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The Abduction of Modernity (Part 4)

Part 4: Taoism and modernity
By Henry C K Liu

Part 1: The race toward barbarism
Part 2: That old time religion
Part 3: Rule of law vs Confucianism

To Taoists, modernity is a meaningless concept because truth is timeless and life goes in circles. In post-modern thinking in the West, much of the awareness that Taoists have entertained for centuries is just now surfacing. Even in military strategy, Sun Tzu’s On the Art of War (Sunzi Bingfa), an ancient Taoist military treatise (500 BC), is now much in vogue in this modern age of weapons of mass destruction and remote-controlled precision bombs.

Historians are uncertain of the historical facts regarding Laozi, founder of Taoism. The name itself casts doubt on Laozi’s identity. Ad verbum, it simply means “old sage”. Colloquially, the term laozi in modern Chinese has come to mean an arrogant version of “yours truly”. The earliest documented information on Laozi appears in the classic Records of the Historian (Shi Ji), written by historian Sima Qian in 108 BC during the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). It describes Laozi as a person named Li Er (born around 604 BC) who worked as a librarian in the court of the State of Eastern Zhou (Dong Zhou) during the Spring and Autumn Period (Chunqiu, 770-481 BC).

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