Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu (lou dzə), fl. 6th cent. BC, Chinese philosopher, reputedly the founder of Taoism. It is uncertain that Lao Tzu [Ch.,=old person or old philosopher] is historical. His biography in Ssu-ma Ch'ien's Records of the Historian (1st cent. BC) says he was a contemporary of Confucius and served as curator of the dynastic archives until retiring to the mythical K'un-lun mountains. He allegedly transmitted his teachings to a border guard who subsequently compiled the Lao Tzu, also titled the Tao-te ching [Classic of the Way and Virtue]. Scholars date the work in the 4th–2d cent. BC, with some strata perhaps as old as the 6th cent. BC Its parables and verse, written in incantatory language, advocate passive and intuitive behavior in natural harmony with the Tao, a cosmic unity underlying all phenomena. It emphasizes the value of wu-wei, "nonstriving" or "non-[purposeful ]action," by which one returns to a primitive state closer to the Tao, a stage of creative possibility symbolized by the child or an uncarved block. It also promotes a laissez-faire approach to government.

See translations by J. J. L. Duyvendak (1954), W. Chan (1963), D. C. Lau (1963), S. Mitchell (1988), and V. Mair (1990).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Lao-Tzu: Selected full-text books and articles

The Tao Te Ching: A New Translation with Commentary By Ellen M. Chen Paragon House, 1989
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "Date and Authorship of the Tao Te Ching"
The Way and Its Power: A Study of the Tao Te Ching and Its Place in Chinese Thought By Arthur Waley George Allen & Unwin, 1934
Librarian’s tip: "Authorship in Early China, and the Relation of the Lao Tan Legend to the 'Tao Te Ching'" begins on p. 101
Philosophers and Religious Leaders By Christian D. Von Dehsen Oryx Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: "Lao-Tzu: Founder of Taoism, c. 570-490 B.C.E." begins on p. 113
Chinese Religions By Julia Ching MacMillan, 1993
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Freedom and the Natural: Taoism as Religious Philosophy"
Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China By A. C. Graham Open Court, 1989
Librarian’s tip: "Lao-Tzu's Taoism: The Art of Ruling by Spontaneity" begins on p. 215
Chinese Political Philosophy By William S. A. Pott Alfred A. Knopf, 1925
Librarian’s tip: Section II "Selections from Lao-Tzu's Canon of Reason and Virtue"
Striking a Balance: A Primer in Traditional Asian Values By Michael Brannigan Seven Bridges Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: "Taoist Foundations: The Lao-Tzu and the Chuang Tzu" begins on p. 147
The Chinese Mind: Essentials of Chinese Philosophy and Culture By Charles A. Moore University of Hawaii Press, 1968
Librarian’s tip: "Early Taoism: Yang Chu and Lao-Tzu" begins on p. 38
Chinese Political Thought: A Study Based upon the Theories of the Principal Thinkers of the Chou Period By Elbert Duncan Thomas Prentice-Hall, 1927
Librarian’s tip: "Lao-Tzu" begins on p. 21
Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China By Arthur Waley Doubleday, 1956
Librarian’s tip: "Stories of Lao-Tzu and Confucius" begins on p. 12
FREE! China and the Chinese By Herbert Allen Giles Columbia University Press, 1902
Librarian’s tip: Lecture V "Taoism"
China: An Analysis By Frank J. Goodnow Johns Hopkins Press, 1926
Librarian’s tip: Chap. IV "Philosophical China"
FREE! Deliverance: The Freeing of the Spirit in the Ancient World By Henry Osborn Taylor Macmillan & Co., 1915
Librarian’s tip: Chap. II "China: Duty and Detachment"
The Religious Thought of Chu Hsi By Julia Ching Oxford University Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: "Chu Hsi and Taoist Philosophy" begins on p. 153
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