Taoism originated in China.The Shang had been centered on a relationship between an earthly ruler and his ancestors.The eastern Zhou brought economic and social changes.Religion and politics continue to be intertwined, as they had been in the Shang. During the latter centuries of the Eastern Zhou there was an intensive cultural debate about Tao.
Many elements of Shang dynasty religion found their way into Taoism. Divination rituals were also regularly practiced as a means of communicating with the ancestors. After death, an individual sought to advance to the divine bureaucracy. The ancient Chinese nobility did not develop elaborate ideas about the afterlife, perhaps because the focus remained on the world of the living, despite the fact that it was believed to be controlled in many ways by the dead.
Laozi's biography is based on legend, but the biographies of most significant religious figures, especially the "founders of the great religious traditions". Sima Qian's biography, is a older legend. According to the account, Laozi, believed that the state of Zhou was in decline, he decided to leave China. At the western pass, the gatekeeper insisted that before he left, he should record his teachings for posterity. The Taode jing was the result.
Many westerners are most familiar with the Taode jing and Zhuangzi, but there are thousands of Taoist scriptures. The Taode jing and Zhuangzi belong to the age during which scholars produced discourses about the way rather than to subsequent centuries of "received" or "channeled" transmissions from divine beings. All of these texts were written sometime during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770-221 B.C.E.).
From the time of the Jesuit presence in China in the 16th - 18th centuries until the late 1970s, western scholars divided philosophical Taoism from religious Taoism. The former was regarded as a sophisticated and appealing philosophy of life, while the later was denigrated as superstitious nonsense. This attitude was influenced by Confucian scholars who were the Jesuits' primary contacts. The belief that Taoism was "a religion without a god" ignored entirely the presence of a large pantheon of deities in favor of the philosophical ideas presented in the Taode jing and Zhuangzi.