The Tao Te Ching, along with the Zhuangzi, is a fundamental text for both philosophical and religious Taoism. It also strongly influenced other schools of Chinese philosophy and religion, including Legalism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, which was largely interpreted through the use of Taoist words and concepts when it was originally introduced to China. Many Chinese artists, including poets, painters, calligraphers, and gardeners, have used the Tao Te Ching as a source of inspiration. Its influence has spread widely outside East Asia and it is among the most translated works in world literature.
Tao Te Ching is the Wade-Giles romanization of the same name as the pinyin Daodejing and should be pronounced in the same way.[a] That is, its ⟨t⟩s should be pronounced closer to English ⟨d⟩s. The Chinese characters in the title are:
The first character can be considered to modify the second or can be understood as standing alongside it in modifying the third. Thus, Tao Te Ching can be translated as The Classic of the Way's Virtue(s), The Book of the Tao and Its Virtue, or The Book of the Way and of Virtue. It has also been translated as The Tao and its Characteristics, The Canon of Reason and Virtue, The Classic Book of Integrity and the Way, and A Treatise on the Principle and Its Action.
Ancient Chinese books were commonly referenced by the name of their real or supposed author, in this case the "Old Master", Laozi or Lao-tze. As such, the Tao Te Ching is also sometimes referred to as The Lao-tze, especially in Chinese sources.
The Tao Te Ching has a long and complex textual history. Known versions and commentaries date back two millennia, including ancient bamboo, silk, and paper manuscripts discovered in the twentieth century.