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Reviewed by:
  • The Mozi as an Evolving Text: Different Voices in Early Chinese Thought ed. by Carine Defoort and Nicolas Standaert
  • Ian Johnston (bio)
Carine Defoort and Nicolas Standaert, editors. The Mozi as an Evolving Text: Different Voices in Early Chinese Thought. Studies in the History of Chinese Texts, volume 4. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2013, 294 pp. Hardcover $166.00, isbn 978-90-04-23434-5.

Mo Di (ca. 479–381 b.c.e.) has been a rather neglected figure in Chinese intellectual history over the more than two millennia since he and his followers offered the first significant philosophical challenge to developing Confucianism in their attempts to devise a workable social and political philosophy that would cure the ills of the Warring States period (475–221 b.c.e.). The neglect is reflected in the treatment of the eponymous work (the Mozi), which has, nevertheless, survived, albeit with significant textual difficulties in two of its five sections. The other three sections seem to have survived relatively well, although there are apparent losses of chapters and the inevitable uncertainties about the time and manner of composition and the actual author or authors/editors. Moreover, although the work is listed in the bibliographical chapters of several of the early dynastic histories (the Han, Sui, and old and new Tang histories) there is no evidence of any detailed commentaries such as accompany the other major philosophical works of the late Zhou period. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the ideas advanced in the work were the subjects of ongoing debate or development over the centuries up to the immediate premodern era. Two writers who did at least make some reference to Mohism were Han Yu (768–824) and Gu Yanwu (1613–1682), but in both cases the tendency was to downplay the differences between Confucianism and Mohism rather than highlight and consider the Mohists’ unique and vital contribution to the early philosophical debate.

In China itself the rediscovery of the Mozi can be attributed largely to the text-critical scholars of the mid to late Qing period, beginning with Bi Yuan and continuing with the Wang family and Sun Yirang, among others. Also important were those seeking evidence of involvement with matters of logic and science in early Chinese philosophy—men such as Liang Qichao and Hu Shi. Among Japanese and Western scholars there has also been neglect of the Mozi with some notable exceptions, three of whom are fittingly listed as dedicatees of the present volume (Watanabe Takashi, Angus Graham, and Roman Malek). Among others deserving of mention are Alfred Forke, who published an almost complete translation of the Mozi in 1922, and Y-P Mei, who published a translation of the three sections that are the focus of the present volume (1929) along with a companion volume on the philosophy of Mohism (1934).

Fortunately, however, the tide is turning. In recent decades, there has been a notable shift in the attitude toward Mohism in the West, with increasing recognition of how important the man, the school, and the work were in the early development of Chinese philosophy in terms of novelty and force of the ideas [End Page 87] and their mode of presentation. One of the most important contributions to the rehabilitation of Master Mo in the West has come (and is coming) from the Sinology Department at the University of Leuven, whose ongoing seminars, workshops, and articles on the subject have continued over the past decade. The volume under review, The Mozi as an Evolving Text, edited by Carine Defoort and Nicolas Stan-daert, is a welcome and significant addition to this growing body of work. This book offers much of value to those interested in the social and political philosophy of Mo Di, and his school specifically, and early Chinese philosophy more generally. The book comprises an introduction by the editors, which sets out the general framework of the studies of the group and articulates the ground rules of their approach, and seven chapters by different authors on specific issues.

The two aspects of particular interest in the introduction are the authors’ examination of the basis of the triadic arrangement of the majority of the chapters...


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