Thursday, March 04, 2010

Francesco Sisci, A new battle for Confucius

A new battle for Confucius By Francesco Sisci (via the Western Confucian)

A new translation of Mozi's corpus has been made available by the Chinese University Press:
The Mozi: A Complete Translation by Ian Johnston (Translator). The Chinese University Press (December 15, 2009). ISBN-10: 9629962705. Price US$85, 1,032 pages.

It looks like the same translation is being published by Columbia University Press here in the States. Too bad it's not bilingual.

Mr. Sisci writes:
Furthermore, Mozi's doctrine of "universal love" sounded like the idea of Christian love propagated in the 17th century, as well as like the drive to egalitarianism by the communists in the 20th century.

The Confucianis criticized the Mohists for obliterating social relations -- if this charge is accurate (I haven't read the complete Mohist corpus, only selections), then Mozi and his followers are more like liberals than Christians. The Christian tradition has a doctrine of universal love (which is not identical with Confucian ren, given that the object of charity is primarily God), but it also recognizes that there is an order in charity. Moreover, we have different duties to people, according to their relation to us, or what they have done for us. Hence, the allied virtues to justice. I do not recall what the Mohist account of justice is, and whether they recognize these duties. It's something I'll have to research, if I obtain a copy of the complete corpus.

He also contrasts Mozi with Sunzi:

Importantly, the book provides a basis to reconsider an important aspect of Chinese traditional thinking - military strategy. Johnston is the first person to provide both a credible Chinese textual reconstruction and a translation of Mozi's military chapters. Mozi theorized about defensive wars and his followers, the Mohists, were renowned tacticians who helped organize the defense of small states being attacked by larger ones.

This was at a time when small states were being gobbled up by large ones competing for dominance in the Chinese central plain. The aggressive theories of famous strategist Sunzi helped conceive those and many other future wars of attack, whereas Mozi argued against aggressive wars.

It is very likely that, as popularly described in the unsuccessful 2006 Chinese-Japanese movie production Mo Gong, in the Third century BC Mohist militants aided small states to withstand attacks and then tried to apply radical political and social reforms that went against the interests of the local elites.

Johnston's translation of Mozi could cast new light on Sunzi's theories and Chinese strategic thinking. It's possible that gong, a word commonly understood as aggressive war, at the time meant more precisely war by a large force against a small one, as Lu Xiang, a modern student of Sunzi argues in a forthcoming essay. This kind of war is what Sunzi preferred and Mozi opposed.
Sunzi does not appear to be in favor of unjust wars of aggression, as he does discuss the moral component of victory. Teachers of maneuver warfare and 3GW claim Sunzi as one of their own; numbers may be important if one is one the attack, so it is not clear to me that this is a justification of conquest of smaller polities by larger polities. Did Mozi advocate a purely reactive form of warfare? If so, he would seem to be a bit too idealistic, to the point of causing defeat for anyone who followed his teachings. I remember reading one issue of Lone Wolf and Cub in which the protagonist tells a dying samurai who was disgraced because he did not stay with his lord's palaquin but chose instead to go on the offensive against assassins that attack and defense are the same, since they have the same object.

(How deep is Mr. Sisci's understanding of contemporary Chinese society and classical Chinese culture? He seems to be an apologist for the present government and the Patriotic Associations.)

I'd like to read up on Mohist logic. (Indian logic too.)

Related links:
Mozi - Chinese Text Project
Mozi and Confucianism

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