Lao Tzu (Chinese: 老子, Pinyin: Lǎozǐ; also transliterated as Laozi, Lao Tse, Laotze, and in other ways) was an ancient Chinese philosopher. According to Chinese tradition, Lao Tzu lived in the 6th century BC, however many historians contend that Laozi actually lived in the 4th century BC, which was the period of Hundred Schools of Thought and Warring States Period. Lao Tsu was credited with writing the seminal Taoist work, the Tao Te Ching (also known simply as the Laozi). Asteroid 7854 Laotse was named after him.
Whether Lao Tzu even existed is the issue of strong debate, because authorship of the Tao Te Ching (Dàodéjīng) is attributed to him. Lao Tzu became an important cultural hero to subsequent generations of Chinese people. Ostensibly, Lao Tzu's wise counsel attracted followers, but he refused to set his ideas down in writing, worrying that written words might solidify into formal dogma. Lao Tzu laid down no rigid code of behavior. He believed a person's conduct should be governed by instinct and conscience. He believed "simplicity" to be the key to truth and freedom. Lao Tzu encouraged his followers to observe, and seek to understand the laws of nature; to develop intuition and build up personal power; and to wield power with love, not force.
According to the legend and the biography included in Sima Qian's work, Lao Tzu was a contemporary of Confucius, and worked as an archivist in the Imperial Library of the Zhou Dynasty (1122–256 BC). Hearing of Lao Tzu's wisdom, Confucius travelled to meet him. Confucius met him in Zhou, near the location of modern Luoyang, where Confucius was going to browse the library scrolls. According to this story, Confucius and Lao Tzu discussed ritual and propriety (cornerstones of Confucianism) over the following months. Laozi strongly opposed what he felt to be hollow practices. Taoist legend claims that these discussions proved more educational for Confucius than did the contents of the libraries. Laozi perceived that the kingdom's affairs were disintegrating, so it was time to leave. He was travelling West on a buffalo when he came to the Han Gu Pass, which was guarded. The keeper of the pass realized Laozi was leaving permanently, so he requested that Lao Tzu write out some of his wisdom so that it could be preserved once he was gone, Laozi climbed down from his buffalo and immediately wrote the Tao Te Ching. He then left and was never heard of again.
According to the Taoist fables, Lao Tzu lived for over 900 years, which explained how he was both the senior and the contemporary of Confucius. These fables held that Lao Tzu had been a court advisor in all of his previous twelve incarnations, starting at the time of the Fuxi (伏羲), one of the Three August Ones and Five Emperors. No historical text supports these beliefs.
Lao Tzu's work, the Tao Te Ching, is one of the most significant treatises in Chinese philosophy.
It is his magnum opus, covering large areas of philosophy from individual spirituality and inter-personal dynamics to political techniques. The Tao Te Ching is said to contain 'hidden' instructions for Taoist adepts (often in the form of metaphors) relating to Taoist meditation and breathing.
Lao Tzu developed the concept of "Tao", often translated as "the Way", and widened its meaning to an inherent order or property of the universe: "The way Nature is". He highlighted the concept of Wei wuwei, or "action without action". This does not mean that one should hang around and do nothing, but that one should avoid explicit intentions, strong wills or proactive initiatives.
Lao Tzu believed that violence should be avoided as much as possible, and that military victory—which logically would be attained through use of force—should be an occasion for mourning rather than triumphant celebration.
Lao Tzu said that the codification of laws and rules created difficulty and complexity in managing and governing.
As with most other ancient Chinese philosophers, Lao Tzu often explains his ideas by way of paradox, analogy, appropriation of ancient sayings, repetition, symmetry, rhyme, and rhythm. The writings attributed to him are often very dense and poetic. They serve as a starting point for cosmological or introspective meditations. Many of the aesthetic theories of Chinese art are widely grounded in his ideas and those of his most famous follower Zhuang Zi.
The libertarian economist Murray N. Rothbard suggests that Lao Tzu was the first libertarian, likening Lao Tzu's ideas on government to F.A. Hayek's theory of spontaneous order. (See also: ) Similarly, the Cato Institute's David Boaz includes passages from the Tao Te Ching in his 1997 book The Libertarian Reader. Philosopher Roderick Long, however, argues that libertarian themes in Taoist thought are actually borrowed from earlier Confucian writers.