Mo Tzu (c. 470-391 BC)

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Mo Tzu was a philosopher whose ideas rose to prominence in the third and second centuries B.C. and briefly rivaled Confucianism as the leading school of thought in ancient China. Born shortly after Confucius died (ca. 470 B.C.), Mo Tzu faced the same volatile political environment the Sage had faced and, like Confucius, attempted to discover the best path to order. Unlike Confucius, however, Mo Tzu did not venerate a supposedly tranquil aristocratic past but instead asserted that individuals should look back to an even earlier time when men lived in relative equality, without the pomp and ceremony of rank and privilege. At the dawn of human history, he believed, men were not divided into clans and families but were more amicable and cooperative. The doctrine of universal love Mo Tzu preached is profoundly similar to Christianity. In a passage that bears a close resemblance to the Golden Rule, Mo Tzu wrote: "When everyone regards the states and cities of others as he regards his own, no one will attack the others' state or seize the others' cities."1

It is said that Mo Tzu began his intellectual career as a Confucianist but became dissatisfied with what he took to be Confucianism's preoccupation with ceremony and loyalty to family above loyalty to the general good. He is said to have practiced primitive simplicity and austerity in life. He even argued against the frivolity of music and anything else that distracted men from following the "will of heaven": "Certainly Heaven desires to have all men benefit and love one another and abominates to have them hate and harm one another." Those who followed the path of "righteousness" would be rewarded in an afterlife. Not to follow the path was to invite punishment. Thus, even in his cosmology Mo Tzu displayed startling parallels to Christianity in general, and to its Calvinist varieties in particular. His school faded into obscurity after the second century B.C. in response to criticism that it was impractical. Mo Tzu died around 391 B.C.


[1] Mo-Tse, The Ethical and Political Works of Motse (London: Arthur Probsthain, 1929), p. 88.


Works by the Author

Motse. The Ethical and Political Works of Motse. Translated by Yi-Pao Mei. London: Arthur Probsthain, 1929.

Motse. Motse The Neglected Rival of Confucius. Translated by Yi-Pao Mei. London: Arthur Probsthain, 1934.


The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.

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