Report on Mozi Conference

A Report on “Modern Interpretations of Mozi”

Lee Ting-mien (University of Leuven)

The workshop “Modern Interpretation of Mozi,” organized by University of Leuven (KU Leuven), was held on April 3, 4 in 2014. The participants – Annick Gijsbers (University of Leuven), Carine Defoort (University of Leuven), Joachim Kurtz (Heidelberg University), Lee Ting-mien (University of Leuven), Nicolas Standaert (University of Leuven), Nie Tao (University of Leuven and Sichuan University), Qin Yanshi (Sichuan Normal University), Tian Hanyun (Yangzhou University), Xie Qiyang (China University of Political Science and Law), Yvonne Schultz Zinda (University of Hamburg), Zheng Jiewen(Shangdong University) – were scholars and graduate students working on Mozi studies in late-imperial or Republican China. Nine papers were presented on the workshop, beginning in the Ming dynasty and ending in the middle of the 20th century:

1. Qin Yanshi, “Seeing the Academic Trends in the Ming Dynasty through the Prefaces to Ming Editions of Mozi 从《墨子》明刻本序言看明代学术思潮 (discussant: Nicolas Standaert)

The workshop began by Qin’s presentation on the interplays between Ming intellectual context, the Mozi commentators’ ideology and educational background, and their interpretations and evaluations of the Mozi. Qin argued that three aspects contributed to the rise of Mozi editions and the emergence of the “non-orthodox” appreciation of the Mozi: the evolvement of the publishing business and technology, the increasing intensity of social conflict, and doubt about the traditional ideology. Standaert indicated that in comparison to other texts which had previously also been neglected, the number of Mozi editions might not be particularly astonishing. He also expressed a worry about Qin’s description of Li Zhi’s “deviant” appreciation of Mozi – because the Mozi was often cited by Ming encyclopaedias, which signalled some extent of circulation and acceptation. Finally, close attention to the selection of chapters quoted in Ming editions and their specific treatment could teach us more about their various editors.

2. Tian Hanyun, “On Wang Zhong’s Mozi Study, 論汪中的《墨子》研究” (discussant: Xie Qiyang)

Tian’s presentation described Wang Zhong’s (1745-1794) attempt to rehabilitate the image of Mozi who had long been attacked by Confucian orthodoxy, and the criticisms that Wang Zhong therefor suffered from his contemporaries. Xie commented that some scholars such as Li Zhi 李贄 (1527-1602) had defended Mozi before Wang Zhong and in more radical terms. Tian cited Weng Fangang’s attack on Wang Zhong to show that Wang Zhong’s position was considered by his contemporaries “radical” and even “perverse,” and that Wang Zhong’s “bravery” should be assessed by his own historical context.

3. Joachim Kurtz, “Mozi and the Theory of the “Chinese Origin of Western Learning 試論墨子與「西學中源」說 (discussant: Zheng Jiewen)

Kurtz argued that there was more to the “Chinese Origin of Western Learning” doctrine than psychological rationalization or rhetorical strategy. He used Mozi as a case study to illustrate how the doctrine served as a creative heuristic device from the mid-nineteenth Century till the end of the Qing. Zheng Jiewen and Xie Qiyang wondered whether Kurtz downplayed Chinese nationalistic feelings of failure and anxiety, and to what extend the doctrine as a heuristic device left traces in post-imperial discussions on Mozi.

4. Lee Ting-mien, “Mozi Research and the New/Old Text Controversy in the Late Qing 晚清的墨子研究與今古文之爭” (discussant: Joachim Kurtz)

Lee’s presentation illustrated that Kang Youwei skilfully used the Mozi and early “Ru Mo” discourses to shape the image of Confucius in his New-Text theory (Confucius as the author of the Five Classics, a religious founder, and an institutional reformer) and that Sun Yirang wittily used the Mozi to defend the authenticity of Old Texts and the reliability of Old-Text commentaries. Without considering these aspects, Lee argued, one might overlook the systematic nature of Kang Youwei’s and Sun Yirang’s arguments for their New- and Old-theories, the strength and appeal of their argumentation, and their influence upon subsequent Mozi research. Kurtz expressed worries about Lee’s attribution of frameworks such as the New- and Old-Text controversy to late Qing scholars. She responded that her presentation of these currently mainstream frameworks was intended to show their limitation for future research.

5. Carine Defoort, “Sun Yirang’s Clarifying Commentary on the Mozi: A Crack in Chinese Intellectual History「閒」中窺月:孫詒讓的《墨子閒詁》與中國思想史的承啟” (discussant: Qing Yanshi)

Defoort described Sun Yirang’s (1848-1908) magnum opus, Clarifying Commentary on the Mozi as a culmination of two paradigmatic changes in Mozi research: first, the current view of the “ten core ideas” as representative of early Mohism came into existence; second, Mencius harsh criticism of Mozi’s idea of “inclusive care” gained influence between the 1st century BCE and the 18th century. Since Defoort opened her discussion by offering a metaphorical interpretation of the character “jian/xian 間/閒,” a question was raised by Xie Qiyang about the ancient pronunciation of this character, and a comment was given by Zheng Jiewen that Defoort might have failed to grasp the exact meaning that Sun Yirang intended to convey. Defoort stressed that her study was not concerned with the question of pronunciation of “閒” and that she did not attribute the metaphorical interpretation to Sun Yirang himself.

6. Annick Gijsbers, “1920’s and 30’s Analogist and Differentialist Perspectives on Christianity and the Mohist ghosts: Towards a new societal plan? 二三十年代关于《墨子明鬼》与基督教的类比及差別待遇式思想研究” (discussant: Yvonne Schultz Zinda)

Gijsbers’ presentation introduced a wide range of materials regarding 1920s and 1930s interpretations and evaluations of the Mohist thesis of “percipient ghost” in relation to Christianity. She indicated that both “analogists” and “differentialists” revealed diverse attitudes toward Mohist ghost and interpretations about the similarities and dissimilarities between Mohist ghost and Christianity. Zinda suggested Gijsbers to explore the questions on the basis of then existing classifications such as the scholars’ own intellectual, institutional, or political affiliations. Gijsbers answered that many of these people and journals were not famous and thus not much information could be found about their intellectual or political affiliations.

7. Xie Qiyang, “About Hu Shi’s Mohism Studies论胡适的墨学研究” (discussant: Lee Ting-mien)

Xie Qiyang described how Hu Shi applied sociological methodology, experimentalism, pragmatism etc. to interpret the content and philosophical method of the Mozi. Xie argued that Hu Shi’s attempt was to bridge the gap between Western and Chinese philosophy. Lee and Kurtz asked how some “-isms,” such as “experimentalism” and “pragmatism,” could be said to be “methods” and why Hu Shi would view these “-isms” as the “philosophical methods” adopted by Mozi. Xie’s answer was that “experimentalism” was considered by Hu Shi as a method because Hu Shi said it amounted to make bold hypotheses and then test them carefully.

8. Nie Tao, “An attempt to analyse the influence of ‘pantheism’ on Guo Moruo’s attitude toward Mozi: from ‘promoting Mo’ to ‘Rejecting Mo’ 试析泛神论对郭沫若墨学态度的影响——扬墨非墨” (discussant: Xie Qiyang)

Nie Tao’s presentation aimed to provide a literature based explanation for the change of Guo Moruo’s attitude toward Mozi during the early 1920s. Many scholars explained this change by Guo’s acceptance of Marxism, but Nie Tao indicated that it took place before he was acquainted with Marxism, and that it might be related to his rejection of pantheism. Xie Qiyang cited evidence to defend the Marxist explanation, and Nie responded that the evidence was from Guo Moruo’s later works.

9. Zheng Jiewen, “Pre-Modern and Modern Understandings of the Social Function of Mohism由救世之術到人文之學近現代中國學界對墨學社會作用認識的變遷” (discussant: Carine Defoort)

Zheng Jiewen argued that the Mozi research witnessed three stages of transformation: scholars in the first stage recognized the Mozi as a work providing the wisdom to salvage the then Chinese technological inferiority; scholars in the second stage viewed it as a source of institutional prescriptions; and the scholars in the final stage began to treat Mozi as cultural legacy. As the workshop was to be closed, participants turned their gaze to reflections on the intercultural academic exchanges they had experienced during the two-day workshop. Since the birth place of Mozi was a heated topic in Chinese-speaking academia, Defoort asked in what sense the life of master Mozi was relevant to the task of interpreting the book Mozi. Kurtz introduced the third notion of Mozi as a symbol, and Lee tried to clarify Defoort’s question by distinguishing between the Mozi as depicted in early texts and the historical figure Mozi. No consensus was reached and no definite answer could be given, perhaps because Master Mozi himself was not invited to the workshop.

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