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Largest and oldest stone sculpture of the Laozi ( Quanzhou , China )

Laozi ( Chinese  老子 , Pinyin Lǎozǐ , W.-G. Lao Tzu  - "Old Master") is a legendary Chinese philosopher who lived in the 6th century BC. Should have lived. Depending on the romanization , the name is also written Laotse , Lao-Tse , Laudse or Lao-tzu . The spelling of the older transcriptions is given below in brackets after the pinyin form.

Laozi is considered the founder of Daoism (Taoism). The work attributed to him in the legend, which was first captured and titled as Dàodéjīng (Tao Te King, Tao Te Ching) by the Han emperor Jing (157-141 BC) , is the main work of Daoism. The work is probably in the 4th century BC. BC originated.

Despite the otherwise impressive tradition of meticulous chronicles and lists of rulers, officials and other dignitaries of ancient China, almost nothing is known about Laozi. The oldest sources mentioning him are anecdotes and legends, including several stories about him in Zhuāngzǐ's (Dschuang Dsi, Chuang-tzu) "true book of the southern blossom country". The first historical or biographical source can be found in the Shǐjì (Shi chi) of the Sīmǎ Qiān (Ssu-ma Ch'ien), the "records of the chronicler" from the 1st century BC. BC , but Sīmǎ Qiān himself writes that his source situation is very uncertain and that he has found contradicting statements about Lǎozǐ; therefore he is not sure whether Lǎozǐ actually lived.


A representation of Lǎozǐs

According to tradition, Laozi was born in the prefecture Kǔ ( 苦 縣  /  苦 县 , Kǔ Xiàn ) of the state of Chǔ , today's district of Lùyì ( 鹿邑 ) in today's Hénán . His family name was Lǐ ( ), his first name Ěr (  - "ear"), his company name ( , ) was Bóyáng ( 伯陽  /  伯阳 ); Another name for him is Lǎo Dān ( 老 聃  - "Old Long-eared"; dān: ear without a rim ). Laozi served as archivist in the library of the Zhōu . Foreseeing the chaos and decline of the empire, he left the country. Approx. 70 km west of Xi'an , near Louguan Tai , at the Han-Gu Pass, there is a temple in which Yin Xi , also called Yin Wenshi, a scholar of the Zhou of the spring and autumn annals , built a tower for observing the stars and weather had erected. According to legend, this is where Laozi was asked by this same Yin Xi to share his knowledge. The collection of his teachings which he then wrote became known as Dàodéjīng . The Shǐjì reports that Lǐozǐ disappeared in the west after it was written. Yin Wenshi, who went by the Daoist name Guanling, was an advisor to the Crown Prince. After his meeting with Laozi, he resigned all secular offices and followed the rules of life of early Daoism. Today, the remaining platform and surrounding temples are an important place of worship for Daoists.

On the basis of philological investigations and exegesis of the traditional versions, today's science assumes that Laozi probably never existed, but that the work got this name at a time when long-standing oral traditions were written down and given an author. The legends that surround Lǎoz wohl arose from the need of the time to make a tradition historically tangible and part of a school. According to legends, Lǎozǐ was over 160 years old, other sources even speak of 200 years. He reached this old age through perfection in the Dào (Tao). However, even the Taoist literature is inconsistent on this point. According to his own teachings, Laozi sought seclusion and namelessness. This is in contradiction to the popularity of his person. Zhuāngzǐ criticized: "In order to bind her so tightly to himself, he must have spoken words that he was not allowed to speak ... but that is a departure from heavenly nature."

Laozi as the deity Taishang Laojun in a Chinese temple

Laozi as a deity

From the 2nd century during the Han dynasty , the figure of Laozi developed into the high god of Daoism, and he was accepted as one of the three pure ones in the pantheon of Daoism . He personified as the Zhuangzi and the Saints Huainanzi describes his features mingled with the deities Taiyi and Huang Di . He is considered to be the embodiment of the Dao and his form has been cosmized. So it was assumed that he stayed in the constellation of the bushel and rose and fell as a mediator between the heavenly and the earthly world. His seat is the center of the starry sky and the cardinal points; in iconography he is surrounded by the four heraldic animals that symbolize them. Laozi changes with the cycles of time and takes many forms. Like the Dao, it is able to expand into infinity and become infinitely small.

In some Daoist schools it was even assumed that Laozi was the Dao itself. Thus, according to these schools, his existence precedes the universe and he appears in it as a shaper of the cosmic order. In innumerable incarnations he is the wise advisor to the emperors and instructs the Daoist adepts so that he appears as a recurring teacher and herald of the various schools of Daoism.

Reception in the west

In the western world, Laozi is mostly understood as a philosopher, who exerted a formative influence on Daoism with his work Daodejing . In his introduction to Lǎozǐ Richard Wilhelm writes :

“What we are accustomed to call Taoism today goes back to completely different sources than the Tao te king of Lao Tzu. […] Nevertheless, it would be wrong to peel Lao Tzu out of the context of the Chinese intellectual life, because it is linked with a thousand threads. "

- Richard Wilhelm : Laotse. Tao te king. The book of the way of life.

The great attraction that Laozi exerts on western readers is also due to the fact that he is forced to give a name (Dao) to the inexpressible, which evades human understanding, as a placeholder, so to speak, and that he does not even try to give a picture of it close. Lines 9 and 10 of the 4th section of Daodejing indicate that Laozi does not regard a god as the original principle of origin, in which it says: "I do not know whose son he is, he seems to be earlier than God". Laozi can sense something earlier than God (although it can be assumed that he also uses the word "God" only as a placeholder), but that he still cannot recognize the origin of the universe in this earlier, and therefore it - again conditioned by one Earlier - referred to as "son". The last two lines of the first section point to this: "The mystery, which is still deeper, is the gate through which all miracles emerge."


Zhuangzi, who according to traditional reports was the most famous successor of Laozi, had a great influence on Chinese literature and culture. State philosophers influenced by Laozi advocated humility in leadership and restraint in the state, either for ethical and pacifist reasons or for tactical purposes. In another context, various anti-authoritarian movements have praised the Laozi teachings as the power of the weak. Bertolt Brecht dealt with Daodejing in the 1920s and 1930s, which was reflected in his famous 1938 poem The Legend of the Origin of the Book Taoteking on Laotse's Path into Emigration .

Laozi was an advocate of limited government power. Left liberals were particularly influenced by Laozi. In 1910, Pyotr Alexejewitsch Kropotkin stated in an article in the Encyclopædia Britannica that Laozi should have been essentially one of the first proponents of anarchist concepts . In 1937 the anarcho-syndicalism writer Rudolf Rocker praised Laozi's “mild wisdom” and understanding of the opponent between political power, the cultural activities of the people and the community in his book “Nationalismus und Kultur”. Anarchists such as John P. Clark and Ursula K. Le Guin saw connections between anarchism and Daoism, with particular emphasis on the teachings of Laoci. In her account of the Daodejing, Le Guin wrote that Laozi “does not see political power as magic. He sees upright power as deserved and false power as appropriated ... he sees sacrifice of self or others as corrupted power and power as available to all who follow the path. It is not surprising that anarchists and Taoists make good friends ”.

The right-wing liberal economist Murray Rothbard suggested that Laozi was the first liberal , combining Laozi's ideas of governments with Friedrich August von Hayek's theory of spontaneous order. James A. Dorn agreed, writing that Laozi, like many eighteenth-century liberals, "argued that the best social and economic harmony would be achieved by minimizing the role of government and by spontaneous self-regulation of individuals." The book The Liberal Reader by David Boaz of the Cato Institute contains similarities from the Daodejing . The philosopher Roderick Long, on the other hand, argues that the liberal leitmotif in Taoist thought originally came from earlier Confucianist authors.


Yin yang

There is no shortage of quotes ascribed to Laozi. Often it turns out, however, that nothing of the kind can be found in Dàodéjīng, sometimes not even a spiritual relationship can be recognized.

The Dàodéjīng, the only work that is ascribed to Laozi, contains around 5000 ancient Chinese characters. There are numerous translations, all of which differ considerably, as it is by no means easy to recognize the original thought in the ambiguity of many of these signs and to formulate it appropriately. Some of the translations are difficult to reconcile with the ideas of Dàodéjīng, which are recognizable despite this ambiguity, because they use a strongly esoteric terminology that does not do justice to the mostly very clear observations of Laozi, or in other ways more of the views of the translator himself flow into it than from Laozi.

See also



  • Misha Tadd: 《老子》 译本 总 目 / The Complete Bibliography of Laozi Translations. 《国际 汉学》 / International Sinology , 2019.1. (This bibliography contains 1576 entries in 73 languages.)
  • Günther Debon : Lao-Tse. Tao-Tê-King. The Holy Book of the Way and Virtue . Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam jun. 1979. ISBN 3-15-006798-7 .
  • Ansgar Gerstner: A synopsis and commented translation of the book Laozi as well as an evaluation of his socially critical attitude on the basis of the Wang Bis text edition, the two Mawangdui silk texts and taking into account the three Guodian bamboo texts. Dissertation . University of Trier, 2001 ( online version ).
  • Viktor Kalinke : Studies on Laozi, Daodejing . Leipzig.
  1. Text and translation / dictionary of symbols. 2000 ISBN 3-934015-15-8 .
  2. Notes and Comments. 2000 ISBN 3-934015-18-2 .
  3. Doing nothing as a maxim. Essay. 2011 ISBN 978-3-86660-115-4 .
  • Moss Roberts: Dao De Jing: The Book of the Way . Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. ISBN 0-520-24221-1 , ISBN 978-0-520-24221-0 .
  • Ernst Schwarz : Laudse - Daudedsching . Reclam, Leipzig 1978, 4 1981, 5 1985, 6 1990.
  • Rainald Simon: Daodejing. The book of the path and its effect. Chinese-German, Reclam, Stuttgart 2009 ISBN 978-3-15-010718-8 .
  • Übers. Richard Wilhelm : Laotse - Tao Te King. Eugen Diederichs, Cologne 1957
    • With additional commentary (pp. 129–196) and numerous. Translator's note, bibliography. Weltbild, Augsburg undated (2001). Without ISBN (Series: Collector Editions)

Web links

Commons : Laozi  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Foreign Affairs Office - Traces of Celebrities ( Memento of the original from September 24, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  2. Ching-Schun Jang, Hsing-shun Yang: The Chinese philosopher Laudse and his teaching. VEB Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften , Berlin 1955 (subtitles: Dau-dö-djing ), original and in German; also trans. Ernst Schwarz , with Philipp Reclam , Leipzig 1970; identical to Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag , dtv Klassik series, 2152. Munich 1980 to 1997, ISBN 3-423-02152-7 . In the identical edition of Kösel Verlag 1985 the spelling Lao-Tse, with additional. Comment of the translator.
  3. Dschuang Dsi: The True Book of the Southern Blossom Land. Eugen Diederichs Verlag 1992
  4. ^ Richard Wilhelm: Laotse. Tao te king. The book of the way of life. 2nd Edition. Bastei Lübbe, Bergisch Gladbach 2003.
  5. ^ Dorn, James A. (2008). "Lao Tzu (c. 600 BC)". In Hamowy, Ronald. The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE; Cato Institute. pp. 282-83. ISBN 978-1-4129-6580-4 . doi: 10.4135 / 9781412965811.n169 .
  6. ^ Peter Kropotkin, Anarchism , Anarchy Archives, 1910, accessed August 21, 2017
  7. ^ Rudolf Rocker: Nationalism and Culture . Corrected and supplemented new edition. Library Thélème, Münster 1999, ISBN 978-3-930819-23-2 , p. 220 ( [accessed on January 18, 2020]).
  8. John P. Clark: Master Lao and the Anarchist Prince ( Memento August 22, 2017 in the Internet Archive ), accessed August 21, 2017
  9. Le Guin, Ursula K. (2009), Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way (2nd ed.), Washington, DC: Shambhala Publications Inc., ISBN 978-1-59030 -744-1 , p. 20
  10. ^ Murray N. Rothbard, The Ancient Chinese Libertarian Tradition , Mises Institute, May 12, 2005, accessed August 20, 2017
  11. Roderick T. Long, AUSTRO-LIBERTARIAN THEMES IN EARLY CONFUCIANISM , Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2003, accessed on August 20, 2013