Harmony in the Early Mohist Chapters of the Mozi (墨子)

Mozi is a rather unknown Chinese philosopher in the ancient Zhou dynasty period. But he was considered one of the first philosophers who challenged Confucius. The Early Mohist Chapters of the Mozi were probably written by him or by his disciples.

The primary word for articulating harmony, 和 he, appears in 18 passages within the Early Mohist Chapters. As there are too many passages (and some repeated ones), I’ll only cite the ones that are most relevant:

(A) 古之民,未知為衣服時,衣皮帶茭,冬則不輕而溫,夏則不輕而凊。聖王以為不中人之情,故作誨婦人治絲麻,梱布絹,以為民衣。為衣服之法:冬則練帛之中,足 以為輕且凊,謹此則止。故聖人之為衣服,適身體和肌膚而足矣。非榮耳目而觀愚民也。當是之時,堅車良馬不知貴也,刻鏤文采,不知喜也。何則?其所道之然。 故民衣食之財,家足以待旱水凶饑者,何也?得其所以自養之情,而不感於外也。是以其民儉而易治,其君用財節而易贍也。府庫實滿,足以待不然。兵革不頓,士 民不勞,足以征不服。故霸王之業,可行於天下矣。

Before clothing was known the primitive people wore coats of furs and belts of straw. They were neither light and warm in winter nor light and cool in summer. The sage-king thought this did not satisfy the needs of man. So, he taught the women to produce silk and flax and to weave cloth and linen, therewith to make clothing for the people. The guiding principles for clothing were these: In winter the underwear shall be made of spun-silk so as to be light and warm. In summer it shall be made of coarse flax so as to be light and cool. And this is sufficient. Therefore the sages made their clothes just to fit their stature and size, and not for the purpose of pleasing the senses or to dazzle the common people. In that age, durable carts and gentle horses were not valued, neither were sculpture and adornments prized. What is the reason for this? The reason lies in the kind of leadership. The people had sufficient means of livelihood in their home to meet either drought or flood, dearth or famine. Why? Because they understood the needs of self-support and paid little attention to external appearance. So, the people were frugal and orderly and the ruler was thrifty and easily supported. The store house and treasury were full, prepared against misfortunes. Armour and weapons were not left in disuse and the soldiers and the people were not tired, ready to punish the unsubmissive. Thus the ruler could become a tyrant over the empire.
(Mozi, “Indulgence in Excess”, 3, trans. Y.P Mei)

The sentence of concern is: “故聖人之為衣服,適身體和肌膚而足矣。非榮耳目而觀愚民也。Therefore the sages made their clothes just to fit their stature and size, and not for the purpose of pleasing the senses or to dazzle the common people.”

The phrase, “適身體和肌膚而足矣” can be translated more literally as: “adjusted the clothes to fit [their] bodies and to harmonise [their] skin and flesh.”

This is speculative, but the above phrase sounds like a medical reference to a sort of medical harmony in the body. Clothes harmonise both skin and flesh by bringing about a kind of balance within the body, by moderating excesses of heat or cold from the surrounding environment – keeping the body warm in cold periods, and the body cool in hot periods. Excess exposure to heat or cold from the weather will destroy the delicate balance/harmony in the body and bring about sickness.

(B) 凡此五者,聖人之所儉節也,小人之所淫佚也。儉節則昌,淫佚則亡,此五者不可不節。夫婦節而天地和,風雨節而五穀孰,衣服節而肌膚和。

Now, in these five things the sages are temperate and economical while the wicked men are indulgent and excessive. Temperance and economy bring prosperity while indulgence and excess lead to destruction. One must not indulge in excess in these five things. When husband and wife do not indulge in excess, Heaven and earth will be harmonious; when wind and rain are not in excess, the five grains will ripen; and when excessive clothing is not indulged in, the body will be comfortable.
(Mozi, “Indulgence in Excess”, 9, trans. Y.P Mei)

The sentence of interest here is: “夫婦節而天地和,風雨節而五穀孰,衣服節而肌膚和。”

My translation: When husband and wife moderate/restrict themselves, then Heaven and Earth harmonises; when wind and rain moderate/restrict themselves, then the five crops/grains will ripen; [and] when clothes are worn moderately [i.e. without lavishness], then skin and flesh will harmonise.

Here we have three parallel sets: husband/wife (i.e. couples), wind/rain (i.e. weather), and clothes. When these are in moderation, good things happen – Heaven and Earth harmonises, the five crops/grains ripens, and skin and flesh harmonises.

The ripening of crops gives us a clue to what Mozi means when he talks about the harmonising of Heaven and Earth and skin and flesh. To harmonise is like a crop ripening in due season – it bears fruit, it is life-giving.

It is interesting that harmony here in the Mozi is linked with moderation (節 jie).

The process of harmonising in Mozi, is perhaps more of the process of moderating. Harmony is then, in this case, instrumental only in the preservation and perpetuation of other cycles. Excess or deficiency lead to a failure to achieve harmony, and when that happens, certain goods necessary for other things will not be achieved. And when this happens, it’ll lead down to a break in other cycles. Lavish living between husband and wife will lead to troubles in Heaven and Earth, and thus lead to failed crops which will not be able to feed or cloth other humans. This will result in death and diseases.

But when harmony is achieved, there will be some kind of life-giving fruit. Perhaps, a more accurate way of saying this is – when things are in moderation, other cycles may continue to perpetuate. When husband and wife live moderately, heaven and earth is harmonious – it bears fruit in the form of moderate winds and rains (i.e. good weather). This moderate mix of both wind and rain are instrumental in helping the crops to grow and ripen. And when the crops are ready for consumption, these crops are either consumed as food or used to make clothes. In the case of food, the cycles of human life is continued, husband and wife can continue living moderately. In the case of clothing, the cycles of human life is preserved as humans have clothes to wear and will not suffer ill-health due to excesses of heat/cold from the weather.

(C) 是故昔者堯有舜,舜有禹,禹有皋陶,湯有小臣,武王有閎夭、泰顛、南宮括、散宜生,而天下和,庶民阜,是以近者安之,遠者歸之。日月之所照,舟車之所及, 雨露之所漸,粒食之所養,得此不勸譽。且今天下之王公大人士君子,中實將欲為仁義,求為士,上欲中聖王之道,下欲中國家百姓之利,故尚賢之為說,而不可不 察此者也。尚賢者,天鬼百姓之利,而政事之本也。

In the days of old, Yao had Shun, Shun had Yu, Yu had Gao Dao, Tang had Yi Yin, King Wu had Hong Yao, Tai Dian, Nangong Kuo and San Yisheng – therefore the world was harmonious and people were prosperous. And those near felt contented and those distant were attracted. Wherever the sun and the moon shone, boats and vehicles could reach, rain and dew visited, and life depended on grains; few were not converted (to good) by this. Hence if the rulers in the world now desire to do magnanimity and righteousness and be superior men, and desire to strike the way of the sage-kings on the one hand and work for the benefit of the country and the people on the other; then it is indispensable that the principle of Exaltation of the Virtuous be understood. Now, exaltation of the virtuous is indeed the blessing of Heaven, the spirits, and the people, as well as the foundation of government.
(Mozi, “Exaltation of the Virtuous III”, 6, trans. Y.P Mei)

Here, all under Heaven was in harmony when the legendary sage emperors had capable (賢 xian) people who had the interest of the country and others in their heart, and were willing to work for the benefit of the country and others. In Mozi’s view, a harmonious world could only be achieved through the hands of capable people who were willing to work for the benefit of others.

(D) 子墨子言曰:「古者民始生,未有刑政之時,蓋其語『人異義』。是以一人則一義,二人則二義,十人則十義,其人茲眾,其所謂義者亦茲眾。是以人是其義,以非 人之義,故文相非也。是以內者父子兄弟作怨惡,離散不能相和合。天下之百姓,皆以水火毒藥相虧害,至有餘力不能以相勞,腐臭餘財不以相分,隱匿良道不以相 教,天下之亂,若禽獸然。

Mozi said: In the beginning of human life, when there was yet no law and government, the custom was “everybody according to his own idea.” Accordingly each man had his own idea, two men had two different ideas and ten men had ten different ideas – the more people the more different notions. And everybody approved of his own view and disapproved the views of others, and so arose mutual disapproval among men. As a result, father and son and elder and younger brothers became enemies and were estranged from each other, since they were unable to reach any agreement. Everybody worked for the disadvantage of the others with water, fire, and poison. Surplus energy was not spent for mutual aid; surplus goods were allowed to rot without sharing; excellent teachings (Dao) were kept secret and not revealed. The disorder in the (human) world could be compared to that among birds and beasts.
(Mozi, “Identification with the Superior I”, 1, trans. Y.P Mei)

This is the first passage where the term, “和合 hehe” is used in the history of Chinese Philosophy. To 合 he means to combine/unite/gather/collect. Translated loosely, to 和合 hehe therefore, is to harmoniously unite/gather as one.

Here, Mozi describes the failure for family members to mutually harmonise and unite is the result of having different standards of righteousness (or different standards of conduct). Because everyone had different standards, they disapproved of the actions of everyone else, and thus did not work for the benefit of those other people, but instead, work for their disadvantage (since each considered what the other does to be wrong/bad).

(E) 子墨子曰:「方今之時,復古之民始生,未有正長之時,蓋其語曰『天下之人異義』。是以一人一義,十人十義,百人百義,其人數茲眾,其所謂義者亦茲眾。是以 人是其義,而非人之義,故相交非也。內之父子兄弟作怨讎,皆有離散之心,不能相和合。至乎舍餘力不以相勞,隱匿良道不以相教,腐臭餘財不以相分,天下之亂 也,至如禽獸然,無君臣上下長幼之節,父子兄弟之禮,是以天下亂焉。

Mozi said: As we look back to the time when there was yet no ruler, it seems the custom was “everybody in the world according to his own standard.” Accordingly each man had his own standard, ten men had ten different standards, a hundred men had a hundred different standards – the more people the more standards. And everybody approved of his own view and disapproved those of others, and so arose mutual disapproval. Even father and son and brothers became enemies, since they were unable to reach any agreement. Surplus energy was not employed for mutual help; excellent teachings (Dao) were kept secret; surplus goods were allowed to rot without sharing. The disorder in the (human) world could be compared with that among birds and beasts. The lack of regulations governing the relationships between ruler and subject, between superior and subordinate, and between elder and younger; and the absence of rules governing the relationships between father and son and between older and younger brothers, resulted in disorder in the world.
(Mozi, “Identification with the Superior II”, 1, trans. Y.P Mei)

This passage is similar to the one above. But I’m citing it here as Mozi traces the source of disorder/disharmony as each having their own standards of righteousness. And because everybody differs in their standards of righteousness/conduct, there can be no common standard to regulate the people.

(F) 然則察此害亦何用生哉?以不相愛生邪?子墨子言:「以不相愛生。今諸侯獨知愛其國,不愛人之國,是以不憚舉其國以攻人之國。今家主獨知愛其家,而不愛人之 家,是以不憚舉其家以篡人之家。今人獨知愛其身,不愛人之身,是以不憚舉其身以賊人之身。是故諸侯不相愛則必野戰。家主不相愛則必相篡,人與人不相愛則必 相賊,君臣不相愛則不惠忠,父子不相愛則不慈孝,兄弟不相愛則不和調。天下之人皆不相愛,強必執弱,富必侮貧,貴必敖賤,詐必欺愚。凡天下禍篡怨恨,其所 以起者,以不相愛生也,是以仁者非之。」

But whence did these calamities arise, out of mutual love? Mozi said: They arise out of want of mutual love. At present feudal lords have learned only to love their own states and not those of others. Therefore they do not scruple about attacking other states. The heads of houses have learned only to love their own houses and not those of others. Therefore they do not scruple about usurping other houses. And individuals have learned only to love themselves and not others. Therefore they do not scruple about injuring others. When feudal lords do not love one another there will be war on the fields. When heads of houses do not love one another they will usurp one another’s power. When individuals do not love one another they will injure one another. When ruler and ruled do not love one another they will not be gracious and loyal. When father and son do not love each other they will not be affectionate and filial. When older and younger brothers do not love each other they will not be harmonious. When nobody in the world loves any other, naturally the strong will overpower the weak, the many will oppress the few, the wealthy will mock the poor, the honoured will disdain the humble, the cunning will deceive the simple. Therefore all the calamities, strifes, complaints, and hatred in the world have arisen out of want of mutual love. Therefore the benevolent disapproved of this want.
(Mozi, “Universal Love II”, 2, trans. Y.P Mei)

The phrase of interest here is: “兄弟不相愛則不和調” My translation: “When brothers do not mutually love one another, then they will not harmonise.”

Here, 相愛 xiangai (mutual love) is a necessary condition for harmony. Without such mutual love, there can be no harmony.

One thing worth noting is that while 愛 ai normally refers to love, in the context of the texts, it refers more to a more basic kind of caring and concern. When people have mutual care and concern for one another, they will work not only work for their own benefit, but for the benefit of everyone else whom they care – because each treats the other as his own, thereby breaking the dichotomy between self and other. And because he sets out to treat others as if he were treating himself, he will have their needs and concerns in his mind, and thus work for the benefit of all who are in his care. In this way, each person’s individual desires are moderated by the needs of others by having to care about what others need and working also for their benefit as one works for his own.

When there is mutual care and concern, there will be moderation of desires to cater to others; and when there is a moderation of desires there will thus be harmony.

(G) 古者聖王制為飲食之法曰:『足以充虛繼氣,強股肱,耳目聰明,則止。不極五味之調,芬香之和,不致遠國珍怪異物。』何以知其然?古者堯治天下,南撫交阯北 降幽都,東西至日所出入,莫不賓服。逮至其厚愛,黍稷不二,羹胾不重,飯於土塯,啜於土形,斗以酌。俛仰周旋威儀之禮,聖王弗為。

The ancient sage-kings authorized the code of laws regarding food and drink, saying: “Stop when hunger is satiated, breathing becomes strong, limbs are strengthened and ears and eyes become sharp. There is no need of combining the five tastes extremely well or harmonizing the different sweet odours. And efforts should not be made to procure rare delicacies from far countries.” How do we know such were the laws? In ancient times, when Yao was governing the empire he consolidated Jiaoze on the south, reached Youdu on the north, expanded from where the sun rises to where the sun sets on the east and west, and none wag unsubmissive or disrespectful. Yet, even when he was served with what he much liked, he did not take a double cereal or both soup and meat. He ate out of an earthen liu and drank out of an earthen xing, and took wine out of a spoon. With the ceremonies of bowing and stretching and courtesies and decorum the sage-king had nothing to do.
(Mozi, “Economy of Expenditures II”, 3, trans. Y.P Mei)

This is perhaps the most interesting passage on harmony in the Mozi. We are told that “there is no need of combining the five tastes extremely well or harmonizing the different sweet odours.” What’s most essential is to “stop when hunger is satiated, breathing becomes strong, limbs are strengthened and ears and eyes become sharp.” This is in sharp contrast to the culture of the times where the harmonising (i.e. mixing) of flavours is of great importance – balanced/harmonised tastes leads to a harmonised mind, and thus harmonised rule (See Culinary Harmony and its Historical Context in Ancient China).

(H) 是故子墨子曰:「今天下之君子,中實將欲遵道利民,本察仁義之本,天之意不可不慎也。」既以天之意以為不可不慎已,然則天之將何欲何憎?子墨子曰:「天之 意不欲大國之攻小國也,大家之亂小家也,強之暴寡,詐之謀愚,貴之傲賤,此天之所不欲也。不止此而已,欲人之有力相營,有道相教,有財相分也。又欲上之強 聽治也,下之強從事也。上強聽治,則國家治矣,下強從事則財用足矣。若國家治財用足,則內有以潔為酒醴粢盛,以祭祀天鬼;外有以為環璧珠玉,以聘撓四鄰。 諸侯之冤不興矣,邊境兵甲不作矣。內有以食飢息勞,持養其萬民,則君臣上下惠忠,父子弟兄慈孝。故唯毋明乎順天之意,奉而光施之天下,則刑政治,萬民和, 國家富,財用足,百姓皆得煖衣飽食,便寧無憂。」是故子墨子曰:「今天下之君子,中實將欲遵道利民,本察仁義之本,天之意不可不慎也!

And hence Mozi said: If the gentlemen of the world really desire to follow the way and benefit the people, they must not disobey the will of Heaven, the origin of magnanimity and righteousness. Now that we must obey the will of Heaven, what does the will of Heaven desire and what does it abominate? Mozi said: The will of Heaven abominates the large state which attacks small states, the large house which molests small houses, the strong who plunder the weak, the clever who deceive the stupid, and the honoured who disdain the humble – these are what the will of Heaven abominates. On the other hand, it desires people having energy to work for each other, those knowing the way to teach each other, and those possessing wealth to share with each other. And it desires the superior diligently to attend to government and the subordinates diligently to attend to their work. When the superior attends to the government diligently, the country will be orderly. When the subordinates attend to work diligently, wealth will be abundant. When the country is orderly and wealth is abundant, within the state there will be wherewith to prepare clean cakes and wine to sacrifice to God and the spirits, and in relation with outside countries there will be wherewith to furnish rings, stones, pearls, and jades by which to befriend surrounding neighbours. With the grudges of the feudal lords inactive and fighting on the borders suspended, and the people within provided with food and rest, the emperor and the ministers and the superiors and subordinates will be gracious and loyal respectively, and father and son and elder and younger brothers will be affectionate and filial respectively. Therefore when the principle of obeying the will of Heaven is understood and widely practiced in the world, then justice and government will be orderly, the multitudes will be harmonious, the country will be wealthy, the supplies will be plenteous, and the people will be warmly clothed and sufficiently fed, peaceful and without worry. Therefore Mozi said: If the gentlemen of the world really desire to follow the way and benefit the people they must carefully investigate the principle that the will of Heaven is the origin of magnanimity and righteousness.
(Mozi, “Will of Heaven II”, 3, trans. Y.P Mei)

From the earlier passages cited above, Mozi argues that there is so much conflict because people all have different standards of conduct and righteousness. For this reason, people cannot agree with one another. Not only does this produce conflict, but there is no common standard to regulate the masses.

Mozi therefore recommends that the most capable people who have the interest of their country and their fellow countrymen in their heart, be elevated to positions of power to administer the country properly. These people care for others as they care for themselves and are able to administer moderately, ensuring fairness in distribution. Since people disagree with one another anyway, Mozi recommends that they should take their cue from these capable people.

But we are left with a problem. Among the elites who are most capable, they too will have differences of opinions and standards. So who provides a common standard to regulate them? Here, Mozi recommends that everyone ought to take their cue from the highest authority – Heaven. Since Heaven loves everyone universally and treats all the same – the epitome of fairness, the ultimate model of equality, everyone else ought to follow this model of universal care, treating all equally as they treat themselves.

(I) 今王公大人,唯毋處高臺厚榭之上而視之,鍾猶是延鼎也,弗撞擊將何樂得焉哉?其說將必撞擊之,惟勿撞擊,將必不使老與遲者,老與遲者耳目不聰明,股肱不畢 強,聲不和調,明不轉朴。將必使當年,因其耳目之聰明,股肱之畢強,聲之和調,眉之轉朴。使丈夫為之,廢丈夫耕稼樹藝之時,使婦人為之,廢婦人紡績織紝之 事。今王公大人唯毋為樂,虧奪民衣食之財,以拊樂如此多也。」是故子墨子曰:「為樂,非也。」

As the rulers look down from a high tower or in a grand arbour, a bell is just like an inverted ding. If it is not struck wherefrom would come the pleasure? Therefore it must be struck. To strike it of course the aged and the young would not be employed. For their eyes and ears are not keen, their arms are not strong, and they cannot produce an harmonious tone with varied expression. So, those in the prime of life must be employed because their eyes and ears are keen, their limbs strong, their voices harmonious and varied in expression. If men are employed it interferes with their ploughing and planting. If women are employed it interferes with their weaving and spinning. Now, the rulers take to music and deprive the people of their means of clothing and food to such an extent! Therefore Mozi said: To have music is wrong.
(Mozi, “Condemnation of Music I”, 3, trans. Y.P Mei)

Earlier, in passage (G), Mozi argues that culinary harmony is not necessary. What’s truly essential is that people have just enough to eat to sustain themselves.

Here, Mozi condemns music as a waste of resources. For him, both the harmonies of food and music are pleasurable but non-essential and constitute part of a lavish lifestyle. Such lavishness is part of the overall problem – people consume too much and deprive others of much needed resources.

What matters for Mozi is that resources are not wasted, that people live moderately and be concerned about the needs of one another so that their desires do not conflict with other people’s desires. In this way, strife is eliminated, and harmony achieved.

In the above analysis, there are a few key points to be made about Mozi’s version of harmony:

(1) Unlike the “Confucian” (to use this category loosely) version that recommends regulating society according to ritual to reduce strife and promote order, and unlike the “Daoist” (again, to use another loose category) version that recommends changing one’s personal perspective and disposition to realise the inherent harmony within society, Mozi’s harmony emphasizes the need to impose a common standard across society, with the elites (made up of capable people) following Heaven’s example, and ensuring compliance from below. Thus, conflicts arising from disagreements are eliminated.

(2) This common standard is that of Heaven – universal love (or rather, universal care) – treating everyone equally, in the way one would treat one’s self. When everyone’s needs are taken into consideration, each individual will be compelled to exercise moderation and act to  benefit everyone. Harmony is achieved thus, when the competition (for scarce resources) are eliminated. Here, harmony is the product of moderation – a quantitative balance.

(3) What harmony achieves is a continuation of other cycles (e.g. life), and contributes towards the moderation of other cycles to keep them in constant preservation. Balanced actions promote harmonies that contribute to more balanced actions and outcomes. Disharmony destroys these cycles and stops them from perpetuating.