The Religious Humanism of Moh-zi

An excerpt from The Six Patriarchs of Chinese Humanism by Peter M.K. Chan

An abridged and systematic reconstitution of their words


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The Religious Humanism of Moh-zi 


2.1  Mutual Love and Benefit

2.2  The Will of Heaven

2.3  Condemnation of War and Extravagant Consumption

2.4  The Origin of State and Effective Government

2.5  The Existence of Ghosts and Spiritual Beings

2.6  Against the Confucians

2.7 Taking Stock



        In ancient China, another influential thinker during the Warring State Period (475 - 221 BC) was Moh-zi (c479-438 B.C). As other intellectuals of the time, such as Confucius, he was also trying to call the attention of those in power as to how peace and social stability could really be brought about. Unlike Confucius however, he did not think that the having of moral awareness on the part of those who govern is going to be sufficient. Enlightened authoritarian rule by way of righteous law and religious sanctions are also required. In this sense, we can say that Moh-zi and Confucius were competitors.


        The book of Moh-zi, upon which this Chapter is based, is a collection of seventy-one essays contributed by Moh-zi and his followers. One thing that is peculiar about this book is that each of the central tenets of Mohism is clearly highlighted by three consecutive and somewhat repetitive essays bearing one and the same title. They include major themes such as mutual love, Will of Heaven, condemnation of war, elevating the worthy, conforming with the superior, frugality on expenditure, the existence of spiritual beings, against Confucianism and fatalism, and so on. In this Chapter, I shall seek to expose the main thread of reasoning that runs through the ethical, political, and religious aspects of Moh-zi’s thought, and to highlight a few issues for reason of which Mohists and Cononfucians were not able to see eye to eye.


(2.1) Mutual Love and Benefit


       For what Moh-zi had come to see, the misfortunes and calamities of the world are brought about by wars between states, conflicts between family clans, and animosity between individuals. As he put it, it is due to the fact that big states are attacking those that are tiny, large family clans are usurping those that are small, the strong are robbing the weak, the many are violent toward the few, the cunning are deceiving the ignorant, and the honored are looking down on the humble. (若大國之攻小國也,大家之亂小家也,強之劫弱,眾之暴寡,詐之謀愚,貴之敖賤。Book of Moh-zi, Chapter 16) It is also due to the fact that kings are not benevolent, ministers are not loyal, fathers are not caring, and sons are not filial. All of these are harmful to the world. (又與為人君者之不惠也,臣者之不忠也,父者之不慈也,子者之不孝也,此又天下之害也。Ibid.)


       For what he had also come to see, all these troubles are ultimately accountable for by the fact that people do not love one another. As people in the world do not love one another, the strong will oppress the weak, the rich will insult the poor, the honored will look down on the humble, and the cunning will deceive the ignorant. (天下之人皆不相愛,強必執弱,富必侮貧,貴必敖賤,詐必欺愚。Ibid.).  Similarly, as feudal lords know only to love their own states, they would not hesitate to attack other states. As heads of families know only to love their own clans, they would not hesitate to usurp other family clans. And as people know only to benefit themselves, they would not hesitate to inflict injury upon one another. (今諸侯獨知愛其國,不愛人之國,是以不憚舉其國以攻人之國。今家主獨知愛其家,而不愛人之家,是以不憚舉其家以篡人之家。(今人獨知愛其身,不愛人之身,是以不憚舉其身以賊人之身。Ibid. Chapter 15) It should thus be seen that all calamities, feuds, hatred, and animosity in the world are brought about by the lack of mutual love. (凡天下禍篡怨恨,其所以起者,以不相愛生也,是以仁者非之。Ibid.). The culprit, as he saw, was egocentricity and mutual discrimination.


         As to what could really be done, Moh-zi’s answer is that world order and stability could only be brought about when mutual discrimination is replaced by mutual love. (兼以易別。Ibid. ) It is to regard other states as one would regard one’s own; to regard other family clans as one would regard one’s own, and to treat others as one would treat oneself. (視人之國,若視其國,視人之家,若視其家,視人之身,若視其身。Ibid. Chapter 13) It is to be observed that when feudal lords love one another, they would not fight in the fields; when heads of family clans love one another, they would not usurp other family clans; and when individuals love one another, they would not injure one another. (是故諸侯相愛則不野戰,家主相愛則不相篡,人與人相愛則不相賊,Ibid.) 


         By the same token, when people love one another, the strong will no longer oppress the weak, the many will no longer take advantage of the few, the rich will no longer insult the poor, the honored will no longer despise the humble, and the cunning will no longer deceive the ignorant. (天下之人皆相愛,強不執弱,眾不劫寡,富不侮貧,貴不敖賤,詐不欺愚。Ibid.). Under such circumstances, kings will become benevolent and ministers loyal, father will become caring and sons filial, and brothers will love and co-operate with each other. (君臣相愛則惠忠,父子相愛則慈孝,兄弟相愛,則和調,Ibid.) In Moh-zi’s opinion therefore, this is how calamities, feuds, animosity, and hatred in the world could be prevented from arising. (凡天下禍篡怨恨,可使毋起者,Ibid.) He called this proposed solution of his the method of mutual love and benefit. (兼相愛交相利之法. Ibid.)


          As many have come to see, this method is an implicit challenge to the teaching of Confucius (which encourages a step by step approach, beginning with rectification of self, managing one’s family, before ordering the state and bring peace to the world)As there is no guarantee that individuals would really abandon their own interests so as to extend ‘charities’ beyond the confine of their own families, it is doubtful that the ruler of one state is about to abandon the interest of his state for the sake of another. Thus, it is also the opinion of many that Moh-tze’s method of mutual love and benefit is really too idealistic to be embraced. It is simply beyond the nature of anyone to care for others as he would care for his own. The question is therefore this. How could this method of mutual love and benefit ever come to terms with the egoistic nature of man?


          Well, according to Moh-zi, the egocentricity of the human kind is exactly what his method is trying to enlighten. It should be observed that in the realm of human interactions, those who love and benefit others are loved and benefited by others, and those who hate and injure others are hated and injured by others. (夫愛人者,人必從而愛之,利人者,人必從而利之,惡人者,人必從而惡之,害人者,人必從而害之。Ibid. Chapter 15) That is to say, it is only by caring for the other could one evade animosity and enhance benefits for oneself. As he put it: to care (or do something) for others is also to care for oneself. (為彼猶為己也。Ibid. Chapter 16) Under this light, or so he would point out, his method of mutual love and benefit is actually a prudential win-win formula that is quite consonant with the egoistic nature of man. 


Comment: For Confucius, if readers recall, to love and care for others is the duty of a kingly person. It is something that one should do for its own sake. Thus, as far as Confucians are concerned, for Moh-zi to have argued that the reason why anyone should care for another is the fact that those who love and benefit others will be loved and benefited by others, and that to care of others is also to care for oneself is quite akin to the utilitarian logic of an inferior man.


         Now, said Moh-zi, neither should it be assumed that the method of mutual love and benefit is really too difficult for any government to administer either. It is difficult only when rulers and their officials have refused to administer and practice it. (此何難之有焉!特君不以為政,而士不以為行故也。Ibid. Chapter 15) It should not be forgotten that formerly, when Duke Wen of Tsen wanted officers to wear coarse cloths, all his ministers would put on simple clothes… When King Ling of Cho wanted people to have slender waists, all his ministers would limit themselves to only one meal a day -- they would even exhale before they tied their belts. Within a year, everyone in his court looked thin and gloomy. What that shows is that when the ruler wants something, all his ministers would certainly comply. (昔者晉文公好士之惡衣,故文公之臣皆牂羊之裘。….昔者楚靈王好士細要,故靈王之臣,皆以一飯為節,脅息然後帶。比期年,朝有黧黑之色,是其故何也?君說之,故臣能之也。Ibid.)


         What that means is that when the method of mutual love and benefit is legislated into law, attentive ears and keen eyes will respond to serve one another, limbs will be quickened to work for one another, and those who know the method will also instruct one another. Under such circumstances, the aged and widowed will find nourishment for the rest of their lives, while the very young and orphaned will find their place to grow up. (今吾將正求與天下之利而取之,以兼為正,是以聰耳明目相與視聽乎?是以股肱畢強,相為動宰乎?而有道肆相教誨。是以老而無妻子者,有所侍養以終其壽,幼弱孤童之無父母者,有所放依以長其身。Ibid. Chapter 16)


         Further, as it is also generally recognized, it is the business those who are humane to devote themselves toward bringing about benefits by doing away with what is harmful to the world. (仁人之事者,必務求興天下之利,除天下之害。Ibid.) Doing so, or so he further proclaimed, is in accordance with the Will of Heaven (天意 or the intention of Heaven) As such, it is incumbent upon all intellectuals and kingly persons today who desire humaneness and righteousness to follow the Will of Heaven. (今天下之士君子之欲為義者,則不可不順天之意。Ibid. Chapter 28) As to what exactly is meant by following the Will of Heaven, his answer is that it is to love the people of the world without distinctions. (順天之意何若?曰兼愛天下之人。Ibid.)



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