BECK index

Daoism and Mo-zi

Teachings of Mo-zi
Songs of Chu

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Confucius, Mencius and Xun-zi

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From the sixth to the third century BC the chaotic times of conflicts and wars somehow produced a golden age of philosophy in China comparable to what was going on India and Greece. This period of a "hundred contending schools" began with Confucius and an obscure philosopher named Lao-zi, who left a short book that has had an immense influence on China and the world called the Dao De Jing and which became the basis for the Daoist philosophy and religion. A century later Mo-zi founded an original philosophy which was prominent for two centuries.


The historian Sima Qian tells us that Lao-zi lived during the sixth century BC in the state of Chu and was the keeper of the archives in the imperial capital at Luoyang. Those who held this position were usually skilled in divination and astrology. The historian also relates that Lao-zi met Confucius once and criticized him for his pride and ambition, but Confucius could only compare Lao-zi to the powerful symbol of a dragon. Little else is known of the life of Lao-zi except the legend that when in old age he was leaving Chu, he was stopped by the guardian of the pass into the state of Qin and asked to write down his wisdom. In three days he produced a book of 5,250 characters known as the Dao De Jing, which means the "classic of the way and its virtue (power)" or simply Way Power Book. Some scholars place Lao-zi in the fourth century BC, because he is not mentioned by anyone else until then.

It is often difficult to accept the ethics of Lao-zi without first understanding the mystical ideas in his philosophy, which is based on an all-pervading unity he called the way (dao). This way is the source of heaven and earth and the mother of all things. Its essence can be seen by the desireless; those who desire see its manifestations. From this unity comes the duality of relative opposites (yin-yang) such as beauty and ugliness, good and bad, being and non-being, difficult and easy, long and short, high and low, male and female, beginning and end, and so on. In a patriarchal and male-dominated age, Lao-zi saw the value of relying on the female aspect of the universe by being receptive, sensitive, nourishing, etc. Thus he believed the wise give life but do not take possession, act but do not rely on their own ability, accomplish but claim no credit.

Lao-zi saw a way of not competing by not exalting the worthy nor valuing rare treasure nor displaying objects of desire so that people's hearts will not be disturbed. The wise keep their hearts pure, their bellies full, their ambitions weak, and their bones strong. They act without interfering with the natural flow so that all may live in peace. The way is eternally present and infinitely useful as the fountainhead of all things; it came before any personified concept of God. This transcendental nature is beyond morality and therefore not humane. Mystically it is empty yet inexhaustible; the more it is used the more it produces. Yet much talk can be exhausting; it is better to keep to the center.

Lao-zi revered the spirit of the valley as the mystic female that never dies and is the root of heaven and earth. The wise are humble like water, which flows to the lowest level; yet they come near the way.

In their dwellings, they love the earth.
In their hearts, they love what is profound.
In their friendship, they love humanity.
In their words, they love sincerity.
In government, they love peace.
In business, they love ability.
In their actions, they love timeliness.
It is because they do not compete
that there is no resentment.1

Moderation is taught, as extremes of wealth and honor cannot be kept safe or lead to a downfall. Heaven's way is to withdraw as soon as one's work is done. Lao-zi asked if one can concentrate one's vital force to be gentle like a baby, attain mystic clarity, love people and govern the state without interfering, play the female in opening the doors of heaven, and understand all without using the mind. Mystical virtue gives birth and nourishes without taking possession, acts without obligation, and leads without dominating. The usefulness of things is found in the freedom of their empty spaces. The way is invisible, inaudible, and intangible. The wise go beyond the senses and satisfy the inner self. Troubles come from being selfish. Those who value the world as themselves may be entrusted to care for the world.

The way to make sense of a muddy world is to let it be still until it becomes clear. Those who are calm and do not overextend themselves can come back to life through activity, but not wearing out they are not replaced. In serenity one can see everything return to its source like vegetation that grows and flourishes. Returning to the source is to know the eternal and be enlightened, impartial, universal, and in accord with heaven and the way. Not to know the eternal is to act blindly and court disaster.

The worst leaders are those who are hated; the next worst are feared; the next are loved and praised; but the best are those the people barely know, such that they say, "We did it ourselves." When the way is forgotten, the doctrines of humanity and morality arise. Knowledge and cleverness lead to hypocrisy. When family relationships are not harmonious, filial piety is advocated. When a country falls into chaos, loyal patriots are praised. Lao-zi suggested abandoning religion and cleverness, humanity and morality, skill and profit, and recommended instead simplicity, the natural, controlling selfishness, and reducing desires. Yielding can preserve unity; bending can straighten; emptying oneself can be fulfilling; wearing oneself out leads to renewal; having little is to be content, while having abundance is troubling. Because the wise do not compete, no one can compete with them.

Lao-zi observed that those standing on tiptoe are not steady; those straining their strides cannot keep up; those displaying themselves do not illuminate; those justifying themselves are not distinguished; those making claims are not given credit; and those seeking glory are not leaders. Frivolous and hasty leaders lose their foundation and self-mastery. The wise are good at helping people so that no one is rejected, and they are good at saving things so that nothing is wasted. Thus the good can teach the bad, who are the lessons for the good.

Those who try to take over the world do not succeed; tampering with it spoils it, and seizing it loses it. Lao-zi opposed conquest by force of arms, because it rebounds. When armies march, scarcity and famine follow. The skillful achieve their purposes and stop without relying on violence, which is contrary to the way. Whatever is contrary to the way will soon perish. Weapons are tools of destruction hated by the people, and followers of the way never use them. Peaceful leaders favor the creative left; war favors the destructive right. When the use of weapons cannot be avoided, the best policy is calm restraint. Victory is not glorious, and those who celebrate it delight in slaughter; such killing should be mourned. Sharp weapons of the state should not be displayed. Lao-zi taught what many taught before him - that the violent die a violent death. This he made primary in his teaching.

Those who know others are wise.
Those who know themselves are enlightened.
Those who overcome others require force.
Those who overcome themselves need strength.
Those who are content are wealthy.
Those who persevere have will power.
Those who do not lose their center endure.
Those who die but maintain their power live eternally.2

Virtue does not emphasize its power, and thus is powerful. The inferior never forget their power, and thus are powerless. The best virtue does not interfere nor have an ulterior motive. Lesser virtue interferes with an ulterior motive. Humanity takes action without an ulterior motive, while morality takes action with an ulterior motive. Rules of propriety take action, and finding no response, force it on them. Thus when the way is lost, things degenerate from virtue to humanity to morality to the rules of propriety, which is the superficial expression of loyalty and faithfulness and the beginning of disorder. By attaining oneness heaven becomes clear, earth stable, spirits divine, valleys fertile, creatures alive and growing, and kings leaders.

When people live in accord with the way, horses work on farms; but when they do not, the cavalry practices in the parks. The greatest temptation to crime is desire; the greatest curse is discontent; the greatest calamity is greed. The wise have no fixed mind-set but regard the people's minds as their own. They are good to the good and bad, honest to the honest and dishonest, living peacefully and harmoniously sharing a common heart and treating the people as their own children. The mystical virtue nourishes, cares for, develops, shelters, comforts, nurtures, and protects, producing without possessing, helping without obligating, and guiding without controlling. When the fields are full of weeds and the granaries are empty, while some wear fancy clothes, carry sharp swords, over-indulge in food and drink, having more possessions than they can use, the leaders are robbers; this is not the way.

States are governed by justice, and wars are waged by violations. Yet the world can be mastered by non-intervention.

The more restrictions there are, the poorer the people.
The more sharp weapons, the more trouble in the state.
The more clever cunning, the more contrivances.
The more rules and regulations, the more thieves and robbers.
Therefore the wise say,
"Do not interfere, and people transform themselves.
Love peace, and people do what is right.
Do not intervene, and people prosper.
Have no desires, and people live simply."3

When government is relaxed, people are happy; but when it is strict, they are anxious. When those responsible for justice become unjust, what seems good becomes evil. Lao-zi recommended frugality to be prepared from the start and in order to build up inner power. Those with maternal leadership can long endure. Governing a large country is like cooking a small fish; one must be careful not to overdo it. As the female overcomes the male with tranquillity, a country can win over a small or large country by placing itself below. The difficult can be handled while it is still easy. Great accomplishments begin with what is small. The wise always confront difficulties before they get too large. Handle them before they appear. Organize before there is confusion. Be as careful at the end as at the beginning, and there will be no failure.

The wise in watching over people speak humbly from below them and in leading them get behind them. Thus they do not oppress them nor block them, but everyone happily goes along without getting tired. From Lao-zi's three treasures of love, frugality, and not pushing oneself ahead of others come courage, generosity, and leadership. Love wins all battles and is the strongest defense, heaven giving it to save and protect. The best soldier is nonviolent; the best fighter is not angry; the best employer is humble. Strategy says not to be the aggressor but the defender; instead of advancing, retreat. This paradoxically is movement without moving, stretching the arm without showing it, confronting enemies with the idea there is no enemy, while holding in the hand no weapons. No disaster is worse than underestimating the enemy; but when the battle is joined, the kind will win. Those brave in killing will be killed, while those brave in not killing will live. The way of heaven does not strive; yet it wins easily.

Like Confucius, Lao-zi found that the best knowledge is to know that you do not know, and like Socrates he found that thinking you know when you do not is a disease. By recognizing this disease, the wise are free of it. Since people are not afraid to die, why threaten them with it? Those who try to do the work of the Lord of Death by executing rarely escape injuring their own hands. Only those who do not interfere with living are best at valuing life. The way of heaven takes from those who have too much and gives to those who do not have enough, but the human way is just the opposite. Only the person of the way has enough to give to the world. The wise do not hoard; but the more they give, the more they have. Those who bear the humiliation of the people can minister to them, and those who take on the sins of the society can lead the world. Lao-zi envisioned a simple society in which food is tasty, clothes are beautiful, home is comfortable, and customs are delightful so that people feel no need to travel. The way of heaven sharpens but does not harm and accomplishes without striving.

Dao De Jing


Confucius died in 479 BC, and about ten years later Mo-zi was born in the same state of Lu; he probably died about twenty years before Mencius was born in 371 BC. According to the Huainan-zi in the second century BC, Mo-zi had the same kind of traditional education in the six classics as Confucius but was critical of some Confucian ideas such as elaborate funerals and therefore rejected Zhou traditions in favor of the older Xia. Judging by the wagon-load of books Mo-zi took with him when he went to Wei as an envoy, he was quite a scholar. Since the purpose of his learning was to practice justice and teach others to do so also, Mo-zi became a minister in the state of Song and also traveled to different states to advise rulers on how they could apply his teachings. The Huainan-zi stated that Mo-zi never stayed anywhere long enough to make the seat warm. It goes on to say that for sages no mountains are too high and no rivers too wide; they bear shame and humiliation to advise rulers, not for wealth or position but merely to benefit the world and eliminate human catastrophes. Mo-zi was such a man.

Mo-zi sent his writing to King Hui (ruled Chu 488-432 BC), who called it an excellent work but felt he was too old to receive him. Mu Ho, who was assigned to receive him, asked Mo-zi why his great Lord should employ the ideas of a humble man. Mo-zi explained that even the emperor takes the roots of herbs if their medicine is applicable.

Once when asked by a rustic in Lu why Mo-zi used so much verbosity, since justice was just a word, he explained that justice has the power to serve people and produce wealth. Mo-zi thought of being a farmer to feed people or a weaver to clothe people or a soldier to defend people; but he decided that if he could persuade rulers to adopt his principles of justice, then states would be orderly, and the benefit would be greater than by plowing or weaving. A friend said he was foolish for persisting in the struggle for justice, since he was almost alone. Mo-zi replied that like the farmer who had only one son out of ten actually working, his efforts should be encouraged even more.

Gong Shu-zi invented grappling hooks and rams for Chu and asked Mo-zi if he had any device as good in his justice. Mo-zi said that he pulled with love and pushed with respect, because without love there is no intimacy and without respect there is rapid desecration, which without intimacy leads to separation. Thus mutual love and respect bring mutual benefit, but to pull in order to stop retreat and to push to stop an advance is nothing but mutual injury.

Mo-zi already had three hundred disciples when Gong Shu Ban of Chu completed his preparations for attacking Song. Hearing of it, Mo-zi walked ten days and nights from Qi, having to tear off pieces of clothing to wrap up his feet. He saw Gong Shu Ban in the Chu capital at Ying, telling him that someone had humiliated him; Mo-zi wanted him to murder the man for him and offered him a reward. Gong Shu-zi declared that his principles were against murdering people. So Mo-zi bowed and asked him why he was preparing to attack Song. The state of Chu is large and has plenty, while innocent Song is small in territory with few people. It does not seem wise to destroy what is scarce in order to strive for what is already plentiful. Nor does a principle that allows the killing of many but not a few seem consistent. Gong Shu Ban was convinced by these arguments but said that he could not stop it, because he had promised his Lord.

So Mo-zi saw the Lord and used similar analogies about a man who has much taking from those with little; for Chu to attack Song would be violating justice for no advantage. The Lord turned to Gong Shu Ban, who had already constructed the scaling ladders. So Mo-zi untied his belt, laid out a city on the floor, and defended it nine times against nine different machines using his stick as a weapon. Mo-zi knew that he could be put down if he were murdered; but he warned them that his three hundred disciples were already armed with implements of defense on the walls of Song. Thus the Lord of Chu decided not to attack Song after all. Several of Mo-zi's writings are on the subjects of fortifications and defense against attacks from an elevation, with ladders, a sally, tunneling, and an ant-rush. On his way back home through Song, Mo-zi was refused shelter from the rain by a guard at a mountain pass, but he took it philosophically, saying that a man who cultivates himself spiritually is not recognized by the multitude.

Gong Shang Guo, after talking with Mo-zi, recommended him to the Lord of Yueh, who sent fifty wagons to Lu to induce Mo-zi to come and instruct him, promising also a large piece of land in the former state of Wu. Yet Mo-zi only asked for the food and clothing necessary for his body; but if the Lord of Yueh was not going to listen to his words, he did not need to go outside of the empire to sell his justice. When Lu's master of sacrifice offered one pig and asked for a hundred blessings, Mo-zi said that to give little but expect much from others would make them afraid of gifts.

When the Lord of Lu was afraid that Qi was going to attack him, he asked Mo-zi if there was any remedy. Mo-zi suggested that he revere heaven and the spirits above while loving and benefiting the people below; he should humble his speech, befriend the neighboring lords, and lead his state in serving Qi. Mo-zi also advised the general of Qi that to attack Lu was wrong, and he gave examples from history how large states had attacked small states and been defeated by the vengeance of the feudal lords. He asked the Grand Lord of Qi who would be cursed for capturing a state, ruining an army, and destroying the people, and after deliberation the Lord realized that it would be himself.

In Wei as an envoy Mo-zi cautioned Gong Liang Huan-zi that a small state like Wei between Qi and Jin is like a poor family in the midst of rich families; the poor family that imitates the rich in extravagance will be ruined. If the money spent on luxuries was devoted to self-defense in this emergency, the state would be more secure. Sima Qian's Historical Records mention that Mo-zi was imprisoned in Song on the advice of Zi Han, who in 404 BC murdered Duke Zhao of Song. The historian also credited Mo-zi with being skilled at defense and practicing frugality.

Mo-zi had recommended Cao Gong-zi to the state of Song, and after three years he returned complaining of the frugal food and clothing in Mo-zi's school; now several members of his family have died, six animals have not bred, and he himself has suffered ailments. Mo-zi replied that he was not fair, because the man did not give up his position to the virtuous, did not share his wealth with the poor, and then merely served the spirits by sacrificing to them. This was like shutting one of a hundred gates and then wondering how the thieves entered.

In 393 BC Prince Wen of Lu Yang was planning to attack Zheng. Mo-zi went to stop him and asked him what he would do if his large cities attacked his small cities, killing the people and taking their goods. Prince Wen replied that he would punish them severely, to which Mo-zi asked whether heaven would punish him if he attacked Zheng. Prince Wen, however, felt that it was the will of heaven, because they had murdered their lords for three generations and had already suffered three hard years of heaven's punishment. Mo-zi posed the case of a father, who was punishing his son when the neighbor's father struck his son, saying it is in accord with the father's will. If a lord attacks neighboring states, kills their people, takes away their goods, and then writes down how powerful he is, is that any better than a common man who does the same thing to his neighbors? Prince Wen then realized that what the world takes for granted may not be right after all. Mo-zi said that gentlemen of the world know only trifles, not what is important. If a man steals a pig, they call him wrong; but if a state is stolen, they call it just. Finally Prince Wen referred to the barbarians who practice cannibalism; but Mo-zi complained that in the civilized world, instead of killing the father to reward the son, they kill the sons (in war) to reward the fathers.

Mo-zi had a school and recommended several of his disciples for political positions in Chu, Wei, and Song. He sent Sheng Zhuo to serve Xiang-zi Niu, who invaded Lu three times accompanied by Sheng Zhuo. So Mo-zi sent Gao Sun-zi to call him back, saying that he sent Zhuo there to cure pride and regulate insolence; but Zhuo was drawing a large salary and flattering his master. For Mo-zi, to preach justice and not do it is an intentional wrong. He thought Zhuo knew better, but his justice had been overcome by the emolument.

Mo-zi praised his disciple Gao Shi-zi for leaving the Lord of Wei after his counsels were ignored three times, because when the way is not being observed in the world, a superior person does not stay in a position of plenty. However, when Gao-zi said that he could administer a country, Mo-zi replied that to govern is to carry out what one teaches. As the students of Mo-zi already knew, Gao-zi did not behave according to what he taught, which means he himself was in revolt. Being unable to govern himself, how could he govern a country?

Teachings of Mo-zi

In addition to strategies of defense Mo-zi wrote several treatises to explain his philosophy. In an essay on "Universal Love" he began with the basic principle that the humane try to promote what is beneficial to the world and eliminate what is harmful. The greatest harm of his time he believed to be great states attacking small ones, the strong oppressing the weak, the many bothering the few, the cunning deceiving the stupid, and the eminent lording it over the humble; mean people seek to injure others with weapons. These are not caused by people trying to love and benefit each other but by trying to injure. This injuring comes about, because people are not motivated by universal love but by partiality, which is therefore wrong.

Mo-zi felt that one should not criticize others without having an alternative to offer them. He suggested universal love instead of partiality. How can this be done? If people were to regard other states as they regard their own, they would not attack one another; for it would be like attacking one's own state.

Now if we seek to benefit the world
by taking universality as our standard,
those with sturdy limbs will work for others,
and those with a knowledge of the Way
will endeavor to teach others.
Those who are old and without wives or children
will find means of support and be able to live out their days;
the young and orphaned who have no parents
will find someone to care for them and look after their needs.4

The universal person regards one's friend the same as oneself and the father of one's friend as one's father. Only the person who does this can be considered a truly superior person. Such a person will feed people when they are hungry, clothe them when they are cold, nourish them when they are sick, and bury them when they die. The selfish person will not. To which type of person will one trust the support of one's parents? To the universal person or the selfish one? Even if one does not believe in universal love, that person would trust his or her family to the universal person. Thus people criticize universal love in words but adopt it in practice. Also if people had to choose between these two types of rulers, which would they follow?

If we want other people to love and benefit our parents, then we must make it a point first to love and benefit others' parents. Thus Mo-zi showed how universal love and mutual benefit can be profitable and easy, but the only trouble is that no ruler delights in them. If rulers did adopt them, Mo-zi predicted that the people would turn to universal love and mutual benefit as naturally as fire turns upward and water flows downward. This is the way of the ancient sage kings to bring about safety for the rulers and officials and to assure ample food and clothing for the people. If this is put into practice, rulers will be generous, subjects loyal, fathers kind, sons filial, older brothers friendly, and younger brothers respectful.

In his "Honoring the Worthy" Mo-zi acknowledged that rulers and officials all want their states to be wealthy, their populations numerous, and their administrations well ordered, but he found that they are poor, few, and chaotic. Mo-zi recommended that those governing honor the worthy and employ the capable so that government will be more effective and the people prosperous. Also those without ability must be demoted in order to do away with private likes and dislikes. Mo-zi taught that when the wise rule, there will be order; but when the stupid rule over the wise, there will be chaos. Thus the ancient sage kings honored the worthy and employed the capable without showing any special consideration for their own kin, no partiality for the eminent and rich, and no favoritism for the good-looking. Thus the people were encouraged by these rewards to become more capable, and the sage kings listened to the worthy, watched their actions, observed their abilities, and assigned them to the proper office.

To accomplish this three principles must be followed: first, the positions of the worthy must be exalted enough so that the people will respect them; second, the salaries must be generous so that people will have confidence in them; and third, their orders must be enforced so that people will be in awe of them. According to Mo-zi in the ancient times worthy men who accomplished anything gave the credit to the ruler, while all grudges and complaints were directed against subordinates so that the ruler always had peace and joy, while the ministers handled the cares and sorrows. The ruler, however, must be willing to delegate responsibility and pay out stipends. The unworthy steal and plunder in government and, if assigned a city, betray their trust or rebel. They do not know to employ the capable but instead hire their relatives and those who happen to be eminent or attractive.

In "Identifying with One's Superior" Mo-zi speculated that at first people lived in chaos, because each person had their own views; this resulted in conflict. Eventually people chose the most capable as leaders so that government could be unified and under intelligent direction. The son of heaven (emperor) then appointed high ministers, who helped regulate the feudal lords and chiefs, who in turn chose the worthy and able to act as officials. Then the son of heaven proclaimed the principle that anyone hearing of good or evil must report it to one's superior. The judgments of the superior are to be respected; but if a superior commits a fault, the subordinates are to remonstrate. Those who do good are to be rewarded and those who do evil punished, and the greatest care must be taken that these are just.

However, Mo-zi also believed that the people should not only identify with the son of heaven but with heaven itself, or else there will be no end to calamities, which are punishments from heaven. Someone asked Mo-zi why then was there such disorder in the empire. Mo-zi used the example of the barbarian Miao to explain that punishments must be applied with instruction and admonition or else they become mere tortures. Originally government intended to benefit people and eliminate adversity, to help the poor, increase the few, bring safety where there was danger, and restore order where there was confusion. At the present, however, administration is carried on by court flattery, and fathers and brothers and other relatives and friends are appointed rulers of the people. Since people realize that they have not been appointed for the welfare of the people, they do not respect them nor identify with them. Thus the purposes of government are not unified; rewards do not encourage people to do good; and punishments do not restrain them from doing evil.

The ancient sage kings had many to help them see and hear, because they could trust their staff in administering. Virtuous people, even far away, were found and rewarded, while the wicked were also punished; thieves and robbers could not find refuge anywhere. Mo-zi believed that whoever asks the people to identify with their superiors must love them dearly, or else they will not trust the ruler and obey orders. People can be led with the rewards of wealth and honor ahead of them and pushed from behind with just punishments.

Mo-zi wrote most vehemently against offensive warfare. Everyone condemns stealing and violence against others on an individual level. Yet when it comes to the greater injustice of offensive warfare against other states, gentlemen do not know enough to condemn it; instead they praise it and call it just. To kill one person is a capital crime; but when states kill hundreds, they praise it and write down the record for posterity. Mo-zi complained that the feudal lords of his day continued to attack and annex their neighboring states, claiming they were honoring justice.

The ancient sage kings strove to unite the world in harmony to bring people together. Contemporary rulers examine the relative merits of their soldiers and weapons and then set off to attack some innocent state, where they cut down the crops, fell trees, raze walls, fill in moats and ponds, slaughter animals, burn temples, and massacre the people, carrying away their treasures. The soldiers are urged on with the idea that to die is the highest honor, and the penalty for running away is death. Does this benefit heaven? It is attacking the people of heaven. Does this benefit humans? Mo-zi ironically wrote, "But murdering men is a paltry way to benefit them indeed, and when we calculate the expenditures for such warfare we find that they have crippled the basis of the nation's livelihood and exhausted the resources of the people to an incalculable degree."5

Mo-zi recounted how many hundreds of officials and how many thousands of soldiers were required for these expeditions that might last several years. Meanwhile officials must neglect government, farmers their crops, and women their weaving. If one-fifth of the supplies and weapons are salvaged afterwards, it is considered fortunate. Countless men will desert or die of starvation, cold, and sickness. He asked if it is not perverse that rulers and officials delight in the injury and extermination of the people of the world. Usually it is the larger states like Qi, Jin, Chu, and Yue that attack the smaller ones, which is like destroying what one does not have enough of for the sake of what one already has in excess. In this way many states have been made extinct, while hardly more than these four powerful states remain. The world has become as weary as a little boy who has spent the day playing horse.

Mo-zi wished there were someone, who would conduct diplomacy in good faith and think first of how to benefit others, who would feel concerned with others when a large state commits an unjust act, who when a large state attacked a small one would with others help rescue the small state, who would help small states repair their defenses and get supplies of cloth and grain and funds; then the smaller states would be pleased. If others struggle while one is at ease, and if one is merciful and generous, the people will be won over. If one substitutes good government for offensive warfare and spends less on the army, one will gain rich benefits. If one acts according to justice and sets an example for others, then one will have no enemies and bring incalculable benefit to the world.

Mo-zi also recommended moderation in expenditures by avoiding beginning enterprises, employing people, or spending wealth on anything that is not necessary, such as elaborate funerals and courtly musical and cultural extravaganzas. A strict utilitarian, Mo-zi considered only the pragmatic value of activities and expenditures, complaining that luxurious music and arts for the court drain the wealth and abilities of the people.

Mo-zi believed that heaven knows of the crimes people commit. Heaven loves justice and hates injustice. If we lead the people to devote themselves to justice, then we are doing what heaven wants. How does one know heaven wants justice? In the world where there is justice there is life, wealth, and order, and where there is no justice there is death, poverty, and disorder. Since heaven desires life, wealth, and order, it follows that it desires justice. Whoever obeys the will of heaven by loving all people universally and working for their benefit will be rewarded. Those who disobey the will of heaven by showing partiality and hatred and in injuring others will surely incur punishment. The former regard justice as right, but the latter believe force is right.

Heaven desires that those who have strength work for others, those with wealth share with others, those above attend diligently to government, and those below diligently carry out their tasks so that the state will be well ordered. When the state avoids armed clashes on its borders, when it devotes its efforts to feeding the hungry, giving rest to the weary, and taking care of its subjects, then human relations will be good. Mo-zi believed that heaven loves the world universally and seeks mutual benefit for all creatures. There is not even the tip of a hair that is not the work of heaven. For Mo-zi the will of heaven was like the compass to the wheelwright or a square to a carpenter; it is the standard to measure government as well as words and actions. The sage kings devoted themselves to universality and shunned partiality, but the feudal lords regard might as right.

Mo-zi also believed in spiritual beings and the spirits of the ancestors. As evidence he cited that countless people in the world have seen or heard such beings. He was critical of those who believed in fate, because he felt they lacked benevolence. Mo-zi had three tests to judge the validity of any theory. First, what is the origin of the theory and how does it compare to the ancient sage kings? Second, how does it compare to the evidence of people's eyes and ears? Third, when it is put into practice, does it bring benefit to people? On the first, the sage kings never declared that good fortune cannot be sought nor bad fortune avoided nor that being reverent will not help you nor doing evil not harm you. Fatalism would overthrow justice in the world and replace it with fate. However, when the just are in authority, the world will be better. Thus the ancient sage kings provided for rewards and punishments in order to encourage good and prevent evil. Secondly then, people are loving to their parents and friendly to their neighbors, because they know from their own experience that their actions can affect their destinies. Thirdly, if fatalism was accepted, those above would not attend to the affairs of state and those below would not pursue their tasks, resulting in disorder and poverty.

Mo-zi's three tests of validity can be considered an examination of the past, present, and future. The basis of a doctrine is found in the past history of the early kings; it can be verified by present-day experience; and the pragmatic test applies the theory to see how it works.

Mo-zi also wrote against his rival school of the Confucians, but many of his arguments seem to be exaggerated and unfair to actual Confucian philosophy and practices. Mo-zi accused them of considering heaven unintelligent and spirits inanimate. He railed against their elaborate funerals with weeping lasting three years, and he felt their music, singing, and dancing were ruining the empire. Mo-zi criticized Confucians for supporting wars and having enemies and accused several individuals of participating in revolts. Mo-zi also accused the Confucians of fatalism. When a Confucian disciple complained that his accusations were false and too extreme, Mo-zi denied it. However, the truth was surely clear to intelligent people, and this bitter rivalry on Mo-zi's part may have been one of the main factors in discrediting the credibility of his own school.


For about two centuries the school of Mo was the main rival of the Confucians. According to Han Fei-zi (d. 233 BC), after Mo-zi's death his school split into three branches, which could explain why most of his treatises were preserved in three versions. Zhuang-zi explained that these schools quibbled over logical questions and called each other heretics, but they all respected the writings of Mo-zi and the "Elder Master."

The first Elder Master named Fu Dun in the state of Qin refused to suspend the capital punishment of his son for murder because of his devotion to justice. Meng Sheng, the second Elder Master, was given land by the prince of Yang Cheng. When the king of Jing died, the ministers rose against Wu Qi, and the prince of Yang Cheng had to flee. The state of Jing demanded Meng Sheng's land, but he had promised not to give it up without the matching tally (representing the contract). Meng Sheng chose death as the only honorable solution. His disciple Xu Ro tried to talk him out of it, but failing cut off his own head to prepare the way for his master. After he passed the Elder Mastership on to Tian Xiang-zi of Song, Meng Sheng and also 183 of his followers committed suicide. These accounts are from essays on the Spring and Autumn of Lu, but a contradiction arises when we discover that the scholar Sun Yi Rang listed these three Elder Masters and Meng Sheng's disciple Xu Ro as the fourth Elder Master. The author of the essays also listed several followers of Mo who had been convicted criminals.

Xun-zi recorded how a follower of Mo-zi named Song-zi explained how realizing that to be insulted is not a dishonor can prevent struggles. People fight because they feel they are dishonored by an insult. When they discover that it is not a dishonor to be insulted, they will struggle no more. Yet in the Period of Warring States Moism had to face the criticism of realists like Guan-zi, who warned that if agitation for disarmament triumphed, strategic points would no longer be guarded; and if the doctrine of universal love prevailed, soldiers would no longer fight. Moism was also criticized for its frugality in regard to funerals and music by Mencius, who also complained that love without difference of degree was unrealistic when the manifestation of love must begin with our parents.

Xun-zi also criticized Mo-zi for worrying unnecessarily about insufficiency and accused him of causing poverty in the empire by condemning music and economizing too much on expenditures. He felt Mo-zi's recommendations of coarse clothing and poor food undiluted by amusement were too stringent and caused anxiety.

Although Zhuang-zi considered Mo-zi "one of the greatest souls in the world," he likewise criticized him for being too strict in economizing on funerals and music. Mo-zi himself and some of his followers might be able to follow this extreme asceticism, but it made most people uncomfortable and unhappy and thus was difficult to practice. Zhuang-zi felt that people will express joy in singing and grief in wailing, and so he questioned whether condemning these expressions was in accordance with human nature.

Both Confucianism and Moism were persecuted by the Qin empire, but according to the Huainan-zi both teachings were revived and systematized. However, Moism soon passed out of fashion and was neglected by Chinese culture, though fortunately his writings were passed on by scholars, and his philosophy could be studied.


Zhuang-zi lived in the state of Song through most of the fourth century BC, probably dying shortly after 300 BC. According to the historian Sima Qian he preferred to please himself and turned down an offer to be prime minister of Chu from King Wei, who ruled from 339 to 329 BC. Zhuang-zi wrote that he would rather drag his tail in the mud like a living turtle than be sacrificed like a sacred tortoise in the Great Temple. The book of a hundred thousand characters named after him was probably added to by later disciples in his imaginative and mystical style. Though he did not call himself a Daoist, Zhuang-zi respected Lao-zi more than any other philosopher, and the way and its power or virtue is certainly central in his philosophy.

In the first and last chapters the Zhuang-zi refers to Song Keng, a philosopher Mencius met going to Chu to try to persuade the king not to fight with Qin using the argument that war is unprofitable, an idea Mencius criticized. Xun-zi described Song Keng as teaching that human desires are little, although everyone supposes their own passions are great. Xun-zi believed that Song Keng could not see that desires are many and felt he did not know the value of virtue. Xun-zi credited Song Keng for showing clearly that it is no disgrace to receive an insult and that when people realize this, they will not fight. According to Xun-zi, Song Keng worked to check aggression and proposed disarmament, and so he considered him a Moist; he felt Song did too much for others and not enough for himself. Zhuang-zi likewise considered the checking of aggression and disarmament proposals were the external achievement, while desiring few things was the inner cultivation of Song Keng and Yin Wen. The legalist Han Fei-zi wrote that Song Keng preached not fighting, not making enemies, not feeling shame for being in prison nor disgrace for being insulted, and he was honored by the rulers of the world for being liberal-minded.

In the first chapter "Free and Easy Wandering" Zhuang-zi wrote that Song Keng would burst out laughing at a man who had enough wisdom to fill one office, good conduct to impress one community, virtue to please one ruler, and talent enough to serve one state. Such was Song Keng's equanimity that he would not exert himself if the whole world praised him nor would he mope if the whole world condemned him, for he drew a clear line between the internal and external, recognizing the boundaries of true glory and disgrace. In the last chapter the Zhuang-zi discusses philosophers and says that Song Keng and Yin Wen designed caps flat like Mount Hua to symbolize equality and peace. They preached liberality of mind to bring people together in harmony and assure concord. They walked everywhere to persuade those above them and teach those below them to end human strife, outlaw aggression, and abolish the use of arms in order to rescue the world from warfare. Asking for only five pints of rice, Zhuang-zi was afraid these teachers did not get their fill. Even though their disciples were hungry, they never forgot the rest of the world, being determined that everyone should live; even though the world refused to listen, they never stopped asking to be seen, working for the external goal of outlawing aggression and weapons and for the internal goal of lessening desires.

Zhuang-zi also described how Shen Dao and others heard of the views of the ancients and discarded knowledge and any distinction between right and wrong, but he decided that this was not the true way. He observed that the logician Hui Shih could not seem to find any peace for himself but went on separating and analyzing everything without achieving anything. Zhuang-zi liked the views of Lao-zi best - knowing the male but clinging to the female and becoming the valley of the world. In the end the Zhuang-zi refers to the writings of Zhuang Zhou as a string of queer beads and baubles with outlandish terms and bombastic language but which do not look at things from one angle only or with partisanship; yet they do no one any harm.

A delightful and enigmatic writer, it is difficult to discuss the ethics of Zhuang-zi, because he chose to transcend mundane activities in a quietistic and reclusive life. In his chapter on the equality of all things, he wrote,

Great understanding is broad and generous;
petty understanding is contentious.
Great speech is clear and simple;
petty speech is quarrelsome.
In sleep when the human spirit goes visiting,
or awake when the body is free to move and act,
in all their contacts and associations
some minds are relaxed, some are deep, and some are serious.
We scheme and fight with our minds.
We worry over small fears and are overwhelmed by great fears.
The mind shoots forth like an arrow
to be the arbiter of right and wrong.
It clings to its position like a solemn pledge.6

Zhuang-zi pitied humans fixed in their bodily forms, pathetically clashing with things, laboring to the end of their days and never knowing where to look for rest. "Are humans not muddled?" he asked. When the way relies on little accomplishments and vain show, then we have the rights and wrongs of the Confucians and the Moists, but they call each others' rights wrongs; the best thing is clarity. There is always a this and a that, but the wise see that they both have right and wrong in them. The consciousness which no longer finds their opposites is the hinge of the way, seeing both the right and wrong as a single infinity.

A road is made by people walking on it; things are so, because they are called so. Only the person of far-reaching vision is able to make them into one. The wise harmonize both right and wrong and rest in heaven the equalizer. Zhuang-zi called this walking two roads. The one who can understand discriminations that are not spoken and the way that is not a way may be called the reservoir of heaven, which poured into is never full and dipped from never runs dry; yet one does not know the source of its supply. This Zhuang-zi called the hidden Light. When Yao sat on his throne and found his mind nagging him to attack other rulers, Shun replied that long ago ten thousand suns came out all at once and illuminated all things, and yet virtue is greater than those suns!

Zhuang-zi asked how one knows that loving life is not a delusion or hating death is not like a person who has left home and forgotten the way back. Suppose two people have an argument. Is the one who beats the other necessarily right and the other necessarily wrong? If the two cannot agree, should they get someone else to decide what is right? But they can only get someone who agrees with one or the other or none or both; so how can anyone else decide for them? Rather Zhuang-zi suggested that we harmonize them with the heavenly equality, leave them to their endless changes, and so live out our years. Leap into the boundless and make it your home! Zhuang-zi dreamed he was a butterfly; but when he awoke, he thought he might be a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuang Zhou. This he called the transformation of things.

Zhuang-zi often satirized a caricature of Confucius for trying to teach virtue, goodness, and justice. He observed that when the world has the way, the wise succeed; but when the world does not have the way, the wise survive; in times like the present he found they did well to escape penalty. He suggested leaving off this teaching of virtue. Everyone knows the value of the useful, but no one knows the value of the useless. Many people excuse their faults and claim they do not deserve to be punished, but few admit their faults. Only a person of virtue knows what one cannot do anything about and is content with it. Zhuang-zi suggested that one not allow likes or dislikes to get in and do harm. Just let things be the way they are and don't try to help life along. We go around telling each other, I do this or that; but how do we know that this I really exists? When we dream we are something else, how do we know whether we are awake or dreaming? Running around accusing others is not as good as laughing, which is not as good as going along with things. By forgetting about change, one can enter the mysterious oneness of heaven.

Zhuang-zi suggested that we not embody fame or store up schemes or undertake projects or sell wisdom but rather embody to the fullest what has no end and wander where there is no trail. Hold on to what you receive from heaven, but don't think you have got anything. Be empty and use the mind like a mirror. Go after nothing; respond but do not store. Thus one can win out over things and not hurt oneself.

Zhuang-zi lamented that the way and its virtue have been cast aside in the call for goodness and justice. If the inborn nature had not been abandoned there would be no need for rites and music. He blamed the sages for destroying the way and its virtue in order to create goodness and justice. What the ordinary world calls perfect wisdom he described as piling things up for the benefit of a great thief. He pointed out that several famous persuaders were destroyed or forced to commit suicide by their rulers, who also came to violent deaths as the result of their wickedness. He observed that whoever steals a belt buckle pays with his life, but whoever steals a state gets to be a feudal lord; yet everyone knows that goodness and justice are found at the gates of the feudal lords. Everyone knows enough to search for what they don't know, but no one knows enough to search for what they already know. Everyone knows enough to condemn what they take to be no good, but no one knows enough to condemn what they have already taken to be good.

Zhuang-zi suggested that by resting in inaction things will transform themselves. Forget you are a thing and join in great unity with the deep and boundless. Undo the mind, slough off spirit, be blank and soulless, and everything will return to the root and not know why. But if you try to know it, you have already departed from it. Do not ask its name or try to observe its form. Let things live naturally of themselves. A great one teaches like a shadow that follows form, an echo that follows sound, only answering when questioned and pouring out thoughts like a companion of the world. Such a one blended with the great unity is selfless. The "gentleman" of ancient times fixed his eyes on possession, but the one who fixes on nothingness is the true friend of heaven and earth.

The sage is not still because of taking stillness as good, but because the myriad of things are insufficient to distract the sage's mind. The mind of the sage in stillness is the mirror of heaven and earth. Some of the later writings of the Zhuang-zi have goodness, justice, loyalty, music, and rites coming out of the way and its virtue. But if all the emphasis is placed on the rites and music, then the world falls into disorder. In the ancient times people did not use knowledge to trouble the world but kept to their inborn nature. Instead of trying to rectify others, they rectified themselves and in complete joy found the fulfillment of ambition.

In the "Autumn Floods" the god of the north sea explains to the lord of the river that right and wrong are points of view based on preference. Everything can have some right to it, and anything can have something wrong with it. If you try to make right your master and do away with wrong or make order your master and do away with disorder, you have not understood the principle of heaven and earth or the nature of things. It would be like making heaven your master and doing away with earth or making yin (feminine) your master and doing away with yang (masculine). Obviously this is impossible.

Zhuang-zi questioned whether perfect happiness is found in what the world honors: wealth, eminence, long life, and a good name or in what the world enjoys: a life of ease, rich food, fine clothes, beautiful sights, and sweet sounds. Yet people who cannot get these things fret a great deal, which is a stupid way to treat the body, while others wear themselves out rushing around on business to pile up more wealth than they can ever use, which is a superficial way to treat the body. Ambitious people scheme day and night wondering if they are doing right, which is a shoddy way to treat the body, while others spend their lives worrying, which is a callous way to treat the body. Zhuang-zi simply took inaction to be happiness.

After Zhuang-zi's mother died, a friend came and found him singing and pounding on a tub. When asked why he was not mourning, Zhuang-zi explained that at first he grieved; but then he looked back at the time before she was born and before she had a body or even a spirit, realizing that now she was merely undergoing another change. Zhuang-zi once slept on a skull using it as a pillow and dreamed that the dead person told him the dead are very happy, because they have no rulers above nor subjects below and no seasonal chores. Having more happiness than a king on his throne why would he want to come back to the troubles of a human being?

Once Zhuang-zi went to see the king of Wei who, seeing his coarse and patched clothes, thought he was in distress. Zhuang-zi explained that he was poor but not in distress. If a person had the way and its virtue but could not put them into practice, that would be distress. Zhuang-zi learned from master Geng-sang that if he wanted to preserve his body and life, he must think only of how to hide himself away no matter how remote or secluded the spot. Promoting people of worth began with Yao and Shun and led to people trampling over each other and stealing from each other. People have become more diligent in pursuing gain so that sons kill fathers, ministers kill their lords, and men filch at mid-day. Rather one should cling fast to life and keep the body whole, not falling prey to fidgeting and fussy thoughts and scheming.

If one does not first perceive the sincerity within oneself before trying to act, each move will be a mistake. If outer concerns enter and are not expelled, each move will only add failure to failure. Action has its consequences. Whoever does what is not good in clear and open view will be seized and punished by people. Whoever does what is not good in the shadow of darkness will be seized and punished by spirits. Only the one who clearly understands both people and spirits can walk alone. Whoever concentrates on the internal and does deeds that bring no fame will have light, but whoever concentrates on the external hoarding of goods is a mere merchant. The inner protects us from the outer; but if one bets too much in an archery contest, too much emphasis on the outer makes the inner clumsy.

Zhuang-zi suggested how to wipe out delusions of the will, undo the snares of the heart, rid oneself of the entanglements to virtue, and open up the roadblocks in the way. The six delusions of the will are eminence, wealth, recognition, authority, fame, and profit. The six snares of the heart are appearances, carriage, complexion, features, temperament, and attitude. The six entanglements to virtue are loathing, desire, joy, anger, grief, and happiness. The six roadblocks in the way are rejecting, accepting, taking, giving, knowledge, and ability. When these no longer seethe within, one may achieve uprightness, stillness, enlightenment, and the emptiness, which results in doing nothing; yet there is nothing that is not done. Action which has become artificial is lost. Action which is done because one cannot do otherwise is virtuous. If the one who launches into action is not really acting, then the action is a launching into inaction. Whoever wishes to be still must calm one's energies. Whoever wishes to be spiritual must compose one's mind. Whoever wishes to succeed must go along with what cannot be avoided.

Yet the wise look at the inevitable and decide that it is not inevitable, thus not having recourse to arms. People usually look at what is not inevitable and decide that it is inevitable, thus having frequent recourse to arms. Whoever turns to arms is always seeking something, and whoever trusts in arms is lost.

Zhuang-zi admired the simpler times, before even the ancient emperors Yao and Shun, when the legendary Yellow Emperor ruled. Once the Yellow Emperor came upon a boy herding horses who advised him on ruling the empire by saying that it is not much different from herding horses - simply get rid of what is harmful to the horses; that's all. Here we find the same universal principle of not harming that in India is called ahimsa.

Not everyone is suited to the reclusive life. A prince of Wei told the Daoist adept Zhan-zi that his body was beside the rivers and seas, but his mind was still back at the court of Wei. Zhan-zi suggested that he emphasize life more than material gain. The prince complained that he knew he should do that, but it went against his inclinations. Zhan-zi recommended that if he could not overcome his inclinations, he should follow them; for if he tried to force himself, he would do double injury to himself. Those who do double injury to themselves do not live long. Zhuang-zi concluded that although the prince of Wei was not able to follow the way, at least he had the will to do so.

The petty person will die for riches; the better person will die for reputation. Yet they are both willing to throw away what is theirs for what is not theirs. Crooked or straight, it is better to follow the heaven within. Right or wrong, it is better to hold to the center upon which everything turns. In solitude bring your will to completion and ramble in the company of the way. Do not strive for consistency or try to perfect justice, or you will lose what you already have. Do not race after riches nor risk your life for success, or heaven will slip away from you.

In Zhuang-zi an old fisherman teaches Confucius the eight faults and four evils. The faults are officiousness (doing what is not your business), obsequiousness (rushing forward when no one has nodded in your direction), sycophancy (echoing others' opinions and trying to draw them out), flattery (speaking without regard for what is right or wrong), calumny (delighting in talking about others' faults), maliciousness (breaking up friendships and family relations), wickedness (praising falsely so as to cause injury), and treachery (two-facedly stealing another party's wishes). The four evils are avidity (altering accepted ways hoping to enhance your merit and fame), avarice (insisting you know it all and that everything be done your way, snatching things from others for your own use), obstinacy (refusing to change recognized errors, listening to remonstrance and behaving worse than before), and bigotry (commending those who agree with you and refusing to see any good in those who do not agree with you).

For this strange fisherman truth means purity and sincerity in the highest degree and is received from heaven, while rites are created by the vulgar people of the world. The wise pattern themselves on heaven, value truth, and do not allow themselves to be cramped by the vulgar. Those who do not depart from the pure and true are heavenly, holy, and perfect. The wise make heaven the source, virtue the root, and the way the gate, revealing oneself through change and transformation. This is contrasted to the gentleman, who makes goodness the standard of kindness, justice the model of reason, ritual the guide of conduct, and music the source of harmony.


The Daoist Lie-zi is mentioned by Zhuang-zi and is therefore supposed to have lived in the fifth or fourth centuries BC in the state of Cheng for at least forty years as a common person. Little else is known about him except from the stories in the Zhuang-zi and the Lie-zi, a book which is supposed to have been written over several centuries and formalized with a commentary in the fourth century CE. Lie-zi was also a recluse, who never accepted political appointment, and his stories are similar to those of Zhuang-zi.

His reclusive life is indicated in a story of Lie-zi and his teacher Hu-zi in the Zhuang-zi. Lie-zi found a shaman, who could predict the future including when people would die. Lie-zi thought he had found a higher teaching; so Hu-zi told him to bring the shaman to meet him. The first time he predicted that Hu-zi would die within the week; the second time he predicted he would get better; the third time the shaman said the master was never the same and asked him to steady himself; but the fourth time the shaman ran away and could not be found. This fourth time Hu-zi had appeared to him not yet emerged from the source. Lie-zi realized that he had not yet begun to learn anything. Lie-zi went home and cooked for his wife and did not go out for the last three years of his life.

In another story from Zhuang-zi the gatekeeper Yin explains to Lie-zi how by guarding the pure breath one may rest within the bounds that know no excess, hide within the borders that know no source, wander where everything has its end and beginning, unify one's nature, nourish one's breath, unite one's virtue, and thereby communicate with what creates all things. Such a person guards what belongs to heaven and keeps it whole.

Lie-zi recounted how he asked Old Shang to be his master and Baigao-zi his friend while he worked hard to discipline himself. For three years he was afraid to have notions of right and wrong and did not dare to speak of benefit and harm. Five years later he thought freely of right and wrong and did speak of benefit and harm. Then seven years after that, his thoughts came naturally without conceptions of right and wrong, and his words were natural without intending to please or offend. After another nine years nothing he said without restraint whatever came to him without knowing whether it was right or wrong, pleasing or offending, his or another's. By then he did not think of whether Old Shang was his master or Baigao-zi his friend. The barrier between the inner and outer disappeared. He perceived with all his senses at once; his mind concentrated, and his body relaxed. He drifted like the wind.

Wen-zi, who is supposed to have studied under Lao-zi, may have been another of Lie-zi's teachers. Wen-zi (or Guanyin) told him that if his words are beautiful or ugly, so also is their echo. Conduct will follow one like a shadow. Thus he is advised to be careful of his words, for someone may agree with them, and be careful of his conduct, because someone may imitate it. The wise can know what will go in by seeing what came out, can know what is coming by observing what has passed. We judge by our own experience and verify it by the experience of others. If someone loves one, one will surely love that person; but if someone hates one, one will surely hate that person. The greatest emperors loved the empire, and the worst hated the empire.

Lie-zi also wrote about Yang Zhu, who lived around 400 BC and was criticized by Mencius for having such a selfish philosophy that he would not give up one hair off his body to save the empire. According to the Lie-zi Yang Zhu's philosophy was to preserve one's own body and enjoy the present. Yang Zhu believed that the ancients correctly placed no value on reputation or honor. He believed that if people did not try to make things better, the world would be in order. For Yang Zhu life is temporarily staying in the world, and death is a temporary departure.

When Lie-zi was poor and starving in Zheng, a friend told the chief minister that Lie-zi had attained the way but was poor and unrecognized. He asked the minister to send him a gift. The chief minister sent Lie-zi a gift of grain, but Lie-zi politely refused the gift. His wife scolded him, complaining that the wives and children of other sages live comfortably while they were starving. How could he refuse this food? Lie-zi smiled and explained that if he was honored because of someone else's opinion, then someone else's opinion could also condemn him. Later the chief minister fell out of popular favor, and the king swayed by public opinion had him executed.

The Lie-zi tells a story of a king, who was only interested in hiring the strong and brave as being the best to protect him. Not pleased with those who preach morality, he asked a visiting philosopher what he could teach him. The philosopher asked him if he would be interested in a strategy that would guarantee that anyone who attempted to stab him would miss. The king wanted to hear about it. Yet it would be a better strategy if people did not dare to strike him at all. The king agreed. An even better strategy than that would be if people did not even want to harm him. Yet people not wanting to harm him would still not be as good as getting them to love and benefit him. The king agreed he was looking for such a strategy, which is three degrees better than strength and courage. The philosopher then pointed out that Confucius and Mo-zi were respected even though they were not princes. If the king, who already has political power, were to rule his people with virtue and integrity, would not his greatness surpass that of Confucius and Mo-zi? After the philosopher left, the king admitted that he had been completely turned around by this argument.

Many of Lie-zi's stories show how psychological impressions can alter our perception of reality. An old and poor farmer heard that the power of Zihua could make a poor man rich. So he joined the followers of Zihua, who teased him for being a bumpkin. He was offered rewards for doing extraordinary feats like diving into water and saving goods from a burning house, which the farmer did in his innocence, because he did not know how hard they were. Impressed, they asked the farmer how he accomplished these feats. He explained that he merely believed what they said about how Zihua could make him rich. His only concern was that he might not believe or act on what they told him. He forgot about his body and what might benefit or harm him. Now that he realized they were making fun of him, he thought about the dangers he escaped in the water and fire and became aware of the worries and fears inside him. The story concludes with Confucius drawing the moral that if a person has perfect faith, one can move heaven and earth.

A man tried to steal gold in the market, because he was so carried away by the sight of the gold that he forgot about the officers, who arrested him. Another man, who lost his money, thought his neighbor's son had stolen it. He noticed that he had the look and gestures of a thief. Later he found the money and looking at his neighbor's son saw that neither his movements nor his gestures were those of a thief.

Lie-zi valued emptiness, because he felt that attachments of recognition, approval, and disapproval imprison us. It is better not to worry about such things. Rather than be concerned about taking credit for accomplishments, why not relax and observe the workings of heaven and earth? In emptiness one can cultivate stillness and peace of mind so that one will not be drawn into the unnecessary troubles of this crazy world. If you lose the way, you lose yourself.

Lie-zi also admired the Yellow Emperor for seeing that his people were happy and retiring to a simple life. First though, he worked hard for fifteen years in governing, but his physical and mental health both became worse. So he withdrew from courtly life for three months. During this vacation the Yellow Emperor dreamed he visited a western paradise, where there were no leaders or teachers, and desires and aversions did not develop. Believing he was enlightened by the dream, the Yellow Emperor spent the next twenty years letting his kingdom be as in the dream. When he died and ascended into heaven, his people mourned the passing of a great ruler.

Songs of Chu

In the southern state of Chu a man named Ju Yuan held a high position under King Huai (r. 328-299 BC). Sima Qian wrote that he had wide learning and a good memory. Ju Yuan advised the king and spoke on his behalf to representatives of other states. His ability and position were resented by a rival, who as Lord High Administrator tried to steal a law that Ju Yuan was drafting. When Ju Yuan would not let him have it, the High Administrator slandered him to the king, complaining that he was always boasting of the laws he made for the king. This alienated Ju Yuan from the king, and he was demoted.

In 313 BC Qin wanted to attack Qi, which was allied with Chu, and King Huiwen of Qin sent Zhang Yi to Chu with lavish gifts in pretense of forsaking Qin. He said that if Chu were to break off with Qi, Qin would give them a territory 600 li long. King Huai, greedily duped by this, broke relations with Qi. However, his envoy to Qin discovered that Zhang I had lied and that the territory was only 6 li. So King Huai angrily attacked Qin with his troops; but his forces were crushed; 80,000 heads were cut off, and the Chu commander was captured. Then King Huai sent out all his troops in the country to strike deep into Qin. When the state of Wei heard of this, they launched a surprise attack against Chu. Chu's troops had to retreat from Qin, as Qi was in no mood to rescue Chu.

A year later Qin offered some territory to Chu to make peace, but King Huai said that he would rather have revenge on Zhang I. When Zhang I heard this, he volunteered to go again to Chu, where he bribed an influential minister and seduced one of the king's concubines, who persuaded King Huai to release him. Out of favor, Ju Yuan was in Qi on an embassy, but he returned to criticize his king's behavior in letting go of Zhang I. The king regretted his mistake, but it was too late.

In 310 BC the feudal lords combined to crush Chu's army, killing Chu's general. Qin's king Zhao invited King Huai to Qin, and Ju Yuan warned him not to go, because Qin was a country of tigers and wolves, not to be trusted. Urged to go by his youngest son, King Huai was detained. He refused to grant territorial concessions and fled to the state of Zhao, but they sent him back to Qin, where he eventually died. The eldest son of King Huai was made king of Chu, and he appointed the youngest son Premier; but the latter was blamed for the loss of his father and resented the criticism of Ju Yuan and had him banished. Thus much is history recounted by Sima Qian, who saw this as the turning point leading to Chu's decline and eventual defeat by Qin.

A poem called "The Fisherman" tells how Ju Yuan wandered by the banks of the Jiang River, let down his hair (Men usually wore their long hair tied in a bun.) and sang. A fisherman asks him if he is not the Lord of the Three Wards, and Ju replies that all the world is muddy, although he is clear. Because everyone is drunk and he is sober, he has been sent into exile. The fisherman suggests that the wise can move as the world does in muddy water or enjoy drinking. Why get banished? Ju has heard that after bathing one should shake out one's clothes. Not wanting to submit to the dirt of others, he would throw himself into the water and be buried in the bowels of fish rather than hide his light in a murky world. In the poem the fisherman goes off singing that when the water is clear he can wash his hat strings, and when it is muddy he can wash his feet. After much lamenting and composing of songs somewhere along the way, Ju Yuan clasped a large stone, threw himself into the river, and drowned.

The songs of Ju Yuan and other Chu poets, who wrote on similar themes of his life and laments, were gathered together as the Songs of Chu. Drawing on traditions of shamanic spiritual travels and the sadness of his experience, Ju Yuan and his followers created a poetry expressive of the feelings of frustration and despair in the Period of Warring States and after.

Ju Yuan began his song on "Encountering Trouble" with his own auspicious birth when his father named him True Exemplar with the title Divine Balance. He gathered the flowers of youth and cast out the impure. He glorified his ruler as the Fragrant One and lamented that the Fair One refused to examine his true feelings but instead listened to slander. Like Lie-zi he did not mind poverty. "If only my mind can be truly beautiful, it matters nothing that I often faint for famine."7 Though he may die nine times, he does not regret it; he only regrets the Fair One's waywardness. He would rather die than emulate the flatterers.

Yet humbling one's spirit and curbing one's pride,
Bearing blame humbly and enduring insults,
But keeping pure and spotless and dying in righteousness:
Such conduct was greatly prized by the wise men of old.8

The fragrant and foul mingle in confusion, but he has kept his inner brightness undimmed. With the love of beauty as his constant joy he decides to visit the world's quarters. But how can he tell people to look into his mind? He looks to the wise men of old for his guidance and cites numerous examples. Examining human outcomes, he asks where is the unjust person who can be trusted? He grieves for having been born in an unlucky time. With a team of jade dragons he goes on a fantastic journey. At heaven's gate he learns to hide beauty out of jealousy. Seeking a mate, he is told to go beyond the world or to wander the earth, seeking one whose thoughts are of his measure. If his inner soul is beautiful, he needs no matchmaker. Finally arriving at the western heaven he sees his home below, and the horses refuse to go further. Feeling that no one understands him and that there are no true men in the state to work with in making good government, Ju Yuan decides to go join the ancestral shaman Peng Xian.

The "Nine Songs" celebrate Ju Yuan's shaman journeys in heaven, where he tries to woo a goddess; but they end praising the heroism of soldiers, who have died in battle. The "Heavenly Questions" ask for explanations for the many injustices and inconsistencies in life and tradition. Even though heaven is considered to be too exalted to be questioned, Ju Yuan nevertheless does just that. He asks about the origin of heaven and earth and who passed down the story. What is darkness and light, and how did yang and yin come together? Who accomplished all this? Where are the nine fields of heaven? How do the sun and moon hold to their courses and the fixed stars keep their places? From heavenly questions he turns to ancient myths and then to perplexing incidents in history. Why did Shun's brother not come to harm when he behaved worse than a brute beast toward Shun? Why did heaven favor Duke Huan of Qi, the first protector, and then later punish him? Why does the High God confer the mandate of heaven and how is notice given of it? Why is the mandate of heaven taken away and given to another? The entire song has nothing but questions for the listeners to ponder.

In "Grieving at the Eddying Wind" Ju Yuan, or another poet inspired by him, lamented that delicate things by nature are prone to fall. He admired the noble thoughts of Peng Xian, the shamanic ancestor believed to have been a Shang minister who drowned himself. His purpose was strong, and the poet asks, who by deceiving can succeed for long? Only the good person's lasting beauty is preserved through the ages.

Remote is the ideal that my thoughts aspire to:
I would be as the clouds that wander above in freedom.
But because there was that by which my high thoughts were shaken,
I have written these songs to make my meaning clear.
The good man nurses his thoughts in isolation.9

He lies in a secret place and broods in his sorrow. He would rather sweetly die. He climbs a rocky summit and looks into the distance, hears no echo, but his sadness cannot be dispelled. Even the simplest act became impossible, and inconsolable he rushed toward the heavens. He would not swerve from his resolution to float down the river until he entered the ocean, but the last line asks, "But what good did it do to clasp a great stone and drown?"10

In the second century BC some Daoists put together the Songs of Chu and added their own compositions like the "Far-off Journey." In melancholy the poet sought to learn from where the primal spirit comes. In emptiness and silence he found serenity. In peaceful inaction he gained satisfaction. In his journey he received the following teaching from a legendary Master Wang:

The Way can only be received; it cannot be given.
Small, it has no content; great, it has no bounds.
Keep your soul from confusion, and it will come naturally.
By unifying essence (qi), strengthen the spirit;
Preserve it inside you in the midnight hour.
Await it in emptiness, before even Inaction.
All other things proceed from this: this is the Door of Power.11

In "Divination" the poet went to consult an oracle and asked,

Is it better to be painstakingly honest, simple-hearted and loyal,
or to keep out of trouble by welcoming each change as it comes?
Is it better to risk one's life
by speaking truthfully and without concealment,
or to save one's skin
by following the whims of the wealthy and highly placed?
Is it better to preserve one's integrity by means of a lofty detachment,
or to wait on a king's mistress
with flattery, fawning, and strained, smirking laughter?
Is it better to be honest and incorruptible and to keep oneself pure,
or to be accommodating and slippery,
to be compliant, as lard or leather?12

The Great Diviner threw aside the divining stalks and said that they were unable to help in this case.

In the "Nine Changes" the poet declared that rather than live by unjust means to be famous, he would live poor; for he can eat without greed and be full, and he can dress without luxury and be warm. The shamanic tradition is further seen in the two songs about summoning the soul that has left the body of the deceased. There also follows more laments about how the virtuous are rebuffed, while sycophants are always there to bring them down. Here we have both Confucian martyrs and Daoists who escape by floating away on clouds. Custom advances the flatterers and promotes the rich, while those who act honestly are shut out and unnoticed. Thus the wise and good live obscurely and do not flock with others. The poet complained that the government is selfish and not for the common good. The flatterer rises into the hall of judgment, while the just withdraw and escape into hiding. True feelings are submerged and not expressed, because one cannot reason of higher things with the vulgar crowd.

In the middle of the first century BC the poet Wang Bao added his regrets that the world is averse to justice, and he realized that he cannot stay in these parts for long. Liu Xian (77-6 BC) lamented after reading Ju Yuan's "Encountering Trouble" that he had struck out at slander and righted infamy, but his virtue raised him above the floating clouds.


The Daoist collection of 21 essays called the Huainan-zi seems to have been a combined effort of eight Daoist scholars and several admirers of Ju Yuan under the sponsorship of Liu An, the king of Huainan, who committed suicide when his planned revolt was aborted in 122 BC. The Huainan-zi was presented to Emperor Wu in 139 BC. The resentful attitude, military plans, and planned revolt of the king of Huainan, however, are in direct contradiction to the teachings of this book, though Liu An was known to have had literary gifts and may have contributed to the Huainan-zi. The essays amplify and illustrate the philosophical ideas of Lao-zi, focusing on the way, goodness, and justice; its alternate title means "greatly enlightening."

The first essay is on the way (dao) which embraces heaven and supports the earth. A person in the way lives happily without anxiety. The authors pointed out that militarism breeds militarism, just as fighting fire with fire makes it more violent, and beating a vicious dog or whipping a kicking horse does not correct them nor enable them to travel far. Violent measures and strict punishments are not fit instruments for a king. The one who follows the natural way of heaven and earth finds it easy to manage the whole world without acting, yet is equal to a sudden crisis, disposes of calamities, and prevents difficulties. Firmness can be attained and strength overcome by yielding. Military fire will be extinguished with humble water. Hard things die sooner, just as teeth decay, but the tongue does not. Finding one's true self results in the highest joy. The inner is always better than the outer; the heart governs life. When each individual follows the law of nature, everything identifies with heaven; there is no right or wrong, and everything is as it should be. The covetous and ambitious desires allured by power distance the spirit from the body and close off the heart from higher influences, leading to actions contrary to justice and disasters.

The second essay of the Huainan-zi on beginning and reality reflects on the primeval paradise when the artificial doctrines of goodness and justice had not arisen yet. When the senses are closed, ambitions stopped, one may roam in the void, breathe in yin and breathe out yang in harmony with the virtue of creation. When these overflow, there will be goodness and justice; but when the Confucians set up goodness and justice as ultimate, then the way and its virtue are abandoned and lost. The wise cultivate the way within, not by the outward adornment of goodness and justice. In the original simplicity was unity, quietness, and no governing authority and divided classes. When purity and simplicity disappeared, truth was adulterated by opinions, and the spirit of cooperation was lost. With the decaying of the Zhou dynasty, the philosophies of Confucius, Mo-zi, and Yang Zhu competed with polemics. Not having power, they were not able to put their ideals into operation; thus they were never free of anxiety. Yet the soul not clogged with desires and knowledge meets every perception without bias and in serenity.

The essay on the living soul describes how the person who follows the stillness of the inner way does not fear death and therefore cannot be made to do wrong. Several examples are given of rulers whose desires led them to bad ends. Confucianism does not remove the root of desire from the mind. To try to keep society from theft and burglary by fear of punishment is not as good as to remove the desire for stealing from the heart.

In discussing natural law the authors described a decadent age when men dug up mountains for gems, wrought metals, killed animals for skins and furs, cut down forests for wood or burnt them to drive out game; yet the luxuries and abundance of the rulers still did not satisfy them. Mountains and streams were divided by boundaries; classes of people were differentiated; then soldiers and weapons brought about wars and the untimely deaths of the oppressed people. The harmonious cooperation of heaven and earth depends on the human spirit. Excess leads to waste, conflict, taxes, despair, and degeneration. In the ancient times if a ruler oppressed the people, he was removed and replaced. Now rulers use soldiers unjustly, rob people, and make slaves. Use of the military should depend on justice.

In the eleventh essay the difference between a disordered country that is full and a well governed country that is void is explained. "Void" does not mean empty of people but that everyone guards their duties, while "full" does not mean many people but that they are involved in inconsequential (branch-tip) matters. Also a preserved country being insufficient does not mean a lack of goods but that desires are moderated so that regulations are few, while a ruined country having a surplus does not mean having many resources but that people are impetuous and have many expenses.

Right and wrong are considered to be relative to each situation. Each generation takes as right what is right by it and wrong what is wrong by it. Thus each generation is different, considering themselves right and others wrong. The heart seeks the right and pushes away the wrong. Goodness depends on timing. On the other hand, sufficiency and surplus enable one to yield; but insufficiency leads to competition, cruelty, and disorder. When things are abundant, desire decreases, seeking is sated, and competition stops. Even the strict laws of the Qin empire could not prohibit disorder, while the wealth of Han dynasty times led to correctness.

The twelfth essay discusses how actions have their consequences and points out that frequent wars exhaust the people, and the pride of victories can consume their vitality. The saying is quoted, "Don't fight for peace. Peace will come naturally."13 This essay illustrates and quotes many passages from the Dao De Jing.

The thirteenth essay declares that the good of the people is the fundamental and unvarying law. Legislation must be determined by considering current conditions. During disturbances it should be swift and severe, but in times of peace easy and tolerant. Most healthy is a balance of female and male energy. Strict enforcement is harsh and destroys concord; love is lenient, but too much leniency results in disobedience. Punishment is cruel, and too much punishment dissipates affection. The wise judge success by the life of the people; those following the right way are bound to grow, though it may be small at first. Those who follow ways of death are bound to come to end. A government that follows a policy of selfish gain will be ruined. The wise adapt to circumstances, bending and yielding to achieve the end in view. Those who are satisfied with simple needs will find it easy to be good, but lying, stealing, and murdering are contrary to nature and very difficult.

Perhaps the most illuminating essay in the Huainan-zi is the fifteenth on "Generalship and Prevention of Anarchy." The authors believed that the ancients did not use the military to enlarge territory or from lust for gain, but to preserve a dynasty, pacify rebels, and eliminate dangers afflicting the people. However, when goods are unequally distributed, communities contend with the strong oppressing the weak, and the bold terrorizing the timid. Instead of using teeth and claws, humans make weapons and armor, enabling the greedy to rob others. The wise attempt to quell this rapacity and bring peace to disturbed people by defining duty. The wise kings of old employed soldiers to quell anarchy and discipline the unruly.

No crime is worse than killing the innocent to feed unprincipled rulers or to grab territory for an ambitious person. The authors point out that if certain individuals, who ruined their countries, had been arrested early in their evil course, they never could have robbed violently as they did. One person pandering to vicious desires causes general suffering, an outrage intolerable to the law of heaven. Kings were established primarily to restrain violence and punish anarchy, but kings have come to take advantage of their power, becoming an instrument for burdening the people. The authors asked if it is not justifiable to exterminate those who play the tiger. Thus troops were put in motion to curtail an oppressive enemy prince and reprimand his injustice. The army was not allowed to cut down trees, injure graves, burn crops, destroy property, rob animals, or enslave people. The prince, who had killed innocent people, was doomed by heaven and hated by people; the army came to replace him with someone just. Violators of this law were considered traitors to the people.

The country that surrenders will have its freedom.
In a word, the punishment of the kingdom shall not fall on the people.
With the punishment of the king, and a change of government,
the gentry shall be honored, the worthy employed,
the orphans and widows shall be cared for,
and kindness shown to the poor and needy.
Further, innocent prisoners shall be released,
and the meritorious shall be rewarded.
Such justice and clemency will ensure the allegiance of the people,
who will open their doors to the invading army
and await its coming.14

Thus when the king does not have the way, his subjects look to invading soldiers as a parched land looks for rain. When just soldiers come, there is no war. However, in recent times even when the king does not have the way, his soldiers defend the city; the invading army attacks for conquest and aggrandizement rather than to curb a wrongdoer. Thus men are slain in war, because it is "all for self now." The selfish aggressor is left to his own fate. Whoever has the goodwill of the people will be strong in spite of small resources, but the powerful monarch who has lost the people's goodwill is certain to perish. Destruction is the aim of the soldier, but what is better is to have no destruction, no war. Thus the best soldier in accord with the divine is not harmful. Weapons are not sharpened; yet no enemy dare attack. The one who fights without leaving the temple is the emperor; the one whose virtue is felt is the king. The practice of perfect government leads people to long for such virtue. Victory won without drawing the sword, resulting in obedience, implies the art of perfect rule, which imitates the way of heaven.

Soldiers of the way never need to send forth the war chariot, because when justice is advertised to the many and the delinquent are reprimanded for their faults, powerful states will pay attention and small principalities will bow their heads in obedience to the wishes of the people who desire peace. The reprimand takes advantage of the people's strength, for it is in their interest to eliminate wrongs.

Identity of interests brings mutual cooperation:
identity of feeling brings unity of action and mutual achievement.
When there is identity of desire, mutual help follows,
and when action is carried on in the spirit of the Tao,
the whole empire is responsive.
When the anxieties of the people are considered,
the whole empire will join in a conflict.15

The enlightened king uses soldiers in the interests of the community for the elimination of evil in the land. Everyone participates in the benefit. No enemy can withstand this when the troops serve all. When soldiers are used for public ends, anything can be accomplished; when they are used selfishly, little can be done. The essentials of victory do not lie in the weapons, tools, and supplies, which are the army's capital; what is essential for the general is intuitive intelligence. When the people are more worthy than the rulers, there will be estrangement and a weak army. The essentials of victory are when virtue and justice influence all the people, when means are sufficient to meet dangers, when officers are selected well, and when measures and plans are made with knowledge of strengths and weaknesses.

The example of the second Qin emperor is given to show how his personal extravagance heedless of the people's needs, conscription and taxes amounting to half the nation's wealth, and harsh punishments led to discontent, suspicion, and a rebellion in which people started out with no weapons at all. Led by a humble man, the rebel army led all before it, and the old order was swept away like a fleeting cloud, because the hearts of the people were full of anger and resentment. Yet those who govern well need never fear an enemy, and those who follow high moral principles will have no wars to wage. Good leaders and generals accumulate virtue, and the people will serve loyally. The essay goes on to describe specific tactics according to Daoist principles, always emphasizing the higher unity and transcendent way.

Legalism, Qin Empire and Han Dynasty


1. Lao-zi, Dao De Jing 8 tr. Sanderson Beck and Ken Tsang.
2. Ibid., 33.
3. Ibid., 57.
4. The Basic Writings of Mo Tzu tr. Burton Watson, p. 41.
5. Ibid., p. 54.
6. Zhuang-zi, 2 (author's version).
7. The Songs of the South tr. David Hawkes, p. 70.
8. Ibid., p. 71.
9. Ibid., p. 180.
10. Ibid., p. 183.
11. Ibid., p. 195.
12. Ibid., p. 204-205.
13. Tao, the Great Illuminant: Essays from the Huai Nan Tzu tr. Evan Morgan, p. 110.
14. Ibid., p. 185.
15. Ibid., p. 188-189.

Copyright © 1998-2005 by Sanderson Beck

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EAST ASIA 1800-1949

Shang, Zhou and the Classics
Confucius, Mencius and Xun-zi
Daoism and Mo-zi
Legalism, Qin Empire and Han Dynasty
China 7 BC to 1279
Mongols and Yuan China
Ming Empire 1368-1644
Qing Empire 1644-1799
Korea to 1800
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Summary and Evaluation


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