The Tao Te Ching
, or Dao De Jing
, when literally translated, means 道 dào "way"
; 德 dé "virtue"
; 經 jīng "classic" or "text"
. According to tradition, it was written around the 6th century BC by the sage Laozi (or Lao Tzu, "Old Master"), a record-keeper at the Zhou Dynasty court, by whose name the text is known in China. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact date of the text; but the late 4th century BC is the earliest known excavation.
The text is fundamental to both philosophical and religious Taoism
and strongly influenced other schools, such as Legalism, Confucianism and Chinese Buddhism, which when first introduced into China was largely interpreted through the use of Daoist words and concepts. Many Chinese artists, including poets, painters, calligraphers, and even gardeners have used the Daodejing as a source of inspiration. Its influence has also spread widely outside East Asia, and is amongst the most translated works in world literature.
The Wade–Giles romanization "Tao Te Ching" dates back to early English transliterations in the late 19th century; its influence can be seen in words and phrases that have become well-established in English. "Daodejing" is the pinyin romanization.