据西汉司马迁《史记·老子传》记载,老子是楚国苦县厉乡曲仁里人,姓李,名耳,字聃,担任过东周守藏室之史的官职。孔子曾问礼于老子,并称赞老子像龙一样高深莫测。老子后来见周朝衰落,便辞官隐居。西行至函谷关时,关令尹喜知其为圣人,便恳请老子著书传世。老子于是写下了五千余言,就是传颂千古的不朽名著《道德经》。
 
The first known attempt to write a biography of Laozi is in the Shi ji (Records of the Historian, chapter 63), by Sima Qian (145 – 90 BC). According to this text, Laozi's surname was Li; his personal name was Er, and his courtesy name was Dan. Laozi was born in Quren District, Wan Town, Ku Country in the State of Chu. Laozi had been an archivist of the Eastern Zhou dynasty. Confucius sought instruction in the rites from Laozi, and highly praised Laozi’s ideas. Witnessing the decline of the Zhou, Laozi left China. When he reached Hangu Guan (the northwest border) which then separated China from the outside world, Yin Xi, the official in charge of the border pass, asked that he put his thoughts to writing. The result was a book consisting of some five thousand Chinese characters, which discusses “the meaning of Tao and virtue”. This is the famous Chinese classic – the Daodejing.
 
汉代道教兴起后,奉老子为道祖,尊称为太上老君。唐朝皇室又奉老子为祖先,尊称为圣祖玄元皇帝。
 
When Taoism was rising in the Han dynasty, Laozi was first worshiped and seen as the personification of the Tao at the Han court in the second century A.D., and was respected as “Taishang Laojun”, the Supreme Lord Lao. The royal family of the Tang dynasty, taking Laozi as its ancestor, worshipped him and honored him with the name of the Sagely Ancestor Emperor of the Mysterious Origin.
 
二十世纪二三十年代,关于老子其人其书的问题,曾有一次集中的讨论,主要争论在于老子是否确有其人,老子与《道德经》是怎样的关系。当时有三种不同意见,一是以胡适、马叙伦、唐兰、郭沫若、高亨等人为代表,认为老聃在孔子之前,《道德经》是老聃遗说的发挥。二是以梁启超、冯友兰、罗根泽、范文澜、侯外庐等人为代表,认为老子是战国时人,《道德经》是战国时书。三是顾颉刚等认为《道德经》成书于秦汉之际,今本《道德经》一书“非一人之言,亦非一时之书”。
 
The authenticity of Laozi and his Daodejing had been questioned, and was the topic of much scholarly debate in 1920s and 1930s. There were three different opinions: one group of scholars, including Hu Shi, Ma Xulun, Tang Lan, Guo Moruo and Gao Heng, considered that Lao Dan was a person who lived before Confucius, and that the Daodejing was a commentary on Laozi’s thoughts; the second group was composed of Liang Qichao, Feng Youlan, Luo Genze, Fan Wenlan and Hou Wailu, who argued that Laozi lived in the of Warring States Period, and thus that the Daodejing was written in this period; the opinion of the third group, which included such scholars as Gu Jiegang, considered that the Daodejing was composed between the Qin and the Han dynasties, and that the current edition of the Daodejing had various authors in different periods.
 
最近十多年来,由于战国竹简本《道德经》的发现,许多学者又对《道德经》的成书年代问题从多方面进行了重新考证,倾向于肯定《道德经》为老子所著,但不排除有后人增补和改动的地方。
 
In recent decades, the discovery of the “bamboo-slip” Daodejing dating from the Warring States Period, has rekindled debates on the origin and composition of the Daodejing. Many scholars have been inclined to agree that the Daodejing was written by Laozi, but might have been added to and revised by later scholars.
 
《道德经》一书文约义丰,思想深邃。老子以富有诗韵的语言,探讨了宇宙的形成、自然的规律、国家的治理、身心的修养等一系列重要问题,提出了“道”、“自然”、“无为”等著名的哲学概念,在中国思想史上产生了巨大的影响。
 
The Daodejing was recognized as a “classic” (jing) -- that is, a terse work of such profound insight as to merit canonical status. Laozi explored the formation of the universe, the rules of nature, the management of a country, and the training of one’s body and mind with his poetic language. It is concerned with the “Way” or Tao and how it finds expression in “virtue” or de, especially through what the text calls “spontaneity” or “naturalness” (ziran) and “non-action” (wuwei). These concepts had a significant impact on the history of Chinese philosophy.