By far the most interesting of the Chinese political philosophers were the Taoists, founded by the immensely important but shadowy figure of Lao Tzu. Little is known about Lao Tzu's life, but he was apparently a contemporary and personal acquaintance of Confucius. Like the latter he came originally from the state of Sung and was a descendant of lower aristocracy of the Yin dynasty. Both men lived in a time of turmoil, wars and statism, but each reacted very differently. For Lao Tzu worked out the view that the individual and his happiness was the key unit of society. If social institutions hampered the individual's flowering and his happiness, then those institutions should be reduced or abolished altogether. To the individualist Lao Tzu, government, with its "laws and regulations more numerous than the hairs of an ox," was a vicious oppressor of the individual, and "more to be feared than fierce tigers." Government, in sum, must be limited to the smallest possible minimum; "inaction" became the watchword for Lao Tzu, since only inaction of government can permit the individual to flourish and achieve happiness. Any intervention by government, he declared, would be counterproductive, and would lead to confusion and turmoil. The first political economist to discern the systemic effects of government intervention, Lao Tzu, after referring to the common experience of mankind, came to his penetrating conclusion: "The more artificial taboos and restrictions there are in the world, the more the people are impoverished — The more that laws and regulations are given prominence, the more thieves and robbers there will be."
The worst of government interventions, according to Lao Tzu, was heavy taxation and war. "The people hunger because theft superiors consume an excess in taxation" and, "where armies have been stationed, thorns and brambles grow. After a great war, harsh years of famine are sure to follow."
The wisest course is to keep the government simple and inactive, for then the world "stabilizes itself."
Two centuries later, Lao Tzu's great follower Chuang Tzu (369–c.286 BC) built on the master's ideas of laissez-faire to push them to their logical conclusion: individualist anarchism ..
Taoist thought flourished for several centuries, culminating in the most determinedly anarchistic thinker, Pao Ching-yen ..
The only Chinese with notable views in the more strictly economic realm was the distinguished second century B.C. historian, Ssu-ma Ch'ien (145-c.90 BC). Ch'ien was an advocate of laissez-faire ..