REVIEW ARTICLE 59 (2011): 491-501



Content of Mozi: the core chapters …………….....………………............................... 493
Translation: the “epitomes,” “core chapters” and “dialogues” ……………………………… 495
1. Mozi explicitly quotes himself ………………………………………………………….. .. 495
2. Mozi’s repetitive style ........................................................................ 497
3. Translation of key-terms ..................................................................... 497
4. Consistent use of terms ...................................................................... 498
5. Grammatical matters .......................................................................... 499

IAN JOHNSTON (transl.), The Mozi. A Complete Translation, Hong Kong: The Chinese
University Press, 2010. lxxxv, 944 pp. Bibliography, Index. US$ 85.00 (HB) ISBN

This work contains a presentation of the ancient Chinese book Mozi together with a
complete English translation. It is the first of its kind in any Western language and
an enormously ambitious and challenging endeavour, considering the length of the
received Mozi book and its textual corruption. As Ian Johnston points out, “the
Mozi has been a sadly neglected work, both in China itself over two millennia, and
in the West since early Chinese philosophy first became a subject of significant in-
terest in the 19th century” (xvii-xvii). Because of the richness of its content and its
importance in early Chinese thought, I agree that this neglect can only be regretted.
This translation is therefore an important step in redressing the situation. Indeed the
“Mozi is unquestionably one of the most important books in the history of Chinese
philosophy. It embodied the first and, at least in the pre-Han period, the most seri-
ous challenge to the increasing dominance of Confucianism” by “presenting a co-
herent body of doctrine articulated in a strikingly systematic way” (xvii).
The main body of Johnston’s book (921 pages) consists of the translation of
the extant 53 chapters out of the presumably 71 chapters of the original work.
Following previous scholarship, Johnston divides the Mozi as follows: Part I: the
“epitomes” (chapters 1-7), which are relatively late and unsystematic formula-
tions of the Mohist doctrine; Part II: the “core chapters” (chapters 8-38/39) pre-
senting the master’s cure for the social ills of his times; Part III: the “dialectical
chapters” (chapters 40-45) written by later Mohists discussing logic, language,
and science; Part IV: the “dialogues” (chapters 46-50) mostly written by Mozi’s
disciples defending the doctrine against opponents; and Part V: the “defence
chapters” (chapters 52-71) presenting general and specific advise for the defence
of a city. This translation is accompanied by the full Chinese text and by foot-
notes containing explanations and references to previous scholarship.
The translation is preceded by a lengthy introduction (of 66 pages) on various
aspects of the Mozi. It begins by presenting “the man” Mo Di to whom the book is
attributed, which is not an easy task since little can be said with certainty about his
provenance (the states Song, Chu, or Lu), his time (probably the 5th c. BCE), his
name (Mo meaning ink), and his social status (showing acquaintance with artisan-
ship and with elite culture). The second topic of the introduction is “the school” of
Mohism (mojia), which was an important rival of the Ru before the Qin dynasty
and a well defined movement with loyal adherents continuing into the early West-
ern Han. The third section presents “the book” Mozi, for the most part written be-
tween the latter part of 5th century and the early part of the 3rd century BCE.
Johnston discusses the various parts of the book, its history (e.g., the loss of 18
chapters between Han and Song), its earliest extant complete edition in the Dao-
zang (1445), and its commentators from the Qing dynasty onward (the most impor-
tant being Sun Yirang 孫詒讓). In the next section, the author discusses the ten
“core doctrines” separately because of their importance as the oldest and most au-
thentic expression of Mohist thought: “Exalting Worthiness” (Shang xian 尚賢)
(chapters 8, 9, 10), “Exalting Unity” (Shang tong 尚同) (chapters 11, 12, 13),
“Universal Love” (Jian ai 兼愛) (chapters 14, 15, 16), “Condemning Offensive
Warfare” (Fei gong 非攻) (chapters 17, 18, 19), “Moderation in Use” (Jie yong 節
用) (chapters 20, 21), “Moderation in Funerals” (Jie zang 節葬) (chapter 25),
“Heaven’s Intention” (Tian zhi 天志) (chapters 26, 27, 28), “Percipient Ghosts”
(Ming gui 明鬼) (chapter 31), “Condemning Music” (Fei yue 非樂) (chapter 32),
and “Against Fate” (Fei ming 非命) (chapters 35, 36, 37), leaving out “Against the
Confucians” (Fei Ru 非儒) (chapter 39) because of its problematic status as core
chapter. The fifth introductory section presents Mozi’s response to opponents dis-
played in the book, such as to the Ru in chapter 39 and to specific personalities
mainly in the “dialogues.” The sixth section discusses the response of other early
thinkers to Mozi, which is mainly a combination of respect and criticism as found
in the Mengzi, Xunzi, Zhuangzi and Hanfeizi, but also the many stories in the Lü
shi chunqiu and Huainanzi. The seventh section presents the positive view of Mozi
by Han Yu (768–824), who saw many similarities with Confucianism. And the fi-
nal section lists the existing (all partial) Western translations of the Mozi, beginning
with Alfred Forke’s almost complete translation in German (1922).
In line with Johnston’s book, this review largely focuses on the translation of
Mozi, and only in an introductory way discusses some general claims made by
Johnston about its content. The discussion of the translation will be limited to the
“epitomes,” the “core chapters,” and the “dialogues,” leaving the rest of the
book to other reviewers. The “dialectical” and “defence” chapters are so corrupt
and difficult that they more than deserve to be discussed separately.

MOZI 493
Content of Mozi: the core chapters
Since Johnston’s work is foremost a translation rather than a study of the Mozi,
his views on the work are relegated to the introduction and do not claim much
originality. Most of the information is a collection of previous research or, more
specifically, of what the author has read. As he points out in the preface, this ex-
cludes most modern secondary sources (both Chinese and non-Chinese) and also
Japanese sources (xii-xiii). I will therefore only add two reflections to the intro-
duction before moving on to a more thorough discussion of the translation.
My first reflection concerns the novelty of some Mohist ideas. Having discussed
the triad on “Exalting Worthiness” (Shang xian 尚賢), Johnston concludes that it
“is important to realise that this doctrine of Mo Zi’s was by no means revolution-
ary” and that the meritocratic views expressed in this triad are “not very distant
from the evolving Confucian position” (xxxviii). Johnston gives two arguments for
not considering Mozi’s ideas very novel or revolutionary in his days. The first is
that “he himself [= Mozi] was at pains to identify historical precedents” for his
views. Yet, this alone does not make the views any less revolutionary, since refer-
ence to antiquity is typically a claim that revolutionaries tend to make. Gu Jiegang
has argued almost a century ago that the older the authority cited, the later the cita-
tion probably is. In other words, the citation of ancient authority can be a charac-
teristic of novel ideas.
Johnston’s second argument is that early Ru sources such as
the Lunyu, Mencius and Xunzi all stress the importance of “worthiness,” which
makes him conclude that “Confucius recognised the value of xian 賢. Mencius ac-
knowledged that it should be identified and rewarded, albeit with some unease.
Xun Zi embraced a position on the subject that was almost identical with that of
Mo Zi, what difference there was lying in the precise criteria of ‘worthiness’”
The two latter sources probably postdate the Mozi’s core chapters and
could thus have been influenced by its novel ideas; the Lunyu line which Johnston
quotes to support his case, is not attributed there to Confucius but to Zixia, which
could also indicate a relatively late date.
Without claiming that Mozi’s promotion

See Gu Jiegang 顧頡剛, “Yu Qian Xuantong xiansheng lun gushishu” 與錢玄同先生論古史書,
in: Gushi bian 古史辨 (Discussions on Chinese Ancient History), vol. 1 (Taibei 1926–
1941/1987), pp. 59-66. Miranda Brown has argued recently that the appeal to a fixed set of
“sage kings” may have been to a considerable extent invented or at least thoroughly reshaped
by Mozi. See “Mozi’s Re-Making of Ancient Authority,” presented at “The Many Faces of
Mozi: A Synchronic and Diachronic Study of Mohist Thought,” Leuven 25–28 June, 2009.
This paper will be published in a book on the Mozi, Leiden: Brill, forthcoming.
For the quotes from these Ru sources, Johnston follows Li Shenglong 李生龍 et al. (eds.),
Mozi duben 墨子讀本 (Taibei 1996), p. 8.
Bruce and Taeko Brooks date this line to 294 BCE and translate it as follows: “He sees the wor-
thy as worthy; he makes light of beauty.” See Bruce Brooks and Takeo Brooks, The Original
Analects. Sayings of Confucius and his Successors (New York 1997), p. 146.
of the “worthy” was definitely novel for his days, I see no ground for insisting on
the opposite either, namely that it was not.

A second reflection concerns the mysterious division of the core chapters into
triads, a long debated topic that Johnston does not intend to elaborate upon. He
does give an outline of the major positions: one is the idea that the three versions
were very similar sets of notes taken of the same lectures,
another is the sugges-
tion that early Mohism at a later stage divided into contending wings or schools,

and a third is the hypothesis that the three versions represent an evolution of ideas
over time
(xxxii-xxxiii). Even though Johnston takes pains to discuss the content
of each chapter in the triads separately, he is impressed by the “relative doctrinal
uniformity of the components of the triads” and believes that their “basic content
is the same” (xxiv). I am convinced, however, by the early work of Watanabe
Takashi (in the 1960s), and more recently by Karen Desmet, that there are inter-
esting differences to detect between the chapters of each triad. These differences
do not support Graham’s hypothesis of doctrinal disagreement between the three
versions, but rather the idea of an evolution within the triads. More specifically,
Watanabe and Desmet have argued that for three of the completely extant triads,
the chronological order is not first shang 上, followed by zhong 中 and concluded
by xia 下 but rather shang–xia–zhong: this is the case for “Shang xian” (chapters
8, 10, 9), “Shang tong” (chapters 11, 13, 12), and “Tian zhi” (chapters 26, 28,
Such discussions about the nature of the core chapters may further the dis-
cussions about the evolution of Mohist thought and the nature of the book.

In his discussion of the other triads too, Johnston often, and convincingly, indicates the similarities
between these Mohist views and other Warring States ideas. But this does not necessarily lead to
any conclusion concerning the novelty of the Mohist views, considering the problems in establish-
ing the chronology of early Chinese ideas on the basis of the received and excavated texts.
This hypothesis and various others were the topic of the dissertation by Karen Desmet, “All
Good Things Come in Threes: A Textual Analysis of the Three-fold Structure of the Mohist
Ethical ‘Core Chapters’,” Ph.D. diss., Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, 2007.
This hypothesis was developed most completely by A.C. Graham, Divisions in Early Mohism
Reflected in the Core Chapters of Mo-tzu (Singapore 1985).
This hypothesis was developed most completely by Watanabe Takashi and Taeko Brooks and
made publicly known in English by Chris Fraser. See Watanabe Takashi 渡邊卓, “Bokushi
shohen no chosaku nendai” 「墨子」諸篇の著作年代 [Chronology of the 23 Volumes of Mo
Tsū], Tōyō Gakuhō 東洋学報 (Reports of the Oriental Society) 45 (1962) 3, pp. 1-38 (上) and
45 (1963) 4, pp. 20-38 (下); Taeko Brooks, “The Mician Ethical Chapters,” Warring States
Papers 1 (2010), pp. 100-118 (still forthcoming); and Chris Fraser, “Mohism,” The Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), see (accessed 16 February 2012).
See Karen Desmet, “The Growth of Compounds in the Core Chapters of the Mozi,” OE 45
(2005/2006), pp. 99-118. To make this point, Desmet follows Watanabe’s evolution hypothesis,
but not his actual dating of the various chapters.
MOZI 495
Translation: the “epitomes,” “core chapters” and “dialogues”
It is a great luxury to have the whole Mozi translated into one volume, with the
Chinese text printed on the left, the matching translation on the right, and a
summary of earlier scholarship in the footnotes. Especially in the case of the
“dialectical” and “defence” chapters, this is a welcome improvement for the gen-
eral reader.
The parts on which this review focuses – the “epitomes,” “core
chapters,” and “dialogues” – contain the less corrupt or enigmatic portions of the
book, and have therefore been made available more widely in translation, as for
instance by Mei Yi-pao (from 1929)
and Burton Watson (from 1963).
ally speaking, I do not find Johnston’s translation an improvement upon these
earlier works. Translation is, of course, a matter of style, interpretation, and
grammatical analysis. Such matters inevitably leave space for different choices
and understandings, especially with a book that is sometimes corrupt to the point
of being incomprehensible. Rather than mentioning every instance of disagree-
ment, I will spell out five categories of what I consider infelicitous translations
and illustrate them with some examples. Several of these categories are based on
a fundamental view that I share with Johnston, namely that Mozi’s repetitive style
is “integral to the presentation of the Mohist arguments,” even though it has at-
tracted much criticism from past readers. Johnson goes on to claim that, in the
“elusive balance between accuracy and readability” which he has aimed to attain
in the translation, he has “attempted to preserve [this style] (as far as this is pos-
sible) despite the risk of attracting the very same criticism” (lxxx-lxxxi). I be-
lieve, however, that Johnston has too often sacrificed the accuracy without
thereby increasing the readability. My major point is that he has not preserved the
Mohist style as much as possible and therefore, has not given Mozi a clear and
persuasive voice. The quotes used below, both in Chinese and in English, are lit-
erally taken from Johnston (indicating the chapter, section and pages).

1. Mozi explicitly quotes himself
A first category concerns passages in which Mozi explicitly states that he quotes
himself. In these cases one better quotes him literally. For instance, in chapter
25, on “Moderation in Funerals,” Mozi argues that the effect of funerals is an

The Western opus magnum for consulting the “dialectical” chapters is A.C. Graham, Later
Mohist Logic, Ethics and Science (Hong Kong – London 1978). Although impressive in its
achievement, this book is not very easy to consult. Johnston’s Western source for the “defence”
chapters is Robin Yates’ dissertation which is not easily accessible: “The City under Siege:
Technology and Organization as Seen in the Reconstructed Text of the Military Chapters of the
Mo Tzu,” Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1980.
See Mei Yi-pao (transl.), The Ethical and Political Works of Motse. Translated from the Origi-
nal Chinese Text (London 1929). It was republished with the Chinese original and a modern
Chinese translation added under the title The Works of Motze (Taibei 1980). It contains a com-
plete translation of the epitomes, core chapters, and dialogues.
See the partial translation of Burton Watson (transl.), Mo-tzu, Basic Writings (New York 1963).
important criterion for evaluating them. He therefore evenly considers the pro-
posals of two opposite parties: first he entertains the hypothesis that elaborate fu-
nerals and prolonged mourning have positive effects on the state and its people;
then he entertains the opposite and ultimately correct hypothesis that they do not.
As for the former party, he states: “Perhaps it is the case that, if we take their
words as a model and make use of their plans, elaborate funerals and prolonged
mourning really can make the poor rich and make the few many, resolve danger
and bring order to disorder. If so, they are benevolent and righteous, and the duty
of a filial son, and their use in planning for people must be encouraged. […] Per-
haps, on the other hand, if we take their words as a model and make use of their
plans, elaborate funerals and prolonged mourning really cannot make the poor
rich and make the few many, or resolve danger and bring order to disorder. If so,
they are not benevolent and not righteous, and not the duty of a filial son, and
their use in planning for people must be resisted.” 我意若使法其言,用其謀,
厚葬久喪實可以富貧眾寡, 定危治亂乎, 此仁也,義也,孝子之事也, 為人謀
者不可不勸也。 […] 意亦使法其言,用其謀,厚葬久喪實不可以富貧眾寡,
定危理亂乎, 此非仁非義,非孝子之事也,為人謀者不可不沮也 (25.3, pp.
212-213). Later in the same chapter, the author criticises the rulers of his days
because of the waste of their funeral practices. He reminds the readers of the
“original statement” that Master Mozi had made “earlier on” (鄉者,吾本言曰),
by literally quoting the same lines. Johnston, however, provides the reader with a
variety of stylistic variations (indicated here in italics): “If you take as rules their
words and implement their plans and, in considering elaborate funerals and pro-
longed mourning, genuinely see that they can make the poor rich and make the
few many, can settle danger and bring order to disorder, then they are the busi-
ness of those who are benevolent and righteous, and of filial sons, so, in formu-
lating plans for the people, they must be encouraged. If, however, you take as
rules their words and implement their plans and, in considering elaborate funerals
and prolonged mourning, see that in reality they cannot make the poor rich and
the few many, or settle danger and bring order to disorder, then they are not the
business of those who are benevolent and righteous, nor of filial sons, so, in for-
mulating plans for the people, they must be stopped” (25.12, pp. 224-227, italics
added). There are admittedly some very minor differences between the original sen-
tences in 25.3 and their explicit quote in 25.12.
But the many variations in Johns-
ton’s translation do not reflect these; they rather stem from an attempt to bring vari-
ety into Mozi’s style. I am convinced, however, that when the Mohist author explic-
itly states that he quotes Mozi’s earlier claim, and then goes on doing exactly that,

For a detailed comparison: 意亦使法其言,用其謀,計厚葬久喪,請可以富貧眾寡, 定危治
亂乎, 則仁也,義也,孝子之事也,為人謀者,不可不勸也; 意亦使法其言,用其謀,若人
者,不可不沮也 (25.12, the differences with the original in 25.3 are underlined. The differ-
ence in punctuation between the two fragments is from Johnston).
MOZI 497
there is no reason not to do this in the translation. For some readers this might ap-
pear boring, but for the Mohists it is simply a matter of argumentative clarity.

2. Mozi’s repetitive style
A less explicit but much more current case of repetition in the Mozi is when parallel
or converse cases are being discussed, very often in exactly the same terms. This is
the repetitive style which Johnston correctly attributes to Mozi and wants to preserve
in his translation. However, a quick reading of Johnston’s work shows that he very
often does not preserve it, and without giving any reason. For example, in chap-
ter 11 “Exalting Unity I,” the Mohist author warns against situations in which
people fail to conform upward:
“If what one’s superiors take to be right cannot
be taken to be right and what one’s superiors take to be wrong cannot be taken to
be wrong” 上之所是, 弗能是, 上之所非, 弗能非 (11.2, pp. 92-93), then the
administrators and the people will duly condemn this situation. In chapter 12 of
the same triad, the author makes exactly the same point in exactly identical word-
ing, but not in Johnston’s translation: “If you are unable to approve of what your
superior approves of, if you are unable to condemn what your superior con-
demns” (12.3, pp. 100-101). One wonders why he does so. Another example oc-
curs in the “Against Fate” triad, where evil kings are quoted being unable to ad-
mit that wo ba 我罷 or wu ba 吾罷. Throughout the triad this recurrent quote is
variously translated as: “We are weak” and “I am weak” (35.9, pp. 326-327), “I
am careless” (36.4, pp. 334-335), “We are indolent” (36.5, pp. 334-335; 37.4,
pp. 342-343) and “I have been careless” (37.4, pp. 340-341). And finally, in the
same triad, the Great Oath chapter of the Book of Documents is quoted in which
the tyrant Zhou of the Shang dynasty went so far as to claim “that he himself was
Fate” 吾/我民有命 (35.10, pp. 326-327), while one chapter further the same
quote sounds, translated more appropriately: “that his people had Fate” (36.6, pp.
335-336). Such cases are not exceptional in this translation. And although the dif-
ference in meaning is usually not as striking as in this last case, it is unclear why
Johnston has chosen to bring in so much variety into the repetitive Mohist style.

3. Translation of key-terms
It is an illusion, of course, to expect a one-to-one translation of each term through-
out a whole book: characters stand for various words in different contexts and
therefore often need to be translated differently. But sometimes, when the author is

For a similar case, where the author quotes a “previous statement” (鄉者言曰), see 35.6, pp.
Johnston does not think that shang tong 尚同 (used interchangeably with 上同) is an adverb-
verb construction (“conforming upward”), but rather a verb-object construction (“exalting
unity”) (xxxix), but he does not always translate it as such in the triad named after it: “agree-
ment with superiors” and “align with their superiors” (11.2, pp. 92-93), “have respect for, and
uniformity with” (11.4, pp. 94-95), “respecting and being in accord with” (11.4, pp. 96-97),
“respect, and make themselves like” (11.5, pp. 96-97).
making an argument or repeating a line, it is good to show that he is discussing the
same term or concept. For Mohists trying to come up with clear arguments, this is
all the more important. Therefore Johnston sometimes announces that he will trans-
late one or more terms in a consistent fashion. For instance, in the “Exalting
Unity” triad, the argument is that subjects on the lower echelons of the political hi-
erarchy should follow their superiors or leaders above. In this context, Johnston
announces: “I have rendered 正長, both here and subsequently, ‘government lead-
ers’, i.e., 政長” (11.2, p. 92, note 7). In the same fragment, however, he trans-
lates zheng zhang 政長 as “effective rule” (11.2, pp. 90-91); in the following two
chapters of the same triad he translates 正/政長 variously as “government” (12.1,
pp. 98-99), “a leader” (12.2, pp. 98-99), “the leaders” (12.3, pp. 100-101), “ad-
ministrative leaders” and “government” (12.7, pp. 106-107), “government lead-
ers” (12.8, pp. 106-107; 12.9, pp. 108-109; 12.10, pp. 110-113;), “political lead-
ers” (12.9, pp. 109-110), “leaders of government” (12.10, pp. 110-111; 12.11, pp.
112-113; 13.2, pp. 118-119), and “leaders” (12.10, pp. 110-111). In a similar
fashion, the translator announces in chapter 14, “Universal Love I”: “I have ren-
dered 虧 as ‘disadvantage’, reserving ‘harm’ for 害” (14.2, p. 131, note I), but
does not extend this translation of the two characters (kuī and hài) consistently to
the rest of the triad (see e.g., 16.1, pp. 146-147).

4. Consistent use of terms
Even when the translator does not announce his intention to translate a term consis-
tently, the argument itself sometimes demands it within the context of one frag-
ment, chapter or triad. While the instances in which Johnston does not follow this
rule are legion, I limit myself to one example: the three well-known “standards cri-
teria, tests” (alternatively called yi 儀/義, biao 表 or fa 法) against which claims
are to be tested according to the Mohists: the documents of ancient kings, witness
accounts, and benefit for the state. In chapter 35, the first in the “Against Fate”
triad, Mozi insists: “You must establish standards. To speak without standards is
like using the upper part of a potter’s revolving wheel to determine the direction of
the sunrise and sunset. The distinction between right and wrong, between benefit
and harm cannot be achieved and clearly known. Therefore, theories must have
three criteria” 必立儀,言而毋儀,譬猶運鈞之上而立朝夕者也,是非利害之
辨,不可得而明知也。故言必有三表 (35.3, pp. 318-319).
It is commonly
known that the Mohist authors sometimes use these three tests to make their point
in specific debates, such as about the existence, percipience and capacities of
ghosts. Chapter 31, “Percipient Ghosts,” having adduced proof for the existence of
ghosts from the ancient books (standard 1), goes on with a detailed record of a
ghost visiting Duke Mu with the good news that his life will be prolonged because

The three standards are introduced, with minor variations, in the “Against Fate” triad. For the
variations, see Johnston (lxii-lxiv). About the translation “cannot be achieved and clearly
known” for bu ke de er ming zhi ye 不可得而明知也, see below, category 5.
MOZI 499
of his shining virtue. This case of witness experience by the duke is thus presented
as the second standard (儀). But Johnston, for some inexplicable reason, translates
the term here as “genuine”: “If we take what Duke Mu of Zheng saw in person as
genuine, how can we doubt the existence of ghosts and spirits?” 若以鄭穆公之所
身見為儀,則鬼神之有,豈可疑哉? (31.5, pp. 282-283).

5. Grammatical matters
A last category of comments gathers eight points on which I believe Johnston’s
translation is problematic. Whenever possible, I use Edwin Pulleyblank’s gram-
mar as a presumably relatively accepted reference.
I have selected problems that
occur regularly in the translation, and illustrate each of them with one example.
– The particle suo 所 is often translated in a sloppy fashion, which influences
the translation. Since the particle suŏ often stands for the object of a (co)verb in a
nominalization (Pulleyblank, p. 68), the sentence suo xin zhe bu zhong 所信者不
忠 should not be translated as “When those who are sincere are not trusted” (5.1,
pp. 30-31) but rather as “when those whom he [the ruler] trusts are not loyal,”
the danger being that this ruler trusts the wrong people, and not merely that he
fails to trust the good people.
– The particle qi 豈 does not just indicate a rhetorical question, but also the
expectation of a negative answer (Pulleyblank, p. 142). In Johnston’s translation,
this is often not the case. For example, in “Moderation in Funerals III,” Mozi
counters the defence of elaborate funerals as being age-old customs in the central
states, with the example of a backward cannibalistic custom that expects people to
eat their first born son. If this policy were to be continued and respected as a cus-
tom, “how could this then be the Way of real benevolence and righteousness?!”
則此豈實仁義之道哉? Johnston’s translation as “then are they the Way of true
benevolence and righteousness?” (25.14, pp. 228-229) fails to captivate the im-
plied rejection in the rhetorical question.
– Both in classical and modern Chinese, bu ruo 不若 does not mean “not be
like” but expresses the stronger sense of “not being as good as” or “not able to
compare with” (Pulleyblank, p. 175). In this translation, this is often not the
case. For instance, when Mozi complains about those in charge “not” caring “as
much” (bu ruo) for their states and families as they do for smaller items, Johnston
translates: “So the king’s, duke’s or great officer’s concern for his state is not like
his concern [sic] the overly stiff bow, or the sick horse, or the garment, or the ox
and sheep” 則王公大人之親其國家也,不若親其一危弓、罷馬、衣裳、牛羊之
財與 (10.2, pp. 82-85, italics added).
– Aside from the meaning “although” and “even if,” the particle sui 雖 can
also precede a noun or nominalised construction, meaning “even …” (Pulley-
blank, p. 157). This must be the case in the chapter “Exalting Worthiness II,”
where the authors list all the current disasters following from the mistaken policy

Edwin G. Pulleyblank, Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar (Vancouver 1995).
of not employing the most worthy officials, indicating that powerful kings in the
past have also suffered from this. Johnston’s concessive clause not only fails to
make clear sense, but it also fails to indicate that “the reason why even those
kings” went to ruin, was exactly this. He writes: “So, although the tyrannical
kings of the Three Dynasties of former times – Jie, Zhou, You and Li – lost their
kingdoms and overturned the altars of soil and grain, it was for this reason
alone.” 故雖昔者三代暴王桀紂幽厲之所以失措其國家,傾覆其社稷者,已此
故也 (9.4, pp. 68-69).
– The verb wei 爲 followed by an adjective is used to express a superlative
(Pulleyblank, p. 25) as in chapter “Heaven’s Intentions II,” where Mozi does not
simply state that “Heaven is noble, Heaven is wise” 天為貴,天為知 (27.2, pp.
246-247) but where he insists that it is “the most noble and the most wise.” Not
only the verb wéi indicates this, but also the previous sentence in which Mozi
claims that he does not know of anything nobler or wiser.
– The expression yi 以 X wei 爲 Y means “to regard/take X as Y,” which
gave rise to the verb yiwei 以爲 “to think” (Pulleyblank, p. 49). Johnston some-
times translates neither of these two expressions, as in “Exalting Unity,” where it
is said that the ruling hierarchy was expanded because they “considered the world
vast and wide” 以天下為博大 (in Johnston’s translation: “because the world was
vast and wide,” 11.2, pp. 92-93, italics added). In the following chapter of the
same triad, it is said that once the Son of Heaven was established, he (or they)
“thought that with the experience of his ears and eyes alone, he would not be able
on his own to unify the sense of rightness in the world” 以為唯其耳目之請,不
能獨一同天下之義 (in Johnston’s translation: “his ears and eyes were such that,
on his own, he was not able to bring unity to the principles of the world,” 12.2,
pp. 98-99, italics added).
– The preceding adverb qualifies the following one. In the triad quoted above,
bian 遍 is preceded and hence qualified by wei 未 , but in Johnston’s translation
it is the other way around, which seriously impinges upon the translation. The
Mohists explain that in the perfect political hierarchy of antiquity, everything was
known to the ruler, whether it was something good or bad: even if “his family
members did not quite know it all, and if the district or village had not quite
heard it all” 其室人未遍知,鄉里未遍聞, the Son of Heaven would invariably
reward or punish the person respectively. (in Johnston’s translation: “although
family members were completely unaware of it and district and village had not
heard of it at all,” 12.11, pp. 112-113, italics added). The Mozi does not claim
that they were “completely unaware of it,” but merely that they “did not quite
know/hear it all.”
– Finally, the expression ke de er 可得而 X means “to get to do something”
(Pulleyblank, p. 46). Johnston very often gives the verb dé a full translation,
which has an unfortunate impact on the meaning of the fragment. For instance, in
“Against Fate I,” Master Mozi insists on installing standards in order to adjudi-
cate between different views. If you fail to do this, “the difference between right
MOZI 501
and wrong, or between benefit and harm cannot be clearly known” 是非利害之
辨,不可得而明知也. Johnston translates the last part as “cannot be achieved
and clearly known” (35.3, pp. 318-319, italics added).
Johnston or other scholars might of course want to take issue with some of the
points mentioned above: in academia there is always room for debate. My dis-
agreement with Johnston is not so much on the content or value of the Mozi; nor
do we disagree on the importance of his style. But Johnston does not succeed in
his proclaimed attempt to respect this style. In many ways this translation seems
to be a promising draft version that for some reason was hurried through the publi-
cation process. There are many indications that confirm this impression of haste:
the different interpunction of the Chinese text and its translation, the occurrence
of untranslated Chinese comments in the footnotes, the occasional lack of page
indication of the used sources, and some missing translations.
Despite these
drawbacks, I truly appreciate Johnston’s attempt to provide a complete translation
of this very thick and valuable ancient Chinese book. For those who want to get a
general overview of the Mozi and Mohism, this is a valuable source of informa-
tion. But for those scholars who want to use the Mozi in more detail, I would
suggest that they consult other translations too.

E.g., bu 不 (in 5.4, pp. 34-35) and zuo chu you du 坐處有度 (in 35.7, pp. 324-325).