Straddling between Paradigms: Pre-Modern and Modern Readings of Yang Zhu and Mozi

2:00 pm – 3:45 pm
Room F

  • Yao-cheng Chang, “Between Science and Superstition: ‘Verification by Perception’ within the Mohist and Daoist Tradition”
  • Haicheng Liu, “A Twist of the Yang-Mo Trope in the Ming Dynasty”
  • Xiaowei Wang, “In between the ‘Old’ and the ‘New:’ Kang Youwei’s Reading of Yang Zhu”

The thoughts and texts attributed to Yang Zhu 楊朱 and Mozi 墨子 had been long marginalised due to Mencius’ 孟子 famous portrayal of Yang-Mo as dangerous heretics. Chinese intellectuals, nonetheless, were motivated to revisit and re-evaluate the thoughts, texts, and status of these two heretical figures when a new paradigm emerged at the turn of the 20th-century. In this modern paradigm of Yang-Mo research, Yang-Mo is perceived as the founder of full-blown philosophical schools of thought: Yang Zhu is considered as arguing for egoist, hedonist, anarchistic, or individualistic ideas, whereas Mozi is seen as a supporter of a systematic ethical-political philosophy and a specific kind of science and logic. This panel focuses on the eye-opening moments when intellectuals attempted to straddle the border between the Mencian and the modern paradigm—the dynamic process in which they were wavering between the existing paradigm and the unformed and incipient alternative path that invited them to see Yang-Mo with brand new eyes.
The three panellists investigate three different moments of Chinese history. Liu Haicheng’s paper examines the possibly first attempt of emancipation from the Mencian paradigm in the Ming dynasty. Wang Xiaowei’s paper focuses on Kang Youwei’s 康有為 (1858–1927) changing but novel reading of Yang Zhu, which was shaped by both the traditional view and his encounter with the modern world. Chang Yao-cheng’s paper is an attempt to get rid of the modern paradigm and return to older interpretations and associations of the Mohist notion of “ears and eyes.”

Yao-cheng Chang, “Between Science and Superstition: ‘Verification by Perception’ within the Mohist and Daoist Tradition”

The notion of the “facts obtained from the ears and eyes” (er mu zhi qing/shi 耳目之情/實) is expressed in the Mozi 墨子 as the criterion for determining the existence of external objects. Such Mohist notion of verification of facts by personal sense experience has since the early 20th century been acclaimed as an empirical theory of truth comparable to empiricism and the scientific method. While this modern reading is enlightening, it also isolates this Mohist idea from a wealth of seemingly superstitious but relevant material within the Chinese context, given that this idea was originally an argument about the existence of ghosts and spirits (gui shen 鬼神). This paper is an attempt to relocate the notion of “verification by perception” within the Chinese tradition, which is recurrent in classical Chinese texts, but not always well defined, demarcated, and conceptualized. The main purpose of this paper is to investigate how this notion is adopted, challenged, extended and even redefined in the arguments about the truth of “immortality” (xian 仙) that lie across the wide religious Daoist sources. These sources, such as Baopuzi 抱朴子 (ca. 317 CE) and Xuangang lun 玄綱論 (8th cent.), contain interesting questions including the problem of perception, the limitations of ordinary people’s sense experience, the role of records, the existence of imperceptible entities, and the notions of “overt” (xian 顯) and “covert” (yin 隱 or wei 微).

Haicheng Liu, “A Twist of the Yang-Mo Trope in the Ming Dynasty”

The trope of Yang-Mo 楊墨, the recurrent image of two heretics portrayed by Mencius, seemed to encounter a twist in the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) when some Confucians began to re-evaluate the thoughts of these two negative figures. This paper analyses the process of this re-evaluation into three different aspects. The first is the reorientation of the referent of the label “heretics” 異端. Although the Ming Confucians were still generally in line with Mencius, perceiving Yang-Mo as heretics, they also started to reorient the referent of the “heretics” toward the other contemporaneous Confucians who were portrayed as even more poisonous than Yang-Mo. With this reorientation, the negative connotation of Yang Zhu and Mo Di themselves as heretics was weakened. The second aspect is a continued trend in which Mencius’ portrayal of Yang-Mo as two opposite extremists respectively holding egoism and altruism was extended and related to other opposite notions such as “excessiveness” 過 and “deficiency” 不及, “unity”一and “partial manifestations” 分殊, and “roots” 本 and “twigs” 末. The third aspect is the growing interest in tracing the origin and lineage of the schools of Yang Zhu and Mozi. My claim is that these three aspects illustrate the effort of the Ming Confucians to liberate themselves from the influence of Mencius’ portrayal, which afterwards contributed to the foundations for the modern revival of the long-neglected Yang-Mo studies in later ages.

Xiaowei Wang, “In between the ‘Old’ and the ‘New:’ Kang Youwei’s Reading of Yang Zhu”

With the introduction of Western learning, the modern Chinese consciousness manifested a combination of continuity and discontinuity of the Chinese tradition. If the 20th-century Chinese intellectual thought witnessed a paradigm shift, the late Qing scholarship exhibited features of being in-between the old and the new paradigm. Kang Youwei 康有為 (1858–1927) was one of the leading figures who played a significant role in re-evaluating the Chinese tradition. A case study of Kang’s revolutionary ideas is his reinterpretation of Yang Zhu’s 楊朱 thought, the long-standing heretical figure against the Confucian tradition. Unlike the conventional view which tended to reduce Yang Zhu to a part of the “Yang-Mo” trope that referred to those to be condemned, Kang established him as one of the ancient masters who tried to establish a political order based on their teachings and their own fabricated antiquity. This paper attempts to show Kang’s changing views of Yang Zhu over the years. Although like traditional scholars, Kang constantly criticized Yang Zhu, his criticism was partly for different and changing reasons in different periods of Kang’s life: Yang Zhu’s heresy reflected in his extreme doctrine falling short of humanness; his defence of the emperor rather than the people; his selfishness against national benefits; and his doctrine in line with the concept of “liberty.” While Kang’s discussion was not out of interest in Yang Zhu himself, his portrayal still contributed to the upcoming revival of Yang Zhu studies in Republican China.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room F