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  • The Mozi: A Complete Translation
  • Hui-chieh Loy
The Mozi: A Complete Translation. Translated and annotated by Ian Johnston. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010. Pp. lxxxviii + 944. Hardcover $85.00.

As Ian Johnston observes in the introduction to his new The Mozi: A Complete Translation, the Mozi is "unquestionably one of the most important books in the history of Chinese philosophy" (p. xvii). Indeed, the text is our chief source for the intellectual productions of Mozi (fl. late fifth century to early fourth century B.C.E.) and members of the school he founded (the "Mohists"). Apart from its inherent philosophical interest to contemporary scholars of Chinese philosophy, the text is indispensable to the study of the history of Chinese thought, as Mohist ideas exerted significant influence over the broader intellectual scene up to the early days of Empire. Yet, as Johnston points out, it has also been "a sadly neglected work" (p. xviii).

Consider, for instance, the metric of available translations in English: until Johnston's attempt, there has not been a single complete edition of the Mozi in English (the last one in a Western language was that by Alfred Forke in German). This state of affairs is perhaps only to be expected considering certain special features of the corpus. The text is notoriously corrupt in places—a consequence of its relative neglect within the Chinese intellectual tradition until later imperial times. There is also the disparate nature of the contents of the corpus: the three main divisions in terms of content are: (1) the ethical and political chapters (chapters 1-39 and 46-51), (2) the dialectical chapters (40-45), and (3) the technical chapters on defense (52-71). Given that the three divisions are rather different in the type of specialist knowledge [End Page 308] required for handling them effectively, it is perhaps only to be expected that few would attempt a complete translation. And so the current commonly used English version of the dialectical chapters is Angus C. Graham's Later Mohist Logic, Ethics and Science (1978), while that for the defense chapters is the unpublished 1980 Ph.D. Dissertation "The City Under Siege" (1980) by Robin Yates. The remaining chapters were last given a complete treatment in Y. P. Mei, The Ethical and Political Work of Motse (1927), though the most widely used English versions today are probably those by Burton Watson (1963) and P. J. Ivanhoe (2001), both of whom offer but parts of the "core" chapters (chapters 8-86).

With the preamble above in mind, we can thus appreciate the sheer scope and ambition of what Ian Johnston is aiming to achieve by giving us an English translation of the complete Mozi corpus. But not just the translation: the Chinese text is provided on facing pages, with generous footnotes for both original and translation. In addition, there is also a substantial introduction that discusses the historical sources on Mozi the man, the Mohist school, the nature and divisions of the Mozi corpus, a synoptic overview of the doctrines in the "core" chapters, Mohist responses to other pre-Han thinkers, pre-Han responses to Mohism (especially Mencius, Xunzi, Zhuangzi, and Hanfeizi, and, more briefly, the Lüshi chunqiu and Huainanzi), a complete translation of Han Yu's (C.E. 768-824) essay "On Reading Mozi," and a brief note on the existing translations (both in modern Chinese and Western Languages) and the translator's aim to "attain that elusive balance between accuracy and readability" (p. lxxx). Given the brevity of the introduction relative to the scope of the topics covered, it is only to be expected that there will be points that invite dissent from fellow students of the Mozi. Nonetheless, the introduction should prove useful to readers looking for information on the larger intellectual-historical background and the issues regarding the nature of the text.

The translation itself is readable and largely dependable. Most of the passages that are harder to make sense of (due to textual corruption or lack of knowledge about Mohist technical usages) tend to be in the dialectical and defense divisions of the text—and it is to Johnston's credit that he has included...