It is believed that the origin of Taoism can be traced back to the tradition of remote antiquity, while some also argue that it was first initiated by the officials in charge of temple rites. However, people who first had Taoist thoughts were not active social and political participants. They observed the world as onlookers, seriously pondering the truth of universe, and using highly abstract language to describe the rules of human nature in society. Their specialty lay in the study about principles.
After Laozi and Zhuangzi built the foundation for Taoist thoughts in the pre-Qin period, the profoundness of Taoism immediately influenced the metaphysical thoughts of Confucianism and Legalism. The political and social influence of Taoism only began during the Han Dynasty after centuries of social unrest when people realized the harm of war and importance of recuperation. At the prime time of the Western Han Dynasty when wars began again, the ethos of the time changed and Taoism declined. In the Wei and Jin dynasties, Taoism revived with the prevalence of metaphysical discussions. After that, there was no distinct creation in Taoism theories, but Zhuangzi"s ideas inspired Confucianism. Over a long period, Buddhists also applied the Taoist notion of "nothing" to express ideas.
Taoist philosophy is an integral and basic element of the vast and diverse Chinese civilization alongside mainstream Confucianism and Buddhism. Taoism or the School of Tao refers to a set of philosophical teachings and religious practices rooted in a specific metaphysical understanding of the Chinese character Dao (usually known as Tao).
Taoism weighs as much as Confucianism in Chinese culture, while Confucianism plays a more obvious role in Chinese politics. The profoundness of Taoism theories provides a headspring for almost all the other Chinese philosophy traditions. Taoism influences in Chinese art, painting, literature, and carving are more important than any other philosophy in China. It is fair to say that traditional Chinese art is the art of Taoism. Meanwhile, Taoism supplies an alternative choice for Chinese intellectuals other than Confucian ideal of actively involving in the society.
Taoism has had a deep and long-lasting influence in many domains of Chinese culture, including the arts, literature, medicine, and cuisine. It has spread widely throughout East Asia. Taoism emphasizes freedom, nature, cosmology, self-cultivation, and even the search for immortality.
Being different from that of Confucianism, the social philosophy of Taoism is not aggressive, or positive. Because society is only a process that materializes the Tao, it is not the ultimate purpose of living. From the perspective of Taoism, Confucianism is rational, but it does not boast absolute values, thus a set of measures to build the "ideal society," as in Confucian social philosophy, is not necessary. What Taoists emphasize most is the basic principles to survive in society, which should prove to be effective under any kind of historical conditions. Unlike Confucian social philosophy, the focus is not self-cultivation, but rather the wisdom to respond to various conditions in the society, meeting people"s needs for rehabilitation and recuperation.
Taoism provides the theoretic foundation for recuperation policy at the beginning of the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD). Meanwhile, Taoism also provides a place to retreat for traditional Chinese officials who failed in Confucianism-dominated officialdom. This is still a big area subject area for Chinese scholars to explore, helping to complement Confucianism.