As an ancient Chinese author and philosopher, little is known about Lao Tzu; many claims are made, but little can be definitively verified. Generally speaking, Lao Tzu is believed to be the author of the Tao Te Ching, the foundational text in the belief system known as Taoism. This philosophy requires one to live in harmony with the Tao, or the natural order that runs through all aspects of the universe. Because of his perceived authorship of this text, Lao Tzu is perceived by many to be a deity.
Yet there are many aspects of Lao Tzu’s life that are still open for considerable debate. The earliest reference to him can be found in the 1st century AD in the writings entitled Records of the Grand Historian. However, the specific time period he is linked to is unknown. Some suggest that he was a contemporary of Confucius in the 6th century BC; much of this can be traced to artwork created during the Han Dynasty. Others, however, believe that Lao Tzu lived during the 4th century BC in a period of time referred to as the Warring States period of the Qin Dynasty. Additionally, two prominent groups of people – those who served as emperors of the Tang Dynasty and those with the Li name – believe he is the origin of their ancestry. Even his name varies in its interpretation, including the version that became more common in the 20th century, Lao Tzu, as well as Laozi and Lao Tze.