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Ancient China
Lao Tzu



Lao Tzu
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 7 to 9
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   6.72

Vocabulary
     challenging words:    dogma, non-action, over-displaying, over-emphasizing, over-praising, record-keeper, unchanging, wu-wei, contention, limitless, profound, re-established, best, indulge, invasion, administration
     content words:    Zhou Youwang, And Baosi, Zhou Pingwang, Western Zhou, Eastern Zhou, Because China, Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Li Erh, Imperial Library


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Lao Tzu
By Vickie Chao
  

1     For a long time, from the 11th century B.C. to 771 B.C., China was like a federated state with the Zhou dynasty being the predominant player. In the early days of this dynasty, things were great. Its first few rulers were compassionate and fair. Under their leadership, the society was prosperous and peaceful. But unfortunately, the good days did not last forever. By the time that the 12th king, Zhou Youwang, ascended the throne in 781 B.C., the Zhou dynasty was already in turmoil. To make matters worse, Zhou Youwang had absolutely no interest in governing. All he cared about was having fun. Sometime during his reign, probably around 779 B.C., he met a beautiful girl named Baosi and fell in love with her right away. To indulge her, he abdicated his queen and gave the title to her. This promotion, which made the couple's son the new heir apparent, certainly pleased the young girl, but she still looked rather gloomy and hardly smiled. Hoping to see her laugh, Zhou Youwang thought to play a prank on his vassals by lighting up all the beacons. When the vassals saw the fires, they quickly prepared their troops and rushed to the designated meeting place for rescue. As they all arrived in haste, they looked disheveled and out of breath. Seeing how confused the soldiers were, Baosi finally broke a smile. Several years later, in 771 B.C., a western tribe invaded the Zhou dynasty. To raise the alarm, Zhou Youwang lit up the beacons once again. But no vassals came. They all thought it was a joke. In the end, Zhou Youwang was killed. And Baosi disappeared without a trace. After that disaster, Zhou Pingwang moved the administration to a new location and re-established the Zhou dynasty. Historians called the era before the invasion the Western Zhou dynasty and the era after that the Eastern Zhou dynasty (770 B.C. - 256 B.C.)
 
2     The Eastern Zhou dynasty was a very important period in Chinese history. Because China was deeply divided at the time, there were many competing schools of thought. Each had its own theory and ideal form of government. Among the top contenders, Lao Tzu (also spelled as Laozi) was probably the most obscure figure. Yet, his dogma has had a profound impact on the ways the Chinese people think and behave. And his book, Tao Te Ching, has never gone out of print!
 
3     Lao Tzu was said to be from the state of Chu. His real name was Li Erh. According to legends, he was a contemporary of Confucius, China's greatest teacher and most celebrated philosopher. He worked as a record-keeper in the Imperial Library of the Eastern Zhou dynasty. One day, he came to realize that the kingdom was on the decline. Hoping to extract himself from the mess, he quit his job and embarked on a voyage to the West. At the Hangu Pass, the guard there recognized that this passenger was no ordinary person and begged him to leave behind some words of wisdom. With that request in mind, Lao Tzu wrote the famous Tao Te Ching. This short treatise (about 5,000 words) consisted of 2 sections and 81 chapters. The first section was called "Tao" which literally means "the way." The second part was called "Te" or virtue. Put together, the title can be translated to The Book of the Way and its Virtue. Supposedly, after Lao Tzu finished this thin volume, he crossed the pass and was never seen or heard again!

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