Daoism, a Chinese philosophical and religious system, dates from about the 4th century BC. Among the native Chinese schools of thought, the influence of Daoism has been second only to that of Confucianism.
The essential Daoist philosophical and mystical beliefs can be found in the Daodejing : the writings attributed to the historical figure Laozi and possibly complied by followers as late as the 3rd century BC. Whereas Confucianism urged the individual to confirm to the standards of an ideal social system, Daoism maintain that the individual should ignore the dictates of society and seek only to confirm with the underlying pattern of the universe, known as the Dao, which can neither be described in the words nor conceived in thought. To be in accord with Dao, one has to “do nothing” (wuwei)–that is, nothing strained, artificial, or unnatural. Through spontaneous compliance with the impulses of one’s own essential nature and by emptying oneself of all doctrines and knowledge, one achieves unity with the Dao and derives from it a mystical power . This power enables one to transcend all mundane distinctions, even the distinction of life and death. At the sociopolitical level, the Daoists called for a return to primitive agrarian
Unsuited to the development of an explicit political theory, Daoism exerted its greatest influence on Chinese aesthetics, hygiene, and religion. Alongside the philosophical and mystical aspects, Daoism also developed on a popular level as a cult in which immorality was sought through magic and the use of various elixirs. Experimentation in alchemy, give way to the development between the 3rd and 6th centuries, of various “hygiene” cults that sought to prolong life. Their practices development into general hygiene system, still practiced, that stresses regular breathing exercises and meditative concentration to prevent disease and promote longevity.
In contemporary China, religious Daoism has tended to merge with popular Buddhism and other religious.