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Lao Tzu

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Chinese tradition has it that the classic text of Taoism, Tao Te Ching (also called the Lao Tzu), was written by an older contemporary of the great philosopher Confucius (551-479 bc) called Lao Tzu. In the most common of the stories of its creation, a sage, Lao Tzu, tiring for some reason of his life in the province of Chou, intends to leave through the mountain pass of Xian Gu, and, when asked by the Keeper of the Pass to leave something in writing for the world he is about to exit, he writes the Tao Te Ching and gives it to the man.

The idea that the text had a single author called Lao Tzu is now widely disputed. Lao Tzu, meaning 'the Old One', is more of an epithet than a personal name, and it seems that, as there are several other similarly titled texts, the work may actually be an anthology of aphoristic thoughts in the Taoist tradition as opposed to a coherent and deliberately designed work of Taoist philosophy. There is little firm factual evidence as to the authorship of the text and so much debate as to the real identity of Lao Tzu, if indeed he existed as an individual. He has, for instance, been variously identified as Li Erh, a historian calling himself Tan who was sought by Confucius for advice; as another contemporary of Confucius called Lao Li Tzu who wrote Taoist texts; and as a Tan the Historian living nearly 130 years after Confucius. These three suggestions alone occur in just one text, an early history of China, Shih Chi, written in the first century bc by Ssu-ma Ch'ien.

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