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Taoism (sometimes written as Daoism) is the English name for:

(a) a philosophical school based on the texts the Tao Te Ching (ascribed to Laozi and alternately spelled DÐ'ЁÐ'¤o DÐ'ЁÐ'¦ JÐ'ЁÐ'©ng) and the Zhuangzi.

(b) a family of organized Chinese religious movements such as the Zhengyi ("Orthodoxy") or Quanzhen ("complete reality") sects, which collectively trace back to Zhang Daoling in the late Han Dynasty;

(c) a Chinese folk religion.

The Chinese character TÐ'ЁÐ'¤o or DÐ'ЁÐ'¤o ("Way").The English word "Taoism" is used to translate the Chinese terms Daojiao (Ð'µÐ"ЂÐ'Ð...Ð"Њ) and Daojia (Ð'µÐ"ЂÐ'јÐ"'). The character Tao Ð'µÐ"Ђ (or Dao, depending on the Romanisation scheme one prefers) literally means "path" or "way", but in Chinese religion and philosophy has taken on more abstract meanings. The compound Daojiao refers to Daoism as a religion; Daojia refers to the activity of scholars in their studies. It must be noted that this distinction is itself controversial and fraught with hermeneutic difficulty.

Much uncertainty exists over the meaning of "Taoism". In some countries and contexts (for example, the national "Taoism" organisations of China and Taiwan), the label has come to be applied to the Chinese folk religion, which would otherwise not have a readily recognisable English name. However many, if not most, of its practitioners would not recognise "Taoism" (in any language) as the name of their religion. Moreover, the several forms of what we might call "elite" or "organised" Taoism often distinguish their ritual activities from those of the folk religion, which some professional "Taoists" (Daoshi) tend to view as debased.

Chinese alchemy, astrology, cuisine, several Chinese martial arts, Chinese traditional medicine, fengshui, and many styles of qigong breath training disciplines have some relationship with Taoism.


Depending on how it is defined, Taoism's origins may be traced to the prehistoric Chinese religion; to the composition of the Dao De Jing (3rd or 4th century BCE); or to the activity of Zhang Daoling (2nd century CE). Alternatively, one could argue that "Taoism" as a religious identity only arose later, by way of contrast with the newly-arrived religion of Buddhism, or with the fourth-century codification of the Shangching and Lingbao texts.

Other accounts credit Laozi (reputed author of the Tao Te Ching/Dao de Jing) as the teacher of both Buddha, and Confucius. They ascribe early Taoism (Daoism) to ancient picture writing, mysticism, and indigenous Ancestor worship. Symbology on tortoise shells predates early Chinese calligraphy and is the basis of written Chinese from artifacts dated from prior to 1600 BCE.

Han Dynasty (206 BCEÐ'ЁC220 CE)

By the early Han, Laozi came to be worshipped as divineÐ'ÐŽÐ'Єeither in association with or conflated with the Yellow Emperor. A major text from this "Huang-Lao" movement would be the Huainanzi, which interprets earlier Taoist teachings in light of the quest for immortality (including drugs, sexual practices, and breathing techniques).

Zhang Daoling claimed to have begun receiving new revelations from Laozi in 142 CE, and founded the Tianshi ("Celestial Masters") sect around them. He performed spiritual healing, and collected dues of "five pecks of rice" from his followers (thus providing an alternative name for his movement). Zhang Daoling's major message was that the world-order as his followers knew it would soon come to an end, and be succeeded by an era of "Great Peace" (Taiping). In fact their activities did hasten the downfall of the Han dynasty. The same could be said of their contemporaries and fellow Taoists, the Yellow Turban sect. Zhang's grandson set up a theocratic state into what is now Sichuan province. Today's Zhengyi sect claims continuity with Zhang Daoling.

Laozi received imperial recognition as a divinity in 166 CE. The Yin and Yang and "five elements" theories date from this time, but were not yet integrated into Taoism.

The name Daojia comes from the Han Dynasty. In Sima Qian's history (chapter 63) it refers to immortals; in Liu Xiang it refers to Laozi and Zhuangzi. Daojiao came to be applied to the religious movements mentioned above. The two terms were used interchangeably until modern times. (We owe the distinction to Confucian writers.) The earliest Han commentary on the Dao De Jing is actually that of Heshang Gong (the "Riverside Master"), a religious Taoist.

Three Kingdoms Period (220Ð'ЁC265)

The Xuanxue ("Mysterious Wisdom") school, including Wang Bi, focuses on the texts of Laozi and Zhuangzi but not necessarily on the organised religion.

Six Dynasties (316Ð'ЁC589)

Taoist alchemist Ge Hong, also known as Baopuzi (Ð'±Ð'§Ð"†Ð"‹Ð"--Ð"" The "Master Embracing Simplicity") was active in the third and fourth centuries CE and had great influence on later Taoism. Major scriptures were produced during this time period, including The Shangqing (Ð"‰Ð"ЏÐ"‡Ð"Ґ "Highest Purity") (365Ð'ЁC370) and Lingbao (Ð"¬`Ð'ЊÐ'Ñ™ "Sacred Treasure") scriptures (397Ð'ЁC402) received at Maoshan. The Shangqing revelations were received by Yang Xi, a relative of Ge Hong's; the revelations emphasised meditative visualisation (Ð'Ñ"Ð"?Ð""^ neiguan). They spoke of the Shangqing heaven, which stood above what had been previously considered the highest heaven by Celestial Master Taoists. Yang Xi's revelations consisted of visitations from the residents of this heaven (the "Zhen Ren") many of whom were ancestors of a circle of aristocrats from southern China. These Zhen Ren spoke of an apocalypse which was to arrive in 384, and claimed that only certain people from this aristocratic circle had been chosen to be saved. For the first century of its existence, Shangqing Taoism was isolated to this aristocratic circle. However, Tao Hongjing (456Ð'ЁC536) codified and wrote commentaries on Yang Xi's writings and allowed for the creation of Shangching


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