Mozi, who advocated universal love and non-aggression-兼爱、非攻的墨子

During the Warring States period, society was turbulent and thoughts were active, giving rise to various schools of thought. They wrote extensively, debated vigorously, and thus emerged the scene of the Hundred Schools of Thought contending. Confucius and Laozi respectively founded the Confucian and Daoist schools of thought, while Mozi established the Mohist school.

Mozi, whose given name was Zhai, hailed from a noble lineage of the State of Song, which had already declined by his time. Born into a commoner family, he referred to himself throughout his life as “this insignificant person.” In his youth, he traveled widely, studying the ways of governance, and even studied under Confucian scholars, learning the classics such as the Book of Songs, the Book of Documents, and the Spring and Autumn Annals. However, Mozi grew disillusioned with Confucianism, finding its theories lofty but impractical, and its rituals burdensome. Eventually, he abandoned Confucianism and established his own school of thought, known as Mohism. Mozi was the only philosopher in history to wield significant influence despite coming from a commoner background.

At the core of Mozi’s philosophy was the concept of “universal love”: to regard others as oneself. Universal love meant treating others with the same care and concern as one would for oneself, thereby eliminating distinctions of kinship and social status, and loving all equally. From this, Mozi derived principles such as non-aggression, frugality, simple burials, avoidance of excessive indulgence, and the promotion of virtuous individuals. He opposed aggressive warfare, advocated for defensive warfare, opposed exploitation, and upheld the value of labor. He criticized Confucian rites and music, extravagance, and waste, advocating for frugal burials and resource conservation. He opposed hereditary titles and positions, advocating for the selection of officials based on merit alone.

To propagate his ideas, Mozi lectured widely, gathered disciples, and formed the Mohist school. His ideology represented the interests of commoners, reflecting the desires of small-scale producers such as artisans for stable lives, resistance against oppression, and calls for freedom. As a result, he attracted a large following among artisans and lower-class intellectuals. The Mohist school boasted hundreds of followers and enjoyed considerable influence. Its members mainly hailed from the lower strata of society, wore simple attire, engaged in manual labor, and practiced self-discipline. The highest-ranking leader was called the “Grand Master,” while other members were referred to as “Mohists,” who had to obey the Grand Master’s commands without question, even if it meant facing extreme hardships.

Mozi was proficient in craftsmanship and adept at defending cities. Due to his opposition to aggressive warfare, he frequently organized his disciples to assist countries under attack in their defense. He once personally intervened to prevent the State of Chu from attacking the State of Song, averting an imminent conflict.

In 488 BC, King Huai of Chu ascended the throne and initiated political reforms and economic development, gradually restoring the strength of the Chu state after suffering severe losses at the hands of the State of Wu. Seeing the recovery of national strength, King Huai sought to reclaim hegemony over the Central Plains. He specially invited the renowned craftsman Luban (鲁班) to build siege weapons to enhance the army’s offensive capabilities. Luban designed and constructed folding ladders that could be extended to great heights for the Chu army.

Proud of his work, Luban informed Mozi that he intended to use the folding ladders to attack the State of Song. Upon hearing this news while in the State of Lu, Mozi embarked on a ten-day journey to the State of Chu, dispatching three hundred disciples led by Qin Huali to assist the State of Song in its defense.

Upon his arrival in the Chu capital, Yingdu, Mozi first visited Luban. He argued that the State of Song was innocent, and it was unjust for Chu to attack it. Despite being persuaded by Mozi, Luban was already committed to aiding King Huai and felt conflicted. Consequently, Mozi requested Luban to accompany him to meet King Huai.

When Mozi met with King Huai, he earnestly stated: “The territory of Chu spans five thousand li, with abundant resources, akin to splendid garments and luxurious carriages. In contrast, the territory of Song is only five hundred li, with barren land and impoverished people, akin to tattered clothes and dilapidated carriages. Your Majesty, why would you forsake the luxurious and opt to seize the ragged?” Although King Huai found Mozi’s argument convincing, he remained determined to attack the State of Song, confident in the effectiveness of the folding ladders.

Mozi then said to King Huai: “With every attack comes a defense. The folding ladders are not invincible. I have already devised defensive measures.” He took off his belt and drew a circle on the ground, representing a city wall, and used some wooden planks as makeshift folding ladders to demonstrate attack and defense scenarios with Luban.

With each new method of attack Luban employed, Mozi was able to counter it with a corresponding defense. After exhausting nine sets of offensive tactics, Luban found himself at a loss, prompting him to jokingly remark, “I know how to deal with you, but I won’t say it.” Mozi responded with a smile, “I know how you intend to deal with me, but I won’t say it either.”

Perplexed by their exchange, King Huai inquired, “What are you two talking about?” Mozi replied, “What Luban means is that if he kills me, nobody will know how to defend against attacks using folding ladders. However, he is mistaken. Before coming to Chu, I had already taught my disciples defensive strategies and sent three hundred of them to aid the defense of the State of Song. Even if I die, Chu may still not be able to conquer Song.”

Witnessing Mozi’s successful defense against attacks using folding ladders and hearing his explanation, King Huai realized that attacking the State of Song would yield no benefits and ultimately abandoned the plan.

Subsequently, Luban invented “hooks” and “buoys” for the Chu navy. The “hooks” were used to latch onto enemy ships to prevent their escape, while the “buoys” were used to repel enemy ships and prevent them from approaching. With these two weapons, the Chu army achieved several victories at sea.

One day, Luban proudly asked Mozi, “Can your righteousness be equipped with hooks and buoys on warships?” Mozi replied, “Love is my hook, respect is my buoy. When you use hooks and buoys against others, sooner or later, someone will use them against you. In comparison, isn’t the hook and buoy of righteousness stronger than that of warships?” Luban had no response.

Mozi’s influence extended far and wide, with his disciples spread across various states, from Qi and Lu in the east to Chu and Yue in the south, and from Zheng and Wei in the north to the State of Wei in the south. The Mohist school had a significant impact at the time and became one of the prominent schools of thought in the early Warring States period, leading to the saying “either Confucianism or Mohism.” Later, his disciples collected and compiled Mozi’s thoughts and sayings, forming the book “Mozi,” which was passed down through the ages.