Chinese Studies Mohism
Carine Defoort
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0092


Mohism (Mojia 墨家) is the philosophical school or trend of thought named after Mozi 墨子 (Mo-tzu, Master Mo, Mo Di 墨翟, c. 479–381 BCE). Although influential in the late Warring States period, it is said to have disappeared during the imperial era, when it was mainly considered a heterodoxy opposed to Confucianism. The book Mozi was probably written over a period of approximately two hundred years (roughly in the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE) by successive groups of disciples and followers. In the Hanshu 漢書 it was listed in seventy-one pian 篇, of which fifty-three are extant. No early commentary has been preserved and the book was largely unavailable during most of the imperial history: while a short Mozi edition may have existed in the 6th century, all the current editions seem to go back to a Song exemplar that is now lost. The Mozi resurfaced in the Ming with its inclusion in the Zhengtong Daoist canon (in 1447) and in the late-18th-century Sikuquanshu project. Due to its poor transmission and textual corruption, especially of the technical parts, the critical reconstructions in the late 19th century were difficult and often tentative. The best preserved parts of the Mozi contain political and ethical ideas, such as opposition to wasting resources, to fatalism, and to aggressive warfare; more positively, they argue in favor of meritocracy, political uniformity, inclusive care, obedience to heaven, and belief in the existence of ghosts. Such ideas—nowadays labeled the “ten theses” (shilun 十論)—were mainly promoted in the core chapters (chaps. 8–37) and also in the probably slightly later dialogues (chaps. 46–50) and the opening chapters (chaps. 1–7). The remainder of the book also postdates the core chapters and is more difficult to interpret because of its technical content and textual corruption: the dialectical chapters (chaps. 40–45) discuss mainly logic and science, while the defense chapters (chaps. 52–71) contain military defensive techniques (see also Textual Matters).

General Overviews

Since the last decades of the 20th century, a number of Chinese monographs have been written on the Mozi, several of which are included in Ren and Li 2004 (cited under Source Materials). Among the most influential is Zheng 2006. Qin 1994 contains studies of less-popular topics. Fewer monographs have been dedicated to the book Mozi in Western languages: the earliest and still relevant English monograph is Mei 1934; Lowe 1992 presents a religious reading of early Mohism. Defoort and Standaert 2013 focuses on differences within the nontechnical parts of the Mozi. Yoshinaga 2004 is a historical-philosophical reading inspired by Japanese Mozi research (see also Watanabe 1977, cited under Textual Matters).

  • Defoort, Carine, and Nicolas Standaert, eds. The Mozi as an Evolving Text: Different Voices in Early Chinese Thought. Studies in the History of Chinese Texts 4. Boston: Brill, 2013.

    Collection of studies that trace evolutions and differences within the book Mozi, more particularly the core chapters, dialogues, and opening chapters. Most papers focus on a specific number of Mozi chapters.

  • Lowe, Scott. Mo Tzu’s Religious Blueprint for a Chinese Utopia: The Will and the Way. Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen, 1992.

    A religious reading of the Mozi that is not limited to views on supernatural phenomena such as ghosts, spirits, and heaven. Based on a broad sense of “religion” in terms of “ultimate concern,” the core chapter and dialogues are interpreted in terms of the Mohist ultimate concern with the greatest possible benefit to the world and the means to realize it.

  • Mei, Yi-pao. Mo-tse, The Neglected Rival of Confucius. London: Arthur Probsthain, 1934.

    The earliest English monograph dedicated to Mozi’s life, work, school and teaching, including its methodology and ethical, political, economic, and religious thought. It gives a good overview of research on Mozi in the first part of the 20th century.

  • Qin Yanshi 秦彦士. Mozi xinlun: Yige dute de wenhua xuepai (墨子新論:一個獨特的文化學派). Chengdu, China: Dianzi Keda Chubanshe, 1994.

    A collection of studies of specific topics such as Mozi’s use of language and argumentation, science and technology in the defense chapters, and Mohism in relation to Han Confucianism, popular culture, and Daoist religion. Also includes a detailed history of Mozi quotes and editions of modern and contemporary Mozi research in China.

  • Yoshinaga Shinjirō 吉永慎二郎. Sengoku shisōshi kenkyū: Juka to Bokka no shisōshiteki kōshō 戦国思想史研究: 儒家と墨家の思想史的交渉. Kyoto, Japan: Hōyū Shoten, 2004.

    Traces the evolution of the core chapters and of Mohist thought against the background of historical events in the Warring States period and, more specifically, in relation to Confucian ideas on morality, fate, abdication, warfare, etc.

  • Zheng Jiewen 郑杰文. Zhongguo Moxue tongshi (中国墨学通史). 2 vols. Beijing: Renmin Chubanshe, 2006.

    A convenient but uncritical overview of comments and research on Mozi in Chinese sources from the Warring States period to the end of the 20th century. Two major claims of the work are, first, that Mohism retained its importance throughout Chinese history and, second, that the dialogues, or “Mohist Analects,” are the oldest testimony of Mozi’s thought, preceding the core chapters.

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