An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Mozi 墨子 and the the Mohist Canon (Mojing 墨經)

Jul 18, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Mozi 墨子 "Master Mo" is a book compiled by the early Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE) philosopher Mo Di 墨翟 (c. 476-c. 390 BCE).

He was probably born into a noble family in Song 宋 (with the name Muyi 目夷 or Motai 墨臺) but lived the very common live of a wandering advisor and traveled from state to state. He served the rulers of Song, Lu 魯 (where his family had lived for some time), Wei 衛, Qi 齊, Chu 楚 and Yue 越. There is one story that Mozi traveled day and night to reach the court of King Hui of Chu 楚惠王 (r. 488-432) to prevent him from beginning a conquest war against Song. He presented a memorial to the king of Chu but refused to be rewarded, and left the court. This story includes two of Mozi's main philosophical concepts, namely not to wage offensive war, and to refrain from luxury. In Qi, Mozi tried to stop Xiangzi Niu's 項子牛 from attacking the state of Lu, but Mozi did not succeed. When the king of Yue offered him an office and an own territory, Mozi brought forward the condition that the king would follow his advice. It is also known that he had a friendship with Lord Wen of Luyang 魯陽文君, a nobleman of Chu.

Mozi's followers came from among the lower classes of society and were arranged in circles that were headed by a leader called juzi 鉅子 "master of the saw" because all of them had to work for their subsistence. The Mohists were thus socially very different from the Confucians or Daoists, whose representatives came from among the lower nobility. There is no wonder that one of the most important postulations of the Mohists was austerity in government spending, and that their thought was characterized by the spirit of mutual help.

The book Mozi is said to have been 71-chapters-long (bibliography Yiwenzhi 藝文志 in the official dynastic history Hanshu 漢書), of which 18 were later lost: The received Mozi has only 53 chapters. The bibliography Jingji zhi 經籍志 in the history Suishu 隋書 lists the book Mozi with a length of 15 juan, a number that is also recorded in all later bibliographies. The lost Song-period 宋 (960-1279) catalogue Guange shumu 館閣書目 entry was 61 chapters, in 15 juan, which might be a clerical error. The catalogue Zhongxing guange shumu 中興館閣書目 speaks of 13 chapters. The bibliography chapter in the encyclopaedia Tongzhi 通志, and the catalogues Zhizhai shulu jieti 直齋書錄解題 and Guoshi jingji zhi 國史經籍志 divide the Mozi into only 3 juan. Song Lian's 宋濂 (1310-1381) Zhuzi bian 諸子辨 also speaks of 3 juan.

The core text of the Mozi covers twelve different philosophical themes, each treated in three different versions. The Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Yu Yue 俞樾 explains this by the fact that after Mozi's death his school split into three traditions (Xiang Li 相里, Xiang Fu 相夫 and Deng Ling 鄧陵) whose versions of Mozi's wordings (zi Mozi yue 子墨子曰 "Master Mozi says:") were not wholly identical. Later on the three versions were again unified in one book. Not all three versions are preserved for each chapter. Except the twelve philosophical treatises, there are a lot of diverse chapters constituting advice for government and defensive war. Very interesting are the chapters of the so-called Mohist Canon (Mojing 墨經, also called Mobian 墨辯 "Mohist disputes"), namely Jing 經, Jingshuo 經說, Daqu 大取 and Xiaoqu 小取. These chapters present a lot of definitions and thus can be seen as a first type of philosophical dictionary. They also include a lot of scientific terms, which shows that the Mohists (mojia 墨家) were a school of thought concerned with practical matters. Some chapters are of doubtful origin (Qinshi 親士, Xiushen 修身, and Suoran 所染) and might not have been written by Mozi's disciples.

While the twelve core chapters are traditionally attributed to Mo Di himself, the Mohist Canon, in which China's oldest theory of logic is spread out, is surely of later date and includes cosmological concepts not yet ripe in Mo Di's time, like the Five Agents (wuxing 五行) and the logical distinction of "correct" and "not correct" (shi fei 是非). The Mohists discern logically between the three steps (sanbiao 三表) of concept (ming 名), argumentation (shuo 說), and conclusion (ci 辭), or debate (bian 辯), statement (lei 類), and arguments (gu 故).

Each chapter of the Mohist Canon has a distinct focus. Jing shang and Jingshuo shang describe conceptual terms. Jing xia and Jingshuo xia deal with terms of definition and conclusion. The chapters Daqu and Xiaoqu speak of reasoning, argumentation and of terms in respect of comparison. In spite of this theoretical background, the chapters of the Mohist canon deal with very concrete and practical matters, like the physical and philosophical explanation of comprehension and the connection between perception and reasoning. In the field of physics, the Mohists were interested in mechanics, optics and geometry. Through the ages the six chapters of the Mohist canon have suffered and are full of writing errors.

Epistemology was an important part of Mohist thought. Cognition was able through the eyes and ears. What is perceived by these sensual organs was, in Mozi's eyes, reality (wen zhi jian zhi, ze bi yiwei you 聞之見之,則必以為有 "what is heard and seen, must necessarily exist"). The designations (ming 名) of all matters had therefore to be adopted to reality (shi 實), and not vice versa. His logic goes so far that Mozi says that because ghosts and spirits could be seen and heard, they really existed. Politics had to take this into consideration and had to exploit use of facts (shi 事) and real conditions (shi 實) to bring profit (li 利) to the people and the state.

Although in the field of morality and ethics, Confucianism and Mohism have common features, there are also many differences making them adherents ardent adversaries. Mengzi 孟子 (385-304 or 372-289 BCE), for example, castigates Mozi's "universal love" (jian'ai 兼愛), which was unacceptable for a Confucian master because it would disregard social hierarchies: "All men under Heaven are equal to the Son of Heaven", says Mozi. Mo Di also vehemently rejects Confucianism in his last triple-treatise (Fei Ru 非儒 "Against the Confucians"). Yet in spite of all "revolutionary" or "socialist" ideas concerning the universality of love, Mozi does not want to change the structure of traditional society.

The main philosophical concepts of Mozi are universal love and the prohibition of offensive war. Keeping to these two principles would bring harmony in society and prevent the strong exploiting the weak and the rich suppressing the poor. The will of Heaven, which loved mankind, had to be followed by the ruler. The latter had to love his subjects (ai min 愛民) and to bring profit to them (li min 利民). In this respect, Mozi is very similar to the Confucian master Mengzi. The common people, as well as the ruler, had to obey the will of Heaven (shun tian zhi 順天意).

Ghosts and spirits would likewise, as Mozi thinks, retribute good and evil doing (shang xian er fa bao 賞賢而罰暴 "reward the worthies, but punish the cruel"). The ruler had to understand the will of his subjects, and the subjects had to comply with the orders of the ruler. The ruler of a state had therefore to make use of the most worthy and competent persons from among the people to support him in government, even peasants and labourers. The latter point is also similar to Confucian thinking. A very important point in Mozi's thinking is austerity in spending. Burials had to be simple, which was quite the opposite to Confucians, who opted for lavish spending for funerals as an expression of filial piety to the deceased. At the court, luxury and prodigality should be avoided. This also included court music, against which the Mohists were heavily opposed. In Confucian thought, elaborate music was an integral part of rituals.

During the Warring Stats period, Mohist thought was very widespread, and Mozi's disciples represented an earnest competitor for Confucians like Mengzi. The most important Mohist philosophers were Qin Huali 禽滑釐, Xianzi Shuo 縣子碩, Gongshang Guo 公尚過, Chanzi 纏子, Tianqiuzi 田俅子, Suichaozi 隨巢子, and Hufeizi 胡非子. Some of them were present in the eastern states of Qi and Song, some in the southern states of Chu and Yue, but there were also some Mohist philosophers advising the rulers of the "newcomer" Qin 秦 in the west. The Mohist philosophers were known for their austerity and seriousness, and some leaders among them were regarded like generals to which soldiers obeyed even in the fiercest battle.

The Mohist school was totally overshadowed by Confucians and legalists in the late Warring States period and fell into oblivion from the Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE) on. The present shape of the Mozi has been fixed by the Han-period librarian Liu Xiang 劉向 (79-8 or 77-6 BCE). The first commentary on the Mohist Canon chapters Jing and Jingshuo was written during the Western Jin period 西晉 (265-316) by Lu Sheng 魯勝. There must also have been a commentary written by a certain Le She 樂舌. Both commentaries are lost, but of Lu's commentary, the preface has survived (Mobian zhu xu 墨辯注敍). Only during the Qing period, scholars started being interested in Mohism and wrote commentaries on the Mohist writings, like Lu Wenchao 盧文弨 (1717-1795), Sun Xingyan 孫星衍 (1753-1818), Bi Yuan 畢沅 (1730-1797; Mozi zhu 墨子注) or Wang Zhong 汪中 (1745-1794; Mozi biaozheng 墨子表徵). The most widespread commentary is Sun Yirang's 孫詒讓 (1848-1908) Mozi xiangu 墨子閑詁. Liang Qichao 梁啟超 (1873-1929) has written commentaries on the Mohist canon, the Mojing jiaoshi 墨經校釋 and the Mozi xue'an 墨子學案, and Wu Yujiang 吳毓江 (1898-1977; Mozi jiaozhu 墨子校注) has amended Sun Yirang's publication. A lot of scholars has studied the Mohist canon in the 20th century, like Wu Feibai 伍非百 (1890-1965; Mobian jiegu 墨辯解故), Tan Jiefu 譚戒甫 (1887-1974; Mobian fawei 墨辯發微), Gao Heng 高亨 (1900-1986; Mojing jiaoquan 墨經校詮), Chen Zhu 陳柱 (1890-1944; Mozi shi lun 墨學十論), Fang Shouchu 方授楚 (1898-1956; Moxue yuanliu 墨學源流), Zhang Chunyi 張純一 (1871-1955; Mozi jijie 墨子集解), and others.

The Mozi is included in the series Zhuzi jicheng 諸子集成, Guoxue jiben congshu 國學基本叢書, Sibu congkan 四部叢刊, the Daoist Canon Daozang 道藏, the Siku quanshu 四庫全書, Zihui 子彙, Xungutang congshu 經訓堂叢書 and Ershier zi 二十二子.

While there are several translations of the twelve core chapters of the Mozi, the whole canon has only recently been translated by Ian Johnston (2010), The Mozi: A Complete Translation, New York: Columbia University Press.

Table 1. Contents of the Mozi 墨子
1. 親士 Qinshi On being sympathetic towards officers
2. 修身 Xiushen On cultivating the self
3. 所染 Suoran On dyeing
4. 法儀 Fayi On standards and rules
5. 七患 Qihuan On the seven misfortunes
6. 辭過 Ciguo On eschewing faults
7. 三辯 Sanbian Three arguments
Core doctrines
(8-10) I 尚賢 Shangxian Exalting worthies I-III
(11-13) II 尚同 Shangtong Exalting unity I-III
(14-16) III 兼愛 Jian'ai Universal love I-III
(17-19) IV 非攻 Feigong Condemning offensive warfare I-III
(20-22) V 節用 Jieyong Moderation in use I-II (version III lost)
(23-25) VI 節葬 Jiezang Moderation in funerals III (versions I and II lost)
(26-28) VII 天志 Tianzhi Heaven's intention I-III
(29-31) VIII 明鬼 Minggui Percipient ghosts III (versions I and II lost)
(32-34) IX 非樂 Feiyue Condemning music I (versions II and III lost)
(35-37) X 非命 Feiming Against fate I-III
(38-39) XII 非儒 Fei Ru Against the Confucians II (version I lost, no version III)
Language, logic and science
40.-41. Jing 1-2 Canons A-B
42.-43. 經說 Jingshuo 1-2 Explanations A-B (combined with chapters 40-41)
44. 大取 Daqu Choosing the greater (The great treatise about universal love)
45. 小取 Xiaoqu Choosing the lesser (The small treatise about universal love)
46. 耕柱 Gengzhu Disciple Gengzhu
47. 貴義 Guiyi Valuing righteousness
48. 公孟 Gongmeng The Confucian Gongming Yi 公明義
49. 魯問 Lu Wen The questions of the Duke of Lu
50. 公輸 Gongshu The military expert Gongshu Pan 公輸盤
51. (lost)
Defence of a city
52. 備城門 Beichengmen Preparing the wall and gates
53. 備高臨 Beigaolin Preparing against the high approach
54.-55. (lost)
56. 備梯 Beiti Preparing against ladders
57. (lost)
58. 備水 Beishui Preparing against flooding
59.-60. (lost)
61. 備突 Beitu Preparing against sudden attack
62. 備穴 Beixue Preparing against tunnelling
63. 備蛾傅 Bei'efu Preparing against ant-like mass attacks
64.-67. (lost)
68. 迎敵祠 Yindici Sacrifices for meeting the enemy
69. 旗幟 Qizhi Flags and pennons
70. 號令 Haoling Orders and commands
71. 雜守 Zashou Miscellaneous defences
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