Laozi did not promote Daoism as a religion, and in fact the idea of religious practice with a church hierarchy, rituals and iconography is quite contrary to the original spirit of Daoism. Nevertheless, as the popularity of Daoism grew over the centuries, a religious practice and organizational structure developed. In the Tang dynasty, the emperor Gao Zong (reigned A.D. 650 - 684) canonized Laozi as Taishang yuanxuan huangdi, "Great Emperor of the First Foundations" (of Daoism), and sculptures such as this stele were produced for temples and private shrines, following the style and iconography of Buddhist sculptures.
A similar small stone stele with the same triad showing Laozi and acolytes above kneeling donor figures flanking an inscription dated A.D. 725 is in the Yamato Bunkakan Museum, Nara, Japan, published in the Illustrated Catalogue of the Museum Yamato Bunkakan Series, No. 5, 1992, p. 31, no. 32. Compare, also, the similar Daoist stele with donor figures and dedicatory inscription including a date corresponding to A.D. 741, excavated in Shanxi province in 1987, and included in a travelling exhibition in Australia, illustrated in the catalogue Imperial China: The Living Past, Sydney, 1992, p. 79, no. 55.