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Taoism (a.k.a. Daoism)

Quotations, history, numbers, & historical texts:

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The Taoist Yin Yang symbol:


bullet"Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river." Lao Tse.

bullet"Without going out of your door, You can know the ways of the world. Without peeping through your window, you can see the Way of Heaven. The farther you go, The less you know. Thus, the Sage knows without traveling, Sees without looking, And achieves without struggle." Lao Tse.

bullet"Different Chinese philosophers, writing probably in 5-4 centuries B.C., presented some major ideas and a way of life that are nowadays known under the name of Taoism, the way of correspondence between man and the tendency or the course of natural world." Alan Watts, from his book: "Tao: The Watercourse Way."

bullet"We believe in the formless and eternal Tao, and we recognize all personified deities as being mere human constructs. We reject hatred, intolerance, and unnecessary violence, and embrace harmony, love and learning, as we are taught by Nature. We place our trust and our lives in the Tao, that we may live in peace and balance with the Universe, both in this mortal life and beyond." Creed of the Reform Taoist Congregation 1

bullet "For more than two thousand years, Daoism has evolved in close interaction with the other major traditions of China -- Confucianism, Buddhism, ethnic creeds, and popular religion -- and adapted many of their features. To the present day, Daoism consists of a multiplicity of beliefs and practices, and continues to develop, as it has for the past millennia, through the interaction between differentiation and integration -- the move to change in accordance with political, cultural, and economic developments versus the urge to create stability through belief systems, lineage lines, rituals, and myths." From the review of the book "Daoist Identity: History, lineage and ritual. 2

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Origins and past history of Taoism:

Tao (pronounced "Dow") can be roughly translated into English as path, or the way. It is basically indefinable. It has to be experienced. It:

"... refers to a power which envelops, surrounds and flows through all things, living and non-living. The Tao regulates natural processes and nourishes balance in the Universe. It embodies the harmony of opposites (i.e. there would be no love without hate, no light without dark, no male without female.)" 3

This is not a power in the sense that scientists define power. It is not something that can be measured in a laboratory.

The founder of Taoism is believed by a few religious historians to be Lao-Tse (604-531 BCE). His life overlapped that of Confucius (551-479 BCE). Alternative spellings of his name are : Lao Tze, Lao Tsu, Lao Tzu, Laozi, Laotze, etc. However most historians suggest that he is a synthesis of a number of historical figures, or that he is a mythical figure. Still others suggest that he lived in the 4th century BCE.

He was attempting to find a way that would avoid the constant feudal warfare and other conflicts that disrupted society during his lifetime. The result was his book: Tao-te-Ching (a.k.a. Daodejing).

Taoism started in China as a combination of psychology and philosophy. It evolved into a religious faith in 440 CE when it was adopted as a state religion. At that time Lao-Tse became popularly venerated as a deity. Taoism, along with Buddhism and Confucianism, became the three great religions of China. Many followed a blend of all three religions.

"Alyosha77" wrote on "Zen and Taoism: A connection" thread on Beliefnet's Taoism Community:

"Daoism and Buddhism in China were influenced by each other as they developed.  Buddhism was in fact mistaken by some early Daoists as a new form of Daoism.  Some early translations of Buddhist texts used Daoist terms to interpret Buddhist concepts, so the Chinese probably first understood Buddhism in a very Daoist way.  During the 3rd and 4th century [CE], there was a Neo-Daoist movement called Xuan Xue, and many Buddhists entered into Xuan Xue discourses, and it was by way of Xuan Xue discourses that Buddhism became integrated into the intellectual mainstream of Chinese thought.  On the more popular level, the turbulent times from the beginning of 3rd to the beginning of the 7th century [CE] in China caused many to look for hope in immortality and salvation, so Daoism and Buddhism both became increasingly influential on the popular level.  Throughout Chinese history, there had been some hostilities between them, but I believe their mutual influence and in mutual inclusivity are more significant." 4

According to the BBC, Taoism:

"... grew out of various religious and philosophical traditions in ancient China, including shamanism and nature religion. ..."

"Taoism became a semi-official Chinese religion during the Tang dynasty and continued during the Song dynasty [from 960 to 1279 CE]. As Confucianism gained popularity, Taoism gradually fell from favour, and changed from an official religion to a popular religious tradition."

At the end of the Ch'ing Dynasty in 1911 CE, state support for Taoism ended. Much of the Taoist heritage was destroyed during the next interval which is called the "warlord era" of China. After the Communist victory in 1949, the new government severely restricted religious freedom. Arthur P. Wolf commented:

"The new government put [Taoist] monks to manual labor, confiscated temples, and plundered treasures. Several million monks were reduced to fewer than 50,000 by 1960." 5

During the cultural revolution in China from 1966 to 1976, much of the remaining Taoist heritage was destroyed.

Although Taoism is primarily an Asian religion with ancient roots, it has had a significant recent impact on North American culture in areas of "acupuncture, herbalism, holistic medicine, meditation and martial arts..." 6

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More recent history of Taoism since the mid-20th Century:

Some historical facts about the development of Taoism are:

  • Taoism was banned when the Communists took over in China [in 1949].

  • From the middle of the 20th century, and continuing to the present time, Taoism has flourished in the province of Taiwan. The island is controlled by the independent Republic of China (ROC) even as it is still claimed as a integral province of the People's Republic of China (a.k.a. China).

  • After 1976, when the Cultural Revolution ended in China, restrictions were eased and Taoism has been reestablished there.

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How many Taoists are there worldwide?:

The number of followers of Taoism is impossible to estimate with any accuracy. One reason is that Taoism is sometimes practiced as a separate religious faith, and more often is combined with Buddhism and Confucianism to form a what is referred to as Chinese traditional religion, popular religion, folk belief, and by many other terms.

  • There are currently over 225 million followers of Chinese traditional religion.

  • Most Taoists live in China where, because of repressive policies by the government, it is still impossible to obtain reliable polling information by canvassing individuals.

About 8 million Taoists live in Taiwan, where they constitute about 33% of the population. 12

About 30,000 adults in the U.S. identify themselves as Taoist.

During 2011, the Canadian census reported 3,620 individuals in Canada who identify Taoism as their religion. 5

Some Internet sources have attempted to estimate the number of Taoists worldwide. A sampling of the Internet on 2015-DEC-02 showed values between 6.1 million and 173 million -- a range of over 28 times!

  • According to book by Katharina Wenzel-Teuber & David Strait which gives a statistical overview in 2011 of religions in China:

    "The number of Taoists is difficult to estimate, due to a variety of factors including defining Taoism. According to a survey of religion in China in the year 2010, the number of people practicing some form of Chinese folk religion is near to 950 million (70% of the Chinese). Among these, 173 million (13%) practice some form of Taoist-defined folk faith. Further in detail, 12 million people have passed some formal initiation into Taoism, or adhere exclusively to it." 7

  • notes that: "Taoism and Confucianism (mixed with Buddhism) are major cultural and philosophical influences in many East Asian nations. Religious Taoism in still very significant in Taiwan." 8

  • reports pre cicely 6,111,056 people as of 2006. 9

  • 10 and 11report 20 million followers of Taoism.

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Historical Taoist texts:

These include:

  • Tao-te-Ching ("The Way of Power," or "The Book of the Way") is believed by many to have been written by Lao-Tse. It describes the nature of life, the way to peace and how a ruler should lead his life.

  • Chuang-tzu (named after its author) contains additional teachings.

  • The Taoism Virtual Library has copies of the above books and others, at:

  • publishes a number of books from the Taoist canon, including The Primordial Breath, Volumes 1 & 2, and Oneirocritica (The Interpretation of Dreams). See:

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Our Creed," at: 

  2. book cover Livia Kohn & Harold D. Roth, Eds, "Daoist Identity: History, Lineage, and Ritual," University of Hawaii Press, (2002) Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store This is an academic book on Daoism.
  3. "Our Beliefs," Reform Taoist Congregation at:
  4. Meng Tzu, posting to "Zen and Taoism: A connection?, 2009-MAR-01, at:
  5. "2011 National Household Survey: Data tables, Statistics Canada, at:
  6. Arthur P. Wolf, "Gods, Ghosts, and Ancestors," Pages 131-182; as quoted in Judith A. Berling, "Taoism, or the Way," at:
  7. Katharina Wenzel-Teuber & David Strait. "People's Republic of China: Religions and Churches Statistical Overview 2011." Download in PDF format at:
  8. "Predominant Religions,"Adherents, at:
  9. "Taoism adherents by country,"ChartsBin, 2011, at:
  10. "Religion library: Taoism," Patheos, at:
  11. “Taoism.” 2015-NOV-10, at:
  12. "Religion in Taiwan," Wikipedia, as on 2015-, at:

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Copyright © 1995 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original publishing date: 1995-JUN-3
Latest update on: 2015-DEC-03
Author. B.A. Robinson

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