Lao Tzu

Who was Lao Tzu?

A Quick Introduction

The name Lao Tzu ("Old Master") is sometimes written as Lao-tse. In the more modern Pinyin system, it is written as Laozi. All are equally correct.

The name Lao Tzu ("Old Master") can also be written as Lao-tse, Lao Tsu, Lao-tze, and many other variations, depending on the romanization system used. In the modern Pinyin system, it is written as Laozi.

Lao Tzu lived twenty-five centuries ago in ancient China. Even though the details of his existence are shrouded in the mist of time, we know with a fair degree of certainty that his name was Li Er.

Legend has it that King Wu of Zhou appointed him head librarian of the royal archives at Luoyang. In this capacity Lao Tzu was able to immerse himself in the study of history, philosophy and literature, gaining wisdom and insights along the way.

According to another well known legend, Confucius visited with Lao Tzu and came away in awe of Lao Tzu's intellect. Confucius recognized in Lao Tzu a deep understanding about the world that was above his own, and went so far as to liken Lao Tzu to the mysterious dragon.

Lao Tzu decided to leave civilization behind when the House of Zhao began its decline. He departed Luoyang and headed through the Hangu Pass to some destination beyond the Great Wall.

Before leaving the gate at the Great Wall, the commander at the gate asked him to write down his thoughts on the Tao for posterity. Lao Tzu agreed, and wrote a small book in two parts, expressing his accumulated learnings in brief, concise yet profound language. This book survived over 2,500 years and came to be known as the Tao Te Ching.