Famous people who may never have existed

Lao Dan

The founder of Taoism, ancient Chinese philosopher Lao “Laozi” Dan is a revered figure indeed. Those who do so, however, may be looking up to a made-up master.

According to GB Times, there’s a ton of confusion regarding Lao Dan, including his name. Some believe Lao Dan was his real name, while others think scholar Sima Qian — among the first to write of Dan — confused stories he heard about Laozi with that of another philosopher, Li Er.  According to this theory, he mistakenly combined the names to come up with Laozi, or Lao Dan. But Laozi was also a term of respect for Laoist teachers, complicating the matter even further.

Then there’s his writings. Supposedly, Dan wrote the Tao Te Ching, but reading it’s like reading the same book by several different authors. There are many shifts in tone, style, and content, and we currently have little proof the book’s language was even used when the book was supposedly published. Likely, then, Laozi’s writings were written long after Lao Dan supposedly lived and died, and probably several people cobbled “his” life-affirming teachings together into one semi-coherent package. It’s like if all the stories in Chicken Soup For The Soul were credited to one guy named Bill.