sexual intercourse) . In East Han Dynasty, Wang Fu(王阜), a civilian of Chengdu unified the Dao and Lao Zi in his article named Stele of Lao Zi and Deity(老子圣母碑), and he regarded Lao Zi as an immortal created by the heaven and earth. This was considered to be the rudiment of The Creation of Taoism. During the reign of Emperor Huandi in East Han Dynasty, Lao Zi was regarded to be the ancestor of the immortals, and Emperor Huandi also sacrificed for himself to Lao Zi. In Taoism, Lao Zi was crowned to be Tai Shang Lao Jun and honored as The Emperor of Hunyuan (混元皇帝, Hunyuan is a term meaning the situation before the world appears) as well as The Daode Tianzun(道德天尊, The Supernatural Being of Taoism)

Lao Zi and Tao Te Ching

As one of the world’s personality of culture, Lao Zi was also one of 100 top figures in the world’s history. Lao Zi’s great masterpiece was called Dao De Jing, or directly called Lao Zi, and this classic was the base of Chinese Taoism and Chinese philosophy. Also famous as The Father of Chinese Philosophy, Lao Zi indeed was the first figure who structured the basics of Chinese philosophy. His masterpiece named Lao Zi was one of the top philosophic classics of ancient China, though it only had 5000 Chinese characters. Tao Te Ching(道德经), Book of Changes(易经) and The Analects of Confucius(论语) are considered to be three top monumental works of Chinese ideology. Lao Zi or Tao Te Ching is the essence of Chinese spirituality, and generally the authorities of philosophy in the world think the quintessence of this book is the sparkling dialectics and the basic thought of administration in inaction(无为而治, letting things take their own course). Lao Zi opened a way differentiating from his student Confucius’s thought highlighted with changing the exterior world via the strength of individual and collective to help more in the world. Lao Zi emphasizes internal tranquility of the individual and self-cultivation in mentality and physics. This way is the root or origin of Chinese people’s personality as an individual living in this world. The masterpiece and thought of Lao Zi has been a part of the world’s treasure in the aspect of history and culture of humankind. In the early 19th century, European scholars began to study Tao Te Ching. According to the statistics by UNESCO, among the world’s cultural and ideological masterpieces, The Holy Bible and Tao Te Ching are ranked on top. And the content of Tao Te Ching in details is available, please click here.

The Descendants of Lao Zi

According to the historical records, the basic family tree of Lao Zi is as below: Lao Zuo(老佐, father of Lao Zi) --- Lao Zi --- Li Zong(李宗, Song of Lao Zi, was a general of Wei State and his fiefdom was Duangan) --- Li Zhhu (李注, Son of Li Zong) --- Li Gong(李宫, the grand grandson of Li Zhu was an official in early West Han Dynasty under the reign of Emperor Wendi) --- Li Jia(李假, the son of Li Gong was the teacher of Liu Ang, the king of Jiaoxi State in West Han Dynasty ) --- Li Jie(李解)

1. Zhuang Zi - The Second Greatest Taoist Founder