Mozi Additional Biography


(Historic Lives: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)

Article abstract: Chinese philosopher{$I[g]China;Mozi} Mozi founded the school of Mohism, which promoted beliefs in public ideals and meritocracy, contributing to the rise of the first empire in China (221 b.c.e.).

Early Life

Virtually nothing is known of the life and background of Mozi (maw-dzih). Some scholars believe that he had been trained early in the Confucian school before he broke away to start his own line of thought. This claim, however, cannot be confirmed by the historical record; the earliest statement of the claim dates from three centuries after Mozi’s life. On the basis of Mozi’s known support for social mobility and the possible meanings for his name—“Mo” refers to ink—some scholars speculate that Mozi came from a lower-class background, possibly that of an artisan or craftsman, or even that of an erstwhile criminal (taking “mo” as a reference to the branding of criminals).

Such speculations seem to agree with the general tenor of Mozi’s advocacy of ideas and institutions that hoped to eliminate contemporary practices of nepotism and the consolidation of power among a hereditary elite class. These speculations also make sense in light of the frequent references in Mohist writings to tools and the construction of objects as a metaphor for how to govern and act properly. However, since there is no explicit, reliable textual evidence concerning Mozi’s personal background, it remains impossible to say with certainty that he stemmed from the lower class.

Life’s Work

Mozi did not leave behind any writings of his own, and it is not known whether he even transmitted his ideas in written form. His thoughts are preserved today in the writings of his disciples and the many later followers and contemporaries of his school during the Warring States period (475-221 b.c.e.). These writings are collected in a text known as Mozi (fifth century b.c.e.; The Ethical and Political Works of Motse, 1929; also known as Mo Tzu: Basic Writings, 1963). Because of the impersonal, public style of the Mohist writings, there is very little in the corpus that reflects aspects of Mozi’s life. Rather, accounts of his sayings recorded by his disciples convey a vivid sense of his religious, philosophical, and political orientations.

Much more can be said about Mohist schools of thought, which all claimed Mozi as their founder. The schools of Mohism rivaled the thought of the followers of Confucius (Kong Qiu; 551-479 b.c.e.) for centuries until the sudden disappearance of the school in the second century b.c.e. The disappearance of the school coincided with the rise of the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 b.c.e.-220 c.e.).

Mohists are mentioned sporadically in a few texts of the late Zhou (fourth-third centuries b.c.e.) and early Han (second century b.c.e.) periods, both in conjunction with Mozi and in connection with later groups, cultlike in organization, whose writings were much more specialized than those of their predecessors. Scholars refer to the “early Mohists” as those men who were responsible for leaving behind the earliest, core chapters of the Mohist text. These men were thought to be the direct disciples of the Master Mo himself, although the writings could possibly incorporate the words of one more generation of followers.

Early Mohists assembled together in groups according to a rigid hierarchy, all paying allegiance to their leader, known as the juzi. Since the structure of group was comparable to that of a military organization, Mohist groups fall more easily into the category of “schools” than any other early Chinese intellectual tradition. Mohist schools, both early and later, were spread out throughout many different states of the then multistate cultural and economic sphere. They functioned in society as cohesive military, religious, and intellectual units, renowned for acting out their values of loyalty and integrity to an extreme degree.

Early Mohists also became famous for their stance in opposition to certain Confucian practices of the day. The core chapters, which best represent the thought of the earlier schools, expound on ten basic precepts associated with the Mohist point of view. These precepts include such things as “universal caring,” adherence to “heaven’s will,” “denying fatalism,” “denouncing music,” “elevating the achieved,” “elevating conformity,” and “negating the Confucians.” The chapters against Confucian practices criticize elaborate burial practices and musical performances supported by Confucian ritual beliefs. Early Mohist criticism of music and burial practices is rooted in a belief that these practices demand the use of precious resources of the state and society that might otherwise be put to better use in maintaining social order and promoting the well-being of people. These chapters especially reveal Mozi’s extreme tendencies toward frugality and political pragmatism, which permeate his philosophy.

Even the style of writing in the core...

(The entire section is 2087 words.)


(Survey of World Philosophers)

Article abstract: Mozi’s doctrines of universal love, the need to follow the will of Heaven, and the condemnation of offensive warfare, as passed on by his devoted followers, formed the foundations of the first and best-organized alternative to the teachings of Confucius in China during the Warring States period (475-221 b.c.e.).

Early Life

Little is known with absolute certainty about any aspect of the life of Mo Di, usually known as Mozi; even his name has been called into question by scholars who point out that his family name, Mo (“dark” or possibly “branded”), seems more like a description than a surname. Considering Mozi’s importance for early Chinese philosophical debate and the notable Chinese penchant for accurate dating and historical details, this lack of information seems remarkable.

One possible explanation lies in Mozi’s probable class background. Mozi, the work traditionally attributed to the philosopher, is filled with examples drawn from the world of artisans. For instance, Mozi is quoted as saying that a single functional linchpin he has made is far more valuable than a fancy mechanical bird made by one of his rivals. The clumsy language of the work and the rough-hewn images Mozi employs further suggest humble origins. In the texts of rival schools, Mozi is always referred to as a commoner (jian ren) and belittled for his practical skills. The “Confucian” Xunzi (latter half of third century b.c.e.; partial translation, The Works of Hsüntze, 1928; complete translation, Xunzi, 1988-1994, 3 volumes) declares that “Doing it oneself is the way of a serf. [This is] Mo Tzu’s theory.”

Whether or not Mozi was from the lower classes, he was very well educated for his time. The eclectic Han Dynasty (207 b.c.e.-220 C.E.) text Huainanzi (late second century b.c.e.; Tao, the Great Luminant: Essays from Huai Nan Tzu, 1935; commonly known as Huainanzi) reports that “Mo Tzu studied the Confucian calling and received Confucius’s arts, yet he considered their rituals bothersome and was not pleased [with them].” Passages in Mozi describe how Mozi always traveled with a great stack of books, evidently impressing his potential audiences with his learning. Based on the many passages of this sort recorded in early Chinese sources and the heavy reliance on quotations from ancient texts in Mozi’s work, the philosopher had a good grounding in the works that were beginning to form the Chinese literary canon. Despite difficulties, Mozi must have found a way to spend a significant portion of his youth in study.

Life’s Work

By the time Mozi appears in written sources, he is a mature adult, the leader of a tightly organized and well-regimented band of young unmarried men called Mozhe, or Mohists. It appears that Mozi and his disciples moved around a great deal; scholars disagree on the exact location of their home base. A careful reading of Mozi reveals that Mozi traveled “south to Ch’u [Chu]” or “northward going to Ch’i [Qi].” When these directions are laid out over a map of ancient China, it seems most likely that Mozi was based in Lu, the home state of Confucius perhaps a hundred years earlier.

Though the principles Mozi taught fall under the broad headings of philosophy and religion, his disciples were organized in a manner modern persons associate more with cults than with schools. Zhuangzi (c. 300 b.c.e., The Divine Classic of Nan-hua, 1881; also known as The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, 1968; commonly known as Zhuangzi, 1991) describes Mozi’s teaching as “very harsh” and claims that it “goes counter to the hearts of the people, and the people cannot endure it.” Huainanzi emphasizes the control Mozi exercised over his followers, stating that “All could be commanded to rush into fire or tread on the edge of swords, and when faced with death they would not turn on their heels.” In Mozi, Mozi is quoted as telling his disciples, “My ideas are sufficient for all uses. Discarding my ideas to think on your own is like discarding the harvest to pick up [individual] heads of grain.”

It is clear that Mozi believed in and practiced a strict asceticism in his personal life and demanded the same austere self-denial from his followers. Both in the organization of his disciples and in his plans for an ideal society, Mozi was an advocate of absolute top-down intellectual conformity. In a section of Mozi dedicated to the principle of “Identification with the Superior,” Mozi argues for the unquestioning submission of subordinates to their superiors’ standards, from the level of peasants agreeing with the village head all the way up to the emperor, who is supposed to model his thought on the “will of Heaven.” As the process of identification filters down from above, everyone ultimately identifies with the principles of Heaven,...

(The entire section is 2065 words.)


(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Author Profile

Mozi lived during the fifth and fourth centuries b.c.e., an era of Chinese history known as the period of the “hundred philosophers” for its flowering of philosophical and religious thought. According to tradition, Mozi came from a declined noble family, served as an official of the kingdom of Song, and studied the Chinese classics, including the writings of Confucius. Confucian thought maintained that social order could only be achieved if mutual responsibilities were fulfilled in a clearly defined hierarchical system. Some sources say that although Mozi was born into a clan of the kingdom of Sung, his family later emigrated to the kingdom of Lu, home of Confucius. It is said that here Mozi...

(The entire section is 1056 words.)