“Classical Taoism” never existed, either as a social entity or as a set of coherent ideas or values.” (Kirkland 2004)
Daoism is said to have emerged between the 6th and 3rd century BC although the definition of what Daoism constitutes and who contributed to it was only created in retrospective under the Han Dynasty in about 200 BC (Kirkland 2004). Two well-known personalities associated with Daoism are Zhuangzi and Laozi and their respective works. Yet, today it is contested to what extent these personalities wrote and composed the Zhuangzi and Dao De Jing themselves.
Daoism is a diverse philosophy and inspired by concepts and ideas from other Weltanschauungen like the religion of the Shang (1600 to 1028 BC) or the Yin-Yang Cosmology by the Han (206 BC to 221 CE). Daoism further overlaps with other prevailing philosophies of those times, like Confucianism, Buddhism, Mohism and and Legalist schools (Kirkland 2004, Kohn 2009). Consequentially, concrete boundaries of Daoism and other Chinese ancient philosophies remain fuzzy, since various philosophical strands simultaneously shaped contemporary thinking in China.
Daoism is the philosophy of the dao 道, which means “way” while “way” here implies the natural way of things. The two most striking principles in Daoism are the concept of dualism and the idea of cycles, which are both to be found in nature. This fundamental concept of putting nature or natural ‘principles’ at its centre makes Daoism very different from Western philosophy and Confucianism alike, another native Chinese philosophy.
Nature or ziran 自然 in Daoism is seen as a “self-organizing spontaneity” (Miller 2006) with a “capacity for autonomous self-transformation” (ibid.).