600 BCE–Unknown CE
Historical Period: Ancient Asia
Lao Tzu (or Laozi) is remembered as the first philosopher of Taoism. He is often cited as a contributor to, if not the author of, the Tao-te Ching, the basic philosophical discourse on Taoism. His life is shrouded in mystery and legend, but it is generally accepted that he was active sometime in the early sixth century B.C. and served as a resident scholar, called a shih, at the royal court of the Shou. By the seventh century A.D. he was worshipped as an imperial ancestor by the T’ang and regarded by commoners as the equivalent of a Western saint, or demigod. Legend says that an aged Lao Tzu upbraided a young and overconfident Confucius and that the young man later compared Lao Tzu to a dragon rising in the sky, riding on the winds and clouds.