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Creator / Laozi

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I know how birds can fly, fishes swim, and animals run. The runner may be snared, the swimmer hooked, and the flyer shot by the arrow. But there is the dragon: I cannot tell how he mounts on the wind through the clouds, and rises to heaven. Today I have seen Lao-tzu, and can only compare him to the dragon.
Confucius (attributed)

Laozi (older transliterations include Lao Tse, Lao-Tsu) was a Chinese philosopher, the author of Daodejing (Tao Te Ching), which, tradition says, he wrote while going into exile, at the request of one of the guards of the kingdom, and which is the central document of Daoism (Taoism).

As the quote shows, Daoism was big on The Only Way They Will Learn. Heavily favoring peace and quietness, the ideal ruler (or Reasonable Authority Figure) will lead people into peace and prosperity so gently that they are unaware of his existence; a king the people proclaim is good is only second best. Politically-minded readers will recognise this as one of the earliest forms of what later became known as free-market 'Classical Liberalism', with many Chinese states after Laozi ruling with a very 'light' touch (few taxes, little bureaucracy, etcetc). The work is also sometimes considered the Ur-Example or Trope Maker for anarchism, although Laozi did not call himself an anarchist (the term hadn't been invented yet). Many men have cited him as the reason why they prefer Home Sweet Home to the dangers of the Decadent Court.

Traditionally, he is said to have lived from 600 BC to 470 BC, contemporaneously with Confucius (hence the page quote); historians generally think he either is a mythic figure, with the Daodejing actually being a compilation, or actually lived during the Warring States period in 4th century BC.

A note on the name: Laozi (老子) is an honorific title that literally translates as "Old Master". His personal name is Li Er (李耳), his courtesy name is Boyang (trad. 伯陽, simp. 伯阳), and his posthumous name is Li Dan (李聃).

Tropes featured in Daodejing

  • Ambition Is Evil: Sanctioning it is the greatest guilt.
  • Crossover: His legendary meeting with Confucius, the other famous Chinese philosopher, in Luoyang.
  • Evil Weapon: All weapons.
    Now arms, however beautiful, are instruments of evil omen, hateful, it may be said, to all creatures.
  • Home Sweet Home: A calm and frugal life are worthy of respect.
  • Koan: Though Laozi technically lived well before Zen Buddhism was a thing, many of his (purported) statements are very Koan-like, including the page quote. The story of how Daodejing came about is that he went on one of his Walking the Earth trips (that he ultimately never returned from) and the gate guard, trying to be Genre Savvy, begged Laozi to leave behind his words for eternity. How much of this book (that begins with a preface declaring any idea which can be pinned down in concrete terms is ultimately worthless) is Laozi simply humoring a request or being a massive Troll is up for debate. (Zen Buddhism isn't above trolling for the specific purpose of inducing enlightenment, so that may also have been Laozi's intention.)
  • Making a Splash: Water's ability to wear down things get extensive play.
    Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.
  • The Quiet One:
    Abstaining from speech marks him who is obeying the spontaneity of his nature.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Suffice to say, whether he was a real person at all is debatable, and he has taken on a mythical status. Confucius himself referred to him as "the Dragon" to describe him, a term that reflected wisdom and divinity.
  • Tears of Remorse: Appropriate for a successful general.
  • Walking the Earth: As long as you're not going anywhere in particular
  • War Is Hell:
    He who delights in the slaughter of men cannot get his will in the kingdom.