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The Beginnings of Religious Taoism

  Deified Laozi (Detail)
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Deified Laozi (detail)
Tang dynasty,
late 7th/early 8th century
h. 56 cm
Museum für Ostasiatische
Kunst, Cologne;
acquisition made
possible by the
Ministry of
Cultural Affairs
of the Land
of Northrhine-
the Association of
the Friends of the
Museum of East
Asian Art,
Cologne, and an
private donor
cat. no. 39


Deified Laozi

After a period of rapid growth and consolidation in the second to sixth centuries A.D., religious Taoism reached its first peak when China was reunited by the Tang dynasty. Based on the fact that they had the same family name (Li), the Tang imperial family claimed to be descended from Laozi, whose full name was Li Dan. In the Tang dynasty, Taoism became a national religion and was seen as both a means of spiritual fulfillment and a tool to strengthen the emperor's political power. The imperial family sponsored the establishment of Taoist temples all over the country, and Taoist priests played an important role at court.

Laozi is here depicted as both a perfected god at the top of the Taoist pantheon and a royal ancestor who represents the divinity of the ruling family. The balanced proportions of the statue suggest Laozi to be an ideal being free of human weakness or imperfection. This stands in stark contrast to the Portrait of Laozi by Muqi.




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