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Daoism–Taoism romanization issue

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Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Vietnamese name
Vietnameseđạo giáo
Korean name
Japanese name
Hiraganaどう きょう

The English words Daoism (/ˈd.ɪzəm/) and Taoism (/ˈd.ɪzəm/ or /ˈt.ɪzəm/) are alternative romanizations for the same-named Chinese philosophy and religion. The root for Daoism or Taoism is the Chinese word ("road" or "way"), which was transcribed tao or tau in the earliest systems for the romanization of Chinese and dào in 20th century systems, including Pinyin.

Romanizations of 道[edit]

The earliest surviving Romanization of the Chinese word for "road" or "way" is that to be found in the Ruggieri-Ricci collaborative dictionary compiled between 1583 and 1588 in Chaoking. There the word appears "táo", (pronounced as in "doubt" without the "bt").[1]:190 Ruggieri-Ricci systematically used Latin p and t for unaspirated Chinese sounds that Pinyin renders as b and d.[2]

Nicolas Trigault in his De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas of 1615, a rewrite of an earlier manuscript of Ricci entitled Della entrata della Compagnia di Gesù e christianità nella Cina,[1]:178 called the adherents of Laozi, Tausu (Chinese: 道士, Pinyin: Daoshi),[3] which was rendered as Tausa in an early English translation published by Samuel Purchas (1625).[4]

The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.) records this progression of occurrences over the succeeding centuries: Tao 1736, Tau 1747, Taouism and Taouist 1838, Taoistic 1856, Tao-ism 1858, Taoism 1903, Daoism 1948, Dao and Daoist 1971. From as early as 1927, orthographers of Chinese represented the unaspirated initial with the letter "d" instead of "t".[5]

Many scholars prefer the more familiar term "Taoism", arguing that it is now an English word in its own right; the term "Daoism" is becoming increasingly popular.[6] One commentator, coining the term "Popular Western Taoism", identifies the pronunciation of "Taoism" with an aspirated "t" as a distinguishing feature of the branch of the religion the existence of which is postulated by him.[7]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Ruggieri, Michele; Ricci, Matteo (2001). John W Witek, SJ, ed. Portuguese-Chinese Dictionary. Institutio Portugues de Oriente, Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History, University of San Francisco.
  2. Gallagher (trans.) & Trigault 1953, pp. 606–616 ("Chinese Index", which is based largely on Pasquale d'Elia's Fonti Ricciane, and Lien-Shen Yang's Topics in Chinese History)
  3. De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas suscepta ab Societate Jesu, Book One, Chapter 10, p. 125. Quote: "sectarii quidam Tausu vocant". Chinese gloss in Pasquale M. d' Elia, Matteo Ricci. Fonti ricciane: documenti originali concernenti Matteo Ricci e la storia delle prime relazioni tra l'Europa e la Cina (1579-1615), Libreria dello Stato, 1942; can be found by searching for "tausu" at https://books.google.com/books?id=zRw8AAAAMAAJ. Louis J. Gallagher (1953), apparently has a typo (Taufu instead of Tausu) in the text of his translation of this line (p. 102), and Tausi in the index (p. 615)
  4. A discourse of the Kingdome of China, taken out of Ricius and Trigautius, containing the countrey, people, government, religion, rites, sects, characters, studies, arts, acts ; and a Map of China added, drawne out of one there made with Annotations for the understanding thereof (excerpts from De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas, in English translation) in Purchas his Pilgrimes, Volume XII, p. 461 (1625). Quote: "... Lauzu ... left no Bookes of his Opinion, nor seemes to have intended any new Sect, but certaine Sectaries, called Tausa, made him the head of their sect after his death..." Can be found in the full text of "Hakluytus posthumus" on archive.org. The book also appears on Google Books, but only in snippet view.
  5. Yue, Carine Yuk-man (2013). "Directional Verbs in Cantonese: A Typological and Historical Study". Language and Linguistics. Hong Kong. 14:3: 560., referencing the 2nd ed. of O F Wisner's Beginning Cantonese of that year (though the point had been presaged by Wisner in the introduction to his 1st ed. (1906) of the same work and echoed by Jones & Woo in their Cantonese Phonetic Reader (1912), there noting Forchhammer's (1906) self-same method for English-speaking learners of Danish.
  6. Miller, James (2008). Daoism: A Beginner's Guide. Oneworld Publications. p. xiii.
  7. Palmer, David A; Siegler, Elijah (2017). Dream Trippers: Global Daoism and the Predicament of Modern Spirituality. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226484846.


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