This chronology is for the purposes of general orientation. Many of
the earlier dates, including those for Lao-tzu, are matters for dispute;
sometimes scholars disagree over a range of some centuries!
(BCE = Before the Common Era, CE = Of the Common Era)
|2697 BCE||Huang Ti (The Yellow Emperor)|
|ca. 440 – 350 BCE||Yang Chu (Taoist Philosopher)|
|ca. 570 BCE||Lao-tzu (Taoist Philosopher)|
|ca. 399 – 295 BCE||Chuang-tzu (Taoist Littérateur)|
|?||Lieh-tzu (Taoist Philosopher)|
|d. 122 BCE||Huai-nan Tzu (Princely Metaphysician)|
|27 – 100 CE||Wang Ch'ung (Rationalist Sceptic)|
|d. 157 – 178 CE||Chang Ling (First Celestial Master)|
|225 – 249 CE||Wang Pi (Neo-Taoist)|
|d. 312 CE||Kuo Hsiang (Neo-Taoist)|
|fl. 317 CE||Ko Hung (Taoist Eclectic)|
Taoism began more than 2500 years ago, when certain quasi-shamanistic herbalists laboured in north-eastern China to produce increased health and longevity through herbal mixtures. They later were called fang-shihs or "prescriptioners", and they began to also use mineral components in their mixtures. In this period (the Chou Dynasty, 1111 – 249 BCE) philosophical thinkers with a naturalistic, individualistic and mystical bent began to theorise about the Tao. Later, in the subsequent Wei-Chin Period (220 – 420 CE), the Neo-Taoists formed two schools: The Pure Converstion (ch'ing-t'an) Taoists aimed at a literary elegance, freedom from worldly conventions, and naturalness. The Mysterious-Study (hsüan-hsüeh) Taoists commented on the great philosophical classics and tried to demonstrate the harmony between Taoism and Confucianism.
The Taoist Church may be said to begin with the First Celestial Master (T'ien Shih) Chang Ling, who was followed by a succession of "Taoist Popes" until 1927, when a Communist section of a Nationalist army deposed the last from his tradional seat on Dragon-Tiger Mountain (Lung-hu Shan).
Taoist Alchemy is best represented by Wei Po-yang (fl. 140 CE). It still is practised today in its internal (yogic) form.
Although no outstanding names are given in the table above after the 4th Century, Taoism was influential in the T'ang Dynasty (618 - 907 CE), and Taoist-inspired landscape painting and t'ai-chi ch'üan were developed and flourished in later dynasties. Taoist practicioners of religious, mystical and internal-alchemical Taoism exist to the present day in unbroken succession with the figures of old.
The major independent religious Taoist organisation today is the I Kuan Tao, a vegetarian spiritualist form of Taoism worshiping religious figures from many world religions.