This article is about famous Chinese Sages.
In ancient China during the 6th century BC the incessant wars between Jin and Chu led Heang Seu of Song to go to Jin with a proposal for a comprehensive peace. He said, “War is destructive to the people, an insect that eats up the resources, and the greatest calamity of the small states.”1 Arguing that if Jin did not accept the proposal, Chu would agree and draw all the states together, Jin agreed in order to keep the protectorship. Then he went to Chu, and they agreed also. Qi was reluctant to join but realized that it would disaffect the people if they refused to sanction the stopping of war. Heang Seu sent word to Qin, and they agreed. He notified all the smaller states and arranged a meeting at Song in 545 BC.
Jin and Chu argued about which of them should have precedent but agreed to share the protectorship although Qin and Qi were formally excepted because of their power and Chu and Tang because of their weakness. Otherwise all fourteen states agreed to the covenant of peace. Heang Seu asked for a reward for “arresting the cause of death” and was given sixty towns. However, Zihan, the minister of Works, declared that it was the arms of Jin and Chu that kept the smaller states in awe. “Who can do away with the instruments of war?” he asked. “They have been long in requisition. It is by them that the lawless are kept in awe, and accomplished virtue is displayed.”2 Denouncing the scheme as a delusion, he cut the document to pieces. Heang Seu consequently refused the towns, and his family wanted to attack Zihan; but Heang stopped them, saying he had been saved from ruin by him.
Nevertheless this agreement must have been effective for several years because there were no wars for the next five years, only a battle with barbarians in the sixth year, and no wars in the seventh and eighth years. This is by far the most peaceful part of the two and a half centuries of the Spring and Autumn Era during which there was only one other time in which there were even two years in a row without a war.
Those who value the world as themselves
may be entrusted to govern the world.
Those who love the world as themselves
may be entrusted to care for the world.
− Lao-zi, Way Power Book (Dao De Jing) 13
The strategists say,
“Do not be the aggressor but the defender.
Do not advance an inch, but retreat a foot instead.”
This is movement without moving,
stretching the arm without showing it,
confronting enemies with the idea there is no enemy,
holding in the hand no weapons.
Underestimating the enemy will destroy my treasures.
Thus when the battle is joined, it is the kind who will win.
− Lao-zi, Way Power Book (Dao De Jing) 69
Those brave in killing will be killed.
Those brave in not killing will live.
Of these two, one is beneficial, and one is harmful.
− Lao-zi, Way Power Book (Dao De Jing) 73
Never do to others
what you would not like them
to do to you.
− Confucius, Analects 15:23
If people were to consider the states of others
as they consider their own,
then who would raise up their state
to attack the state of another?
It would be like attacking their own.
− Mo-zi, “Universal Love”
When people submit to force,
they do so not willingly
but because they are not strong enough.
When people submit to
the transforming influence of morality,
they do so sincerely with admiration in their hearts.
− Mencius 2A:3
Lao-zi lived in China in the sixth century BC. Historical records indicate that he was the keeper of the Archives in the imperial capital at Luoyang. Legend tells us that when he was old and tired of the corruption of the world, he rode an ox-drawn chariot to the mountain pass of the western frontier. The keeper of the Pass, having observed omens in the weather and expecting a sage, begged the old man to write a book before withdrawing from civilization. So Lao-zi composed the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), consisting of about 5,25O Chinese characters (words). This concise book is probably one of the greatest writings in the world and became the scriptural foundation of Daoism. It has been translated more times than any other book. Dao means the way and implies an absolute reality, roughly comparable to the Western idea of God; yet it is described not anthropomorphically but as a dynamic and natural process. De means virtue in the sense of spiritual power. Jing is the word for book or classic. Thus I translate the title Way Power Book.
In the Dao De Jing Lao-zi described a simple, natural, and peaceful way of life. Serenity may be found by returning to the eternal source, by emptying oneself of all desires, and by flowing like water. The universe has two complementary principles-the male (yang) and the female (yin). Harmony results from the natural balance of these active and receptive qualities. Those who are too aggressive meddle in their affairs and cause unnecessary problems, while those who are too passive lose their center and fail to maintain a natural order. Since the human tendency is to be too active and interfering, Lao-zi emphasized the inward process of action through non-action (wu-wei). By being receptive to this transcendental way, one knows intuitively how much to do and when to stop. The primary responsibility of each person is to understand and master oneself.
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.3
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 of spiritual power never interferes or inflicts; yet through it everything is accomplished because it is the essence of what is. All we need to do is to follow the way things are, and the world will be reformed of its own accord. The conflict of personal desires is what obscures the way; but when we free ourselves of desire, then we find peace. The way that works best for all is a transcendental but dynamic and living reality, which we can easily follow by understanding our own nature.
Lao-zi also recommended following this transcendental way in political life. The idea that “the violent die a violent death” had been taught before, and he made it the foundation of his teaching. Violence opposes the way of living, and whatever opposes life will soon perish. The use of force tends to rebound; when armies march, the country is laid to waste. Whenever a large army is raised, scarcity and want follow. The more weapons the state has, the more trouble there will be. It is better to withdraw than to attack. One should not under-estimate one’s enemy, and it is possible to confront them and win them over without fighting them. When there is a battle, those who are kind truly win. A good leader is not violent; a good fighter does not get angry; a good winner is not vengeful; a good employer is humble. This is the heavenly way of relating with people.
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.4
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 can be 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 using 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. That the violent die a violent death Lao-zi made primary in his teaching.
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.”5
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 tranquility, 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, handling them before they appear and organizing 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 gives people the ability to love in order to save and protect them. 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? How can we judge who is evil and to be killed? Those who try to do the work of the Lord of Death by executing rarely escape injuring themselves. 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.
Loving mercy brings courage and victory; economy brings abundance and generosity; and humility brings natural leadership. Heaven gives loving mercy to those it would not see destroyed. Those who know how to preserve life with these qualities will not be harmed by wild animals nor wounded in battle, because there is no death in them. Those courageous in fighting may be killed, but those courageous in not fighting will live. Living things are tender and flexible, but dead things are stiff and rigid; thus an inflexible government will be defeated. A large country is like the lower part of a river where the waters converge; it can win over small countries by placing itself below them, and a small country can win over a large country by serving it.
Confucius is the Latinized form of Kong Fu-zi, which means Kong the master. Confucius was born in the small state of Lu in 551 BC into the lower aristocratic class of the impoverished knights, and he died in 479 BC. He lived during the last part of the Spring and Autumn Era and died two years after the beginning of the Period of Warring States. This was a time of turmoil, political intrigue, and numerous small wars. Assassinations, bribery, adultery, and other crimes were common even though punishments were severe. In Lu three families contended for the hereditary rulership, while numerous educated aristocrats sought positions in the government, and many suffered poverty. The teachings of Confucius harmonize well with those of Lao-zi. While the approach of Lao-zi was mystical, Confucius emphasized ethics and social philosophy. Confucius was the first well-known professional teacher in ancient China, and he served occasionally as a political advisor to princes. Through the influence of Confucius’ teachings it became possible for men to rise in social position by educating themselves and developing their abilities.
By the age of fifteen Confucius had decided to concentrate on learning and the improvement of his character. By the age of fifty he felt that he knew what the will of heaven was for him. He advised the local ruler on good government. In his late fifties when he found that his principles were not really being put into practice, he traveled to other states looking for a ruler who would listen to his advice. When the Duke of Wei asked his advice on military strategy, Confucius replied that he had not studied warfare; he left Wei the next day. While he was journeying through Song, Huan Tui, the minister of war in that state, attempted to assassinate him. Confucius’ confidence was not shaken, for he said, “Heaven produced the virtue that is in me. What do I have to fear from such a one as Huan Tui?”6 Apparently Confucius did not hold this incident against Huan Tui’s brother Sima Niu, because he accepted Sima Niu as one of his regular students. Although eager to give political advice, Confucius twice renounced invitations by rulers, because they were involved in civil wars.
Returning to Wei to advise the ruling minister there, Confucius was asked by the minister how he might go about attacking a noble who had offended the minister’s daughter. Confucius told him not to attack; but when the minister went ahead with it, Confucius prepared his chariot to leave. When the minister apologized, Confucius was ready to stay; but then messengers arrived inviting him to return to his home state of Lu. Confucius spent his last five years in Lu, and once Ran Qiu was sent by Ji Kang-zi to ask the master’s opinion about raising taxes. Confucius stood with the people against this; when Ran Qiu collected the increased taxes, Confucius declared that he was no disciple of his. Although Confucius did advise Duke Ai to support the common people, advance the upright, and punish a usurper, he was ignored and felt that he never really had a chance to show what he could do.
In addition to teaching, Confucius is credited with editing the Book of Odes and the Spring and Autumn Annals, revising the music and ceremonies, and writing commentaries on the Book of Changes. The best source for his teachings are the Analects (Lun Yu), which describe his conversations and were apparently written by his students. From these accounts we can see not only what Confucius taught but how he taught and what his attitudes and manners were like. He was said to be free of having forgone conclusions, dogmatism, obstinacy, and egotism. His manner was affable but firm, commanding but not harsh; he was polite and completely at ease. Zigong said Confucius could get information in a foreign state by being cordial, frank, courteous, temperate, and deferential. Zigong added that this was not the way inquiries were usually made. Confucius had a gentle sense of humor and did not mind being corrected by his own students.
Confucius cared most about people and was perhaps the first great humanist in history. When the stables burned down, he asked if any person had been hurt but did not inquire about the horses. He recognized the free will of every individual, believing that the commander of three armies could be removed, but the will of even a common person could not be taken away. He spoke of the way (dao) when he said, “In the morning hear the way; in the evening die content.”7 Yet he believed that it was humans who made the way great, not the way that made humans great. Confucius believed that he could even live among the barbarians, because virtue never dwells alone and will always bring good neighbors. He believed that a gentleman should help the needy, not make the rich richer still. Confucius criticized Yuan Si for rejecting his salary of nine hundred measures of grain as governor, because he could have given it to his neighbors.
Confucius never gave up and believed that he was serving by being filial even if he was not in the government. He never expected to meet a faultless person but hoped that he might meet someone of fixed principles even though he saw many examples of nothing pretending to be something. He greatly disliked sham and deceit. He felt he could not stoop to clever talk, a pretentious manner, and a reverence that was only of the feet. He could not bear to see high offices filled with men of narrow views, ceremonies performed without reverence, and mourning forms observed without grief. He hated seeing sharp mouths overturning states and clans.
Confucius believed that his mission was to spread the culture that had been passed on to him by King Wen, and trusting that this was the will of heaven he did not even fear an assassin. He must have believed in prayer, because he said that whoever turns away from heaven has no one to pray to. He hoped that even if he was not recognized in the world, he would be known in heaven. When Confucius became ill, some of his students dressed up as retainers; but the master reprimanded them for this pretense because he knew he could not deceive heaven. He preferred to die in the arms of his disciples anyway. Although he believed there were others as honest as himself, Confucius felt that no one loved learning as much as he did. Any situation could be a lesson. When walking with others he could emulate the good qualities he saw in others and correct the bad qualities in himself. Confucius did not believe himself to be a sage or even perfectly virtuous, but he did claim unwearying effort to learn and unflagging patience in teaching others.
Confucius taught that a person ought to make his own conduct correct before attempting to correct or rule over others. The ruler is analogous to the parent whose first obligation is to love the children; therefore, the ruler must love the people. The people are to be loyal to the ruler; for Confucius this loyalty means admonishing the leaders when they do wrong. The essence of Confucius’ teachings is humanity (ren). Goodness is loving people, and wisdom is understanding people. The single motto he believed could be practiced all the time was the golden rule of consideration: do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you. Stating it thus in the negative leaves one free to do anything else; whereas enjoining one to do to others what you want them to do to you places an expectation of your values on them. When the ruler Ji Kang-zi complained about all the thieves, Confucius said that if he were free of desire, they would not steal even if he paid them. When asked if injury should be repaid with virtue, Confucius said that injury should be repaid with justice so that virtue could be repaid with virtue. When asked about the true gentleman, Confucius said that he cultivates himself carefully so as to help other people. In government one ought to lead by example and work hard for the people.
When the bold and daring Zilu asked him whom he would take with him to command an army, Confucius replied, “Not the man who is ready to ‘attack a tiger bare-handed or swim across a river’ not caring whether he lived or died, but I should take someone who approaches difficulties with due caution, who likes to plan precisely and carry it out.”8 When Confucius was asked what is the first measure in administering a government, the brash Zilu could not believe his answer that it is to correct the language. So Confucius explained that if what is said is not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried out to success; propriety and music will not flourish, and punishments will go astray. When punishments go astray, people do not know how to move hand or foot. The Analects concludes with the statement by Confucius that a gentleman must understand the will of heaven, the rules of propriety, and be able to understand words in order to understand people. He also admired those who humbly refused the sovereignty and renounced violence despite their sufferings. Confucius credited Guan Zhong for helping Duke Huan to unite the states’ rulers without using war-chariots.
Confucius believed that if the people were led by governmental measures that kept order by laws and punishments, they would try to avoid them and would lose all self-respect. Yet if they were led by virtue with order kept by propriety, they would keep their self-respect and set themselves right. Confucius observed that if one’s actions were motivated by profit, one would have many enemies. Confucius did not like competition and pointed out that even in an archery match the contenders were gentlemen at the drinking-bout afterward. He believed that the ancients studied for self-improvement, but that now people learn in order to impress people.
For Confucius propriety enabled the ancient kings to establish harmony and beauty. Without propriety courtesy becomes tiresome, caution becomes timidity, daring insubordination, and straightforwardness rudeness. It is better to be sparing than extravagant in ceremonies, and funerals are to be observed with deep sorrow, not fear. A gentleman properly blends substance and refinement, for too much of the first is rude and of the latter pedantic. Yet Confucius believed that anyone who followed the rules of propriety completely would be thought a sycophant.
Confucius always kept in mind the practical goals of education. He asked if one could recite the three hundred Odes but did not know how to act in government or answer specific questions on a mission, of what use was extensive knowledge? The first step is for one to correct one’s own conduct, then one may assist in governing others. But if one cannot rectify oneself, how could one ever rectify others? Wisdom may bring one into power, but goodness is needed to secure that power. Without dignity one will not be respected by the common people, and the rules of propriety must also be followed. With sincere faith and the love of learning one should not be afraid to die in pursuing the way. Dangerous and chaotic states should be avoided. If the way does not prevail, it is better to hide, and the wealthy and honored ought to be ashamed. When the way does prevail, one may show oneself and be bold in speech and action.
Like Lao-zi, Confucius believed in following the way. How else could one get out of the house except through the door or find one’s way into the Inner Room? Knowing the way leads to loving it, and loving it leads to taking delight in it. When Ji Kang-zi asked Confucius if he should kill those who do not have the way, the master said, “You are there to rule, not to kill. If you desire what is good, the people will be good.”9 In loving their children and people, parents and rulers must exact some effort from them, and in being loyal to parents and rulers, children and the people should not refrain from admonishing the object of their loyalty. In addition to attending strictly to business and punctually observing promises, Confucius said an administrator is economical in expenditure, loves the people, and uses the peasants’ labor only at the proper seasons of the year.
The Chinese word for virtue (de) implies power and something that can be built up within oneself. Confucius said he never found anyone whose desire for virtue was as strong as the sexual desire for beauty. Virtue can be gained by doing the work first before considering the reward and by attacking the evil within oneself rather than the evil in others. One of the great threats Confucius saw to virtue was the confusion of clever talk, just as small impatiences can ruin great projects. For Confucius the good are never unhappy, the wise never confused, and the brave never afraid. Courage, however, must not take priority over justice, or an aristocrat would become an insurgent and a common person a thief. The higher knowledge of wisdom is to know when one knows something and when one does not. “Whoever learns but does not think is lost; but whoever thinks but does not learn is in danger.”10
Perhaps the teachings of Confucius regarding inner peace and peaceful society can best be summarized by the brief portion attributed to him in the Confucian classic Higher Education (Da Xue).
The Way of higher education is cultivated and practiced by
manifesting one’s enlightening character of spiritual power,
loving the people,
and holding to the highest good.
By knowing how to hold to the highest good,
purpose is directed.
When purpose is directed, calm clarity results.
Calm clarity leads to peaceful poise.
Peaceful poise leads to careful deliberation.
Careful deliberation leads to success.
Living things have their roots and branches;
human events have their beginnings and endings.
To understand what is first and last
will lead one near the Way.
The ancients who wished to manifest
the enlightening character of spiritual power to the world
would first bring order to their government.
Wishing to bring order to their government,
they would first bring harmony to their families.
Wishing to bring harmony to their families,
they would first cultivate their personal lives.
Wishing to cultivate their personal lives,
they would first set their hearts right.
Wishing to set their hearts right,
they would first make their wills sincere.
Wishing to make their wills sincere,
they would first extend their knowledge to the utmost.
Such extension of knowledge comes from investigating things.
When things are investigated, knowledge is extended.
When knowledge is extended, the will becomes sincere.
When the will is sincere, the heart is set right.
When the heart is right, the personal life is cultivated.
When personal lives are cultivated,
families become harmonious.
When families are harmonious,
government becomes orderly.
And when government is orderly,
there will be peace in the world.
From the Son of Heaven down to the common people,
all must regard cultivation of the personal life as the root.
A disordered root cannot grow into ordered branches.
If what is near is neglected,
how can one take care of what is far away?
This is the root and foundation of knowledge.11
Mo-zi was born about ten years after the death of Confucius, and he died about twenty years before Mencius was born in 371 BC. He studied under the scholars of the growing Confucian school, but he became an independent religious teacher with several hundred devoted disciples. Living ascetically and preaching universal love, he criticized the Confucian philosophy for its excessive use of rituals, elaborate funerals and music, and what he believed to be its fatalism. Moism challenged Confucianism for prominence in China for two hundred years until it declined during the era of warring states before the violent founding of the Qin empire. Chinese Confucians rejected Mo’s philosophy mostly because they believed that they should love their families more than other people; thus they disagreed with his philosophy of universal love. For most of its history since then China has been influenced by Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. Perhaps Mo-zi’s philosophy of universal love without distinction was too idealistic for a culture that was so loyal to family ties, and his criticism of their rituals went against their social habits.
Mo-zi became a minister in the state of Song but often traveled to different states to advise rulers on how they could apply his teachings. He believed 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 pulling in order to stop retreat and pushing to stop an advance is nothing but mutual injury.
Mo-zi and his disciples traveled from place to place preaching and attempting to prevent wars. When Mo-zi heard that Kong Shu Ban had constructed ladders so that he could attack the small state of Song, he walked ten days and ten nights, tearing off pieces of his garment to wrap his feet, in order to talk with Kong Shu Ban. Mo-zi began by asking him to kill someone in the north who had humiliated him, but Kong Shu Ban declared that murder was against his principles. Then Mo-zi bowed in apology and explained that for a ruler of a large state to attack a small and innocent state was also against the principle of killing. When Kong Shu Ban argued that he had already promised his king he would attack, Mo-zi asked to be presented to the king. He asked the king why one who has so much would try to steal from one who has little. The king mentioned the ladders, but Mo-zi laid out a model city and showed how he with only a small stick could defend the city against Kong Shu Ban’s machines. Aware that the king was thinking he could murder him, Mo-zi declared that three hundred of his disciples were waiting on the city wall of Song with implements of defense. Even though he might be killed, the city could not be taken. So the king decided not to attack.
Several of Mo-zi’s writings are on the subjects of fortifications and defense against attacks. Gong Shang Guo, after talking with Mo-zi, recommended him to the Lord of Yue, 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 Yue was not going to listen to his words, he did not need to go outside of the empire to sell his justice.
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?
One man once challenged Mo-zi that his idea of universal love did not benefit the world and this man’s not loving the world did no harm. Mo-zi posed a parable. If there was a terrible fire, and one man fetched water to extinguish it and another fuel to reinforce it, even though neither had yet accomplished anything, which one was more valuable? Thus the intention to love universally was better than the opposite. Mo-zi exhorted people to be virtuous for the good that it would do for all. However, too often the rulers honored relatives, the rich, and the good-looking rather than those with merit. Mo-zi suggested that people identify with heaven, which is universally beneficial. Those who obey the will of heaven practice justice; but those who use force are disobeying the will of heaven. When justice is followed, the strong will not oppress the weak, the eminent will not lord it over the humble, and the cunning will not deceive the stupid. Mo-zi transcended political authority when he said that people must go beyond identifying with the son of heaven (emperor) and identify with heaven itself.
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. He believed that the greatest harm of his time was great states attacking small ones, the strong oppressing the weak, the many bothering the few, the cunning deceiving the stupid, the eminent lording it over the humble, and mean people seeking 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 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.12
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. Also if people had to choose between these two types of rulers, who would they follow? Thus people may criticize universal love in words, but they adopt it in practice.
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 law 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; otherwise they would 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 in order 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 destroy crops, cut down trees, raze walls, fill in moats and ponds, slaughter animals, burn temples, massacre the people, and carry 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.13
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 someone would conduct diplomacy in good faith and think first of how to benefit others, would feel concerned with others when a large state commits an unjust act, would with others help rescue the small state that is attacked by a large state, and 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 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.
For Mo-zi those with a universal mind love a friend the same as themselves, and their friend’s father the same as their own father. Thus they will feed those who are hungry, clothe those who are cold, take care of those who are sick, and bury those who die. Would it be wiser to entrust one’s parents to such universally minded people or to those who are partial? Likewise rulers ought to care for their subjects in the same way as universally minded people do, and government ought to treat another state the same as its own state. Such a government would never attack another state. By not threatening other states they would be left in peace, and by reducing military expenditures prosperity would result. Mo-zi believed that warfare as mass murder was that much more of a crime than a single murder, and yet often people praise war and call it just. Murdering people is hardly the way to benefit them, and the expenditures of warfare cripple the nation’s livelihood and exhaust the resources of the people. During war the affairs of government are neglected, the farms lie fallow, and many of the best people are lost. Mo-zi concluded by asking if rulers who glory in injuring and exterminating the people of the world are not perverse.
Mencius (371-289 BC) studied under the pupil of Confucius’ grandson, and his writings became one of the four Confucian classics. Like Confucius and Mo-zi, he was a professional teacher and a political advisor who traveled from state to state. According to the historian Sima Qian, Mencius went to Qi to serve King Xuan. He also went to Liang, where King Hui found his views impractical and remote from reality before he fully listened to them. Then Mencius retired, and with the help of his disciple Wan Zhang and others he wrote his philosophy in seven books.
The first book of Mencius begins by describing his visit to King Hui of Liang in Wei; he ruled from 370 to 319 BC. The aged king assumed that Mencius came a long way because he believed he could bring profit to his state. Mencius replied that concern for profit is what imperils a state; all that matters is what is good and right. King Hui said he had worked hard in governing and asked why his population had not increased. Mencius told him that he was too fond of war. If he did not interfere with the busy seasons in the fields, then the people would have more grain to eat. If he did not allow nets with too fine a mesh to be used in the large ponds, there would be more fish to eat. If the cutting down of trees with axes was limited, there would be enough timber. By caring for education in village schools and teaching proper human relationships, humans would respect each other and their king. But failing to garner surplus food or distribute it when people are starving, saying it is the fault of the harvest, is like killing a man and blaming it on the weapon. Good government reduces punishment and taxation, gets the people to plow deeply and weed promptly, and helps the able to learn.
The king of Liang asked Mencius how the empire could be settled, and he replied that one who is not fond of killing could unite it; but among the shepherds of people at that time there was not one doing so. Mencius said that King Hui could become a true king by bringing peace to the people; but he was failing because he did not practice kindness. It was not that he lacked the ability, but he had refused to act in the proper way. Mencius knew that the king wanted to extend his territory, rule over the central kingdoms and bring peace to the barbarians on the borders; but his way of going about it was like looking for a fish by climbing a tree. Not only was it unlikely he would find it; but his way was worse because it would also cause disaster. If he practiced good government, the office seekers would want to be in his court, the farmer to till his land, the merchants to use his marketplace, the travelers to go by his roads, and all those who hate their rulers would come to him with their complaints. Mencius said that only a gentleman can keep a constant heart; the people tend to lose constancy and go astray, falling into excesses. To punish them then is like setting a trap for them. A bright ruler makes sure they have what they need before he drives them toward the good; thus it is easy for them to follow him. To accomplish this he must go back to the fundamentals of nurturing the people’s needs and providing education.
When King Hui died, his successor seemed to Mencius to lack dignity; so he went to advise Xuan, who had become king of Qi in 320 BC. Mencius suggested that King Xuan share his enjoyments with his people, for when a king’s park is open to the people they consider it small; but when they are prohibited from entering it, they naturally think it is too large. King Xuan asked how he could promote good relations with other states. Mencius said that by submitting to a state smaller than his one delights in heaven and enjoys possession of the empire, and in submitting to a larger state one is in awe of heaven and enjoys the possession of one’s own state. Mencius told how Duke Jing followed wise advice and opened his granaries for the poor; another ruler cared for the aged and orphans.
Although King Xuan said these things were well spoken, he could not put them into practice because he loved money and women. When Mencius asked the king what should be done if someone entrusted his wife and family to the care of a friend, and they were allowed to suffer cold and hunger, the King said he should break with his friend; if the marshal of the Guards could not control his guards, he should be replaced. Yet when Mencius asked what should be done if the whole realm is ill-governed, the King turned to his attendants and changed the subject. Mencius advised that when the attendants all give the same recommendation and the counselors and everyone else does also, it still should be investigated to see if what they say is true. In this way good and wise men may be appointed, and unsuitable officers may be removed.
King Xuan asked if regicide was permitted since Shang founder Tang banished Jie, and King Wu marched against the last Shang king; but Mencius responded that these rulers so mutilated humanity that they should be called outcasts not kings. In 315 BC the king of Yen abdicated in favor of his prime minister Zizhi, causing a revolt in Yen. Mencius was asked if it was all right to march on Yen. He said yes, because the king had no right to give Yen to another; but he explained that he was not encouraging Qi to invade Yen, because only a heaven-appointed officer had the right to do so. After Qi invaded Yen, King Xuan asked Mencius if he should annex Yen. Mencius said that if annexing it would please its people, then it could be done; but if annexing it antagonized its people, then he should not. Qi annexed Yen, and most of the feudal lords planned to aid Yen. King Xuan asked Mencius how he should meet the threat. Mencius referred to the example of Tang, founder of the Shang dynasty and then gave the following advice:
Now when you went to punish Yen
which practiced tyranny over its people,
the people thought
you were going to rescue them from water and fire,
and they came to meet the army,
bringing baskets of rice and bottles of drink.
How can it be right for you to kill the old and bind the young,
destroy the ancestral temples
and appropriate the valuable vessels?
Even before this,
the whole Empire was afraid of the power of Qi.
Now you double your territory
without practicing good government.
This is to provoke the armies of the whole Empire.
If you hasten to order the release of the captives, old and young,
leave the valuable vessels where they are,
and take your army out
after setting up a ruler in consultation with the men of Yen,
it is still not too late to halt the armies of the Empire.14
Mencius later explained that he never intended to stay long in Qi; but he was unable to leave because the war broke out. Duke Mu of Zuou asked Mencius what he should do after thirty-three of his officers died without the people helping them. Mencius recalled that in the years of bad harvest nearly a thousand of his people had suffered in spite of full granaries because his officials had not informed him of what was happening. Zeng-zi’s warning that what you mete out will be paid back to you came to pass. Mencius said the Duke should not hold a grudge against the people, because if he practices good government, they will love their superiors and even die for them.
Mencius advised Duke Wen of the small state of Teng to do good and hope that heaven will grant success. In starting an enterprise a gentleman can only leave behind a tradition that can be carried on. He cited the case of a leader of Bin, who told his people that the Di tribes wanted their land, and so rather than bring harm to them he was leaving. The people of Bin realized that he was a good man and flocked after him as if to market. Others decided to stay and defend their land. These were the two choices.
Mencius declared that the appearance of a true king was never more overdue than in his time when the people suffered under such tyrannical governments. He did not just admire the ancients; he believed that twice as much could be done in his time with half the effort. Along with the legendary sages, Bo Yi and Yi Yin, he admired Confucius most of all. They were capable of winning the homage of the feudal lords; but if they had to kill one innocent person in order to gain the empire, none of them would have consented to do so. People only submit to force unwillingly because they are not strong enough to resist; but when they submit to the transforming influence of ethics, they do so sincerely with admiration in their hearts. Goodness brings honor, but cruelty brings disgrace. When the good and wise rule, the able are employed; in times of peace the laws can be explained to the people, but the ruler indulging in pleasures and indolence courts disaster. If the good and wise are honored and the able are employed, gentlemen will come to the court. If goods are exempted from taxation in the marketplace and premises are exempted from land taxes, traders will come. If there is no fee at border stations, travelers will come. If tillers pay no land tax but help in the public fields, farmers will come.
Mencius believed that no one is devoid of a heart sensitive to the suffering of others and used the example of a baby about to fall into a well. Anyone will naturally be moved by compassion to prevent the tragedy, not to get into the good graces of the parents nor to win praise nor because one dislikes to hear a child cry. Whoever is devoid of a heart of compassion and shame over right or wrong is not human. From this heart comes goodness, duty, courtesy, propriety, and wisdom; anyone lacking these is a slave. Practicing the good is like archery: when one fails to hit the mark, one must correct oneself. If others do not respond to your love, look into your own humanity. If others fail to respond to your governing, consider your own wisdom. If others do not return your courtesy, look at your own respect. Whenever you fail to achieve your purpose, examine yourself.
The best person, like the great Shun, is not afraid to learn from others, and after doing good oneself goes on to help others do good. Mencius believed that the good and talented ought to help those who are less so. Only one who will not do some things is capable of doing great things. He warned people to think of the consequences before pointing out the shortcomings of others. Doing what is right was paramount for Mencius, as he believed that a great person might not always keep one’s word or see actions through to the end, if these were not right. A superior person finds the way in oneself, is at ease with it, and draws deeply from it, finding its source wherever one turns. Those who follow the way have many supporters; those who do not have few. At court rank is exalted, and in the village age is respected; but for assisting the world and governing people virtue is best. Mencius accused the governor of Ping Lu of refusing to report to duty several times because he allowed his people to starve during a famine.
Mencius recommended that if farmers help each other to keep watch and nurse each other in illness, they will live in love and harmony. The way cannot be bent to please others; no one has ever straightened others by bending oneself. Mencius mentioned that the current teachings in the empire were those of Yang Zhu and Mo-zi. Yang Zhu taught everyone for oneself, and Mo-zi advocated love without making any preference for family. Mencius felt this was no better than beasts. Mencius believed that love of one’s parents was the first step which could lead to peace in the empire. Pleasing one’s parents begins by being true to oneself which depends on understanding goodness. By pleasing one’s parents one can win the trust of friends, the confidence of superiors, and thus govern the people.
Mencius referred to Confucius criticizing Ran Qiu for agreeing to raise taxes. How much more would he reject those who wage war on behalf of rulers to gain land and fill the plains with the dead! Mencius called this showing the land how to devour human flesh. For Mencius, a great person retains the heart of a child. He felt that even goodness could not be used to dominate people. One can only succeed by using goodness for the welfare of the people, and one can never gain the empire without their heart-felt admiration. The good retain their hearts and love others, and the courteous respect others. Sages may live in retirement or in the world, but they always keep their integrity intact. The heart of compassion is good; the heart of shame is dutiful; the heart of respect is appropriate; and the heart of right and wrong is wise. Mencius said, “Seek and you will find it; let go and you will lose it.”15 People become different because of what ensnares their hearts. The sage is merely the one who discovers what is right and reasonable in the heart.
Mencius observed that once the trees had been luxuriant on Ox Mountain, but being near a city they were constantly chopped by axes. With rain and dew new shoots came out; but then cattle and sheep grazed upon the mountain, leaving it bald. Is this the nature of the mountain? Similarly humans lose their true hearts, just as the trees were lopped off day by day. Humans rest at night, but each day dissipates what has been gained. When what was original is no longer preserved, they become like animals. Anything will grow with the right nourishment, but without it anything will wither away. Goodness is the heart, and conscientiousness is the correct road. When the heart strays, people often fail to go after it; yet when chickens stray, people will retrieve them. For Mencius the sole concern of learning is to go after this strayed heart. People love all the parts of their person. However, the petty person harms the more important in seeking what is less valuable, while the great person nurtures the parts of greater importance. Heaven has given to humans a heart that can think and tell the difference. However, if one does not think, one will not find the answer.
Mencius compared goodness to water, which can overcome the cruelty of fire. Some try to put out a cartload of burning wood with a cup of water and then say water cannot overcome fire. To do this is to place one on the side of the most cruel; in the end they perish. The way is like a broad road that is not difficult to find. The problem is that people simply do not look for it. Those who do look for it will find enough teachers. Once Mencius met a man, who was going to Chu to persuade them that war was unprofitable. Mencius commended his purpose but suggested that by putting profit first ethics may be excluded, and the result will be chaos. By placing the ethics of what is best for all before people all human relationships can be made mutually beneficial.
Mencius explained how morality had degenerated from the three ancient emperors to the five protectors of the feudal lords to the current feudal lords and their counselors, each of which offended against those who came before. The emperor used to inspect the domain, and the feudal lords reported on their duties; those who needed it were given aid. In the feudal system lords were rewarded with land. If the land was neglected, the good and wise overlooked, and grasping men put in power, then the lord was reprimanded. Thus the emperor punished but did not attack, while the feudal lords attack but do not punish. The protectors then intimidated the feudal lords to attack other feudal lords.
The most illustrious of the protectors, Duke Huan of Qi, got the feudal lords to agree to a pledge which included first: not punishing dutiful sons nor putting aside heirs nor elevating concubines; second: honoring the good and wise and training the capable; third: respecting the aged and being kind to the young, guests, and travelers; fourth: not making offices hereditary, nor letting one man hold more than one office nor allowing a feudal lord to execute a counselor solely on his own authority; and fifth: not allowing diversion of dikes nor prohibiting the sale of rice. Today, complained Mencius, the feudal lords violate all of these five injunctions. Yet Mencius concluded that the crime of encouraging a ruler to evil deeds is small compared to the pandering to his unspoken evil desires. Thus the counselors of the time offend against the feudal lords.
Mencius held that a good person would not even take from one person to give to another, let alone seek territory at the cost of human lives. To enrich a ruler, who is neither attracted to the way nor good to the people, is like enriching a tyrant. When about to place a great responsibility on a person, heaven may test one with hardship and frustrated efforts in order to toughen one’s nature and correct deficiencies. People usually only mend their ways after making mistakes. Those whose minds are frustrated learn how to innovate.
Mencius believed that those who understand their own nature will know heaven; by retaining the heart and nurturing their nature they serve heaven. He found no greater joy than finding upon self-examination that he is being true to himself. He taught the golden rule of trying your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself as the shortest path to goodness. The best person does not abandon what is right in adversity nor depart from the way in success. In obscurity one can perfect one’s own person; in prominence one can perfect the whole empire as well. For Mencius good government was not as important as good education, because the people fear good government; but they love good education. Good government wins their wealth, but good education wins their hearts. Mencius believed it contrary to goodness to kill even one person and contrary to justice to take what one is not entitled to. The wise person knows everything but considers only what demands attention urgent. The good person loves everyone but devotes oneself in close association with the good and wise.
Mencius pointed out how Duke Hui of Liang extended his ruthlessness from those he did not love to those he did by sending to war even the young men he loved, whereas a good person extends one’s love to those one does not love. Mencius could find no just wars in the Spring and Autumn Era but only peers trying to punish one another by war. He considered those who thought of themselves as military experts to be grave criminals. The trouble with people, he thought, was that they leave their own fields to weed others’ fields, being exacting toward others but indulgent toward themselves. Like Confucius, Mencius rejected high taxes and warfare; he said that those who are skillful in warfare deserve the severest punishment. The sovereign of a state who loves humanity will have no enemy in the world. The sage achieves humane government by means of education, not by means of weapons. Mencius cited the expedition of King Wu. The king told the people not to fear, because he was bringing peace to them, not war. On hearing this, the people bowed their heads and prostrated themselves to the ground. The expression “to battle” should mean “to rectify.” If everyone wished to be rectified, what need would there be for war?
Mencius believed that human nature is innately good and that we need only discover the heart. He criticized Mo-zi’s doctrine of universal love without distinctions, advocating humanity that discerns the proper distinctions in human relationships. He recommended humane government and felt that justice is far more important than utility and profit. Mencius believed that virtue is inherent in everyone’s nature and that therefore everyone is equal to everyone else; also the people are most important in the state, and they have the right to change their government.
By Sanderson Beck
1. Chun Ts’ew, with the Tso Chuen tr. James Legge, 9:27:2, p. 534.
3. Lao-zi, Way Power Book (Dao De Jing) 33 tr. Sanderson Beck in Wisdom Bible, p. 21.
4. Ibid., 8.
5. Ibid., 57.
6. Analects tr. Arthur Waley, 7:22.
7. Ibid., 4:8.
8. Ibid., 7:10.
9. Ibid., 12:19.
10. Ibid., 2:15.
11. Higher Education tr. Sanderson Beck and Ken Tsang in Wisdom Bible, p. 40-41.
12. Basic Writings of Mo Tzu tr. Burton Watson, p. 41.
13. Ibid., p. 54.
14. Mencius tr. D. C. Lau, 1B:11, p. 70.
15. Ibid. 6A:6, p. 163.