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Eastern Literature

Chinese Literature




Mozi, Wade-Giles romanization Mo-tzu, also spelled Motze, Motse, or Micius, original name Mo Di (b. 470?, China—d. 391? bce, China), Chinese philosopher whose fundamental doctrine of undifferentiated love (jianai) challenged Confucianism for several centuries and became the basis of a socioreligious movement known as Mohism.

Born a few years after Confucius’s death, Mozi was raised in a period when the feudal hierarchy instituted at the beginning of the Zhou dynasty (12th or 11th century bce to 256 bce) was swiftly disintegrating and China was divided into small, constantly warring feudal states. He thus confronted the problem that faced all thinkers in 5th-century-bce China: how to bring political and social order out of chaos.

According to tradition, Mozi was originally a follower of the teachings of Confucius, until he became convinced that Confucianism laid too much emphasis on a burdensome code of rituals and too little on religious teaching, at which time Mozi decided to go his own way. Confucius, from all accounts, was aristocratic by temperament and orientation and dreamed of a return of the calm and peaceful days of pomp and splendour at the beginning of the Zhou dynasty. Mozi, on the other hand, was drawn to the common people and looked much farther back to a life of primitive simplicity and straightforwardness in human relations.

Mozi’s life, however, resembled that of Confucius in many important respects. He was widely read and well versed in the tradition of the Chinese Classics. Except for a brief period when he held public office, Mozi spent most of his life traveling from one feudal state to another in the hope of meeting a prince who would allow him to put his teachings into practice. In the absence of such a prince, he had to be content with maintaining a school and recommending his disciples for administrative positions. He commanded respect partly because he lived a very simple life and was a teacher who took his own teachings seriously. He not only condemned offensive war but also led his followers to distant states to prevent the outbreak of wars by reinforcing the defending state.

The Mozi, the principal work left by Mozi and his followers, contains the essence of his political, ethical, and religious teachings. The gist of it is found in the three sets of chapters of its second section, which give an overview of the 10 major tenets: “exaltation of the virtuous,” “identification with the superior,” “undifferentiated love,” “condemnation of offensive war,” “economy of expenditures,” “simplicity in funerals,” “will of heaven,” “on ghosts,” “denunciation of music as a wasteful activity,” and “antifatalism.” Since Mohism split into three schools after Mozi’s death, the three sets of chapters may well represent the three sets of texts preserved by the three schools. The other sections of the Mozi might be listed as follows: (1) summaries and abstracts of Mozi’s teachings, (2) discussions on logic and physical sciences, (3) records of Mozi’s doings and sayings, and (4) a manual of military defense.

As a thinker, Mozi was distinctive in his insistence on methodology. He insisted that standards of judgment be established, and his criteria may be summarized as the threefold test and the fourfold standard. The threefold test reminded thinkers that the basis, verifiability, and applicability of any proposition must be analyzed; the fourfold standard reminded thinkers that one should always assess the benefits any proposition could bring to the country and the people. Benefits were defined as enrichment of the poor, increase of the population, removal of danger, and regulation of disorder. To Mozi the tests and standards were indispensable. Generalizing further, Mozi declared that, before anything could be said to be good, it was necessary first to demonstrate what it was good for.

The cornerstone of Mozi’s system was undifferentiated love. If the world is in chaos, he said, it is owing to human selfishness and partiality, and the prescribed cure—in striking parallel with Christianity—is that “partiality should be replaced by universality,” for, “when everyone regards the states and cities of others as he regards his own, no one will attack the others’ state or seize the others’ cities.” The same principle was to be applied to the welfare of the family and of the individual. The peace of the world and the happiness of humanity lie in the practice of undifferentiated love. Many objections—its impracticability, its neglect of the special claims of one’s parents—were raised against this new doctrine, but Mozi demonstrated that the principle of undifferentiated love had in it both utilitarian justification and divine sanction. He spoke of “undifferentiated love and mutual profit” in one breath, and he was convinced that this principle was both the way of man and the way of heaven (tian).

Mozi’s stand on religion makes him exceptional among Chinese philosophers. His call to the people was for them to return to the faith of their fathers. He might be said to be a revivalist, a champion of religious orthodoxy with a personal god. To Mozi, there is heaven, heaven has a will, and this will of heaven is to be obeyed by human beings and accepted as the unifying standard of human thought and action: “What is the will of heaven that is to be obeyed? It is to love all the people in the world without distinction.” Heaven not only “desires righteousness and abominates unrighteousness” but also metes out reward and punishment accordingly. The system of Mozi, with its gospel of undifferentiated love and the ascetic discipline as exemplified by his own life, soon after the master’s death, was embodied in an organized church with a succession of Elder Masters and a considerable body of devotees. The religion prospered for several generations before completely disappearing.

The teachings of Mozi, however, continued to be held in high respect for several centuries. Down to the beginning of the 2nd century bce, writers referred to Confucianism and Mohism in one breath as the two leading schools of thought. But from that time, Mohism suddenly disappeared from the intellectual scene. Critics have generally agreed in admiring the high-minded character of Mozi himself but considered his teachings overdemanding and contrary to human nature. It was not until the encounter with Western learning in the 19th century that Mozi was rediscovered and his teachings reappraised.

Yi Pao Mei


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