Laozi

Lao Zi

Was an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer. He is known as the reputed author of the “Tao Te Ching” and the founder of philosophical Taoism, and as a deity in religious Taoism and traditional Chinese religions. Although a legendary figure, he is usually dated to around the 6th century BC and reckoned a contemporary of Confucius, but some historians contend that he actually lived during the Warring States period of the 5th or 4th century BC. A central figure in Chinese culture, Laozi is claimed by both the emperors of the Tang dynasty and modern people of the Li surname as a founder of their lineage. Laozi’s work has been embraced by various anti-authoritarian movements as well as Chinese Legalism.

Lao Tzu bore the family name of Li and the surname of Erh, which means “ear”. Often he can be found in various accounts named Li Erh. After his death, his surname was replaced by Tan, which means “long ears”. From this point of view, believes James Legge, we can deduce that his first name was given after a physical feature of his ears.

Lao Tzu subsequently withdrew from public life, disgusted by the dynastic decline. Going towards West, he would have met with the guard of a gorge, Yin Xi, who would have asked him to write a manual of wisdom. Lao Tzu composed thus his famous “Tao Te Ching”, a book written in two parts with over 5.000 characters, where he speaks about Tao and its particularities (Te).

Philosophically, Lao Tzu would have been concerned about the need to remain anonymous, not to manifest himself in public, a vision contrary to the Confucian one. He would have developed Tao and Te, according to Ch’ien’s statement. Many specialists believe that the “Tao Te Ching” would not have been the work of Lao Tzu, but a group of intellectuals who chose anonymity and baptized the book “Lao Tzu”. In fact, Lao Tzu is not a proper name, but rather a nickname. But tradition assigns this work to Lao Tzu. To the information related above, there can be added a few myths that supported the magical powers of the master: he was born much later, and at his birth, a fallen star was seen. He would have lived about 200 years.

Lao Zi left behind the image of a great character. Miraculously conceived at the passage of a comet or when his mother ate a plum magic, he was born with white hair and beard, hence the name of old (Lao) and had very long lobes ears, a sign of wisdom. Lao Tzu was an archivist at the court of the Zhou state. Confucius recognized him as a master and as an extraordinary human being. He has left the country when he would have been aged 160 years, having enough of the country’s political disputes. He went westwards astride a buffalo and when he reached the border, he wrote “A Book about the Way” and “Virtue” at the request of a guard, then  he continued his journey. Nobody knows what has become of him, but some believe that he didn’t die or reincarnate, but reappears in various forms to transmit the Dao to the people.

Left-libertarians have been highly influenced by Laozi. In his 1937 book “Nationalism and Culture”, the anarcho-syndicalist writer and activist Rudolf Rocker praised Laozi’s “gentle wisdom” and “understanding of the opposition between political power and the cultural activities of the people and community”. In his 1910 article for the Encyclopedia Britannica, Peter Kropotkin also noted that Laozi was among the earliest proponents of essentially anarchist concepts. More recently, anarchists such as John P. Clark and Ursula K. Le Guin have written about the conjunction between anarchism and Taoism in various ways, highlighting the teachings of Laozi in particular. In her rendition of the “Tao Te Ching”, Le Guin wrote that Laozi “does not see political power as magic. He sees rightful power as earned and wrongful power as usurped… He sees sacrifice of self or others as a corruption of power, and power as available to anyone who follows the Way. No wonder anarchists and Taoists make good friends.”

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