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 Confucianism was the mainstream of Chinese thought for about 2000 years, from the second century B.C. down to the beginning of the 20th century. The second greatest influence on Chinese thought no doubt Taoism, which opposed but also complemented and enlivened Confucianism.
           We know very little about Lao ZI, the founder of Taoism. According to the records of the Grand Historian by Sima QIan, he was born in The State of Chu, in the present-day Hennan Province, a little earlier than Confucius. He worked for some time in the Zhou government. When he saw the decline of the dynasty, he left his work to live in seclusion. On his way he reached a gate which he had to go through. The gate keeper by the name of Yin Xi begged him to write a book. Lao zi agreed and wrote about 5,000 words on Dao and de,or the way and its functions. After that he left and no one knew where he was or he died.
           There have been scholars who hold that Lao zi may have lived in the sixth century B.C. but the book named after him contains ideas and terms that belonged to a much later period. Like many other Chinese classics, the book went through a process of editing and compilation, and may have taken the present shape in the fourth century B.C, in the middle of the Warring Sates Period.
The book is written in verse, in very terse language, with many lines capable of different interpretation. Countless notes to and commentaries on the book have been written by scholars of past and present. It has been translated into many foreign languages and modern Chinese. Indeed, few books have attracted as much attention and aroused as much interest in China and abroad as this small book.        

As it discusses dao and de, the book is called the Dao De Jing, but more commonly known as the Lao Zi. The philosophy explained in it is called Taoism for Tao not Dao, was how the Chinese word was represented in English in the past.
          Dao, according to Lao Zi, gave birth to the universe and make all the things in the universe what they are. In other words, it is the origin of all things. It is invisible, intangible, and indiscernible. In fact, it is nameless, and Dao is only an adequate forced uphold it.
          About the laws that governs the development and change of all the things in the universe, Lao zi put forward a series of profound views. He holds that things and concept are relative: being and nonbeing produce each other, the difficult and the easy complement each other, the long and the short shape each other, the light and the low contain each other and what is before and what are after follow each other. He says when the world recognizes the beautiful is beautiful, there is ugly; when the world recognizes the good is good, there is bad or evil. Of every pair of opposite concept, each produces the other, or the existence of each depends on the existence of other.
          The theory is not difficult to understand. Perhaps we do not know it was a philosophy, but we apply it in our everyday life. When we say someone is tall, for instance, we mean that he is taller than many other people, or know that many other people are shorter than he is. We understand that tallness and shortness are relative.
          From this relativity Lao Zi goes on to draw a very important conclusion: Reversion is the movement of Dao, or turning back is how the way moves. This means that a state or quality has its process of development, and when it reaches the extreme, it will eventually turn back to its opposite state or quality. In nature and human society countless examples can be found to prove this theory. Plant, animals and human beings grow and grow, but one day they will die and disappear. In China and in other countries, there were in the past big, powerful states led by great leaders or conquerors, but all of them collapsed or fell after a period of time.
           Lao Zi says an army that is strong will be defeated, just as a tree that is strong will be broken. This is perhaps because a sooner or later it will be defeated by joint forces of the armies it has attacked. A tree that is strong and fragile can easily be broken in strong wind while a weak tree is supple; it bends with the wind but will not be broken. The conclusion drawn from this by Lao Zi is that the soft and weak will overcome the hard and strong, and weakness is the functions of Dao.
           Lao Zi also discusses the right way to live, behave and handle things. He advises people to be peaceful, quite, submissive, tolerant, modest, contented, humble, live a simple life, not to strive for wealth, fame, or power, which will not only give one worries and trouble. Even when one has won a great success, one had better withdraw from the scene without claiming credit for it. He say He does not show himself and so is conspicuous; he does not consider himself right, and so is famous; he does not brag, and so is given credit; he is not conceit, and so can endure for long. It is just because he does not contend that no one in the world can contend with him. He also say To yield is to be preserved; to bend is to become straight; to be low is to be full; to be worn out is to be renewed; to have little is to gain; to have plenty is to be perplexed.
           These sayings also show the truth that a state or quality will turn to its opposite when it reaches the extreme. Another similar saying, which is widely known, is that good fortune may exist beside misfortune and misfortune may hide in good fortune. The well-known story about the old man on the frontier losing his horse may be considered a good illustration of this statement. When one of his horses runs away, he says that may be a blessing. Soon the horse comes back, bringing with it another horse. But the old man fears a misfortune may happen. His son who likes riding a horse, falls from the new horse and breaks his leg. This turn out to be a blessing when a war break out, for the son now crippled is not called up to fight in the war.          

About government and social order, Lao zi is for no action. It does not mean inactivity, but taking no action that is against the original nature and wishes of the people. It means letting people and society take their own course without being taught or directed. Lao zi believes that a state is poorly governed when the ruler does too much. He say, the more prohibitions there are in the world., the poorer the people will be; the more sharp weapons the people have, the more troubled the state will be; the more skills man possesses, the more strange things will appear; the more laws and orders are made, the more thieves and robbers there will be. On he other hand, if the ruler takes no action, the people will be transformed of themselves; if he loves tranquility, the people will become correct of themselves; if he engages in no activity, the people will become prosperous of themselves; if he has no desire, the people will become simple of themselves.
           Lao Zi lived in the turbulent years of the spring and autumn Period, When wars, usurpations and intrigues were common. What he wrote about non action may have expressed his hatred of the rulers of his day, but at the same he put forward a very important political view. Many centuries later there was in the West a similar theory; the best government is the one that governs least.
           Dao invariably takes no action, and yet there is nothing left undone. Lao Zi says.
           The above four aspects, the origin of the universe, the workings of all the things in the universe, the right way to live and behave, and the right way govern a state, are among the most important question discussed in the book, the Lao zi.
           It is clear that Taoism and Confucianism are different in many ways. Confucius holds that moral principles and moral qualities are most important, and all social ills result from the low moral standard of the ruler and people. A ruler should first of all have a good moral character himself and then try to educate the people and make them virtuous. But Lao zi hates to talk about virtues and is against education Only in this way can a state be well governed. In this view, knowledge and wisdom, humaneness and rightness should all be thrown away, so as to keep people’s thinking simple and primitive. In his way, knowledge and wisdom produce evil ideas and make people think of and do bad things. It is therefore the duty of a good ruler to make his people have no knowledge or desire.
           Confucius took the Western Zhou as a time with the ideal social and political systems, which he wished to restore. Lao Zi’s ideal time is a primitive one: in it people do not use written language do not use ship, carts, or weapons and live in very small state. The sound of dog s barking and cocks crowing in one state can be heard in another, but the people of one state will grow old and die without having had any contact with those of another.
           Confucius hopes that society will be peaceful and orderly as a result of the conscious effort of the ruler and the people, both of whom value moral principles and knowledge. Lao zi also dreams of a peaceful and orderly society, but that is possible only when the people return to a primitive simplicity, while the ruler does nothing to meddle in their natural way of life. Perhaps Confucius is realistic, while Lao zi is romantic.       

Over the ages Loa zi’s influence was clear on many scholars, poets, artists, even government officials. Tao Qian, for instance, would rather return to his village to lead the life of a farmer than serve as an official. One of his poems say: I was in a cage for a long time, but now I have returned to nature.
           The famous poet Li Bai wrote many poems in praise of nature and freedom. One of them says: When I am asked why I want to stay in this mountain, I smile and give no answer. My heart is at peace at seeing peach flowers flowing away with the water, for this is a land different from the world of men.
           Taoist influence on traditional Chinese painting can easily be seen. Most landscapes represent beautiful and quite scenery with mountain and lakes, rocks and trees. There may be no men in them; if there are very small and inconspicuous. They seem to be part of nature or merge with it.
           Taoist principles are often followed in garden designing. In a typical Chinese garden there is no straight road or a big central hall. Instead, there are winding paths between bamboos and trees, small houses hidden behind hills or rocks, and pound with wooden bridges across them. The purpose is to mirror nature and make one feel that he is living in the midst of nature, far from the busy world.



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