The founding of “Celestial Master” or “Heavenly Master” Daoism was based on a new revelation of the Dao by Laozi.
The influence of the on Chinese culture is both deep and far-reaching. The , “Learning of the Mysterious (Dao)”—or “Neo-Daoism,” as some scholars prefer, emphasizing its roots in classical Daoism—that dominated the Chinese elite or high culture from the third to the sixth century C. (See the entry on “Neo-Daoism” in this played a significant role in informing not only philosophic thought but also the development of literature, calligraphy, painting, music, martial arts, and other cultural traditions. It also raises the question whether the contains different layers of material spanning the period between 340 and 249 B. E.—“its long timespan precludes a single author” (1998, 151). Chan's view cited above, that Lao Dan's disciples had kept alive the teachings of the master orally before some later student(s) committed them to writing.
One indication of its enduring appeal and hermeneutical openness is the large number of commentaries devoted to it throughout Chinese history—some seven hundred, according to one count (W. Imperial patronage enhanced the prestige of the extends beyond China, as Daoism reaches across Asia and in the modern period, the Western world. Indeed, Chad Hansen describes the “dominant current textual theory” of the as one which “treats the text as an edited accumulation of fragments and bits drawn from a wide variety of sources … In contrast, Rudolf Wagner (19) asserts that the has a consistent “rhetorical structure,” characterized by an intricate “interlocking parallel style,” which would cast doubt on the “anthology” thesis. On the other hand, it could also mean that the editor(s) or compiler(s) had access to disparate sayings originated from and circulated in different contexts.
There is little consensus among scholars, however, on the date or authorship of the ) in the second century C.
E., the story of Laozi gained an important hagiographic dimension.
Confucianism, Daoism (Taoism), and Buddhism generally name the three main pillars of Chinese thought, although it should be obvious that like any “ism,” they are abstractions—what they name are not monolithic but multifaceted traditions with fuzzy boundaries. Its reliability has been questioned, but it provides a point of departure for reconstructing the Laozi story.