God of the Dao

Lord Lao in History and Myth
Volume 84
Livia Kohn
Illuminates the Laozi (Lao-tzu) story and its force in shaping traditional Chinese religion


Lord Lao, first known as the philosopher Laozi, the purported author of the Daode jing, later became an immortal, a messiah, and high god of Daoism. Laozi, divinized during the Han dynasty and in early Daoist movements, reached his highest level of veneration under the Tang when the rulers honored him as a royal ancestor. In subsequent eras he remained prominent and is still a major deity in China today.

Livia Kohn's two-part study first traces the historical development of Lord Lao and the roles he played at different times for different believers. Part Two is based on one of Lord Lao's major hagiographies, the twelfth-century Youlong zhuan (Like Unto a Dragon), and studies the complex myth surrounding him. Lord Lao appears in eight distinct mythical roles, each associated with a particular phase in his life: He is the creator of the universe, bringer of cosmic order, teacher of dynasties, and the divine made flesh on earth. He is also the converter of the barbarians, the source of major Daoist revelations, and the god of Great Peace and political harmony. Comparing his story with related Confucian, Buddhist, and Western mythic tropes, Kohn illuminates the dynamics of the Daoist tale and persuades us to appreciate Lord Lao as a key deity of traditional China. Includes illustrations and tables.

Livia Kohn is Professor of Religion and East Asian Studies, Boston University; Adjunct Professor of Chinese Studies, Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest, Hungary; and Visiting Professor of Japanese Religion, Stanford Center for Technology and Innovation, Kyoto, Japan. Her most recent book is Lao-tzu and the Tao-te-ching.

Praise / Awards

  • "This monograph undoubtedly is a very serious scholarly study absolutely necessary to every student of the Chinese culture and Chinese religions."
    —Evgeny Torchinov, Review of Bibliography in Sinology, 2000
  • ". . . ambitious and edifying. . . . [M]akes an outstanding contribution to the field of Daoist studies."
    —Stephen Eskildsen, Monumenta Serica 50, 2002

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 406pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 1999
  • Available
  • 978-0-89264-128-4

Add to Cart
  • $60.00 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 1999
  • Available
  • 978-0-89264-133-8

Add to Cart
  • $26.00 U.S.