Difference between Taoism and Daoism

Key difference: The key difference between the two terms ‘Taoism’ and ‘Daoism’ is based on their version and usage of the romanization system.

Taoism is a great philosophical and religious tradition that originated in China; it is sometimes also referred to as Daoism. In Chinese, the word ‘Tao’ means ‘the way’, the force that flows through all life in the universe. It is considered to be the driving force behind everything that exists. The objective of Taoism is for a person to align harmoniously with the ‘Tao’ i.e. to achieve immortality by taking the right path in life.

This concept of Taoism was introduced by Laozi (Lao Tzu); he wrote a book named ‘Tao Te Ching’ which was a compact and ambiguous book based on the principle of philosophy and politics. Although, the two terms mean the same and are used as similar references, the difference between the two words is based on their romanization system.

In linguistics, the term ‘Taoism’ and ‘Daoism’ are different English phonetic adaptations of that word. The term ‘Tao’ is from a romanization created by the early European traders to help them understand the Chinese language. Phonetically, it is close but not always identical to the word in their sound. In 1958, the Chinese government adopted pinyin, a Romanization that is more consistent with the phonetic sounds in the, government accepted, Mandarin dialect. In pinyin, the character is spelled and pronounced as ‘Dao’.

In English, the difference between the terms ‘Taoism’ and ‘Daoism’ is based on their sinology, phonemes, loanwords, and pronunciation. The root meaning of the terms, ‘the way’, is romanized as ‘Tao’ in the older Wade–Giles system, while the term ‘Dao’ is used in the modern Pinyin system.

In standard Chinese, the term ‘道’ is pronounced as ‘Tao’ with a tone. However, the same tone cannot be reproduced by most native English speakers, which is why, the term ‘道’ is pronounced as ‘Dao’ by them. Though, the argument is not about which term is correct, but it is more about which term, when read aloud, has a better pronunciation in Chinese. Also, with several systems for the Chinese pronunciations, the Pinyin system was considered the far more accurate system for the Chinese sounds than the Wade–Giles system.

Even though the oldest system for transcribing Chinese into the Roman alphabet is the Wade-Giles, and the term ‘Taoism’ is more familiar and older than ‘Daoism’, the modern Pinyin system is fast gaining grounds in the international standards. It is the official system of romanization used by the governments of the People's Republic of China, Singapore and Taiwan. Though, many sinologists increasingly prefer the term Daoism, traditionalists continue using the well-known Taoism.

Comparison between Taoism and Daoism:





The way

The way


It is used in the Wade–Giles system.

It is used in the Pinyin system.


It is an older and more traditional term.

It is a modern term.

Image Courtesy: abodetao.com

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