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Mozi or Mo-tzu (墨子, Lat. as Micius, Pinyin Mozu,, original name Mo Ti, also spelled Motze, Motse, or Micius), (ca. 470 B.C.E. –ca. 390 B.C.E.), was a philosopher who lived in China and, together with Confucius, is considered one of the two great moral teachers during the Hundred Schools of Thought period (early Warring States Period). Mozi rejected Confucianism, which emphasized the correct performance of ritual social roles, and sought an objective moral standard which could be applied equally to all members of society. His ethical system emphasized the greatest good for the greatest number. His doctrine of bo-ai (universal love) maintained that one should love all people equally and rejected the Confucian concept that one should show special love and respect to parents and family.

Mozi founded the school of Mohism and argued strongly against Confucianism and Taoism. During the Warring States Period, Mohism was actively developed and practiced in many states, but fell out of favor when the legalist Qin Dynasty came to power. During that period, many Mohist classics were ruined when Qin Shihuang carried out the burning of books and burying of scholars. The importance of Mohism further declined when Confucianism became the dominant school of thought during the Han Dynasty, disappearing by the middle of the Western Han Dynasty [1].


Little is know about Mozi. The Shi Ji, a Han dynasty record, tells us only that he was an official of the state of Song, and that he lived either at the same time as or after Confucius (d. 479 B.C.E.), Qin (221-206 B.C.E.) and Han dynasty (206 B.C.E. - 219 C.E.) texts often refer to Confucius and Mozi as the two great moral teachers of the Warring States era. According to this evidence, Mozi was roughly contemporaneous with Socrates in the West. ‘Mo’ is an unusual surname and the common Chinese word for "ink," causing some scholars to speculated that this was not Mozi's original family name, but may have been an epithet given him because he was once a slave or convict, whose faces were often branded or tattooed with dark ink.

Most historians believe that Mozi, born around 470 B.C.E. was a member of the lower artisan class who managed to climb his way to an official post. He was a master engineer and craftsman, designing everything from mechanical birds to wheeled, mobile "cloud ladders" used to besiege city walls. Though he did not hold a high official position, Mozi was sought out by various rulers as an expert on fortification, and attracted a large following during his lifetime which rivaled that of Confucius. His followers, mostly technicians and craftspeople, were organized in a disciplined order that studied both Mozi's philosophical and technical writings.

According to tradition, Mo-tzu originally followed the teachings of Confucius, but became convinced that Confucianism placed too much emphasis on ritual and ceremony, and did not offer enough religious teaching. Mo-tzu was drawn to the common people, and thought the ideal life was one of simplicity and straightforward relationships. Mo-tzu’s life resembled that of Confucius in many ways. He was well-educated and versed in the Chinese classics. He held public office for a short period, but spent much of his life traveling from one state to another in search of a prince who would allow him to put his philosophy into practice. He maintained a school and recommended his followers for administrative positions.

A pacifist, Mozi to travel from one crisis zone to another through the ravaged landscape of the Warring States, trying to dissuade rulers from their plans of conquest. According to the chapter "Gongshu" in Mozi, he once walked for ten days to the state of Chu in order to forestall an attack on the state of Song. At the Chu court, Mozi engaged in simulated war games with Gongshu Ban, the chief military strategist of Chu, and overturned each one of his stratagems. When Gongshu Ban threatened him with death, Mozi informed the king that his disciples had already trained the soldiers of Song on his fortification methods, so it would be useless to kill him. The Chu king was forced to call off the war. On the way back, however, the soldiers of Song, not recognizing him, would not allow Mozi to enter their city, and he had to spend a night freezing in the rain.

Though Mozi's school faded into obscurity after the Warring States period, he was studied again two millennia after his death. Both the Republican revolutionaries of 1911 and the Chinese Communists saw in him a surprisingly modern thinker who was stifled early in Chinese history.

Notes to his background

Traditionally, Mozi was supposed to be descended from the Lord of Guzhu (Chinese: 孤竹君; pinyin: Gūzhú Jūn), himself descended from Shennong the legendary emperor. The descendants of the Lord of Guzhu had the clan name Motai (Chinese: 墨胎; pinyin: Mòtāi), which later was shortened to Mo.

Modern scholarship suggests that "Mo" was not in fact the clan name of Mozi, as this clan name/family name is not encountered during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, but that "Mo" was rather the name of the mohist school itself, derived from the name of a criminal punishment (tattooing of the forehead of criminals; "mo" literally means "ink"), usually inflicted on slaves. It signals the mohists' identification with the lowest of common people. The actual ancestral name and clan name of Mozi is not known. It may be that, because he was born into the lower classes (which seems to be established), he did not have ancestral or clan names. During Chinese antiquity, the vast majority of the Chinese people, who were not related to aristocratic families, did not possess ancestral and clan names.

Thought and Works

Born a few years after the death of Confucius, Mo-tzu lived in a period when the feudal hierarchy which had been instituted at the beginning of the Chou dynasty (twelfth or eleventh century B.C.E. to 255 B.C.E.) was disintegrating, and China was divided into small feudal states. His main concern, therefore, was how to establish political and social order.

The “Mo-tzu”

The “Mo-tzu” (“Mozi”), the principal work left by Mo-tzu and his followers, contains his political, ethical and religious teachings. The Mozi is the name of the philosophical text compiled by Mohists from Mozi's thought. Because Mohism disappeared as a living tradition from China, and because many books were burned during the Qin dynasty, its texts were not well maintained, and many chapters are missing or in a corrupted state. Of the three chapters Against Confucianism, only one remains.

Three sets of chapters in the second section give an overview of ten principles: exaltation of the virtuous, identification with the superior, universal love, condemnation of offensive war, economy of expenditure, simplicity in funerals, will of heaven, nature of ghosts, the denunciation of music as a wasteful activity, and antifatalism. After Mo-tzu’s death, Mohism divided into three schools; the three sets of chapters may represent the three sets of texts preserved by the three schools. The other sections of the Mo-tzu are: I, summaries and abstracts of Mo-tzu's teachings; III, discussions on logic and physical sciences; IV, records of Mo-tzu's deeds and sayings; V, a manual of military defense.

Self-knowledge and anti-fatalism

In contrast to the teachings of Confucius, Mozi's moral teachings emphasized self-reflection and authenticity rather than obedience to ritual. He observed that we often learn about the world through adversity ("Embracing Scholars" in Mozi). By reflecting on one's own successes and failures, one attains true self-knowledge rather than mere conformity with ritual. ("Refining Self" in Mozi) Mozi exhorted the gentleman to lead a life of asceticism and self-restraint, renouncing both material and spiritual extravagance.

Like Confucius, Mozi idealized the Xia Dynasty and the ancients of Chinese mythology, but he criticized the Confucian belief that modern life should be patterned on the ways of the ancients. He pointed out that what we think of as "ancient" was actually innovative in its time, and thus should not be used to hinder present-day innovation ("Against Confucianism, Part 3" in the Mozi). Though Mozi did not believe that history necessarily progresses, as did Han Fei Zi, he shared the latter's critique of fate (Ming). Mozi believed that people were capable of changing their circumstances and directing their own lives. They could do this by applying their senses to observing the world, and judging objects and events by their causes, their function, and their historical basis. ("Against Fate, Part 3") This was the "three-prong method" Mozi recommended for testing the truth or falsehood of statements. His students later expanded on this to form the School of Logic.


Mozi evaluated actions based on "benefit" (li) instead of the "humanity" (ren) advocated by the Confucians. Similar to the Western utilitarians, Mozi thought that actions should be measured by the way they contribute to the "greatest good of the greatest number." Using this criterion, Mozi denounced things as diverse as offensive warfare, expensive funerals, and even music and dancing, all of which he saw as serving no useful purpose. This utilitarian standard was justified by appeal to the intention of "Heaven" (Tian), the wisest and noblest agent in the cosmos, who the Mohists argued is committed impartially to the benefit of all.

Mozi also tried to replace long-entrenched Chinese family and clan structures with the concept of bo-ai which can be translated as "impartial caring" or "universal love." This concept was directly opposed to Confucianism, which had argued that it was natural and correct for people to care more about certain people, such as family members, than they did for others. Mozi, by contrast, argued that one should care for all people equally, a notion that philosophers in other Chinese schools found absurd, as it would imply no special duty towards one's parents and family. In the first chapter of Mozi’s writing on universal love, Mozi argues that the best way of being filial to one’s parents is to be filial to the parents of others. The foundational principle is that benevolence, as well as malevolence, is requited, and that one will be treated by others as one treats others. One’s parents will be treated by others, as one treats the parents of others. Mozi argued that benevolence comes to human beings “as naturally as fire turns upward or water turns downward,” provided that persons in position of authority demonstrate benevolence in their own lives. Mozi’s basic argument concerning universal love asserts that universal love is supremely practical, against those who object that the concept sounds ideal but cannot be put into practice.

Ghosts and spirits

Mozi also held a belief in the power of ghosts and spirits, although he is often thought to have only worshipped them pragmatically. That is, he thought that heaven, tian,, should be respected because failing to do so would subject one to punishment. For Mozi, "tian" was not the amoral, mystical Nature of the Taoists. Rather, it was a benevolent, moral force that rewarded the good and punished the evil, similar to the Christian idea of God. Thus he writes that "Bo-ai is the way of heaven (tian)," since "heaven nourishes and sustains all life without regard to status." ("Laws and Customs" in Mozi) Mozi's ideal of government, which advocated a meritocracy based on talent rather than background, also followed his idea of "Tian."


Mohism was suppressed under the Qin and died out completely under the Han Dynasty, who made Confucianism the official doctrine. However, many of its ideas were dissolved into the mainstream of Chinese thought and re-examined in modern times. Sun Yat-Sen used "bo-ai" as one of the foundations for his idea of Chinese democracy. More recently, Chinese scholars under Communism have tried to rehabilitate Mozi as a "philosopher of the people," highlighting his rational-empirical approach to the world as well as his "proletarian" background.

From a modern point of view, Mozi's philosophy was at once more advanced and less so than that of Confucius. His concept of "jian-ai 兼爱" embraced a broader idea of human community than the Confucians, but he is less tolerant than Confucius in his condemnation of all that is not directly "useful," neglecting the humanizing functions of art and music. Zhuangzi, who criticized both the Confucians and the Mohists, had this in mind in his parables on the "uselessness of the useful." Of course, this insistence on usefulness comes from a time when war and famine were widespread and could well have made all cultural activities look frivolous.

Mohism and Science

According to Joseph Needham, Mozi (collected writings of those in the tradition of Mozi, some of which might have been by Mozi himself) contains the following sentence: 'The cessation of motion is due to the opposing force… If there is no opposing force… the motion will never stop. This is as true as that an ox is not a horse.' which, he claims, is a precursor to Newton's first law of motion. Mozi also contains speculations in optics and mechanics that are similarly strikingly original, although their ideas were not taken up by later Chinese philosophers. The Mohist tradition is also highly unusual in Chinese thought in that it devoted time to developing principles of logic.


  • A Battle of Wits (2006 film) - Historic drama involving Mozi. "A Battle of Wits" Movie Review, written by Nix on 01.22.07. Beyond Hollywood. Retrieved May 17, 2007.


  1. Chris Fraser, Mohism, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved May 17, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Lowe, Donald Scott. 1988. A religious analysis of the Mo tzu. Ph.D. Thesis University of Iowa, 1987.
  • Lowe, Scott. 1992. Mo Tzu's religious blueprint for a Chinese utopia: the will and the way, Lewiston: E. Mellen Press. ISBN 0773494901 ISBN 9780773494909
  • Mei, Yibao. 1973. Motse, the neglected rival of Confucius, Westport, Conn: Hyperion Press. ISBN 0883550849 ISBN 9780883550847 A general study of the man and his age, his works, and his teachings, with an extensive bibliography.
  • Mo, Di, Xunzi, Fei Han, and Burton Watson. 1967. "Basic writings of Mo Tzu, Hsün Tzu, and Han Fei Tzu." Records of civilization, sources and studies, no. 74. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Tee, Tan Boon. 2006. The anti-war stance of Lao-Tzu, Mo-tzu, & Mencius: ancient Chinese philosophy revisited, Bedfordshire, England: Authors Online Ltd. ISBN 0755210379 ISBN 9780755210374

External links

All links retrieved November 10, 2022.


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