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Underlying the Chinese cultural heritage and also Chinese Martial Arts, such as Tai Chi chuan, philosophical background, are about a dozen schools of thought dating from as early as the 7th century B.C., when Guan Zhong (?-645 B.C.) and his ideas (cf. The Book of Guan Zi) emerged in relation to the later development of the Legalist School (Fa Jia).[1] The most important of these schools are known as Confucianism and Daoism (Taoism) in terms of their historical continuity and influence. The founder of Confucianism is naturally identified with Confucius, as the latinized name for Kong Fu Zi or Kong Zi (551-479 B.C.). As regards Daoism, Lao Zi (Lao Tzu) is mostly recognized as its founder despite the fact that the details of his life and work remain controversial. Here we will give a brief account of Lao Zi and his doctrine of the Dao.


I. Lao Zi's Life and Work


Almost all the different opinions about Lao Zi's life and work appear to focus on the dispute as to whether Confucius was preceded by Lao Zi or vice versa. They can thus be generalized into two main tendencies as follows: One holds that Lao Zi was an older contemporary of Confucius, who lived in the latter part of the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 B.C.) and his doctrines are presented in his book titled the Dao De Jing (i.e. The Book of Lao Zi); the other argues that Lao Zi was born after Confucius and lived during the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.), as there are indications in the Dao De Jing that was compiled in that era.
According to the biography of Lao Zi as given by Sima Qian (c. 145-86 B.C.) in his Historical Record,[2] "Lao Zi was a native of Qurenli Village, in Lixiang community, Kuxian district, in the State of Chu.[3] His family name was Li, his given name Er and style Dan. He once served as the head of the national library during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770-256 B.C.). Confucius visited the capital of the dynasty (modern Luoyang City in Henan Province), where he asked Lao Zi about the rites...." On that occasion he was advised by Lao Zi to abandon his air of pride, desire and arrogance for the sake of self-preservation. "Lao Zi practiced Dao and De," continues Sima Qian in his account, "and hence his doctrine was aimed at self-effacement and namelessness. Having resided in the capital for a long time and observed the decline of the dynasty, he resigned his office and went away westward. Upon arrival at Hanguguan Pass he was welcomed by Guan Yi, who greeted him with joy: "Write me a book, as you are going to become a recluse!" he cried. It was there that Lao Zi wrote a book in two parts and composed of over 5000 words about the meaning of Dao and De. Afterwards he left and disappeared. No one knows what became of him in the end.... Lao Zi was a gentleman recluse."[4]
Sima Qian, as a historian, adopted an individual approach intended to "convey what is authentic and to record what is doubtful." He therefore preserved two pieces of uncertain information: "Some say that a certain Lao Lai Zi was also a man of the State of Chu who produced a book in 15 chapters on the usefulness of the Dao, and seems to have lived at the same time as Confucius," and "Some 129 years after the death of Confucius the histories record that the historian Dao of the Zhou Dynasty had an interview with Duke Xian of Qin (384-362 B.C.).... Some say that this Dao was in fact Lao Zi, while others say he was not."[5] Many scholars agree that the opening and closing portions of Lao Zi's biography are fact, whereas the middle part is unreliable. But there is enough reliable evidence to upset this argument.
First and foremost, the fact that Confucius went to the capital of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty and asked Lao Zi about the rites is reconfirmed in the biography of Confucius according to Sima Qian in his Historical Records.[6] It is recorded that Confucius was seen off after the interview and advised by Lao Zi to forget himself (i.e. be selfless). On his return to his own State of Lu his immediate disciples benefitted from what he had learned from Lao Zi in the realm of the rites of the Zhou Dynasty. This is corroborated in Zeng Zi's Questions on the Rites (Zeng Zi Wen), a chapter of The Book of Rites (Li Ji), which is known as one of the Confucianist `Five Classics' (Wu Jing). It is therein stated that Confucius told his student Zeng Zi (505-436 B.C.) about how to conduct certain rites properly as guided by Lao Dao (i.e. Lao Zi, whose name is repeated in the passage as many as seven times). Moreover, in his book (i.e. The Complete Works of Zhuang Zi), Zhuang Zi (who is known in Western literature as Chuang Tzu, c. 369-286 B.C.) describes Lao Zi and cites his sayings 16 times, half of which concern the relationship between Lao Zi and Confucius. The similar view that Confucius learned about the rites from Lao Dao can also be found in the Dang Ran Chapter of the Lu Shi Chun Qiu edited by Lu Buwei (?-235 B.C.), and in the brick carvings of Confucius' life as displayed in the Confucian Temple (Kong Miao) located in his hometown of Qufu in modern Shandong Province. It is worthy of notice that Confucius was influenced by Lao Zi to a certain extent. Some of Lao Zi's ideas can be found in the Analects of Confucius (Lun Yu), for example, "It was, perhaps, only Emperor Shun (i.e. one of the sage rulers extolled by Confucius himself) who governed peacefully without taking any action against the natural order" (Lun Yu, 15:5; cf. Lao Zi's notion of "take-no-action" or "nonaction," DDJ, Ch. 48.); "A gentleman is to be grave and solemn but not to be contentious or competitive" (Ibid, 15:22; cf. Lao Zi's idea that "the Dao of sage is to act for others but not to compete with them," DDJ, Ch. 77.); "A benevolent man is surely courageous" (Ibid, 14:4; cf. Lao Zi's assertion that "With kindness one can become courageous," DDJ, Ch. 67.); and "What do you think of repaying resentment with virtue?" (Ibid, 14:34; cf. Lao Zi's proposed solution to "return good for evil," DDJ, Ch. 79.). It is even more interesting to point out that Confucius himself claimed to be a transmitter of the classics instead of an originator. Furthermore, he said, "I am so faithful to and so fond of ancient culture that privately I compare myself to Lao Dao (i.e. Lao Zi and Peng Zu (i.e. a legendary figure)." (Ibid., 7:1)
Secondly, according to the Historical Records,[7] when con fronting something confusing, Confucius would go to the capita of Zhou for Lao Zi's opinion; ...and to the State of Chu for Lao Lai Zi's opinion; ... Thus it is self-evident that Lao Zi and Lao Lai Zi were two distinct figures of Confucius' era. Hence it is fanciful to assume that they are the same person, as some scholars have insisted.
Thirdly, it is a historical fact that Confucius visited Lao Z to clarify some of his queries related to the rites of the Zhou Dynasty as encountered in his studies and teaching practice. I was obviously impossible for Confucius to have consulted the historian Dan, who was born many years after Confucius' death So, based on historical facts and documentary evidence, it can be safely affirmed that Lao Zi was a native of modern Luyi in Henar Province, which was part of the State of Chu in antiquity. His family name was Li, his given name Er and his style Dan. He was an older contemporary of Confucius, who once visited to ask about the rites. The tradition that he was the head of the national library of the Zhou Dynasty and that he was born about 20 to 30 years before Confucius has been widely supported by celebrates modern scholars, including Guo Moruo, Ma Shulun, Ren Jiyu Zhan Jianfeng, Gu Di, Zhou Ying, Yan Lingfeng, Tang Yijie Chen Guying, Ye Lang and Min Ze. As a "gentleman recluse' more than 2,500 years ago, Lao Zi's birth and death can not be pinpointed now, as is often the case with many ancient figures However, Ren Jiyu inferred from his historical research his assumption that Lao Zi was born in approximately 580 B.C. (i.e the 6th year of King Jian of the Zhou Dynasty) and died in 500 B.C. (i.e. the 20th year of King Jing of the Zhou Dynasty)." According to Zhan Jianfeng, Lao Zi was probably born around 576 B.C. and died after 478 B.C.[9] These inferences are supplied here for reference only.
As to the Dao De Jing, there are correspondingly distinct opinions about its emergence in view of its style and authorship. Generally speaking, some believe that it was written by Lao Zi in the late stage of the Spring and Autumn Period, whereas others maintain that it was compiled by the historian Dao in the middle of the Warring States Period; others go so far as to assume that it was based on quotations selected from such classics as The Book of Zhuang Zi, Lu Shi Chun Qiu, The Book of Han Fei Zi and The Book of Yi Wen Zi. Recent research by contemporary Lao Zi scholars stresses the following points: (1) The Dao De Jing possesses an intrinsic structure and rigorous logic of its own, and therefore it is unlikely that is is merely a compilation of diverse sources. In addition, most of the authors of the abovementioned works acknowledge their debt to Lao Zi. (2) Lao Zi was not the historian Dan, as the Dao De Jing is a product of the late Spring and Autumn Period, as testified by its terminology and rhyming system, even though a few expressions used in it did not come into being until the Warring States Period (e.g. "ten thousand chariots"). (3) The writing style of the Dao De Jing as philosophical discourse features a poetic touch which corresponds to that of the Book of Poetry (Shi Jing), allegedly edited by Confucius. The former is thus considered to be a continuation and development of the latter.[10] Apart from that, its style is quite similar to that of The Art of War (Sun Zi Bing Fa) written by Sun Zi in the Spring and Autumn Period. "If The Art of War is affirmed to be written in that period," as Zhang Dainian states, "it is not unreasonable to assume that the Dao De Jing was produced at the same time." [11]
In short, we conclude that the Dao De Jing was completed in the late Spring and Autumn Period. Nevertheless, its original text was slightly different from what it looks like today. That is owing to certain modifications and additions it underwent in the course of its history, during the Warring States Period in particular. We must keep in mind the fact that it was originally written on bamboo slips, which are notorious for a tendency to fall apart and be put back in the wrong order by careless readers. This position is even more understandable when we see with our own eyes the minor changes in wording in the two Mawangdui silk copies of the Dao De Jing unearthed from the same tomb and at the same time in 1973.
We can notice also that copies of Dao Yin exercises (ancient appellation of Qigong) where found in these Mawangdui tombs next to Dao De Jing copies. In addition Dao Yin is also one main origin of Tai Chi Chuan healing aspects, thus again we can concluded that DDJ and Tai Chi are inseparable treasures that in ancient China no one will even part from during their ultimate travel from life to death.

Notes:
[1] Chinese culture is renowned for its long history, based on the contributions made by "one hundred schools" of (bought and their leading philosophers. The "one hundred schools" can be traced back to the centuries before the Qin Dynasty (221-207 B.C.), and down to the early Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 25). They were classified by the historian Sima Tan (?-110 B.C.) into six major schools of thought, namely, the Yin Yang Jia (Yin-Yang School), Ru Jia (School of Literati or Confucianist School), Mo Jia (Mohist School or Mohism), Ming Jia (School of Names or Logicians), Fa Jia (Legalist School) and Dao De Jia (Dao-De School or Daoism) (Cf. Ch. 130 in Sima Qian's Historical Records). In his treatise Zhu Zi Lue (Introduction to the Philosophers), Liu Xin (c. 46 B.C.-A.D. 23) arranged the "one hundred schools" into ten main categories: the Zong Heng Jia (School of Diplomatists or Political Strategists), Za Jia (School of Eclectics Miscellaneous School), Nong Jia (School of Agrarians) and Xiao Shuo Jia (School of Story Tellers), apart from the six schools above-mentioned. In my opinion, t: Bing Jia (School of Military Strategists) should be included in Liu Xin's list, bringing the number of schools to 11.
[2] The Shi Ji (The Historical Records) by Sima Qian consists of 130 chapters all together. It is the first general history of China, from remote antiquity down to the reign of Emperor Wu Di (140-87 B.C.) of the Western Han Dynasty. It was commenced by Sima Tan (?-110 B.C.) and completed by his son Sima Qian (c.125-86 B.C.)
[3] Basically located in the modern Luyi district of Henan Province.
[4] Cf. Ch. 63, in the Shi Ji.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid., Ch. 47.
[7] Ibid., Ch. 67.
[8] Cf. Ren Jiyu. Zhong Guo Zhe Xue Shi (A History of Chinese Philosophy). Beijing: People's Press, Vol. 1, 1990.
[9] Cf. Zhan Jianfeng. Lao Zi Qi Ren Qi Shu Ji Qi Dao Lun (On Lao Zi, His book and His Doctrine of the Dao) Wuhan: Hubei People's Press, 1982.
[10] Cf. Gu Di & Zhou Ying. Lao Zi Tong (Complete Studies of Lao Zi). Changchun: Jilin People's Press, Vol. 2, 1991; Chen Guying. Lao Zhuang Xin Lun (Nee Essays on Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi). Shanghai: Shanghai Classics Press, 1992.
[11] Cf. Zhang Dainian. "Lao Zi Zhe Xue Bian Wei" (An Investigation of Lao Zi's Philosophy), in Zhong Guo Zhe Xue Shi Lun Wen Ji (Collected Essays on the History of Chinese Philosophy). Jinan: Shandong People's Press, Vol. 1, 1979.





 

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