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Reviewed by:
  • The Mozi. A Complete Translation
  • Karel L. van der Leeuw (bio)
Ian Johnston, translator and annotator. The Mozi. A Complete Translation. Translations from the Asian Classics. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010. lxxxv, 944 pp. Hardcover $68.00, isbn 978-0-231-15240-2.

Apart from Alfred Forkes's almost complete translation,1 which is introuvable and which I have never seen (but which was evidently consulted by Johnston), there existed up to now only partial translations of the Mozi. The most important are the English translation by Y. P. Mei,2 who translated the introductory chapters (the "epitomes," as they were called by Stephen Durrant), the so-called core chapters and the dialogues, but not the logical and military chapters; and Burton Watson's,3 who made a selection from the core chapters. There were several attempts to translate the logical chapters or part of them (chapters 40–45), but, by far, the most [End Page 526] important is Graham's emended text version with translation and extensive commentary.4

Johnston's translation is a surprise: Some courage is needed to translate the complete Mozi, including the parts that have been avoided by most translators and were even omitted from several modern Chinese editions. Johnston bases his translation on a number of modern editions, most frequently quoting the edition by Wu Yujiang.5 Wu's edition, in turn, made use of the revolutionary edition by Sun Yirang.6 Johnston's work includes the Chinese text and textual notes.

Johnston's sixty-five-page introduction addresses all the main issues and discussions and reproduces the conflicting views and sources on Mozi's biography and the Mohist school. He is very careful in drawing definitive conclusions. A following paragraph discusses the authorship of the text, the dating of it, the history of the text and its subsequent editions, and the structure of the whole work.7

The longest part of the introduction, however, contains useful summaries of all the core chapters, including discussions of the differences between the members of a triad and a critical examination of the position defended and the arguments for it. In this part, Johnston also discusses his translations of the chapter titles, in some cases deviating from most translations. Shang Tong 尚同, for example, is translated as "exalting unity" because of the parallelism with Shang Xian 尚賢, which is reasonable, although it is clear that "identification with the superior" is a topic in the chapters themselves.

For Jian Ai 兼愛, Johnston sticks to the conventional rendering of "universal love," and accordingly he translates bie 別 in Jian Ai III as "discriminating." This is open to debate. "Love" presupposes some inner feeling or disposition, and any directions for inner cultivation, as we find them, for example, in the Xunzi, are entirely lacking in the core chapters of the Mozi.8 Scott Lowe, who uses the same translation, points to the fact that the examples of influence by the prince on his subjects in Jian Ai 2 and 3 all concern outward behavior.9 In classical works, a number of passages can be found where ai has a rather weak meaning, more something like "caring for," for example, Mencius 7 A 45, where qin 親 is the attitude toward relatives; ren 仁, that toward people; and ai 愛, that toward other living beings.10

For Tian zhi 天志, Johnston chooses "heaven's intention," which I think is entirely correct. The traditional translation "the will of heaven" is highly misleading. Ming gui 明鬼 is rendered as "percipient ghosts," unusual, but certainly defensible. Of course, we will never know what the titles were exactly intended to mean, but Johnston at least takes a fresh look at the problem.

The rest of the introduction is filled with an enumeration of all the passages in the Mozi responding to other schools of thought, and an enumeration and often translation of the passages in Mengzi, Xunzi, Zhuangzi, Han Feizi, and Lü Shi Chunqiu referring to Mohism and Mohist doctrines. Furthermore a translation of [End Page 527] Han Yu's short comparison of Confucianism and Mohism is provided. Finally a paragraph on the translation itself, mentioning earlier translations and the editions that served as basis for the translation. Johnston follows Wu...