Thursday, September 11, 2008


Mozi , was a philosopher who lived in China during the Hundred Schools of Thought period . He founded the school of Mohism and argued strongly against Confucianism and Daoism. During the Warring States Period, Mohism was actively developed and practiced in many states, but fell out of favour when the Qin Dynasty came to power. During that period many Mohist classics were ruined when Qin Shihuang carried out the burning of books and burying of scholars. The importance of Mohism further declined when Confucianism became the dominant school of thought during the Han Dynasty, disappearing by the middle of the Western Han Dynasty.


Most historians believe that Mozi was a member of the lower artisan class who managed to climb his way to an official post. Mozi was a native of the , although for a time he served as a minister in the . Like Confucius, Mozi was known to have maintained a school for those who desired to become officials serving in the different ruling courts of the Warring States.

Mozi was a master engineer and craftsman, designing everything from mechanical birds to wheeled, mobile "cloud ladders" used to besiege city walls . Though he did not hold a high official position, Mozi was sought out by various rulers as an expert on fortification, and managed to attract a large following during his lifetime which rivaled that of Confucius. His followers – mostly technicians and craftspeople – were organized in a disciplined order that studied both Mozi's philosophical and technical writings.

His pacifism led Mozi to travel from one crisis zone to another through the ravaged landscape of the Warring States, trying to dissuade rulers from their plans of conquest. According to the chapter "Gongshu" in ''Mozi'', he once walked for ten days to the state of Chu in order to forestall an attack on the state of Song. At the Chu court, Mozi engaged in simulated war games with Gongshu Ban, the chief military strategist of Chu, and overturned each one of his stratagems. When Gongshu Ban threatened him with death, Mozi informed the king that his disciples had already trained the soldiers of Song on his fortification methods, so it would be useless to kill him. The Chu king was forced to call off the war. On the way back, however, the soldiers of Song, not recognizing him, would not allow Mozi to enter their city, and he had to spend a night freezing in the rain.

Though Mozi's school faded into obscurity after the Warring States period, he was studied again two millennia after his death: Both the revolutionaries of 1911 and the saw in him a surprisingly modern thinker who was stifled early in Chinese history.


In contrast to those of Confucius, Mozi's moral teachings emphasized self-reflection and authenticity rather than obedience to ritual. He observed that we often learn about the world through adversity . By reflecting on one's own successes and failures, one attains true self-knowledge rather than mere conformity with ritual. Mozi exhorted the gentleman to lead a life of asceticism and self-restraint, renouncing both material and spiritual extravagance.

Like Confucius, Mozi idealized the Xia Dynasty and the ancients of Chinese mythology, but he criticized the Confucian belief that modern life should be patterned on the ways of the ancients. After all, he pointed out, what we think of as "ancient" was actually innovative in its time, and thus should not be used to hinder present-day innovation . Though Mozi did not believe that history necessarily progresses, as did Han Fei Zi, he shared the latter's critique of . Mozi believed that people were capable of changing their circumstances and directing their own lives. They could do this by applying their senses to observing the world, judging objects and events by their causes, their function, and their historical basis. This was the "three-prong method" Mozi recommended for testing the truth or falsehood of statements. His students later expanded on this to form the .

Mozi tended to evaluate actions based on whether they provide benefit to the people, which he measured in terms of an enlarged population , a prosperous economy, and social order. Similar to the Western , Mozi thought that actions should be measured by the way they contribute to the "greatest good of the greatest number." With this criterion Mozi denounced things as diverse as offensive warfare, expensive funerals, and even and which he saw as serving no useful purpose. Mozi did not reject to music in principle--"It's not that I don't like the sound of the drum" --but because of the heavy tax burden such activities placed on commoners and also due to the fact that officials tended to indulge in them at the expense of their duties.

Mozi tried to replace what he considered to be the long-entrenched Chinese over-attachment to family and structures with the concept of 兼愛 → ''jian ai'' which can be translated as "impartial caring" or "universal love". In this, he argued directly against Confucians who had argued that it was natural and correct for people to care about different people in different degrees. Mozi, by contrast, argued people in principle should care for all people equally, a notion that philosophers in other schools found absurd, as they interpreted this notion as implying no special amount of care or duty towards one's parents and family. Overlooked by those critics, however, is a passage in the chapter on "Self-Cultivation" which states "When people near-by are not befriended, there is no use endeavoring to attract those at a distance." This point is also precisely articulated by a Mohist in a debate with Mencius where the Mohist argues in relation to carrying out universal love, that "We begin with what is near." Also, in the first chapter of the writings of Mozi on universal love, Mozi argues that the best way of being filial to one’s parents is to be filial to the parents of others. The foundational principle is that benevolence, as well as malevolence, is requited, and that one
will be treated by others as one treats others. Mozi quotes a popular passage from the to bring home this point: "When one throws to me a peach, I return to him a plum."
One’s parents will be treated by others as one treats the parents of others. In pursuing this line of argument, Mozi was directly appealing to the idea of in social relations. Also of note is that Mozi differentiated between "intention" and "actuality" thereby placing a central importance on the will to love even though in practice it may very well be impossible to bring benefit to everyone.

In addition, Mozi argued that benevolence comes to human beings “as naturally as fire turns upward or water turns downward”, provided that persons in position of authority illustrate benevolence in their own lives. Furthermore, Mozi’s basic argument concerning universal love asserts that universal love is supremely practical, this argument directed against those who objected that love could not be put into practice.

Mozi also held a belief in the power of ghosts and spirits, although he is often thought to have only worshipped them pragmatically. In fact, in his discussion on ghosts and spirits, he remarks that even if they did not exist, communal gatherings for the sake of making sacrificial offering would play a role in strengthing social bonds. Furthermore, for the will of heaven was that people should love one another, and that mutual love by all would bring benefit to all. Therefore, it was in everyone's interest that they love others "as they love themselves." Heaven should be respected because failing to do so would subject one to punishment. For Mozi, heaven was not the amoral, mystical Nature of the Taoists. Rather, it was a benevolent, moral force that rewarded the good and punished the evil, similar to the Christian/Islamic idea of God. Thus he writes that "Bo-ai is the way of heaven", since "heaven nourishes and sustains all life without regard to status". Mozi's ideal of government, which advocated a meritocracy based on talent rather than background, also followed his idea of heaven.

Works and Influence

The ''Mozi'' is the name of the philosophical text compiled by Mohists from Mozi's thought. Because Mohism disappeared as a living tradition from China, its texts were not well maintained, and many chapters are missing or in a corrupted state. For example, of the three chapters "Against Confucianism", only one remains.

Mohism was suppressed under the and died out completely under the , who made Confucianism the official doctrine. However, many of its ideas were dissolved into the mainstream of Chinese thought and re-examined in modern times. Sun Yat-Sen used "bo-ai" as one of the foundations for his idea of Chinese democracy. More recently, Chinese scholars under Communism have tried to rehabilitate Mozi as a "philosopher of the people", highlighting his rational-empirical approach to the world as well as his "proletarian" background.

From a modern point of view, Mozi's philosophy was at once more advanced and less so than that of Confucius. His concept of "jian-ai" embraced a broader idea of human community than the Confucians, but he is less tolerant than Confucius in his condemnation of all that is not directly "useful", neglecting the humanizing functions of art and music. Zhuangzi, who criticized both the Confucians and the Mohists, had this in mind in his parables on the "uselessness of the useful". Of course, this insistence on usefulness comes from a time when war and famine were widespread and could well have made all cultural activities look frivolous.

Mohism and Science

According to Joseph Needham, ''Mozi'' contains the following sentence: 'The cessation of motion is due to the opposing force ... If there is no opposing force ... the motion will never stop. This is as true as that an ox is not a horse.' which, he claims, is a precursor to . ''Mozi'' also contains speculations in optics and mechanics that are similarly strikingly original, although their ideas were not taken up by later Chinese philosophers. The Mohist tradition is also highly unusual in Chinese thought in that it devoted time to developing principles of logic, similar to those of Aristotle. For example, it describes the difference between necessary condition and sufficient condition .

Further reading

*Yi-pao Mei , ''Motse, the Neglected Rival of Confucius'' , is a general study of the man and his age, his works, and his teachings, with an extensive bibliography.

No comments: