The Tao Te Ching, Daodejing, or Dao De Jing (simplified Chinese: 道德经; traditional Chinese: 道德經; pinyin: Dàodéjīng), also simply referred to as the Laozi,[1][2] is a Chinese classic text. According to tradition, it was written around 6th century BC by the sage Laozi (or Lao Tzu, "Old Master"), a record-keeper at the Zhou dynasty court, by whose name the text is known in China. The text's true authorship and date of composition or compilation are still debated,[3] although the oldest excavated text dates back to the late 4th century BC.[1]

The text is fundamental to both philosophical and religious Taoism and strongly influenced other schools, such as Legalism, Confucianism and Chinese Buddhism, which when first introduced into China was largely interpreted through the use of Daoist words and concepts. Many Chinese artists, including poets, painters, calligraphers, and even gardeners have used the Daodejing as a source of inspiration. Its influence has also spread widely outside East Asia, and is amongst the most translated works in world literature.[1]

The Wade–Giles romanization "Tao Te Ching" dates back to early English transliterations in the late 19th century; its influence can be seen in words and phrases that have become well-established in English. "Daodejing" is the pinyin romanization.

The Tao Te Ching is ascribed to Laozi, whose historical existence has been a matter of scholastic debate. His name, which means "Old Master", has only fueled controversy on this issue. (Kaltenmark 1969:10). The first reliable reference to Laozi is his "biography" in Shiji (63, tr. Chan 1963:35–37), by Chinese historian Sima Qian (ca. 145–86 BC), which combines three stories. First, Laozi was a contemporary of Confucius (551–479 BC). His surname was Li (李 "plum"), and his personal name was Er (耳 "ear") or Dan (聃 "long ear"). He was an official in the imperial archives, and wrote a book in two parts before departing to the West. Second, Laozi was Lao Laizi (老來子 "Old Come Master"), also a contemporary of Confucius, who wrote a book in 15 parts. Third, Laozi was the Grand Historian and astrologer Lao Dan (老聃 "Old Long-ears"), who lived during the reign (384–362 BC) of Duke Xian (獻公) of Qin).

Generations of scholars have debated the historicity of Laozi and the dating of the Tao Te Ching. Linguistic studies of the text's vocabulary and rhyme scheme point to a date of composition after the Shi Jing yet before the Zhuangzi. Legends claim variously that Laozi was "born old"; that he lived for 996 years, with twelve previous incarnations starting around the time of the Three Sovereigns before the thirteenth as Laozi. Some Western scholars have expressed doubts over Laozi's historical existence, claiming that the Tao Te Ching is actually a collection of the work of various authors.

Many Taoists venerate Laozi as Daotsu the founder of the school of Dao, the Daode Tianjun in the Three Pure Ones, one of the eight elders transformed from Taiji in the Chinese creation myth.

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