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Also known as Daoism, Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophy that is much older than Confucianism.

Its origins go back to the 4th century BCE or further, drawing on the School of Yin-Yang and the I Ching, which is used in both Confucianism and Taoism. The Tao Te Ching, believed to have been written by Lao-Tzu, a 6th century BCE sage, greatly influenced Taoist philosophy and is the chief text of Taoism. Another text used in Daoism is the Zhuangzi, which is sometimes spelled Chuang-tzu. It contains stories and anecdotes that demonstrate the carefree nature of the ideal Taoist sage.

The Tao Te Ching, also known as the Dao De Jing, presumes that when things are allowed to take their natural course, they move with precision and harmony. In such a case, the eternal way of the universe (Dao) is not hindered. The opening sentences of the Tao Te Ching acknowledge that it is impossible to accurately define the Dao.

The Dao that can be expressed in words is not the eternal Dao, from which the entire world has emerged. The Dao incorporates the values of both yin and yang, holding them in balance. Arguing that the Dao is overly dominated by yang, the Tao Te Ching emphasizes counterbalancing with yin qualities like nonbeing, quietness, low position, reversion, oneness with nature, and spontaneity.

Taoism began as a philosophy, and later developed into a religion, although both traditions still exist within Taoism.

Although Lao-Tzu (Laozi) is often cited as the founder of Taoism due to his authorship of the Tao Te Ching, he drew from a much longer tradition.

By the 2nd century BCE, some Taoists had come to consider Lao-Tzu to be a god. An inscription from the Han Dynasty says that when he died, his left eye became the sun, his right eye the moon, and his head became the Kunlun Mountains. His flesh became the animals, his belly the sea, his intestines the snakes, his fingers the Five Peaks, and his body hair the grass and trees. His heart became a constellation and his kidneys became the Mother and Father of the Real. This was perhaps a little over the top.

In some ways, Taoism is the opposite of Confucianism. While Confucianism seeks to perfect men and women within the world, Taoism turns away from society to contemplate nature. The Dao was viewed as a metaphysical absolute, and a philosophical transformation of the earlier god. The goal of a Confucian was to become a sage or a servant of society, the goal of a Taoist was to become an immortal.

As Taoism evolved from a secular philosophy to a religion, Taoists revived the belief in personal deities, began practicing a life of prayer and appeasement.

Taoism emphasizes the themes of the Tao Te Ching and Zhuangzi, particularly wu wei, a concept that includes non-action, non-doing, and non-forcing, allowing nature to take its course. Spontaneity, simplicity, and detachment from personal desires are also stressed.

The cosmology of Taoism is cyclic, sharing the views of the School of Yin-Yang, in which the universe is viewed as being in a state of constant recreation. As human beings are a microcosm of the universe, by understanding oneself, one can better understand the universe.

Taoism is pantheistic, holding that reality is the same thing as divinity, and that god is made up of everything that exists. Taoist orders generally present the Three Pure Ones (Yuanshi Tianzun, Lingbao Tianzun, Daode Tianzun) as being at the top of the pantheon of deities.

The taijitu, commonly known as the yin and yang symbol, has important in Taoism, although it originated much later, around the 10th century CE. Prior to that, a tiger and a dragon symbolized yin and yang.

Often the taijitu is depicted surrounded by the bagua, which are eight trigram symbols used to represent the fundamental principles of reality as seen through eight concepts.

Square or triangular flags are sometimes flown over Taoist temples. Generally, they feature writing or diagrams that are intended to bring good fortune, increase lifespan, provide guidance to the dead, or fulfill some other function.

Sometimes a zigzag with seven stars is displayed. This represents the Big Dipper, which was once believed to be a deity or to show the path of a god.

Most Chinese people have been influenced in some way by Taoism, and in recent years the communist government of China has encouraged a revival of Taoist traditions, although in codified settings. Slightly more than 30% of the population of Taiwan identify as Taoists, while just over 10% of the populations of Hong Kong and Singapore so identify.

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