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MO Zi- Precursor of modern Chinese Philosophy and Science-00: Introduction

MO Zi, the Chinese social and philosophical precursor.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA is the first of a few posts dedicated to MO Zi and the school of thought that was formed around him, Mohism. MO Zi was a precursor with very acute insights in many aspects of life on a personal and communal aspect, from science and phenomenology to philosophy and dialectics and to an all-encompassing universal spirituality; An Avant-guard group of polymaths offering practical tools to understand how to liberates ourselves from fate and all the systems of oppression that were built upon it.

No need to add that severe reactions were met to literally eradicate this budding creative social and philosophical movement by world views, like Confucianism and Legalism more accommodating and serving the same very corrupt and nepotic systems of the raging aristocracies of the time busy building what would become an autocratic empire.

Before we will further on publish MO Zi and his current’s basic tenets post by post, we will first give professor Ian Johnston the opportunity to present, as our introductory offering, a summary of the core Mohist doctrines. Excerpt from the introduction of ‘MO Zi, the Book of Master MO’, Penguin Classics 2013. Pages XVIII, XIX and XX.

Let’s keep in mind that this movement flourished around 770–221 B.C.A., during the ‘Spring & Autumn’ and Warring States period in China!


The Core Doctrines – A Summary

1. Exalting worthiness: The principle is to advance those who are worthy and able and to reject those who are not. The administration of the state will then achieve wealth, a large population and a good order for that state. Worthiness is moral worth defined in terms of yi 義, righteousness and justice. The justification of the principle of exalting worthiness is, however, its efficacity, and not worthiness per-se. Evidence comes from historical examples of sage kings promoting lowly people who were worthy, and could be of benefit to the empire.

2. Exalting Unity: The principle is that society should be bound together by an unity or uniformity of beliefs and ideas, especially ethical principles, extending through all its strata. This is achieved by having a hierarchy of leaders who strongly adhere to these ideas and beliefs themselves and maintain unity throughout the population by rewards and punishments, determined by conformity or otherwise with these common ideas and beliefs. Again, the justification is efficacity and the evidence comes from historical examples.

3. Universal Love: The principle is that for a truly harmonious society, people should love one another without partiality or discrimination and that this love should be universal, jian ai 兼愛. It is essentially an expression of ren, 仁, benevolence, kindness, which encompass everyone and is manifest in practice by everyone striving to benefit others as well as themselves. The justification is again efficiency. Master MO counters the objection that it is difficult to achieve universal love by providing historical examples of rulers who persuaded people en-masse to achieve difficult things. The method is to reward and praise those who practice universal love and to punish those who transgress the principle.

4. Condemning offensive warfare: The principle is to eschew altogether any form of warfare other than defense of the state or punitive campaigns against those who deserve punishment in certain instances. The position is essentially anti-imperialistic. The justification is moral (if killing one person is wrong then surely killing a large number of people in an imperialistic war is much more wrong and contrary to ren 仁 and yi 義; war is socially disruptive, needlessly destroying people and resources; and it brings no benefit to Heaven, ghosts, spirits or ordinary people-in fact, quite the reverse.

5.Moderation in use: The principle is simple and timeless: the use of resources to provide a society with housing, clothing, mans of transportation and materials for defense should be limited to preparing what is strictly necessary. There should be no excessive elaboration and no wastage. The people will not then be overburdened by labour and heavy taxation. Again, the justification is efficiency and the evidence comes from historical examples.

6. Moderation in funeral: This is essentially a special case of moderation in use. Elaborate funeral and prolonged periods of mourning, as practiced by Confucians particularly, are wasteful of resources and contrary to ren 仁 and yi 義, despite the claims of those who advocate such practices. Master MO provides examples of strange and undesirable practices that have been sanctioned by custom and have become inappropriately regarded as conforming to yi 義. He also gives his own specific procedure for the conduct of burial and mourning.

7. Heaven’s intentions: Heaven has an intention or plan for the world and its inhabitants: yi  義  , ren 仁   , and jian ai  兼愛, should be practiced everywhere without partiality or discrimination. Its implementation is to be affected by leaders at all levels of society from the Son of Heaven (the Emperor) down. If Heaven’s intention is realized then society as a whole will be harmonious and individual state are likely to be prosperous and well ordered. Heaven is seen being able to recognize whether its intention is being realized or not and is able to reward with favourable natural circumstances for the growth of crops and domestic animals and with the absence of disease, pestilence, famine and other natural disasters, while non-compliance is met with the reverse. Master MO takes Heaven’s intention, as defined by himself, to be his standard by which to judge the conduct of regimes and individuals. Supporting evidence is provided by historical examples.

8. Percipient Ghosts: The disorder of the time is attributable to the loss of  yi  義  and this loss is, in significant part, due to a loss of belief in the existence of ghosts and spirits as agents who can reward goodness and punish malevolence. Master MO offers three kinds of evidence for their existence: the ears and eyes of the people; the actions of the wise kings regarding sacrifice to ghosts and spirits; and the role of ghosts and spirits in the overthrowing of bad rulers (especially Jie and Zhou). In advocating a belief in ghosts and spirits, master MO claims that no one anywhere can do anything that they are not aware of, and that no mortal means can prevent their punishments. However, he says that even if ghosts and spirits don’t exist, a belief in them is worthwhile in so far as ceremonies and sacrifices to them bring people together in harmonious collective action.

9. Condemning Music: Master MO here does not condemn the use of music at personal level or collective activities such as concerts, danse and weddings, for instance, but condemn the over use of resources for the preparation of big state events and state ceremonies, making us lost in the pump and forget the origin and meaning of the meeting ‘s original ritual or celebratory intention, deflecting people ‘s attention with superficial entertaining music to establish a diversion to hide problems or recent political and social issues. He gives two historical examples from ancient writings.

10. Against Fate or Fatalism: There is no actual evidence for the existence of fate determining human affairs. Moreover, a belief in fate (fatalism) is, in fact, detrimental to the proper conduct of affairs, being inimical to yi 義 and to diligence, 勤奋 qín fèn, generally. He uses his concept of criteria in assessing the theory of Fatalism: for any theory, one must examine its foundation, its source or origin and its application or use. He concludes that there is no foundation for a belief in fate in the observations of ordinary people, in the words of feudal lords or in the actions of the wise kings; that the concept originated with the cruel and tyrannical kings of the Three Dynasties to explain their downfall  and was perpetuated by poor people to excuse their poverty; and that the conduct of affairs at all levels of society, a belief in fate results in a loss of diligence and a ready acceptance of failure.


Opening page of one early 20 century edition of MO Zi’s collected works.


Professor Ian Johnston.
About MO Zi : 🌿 About Mohism:
MO Zi- Precursor of modern Chinese Philosophy and Science-00: Introduction

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