An Exceptional Portrait of Yang Zhu and Mozi

Beyond the Mencian Track


  • Yao-Cheng Chang Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium



Yang-Mo, Yang Zhu and Mozi, Mencius, Zhuangzi, Han Feizi, open textual culture


This paper examines the coupling in early texts of two masters, Yang Zhu 楊朱 and Mo Di 墨翟. The two thinkers are most famously paired in the Mencius as the prominent preachers of extreme doctrines, while they are also sometimes presented in other early texts such as the Zhuangzi and Han Feizi as useless debaters on trivial topics. These alternative portrayals of Yang-Mo are usually simplified as a second-rate imitation or repetition of the standard Mencian depiction. The paper argues that such a reading represents a serious misunderstanding of the pre-imperial textual transmission. Unfamiliarity with Yang-Mo as sophists may also be the result of the unconscious acceptance of Mencius’ description. The unconventional portrayal of Yang-Mo, very likely relatively unrelated to Mencius’ portrayal, had its own history in early China. Presented in various contexts, this alternative Yang-Mo image was once circulated in various forms for different intended audiences.


Download data is not yet available.


Andreini, Antillio. 2014. “The Yang Mo Dualism and the Rhetorical Construction of Heterodoxy.” Asiatische Studien-Études Asiatiques 68 (4): 1115–74.

Baggio, Giacomo. 2014. “The Four Primitivist Chapters of the Zhuangzi: A Text Ahead of Our Time.” CSRCA Newsletter, 13–18.

Brooks, E. Bruce, and Teako A. Brooks. 2002. “The Nature and Historical Context of the Mencius. Mencius.” In Mencius: Contexts and Interpretations, edited by Alan K. L. Chan, 242–81. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press.

Bruns, Gerald L. 1980. “The Originality of Texts in a Manuscript Culture.” Comparative Literature 32: 113–29.

Chu, Boxiu 褚伯秀. 1983. Nanhua zhenjing yihai zuan wei 南華真經義海纂微 (Collection of Profound and Subtle Interpretations of the Ocean of Meaning in the Zhuangzi). Taipei: Shangwu yinshuguan 商務印書館.

Du, Heng. 2018. “The Author’s Two Bodies: Paratext in Early Chinese Textual Culture.” PhD diss., Harvard University.

–––. 2019. “The Author’s Two Bodies: The Death of Qu Yuan and the Birth of Chuci zhangju.” T’oung Pao 105: 259–314.

Defoort, Carine. 2013. “Are the Three ‘Jian Ai’ Chapters about Universal Love?” In The Mozi as an Evolving Text, edited by Carine Defoort, and Nicolas Satndaert, 35–67. Leiden: Brill.

–––. 2018. “Unfounded and Unfollowed: Mencius’s Portrayal of Yang Zhu and Mo Di.” In Having a Word with Angus Graham: At Twenty-Five Years into His Immortality, edited by Carine Defoort, and Roger T. Ames, 165–84. New York: SUNY press.

–––. 2020. “Five Visions of Yang Zhu Before He Became a Philosopher.” Asian Studies 8 (2): 235–56.

Feng, Youlan 馮友蘭. 1948. A Short History of Chinese Philosophy. London: The Macmillan Company.

Genette, Gérard. 1997. Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation. Translated by Jane E. Lewin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Graham, A. C. 1989. Disputers of the Tao. La Salle: Open Court.

––––. 2001 [1981]. Chuang-Tzu: The Inner Chapters. London: George Allen & Unwin.

––––. 2003 [1976]. “How Much of Chuang Tzu did Chuang Tzu Write?” In A Companion to Angus C. Graham’s Chuang Tzu, edited by Harold D. Roth, 58–103. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Gu, Jiegang 顧頡剛. 1982. “Cong Lushì chunqiu tuice Laozǐ zhi cheng shu niandai從呂氏春秋推測老子之成書年代 (Inferring the Dates of the Laozi from the Lushi Chunqiu).” In Gushi Bian 古史辨, vol. 4, edited by Luo Genze 羅根澤, 465–520. Shanghai: Shahai guji chubanshe 上海古籍出版社.

Guan, Feng 關鋒. 1961. Zhuangzi wai za pian chutan 莊子外雜篇初探 (A Preliminary Survey on the Outer and Miscellaneous Chapters of Zhuangzi). Reprint in Zhuangzi zhesue taolunji 莊子哲學討論集 (Essays on the Philosophy of Zhuangzi). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju 中華書局.

Harbsmeier, Christoph. 2013. “The Birth of Confucianism from Competition with Organized Mohism.” Journal of Chinese Studies 56: 1–19.

He, Aiguo 何愛國. 2015. Xiandai xing de bentu huixiang: jindai Yang Mo sichao yanjiu 現代性的本土迴響:近代楊墨思潮研究 (Local Echoes of Modernity: A Study on the Modern Thought Trends of Yang Zhu and Mozi). Guangzhou: Shije tushu chuban youxian gongsi.

Hu, Hong 胡宏. 1987. Hu Hong ji 胡宏集 (Collection of Hu Hong), vol. 2, edited by Wu Renhua 吳仁華. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju 中華書局.

Hunter, Michael. 2014. “Did Mencius Know the Analects?” T’oung Pao 100 (1–3): 33–79.

Jing, Luxiang 金履祥. 1991. Mencius jizhu kaozheng 孟子集注考證 (Study of the Collected Commentaries on the Mencius). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju.

Klein, Esther. 2011. “Were There ‘Inner Chapters’ in the Warring States? A New Examination of Evidence about the Zhuangzi.” T’oung Pao 96 (4): 299–369.

Lau, Dim-Cheuk. 1993–2002. ICS Ancient Chinese Texts Concordance Series. Hong Kong: Commercial Press.

Lee, Ting-Mien. 2014. “When ‘Ru-Mo’ May Not Be ‘Confucians and Mohists’—The Meaning of ‘Ru-Mo’ and Early Intellectual Taxonomy.” Oriens Extremus 53: 111–38.

Li, Jinglin 李景林. 2009. “Mengzi de pi Yang Mo yu rujia renai guangnian de lilun naihan 孟子的“辟楊墨”與儒家仁愛觀念的理論内涵 (Mencius’ Refutation of Yang-Mo and the Implication of Confucian Benevolence and Love).” Zhexue yanjiu 哲學研究 2: 36–45.

Li, Xueqin 李學勤. 2018. “Looking at the ‘Qu Qie’ Chapter of the Zhuangzi from the Guodian Yucong IV Bamboo Slip Manuscript.” Bamboo and Silk 1: 337–46.

Liao, W. K 廖文奎, tr. 1959. The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu: A Classic of Chinese Political Science. London: Arthur Probsthain.

Ling, Xiyi 林希逸. 1998. “Nanhua zheng jing koyi 南華真經口義 (Oral Interpretation of the Zhuangzi).” In Zhengtong Daozang 正統道藏 (Daoist Canon of the Zhengtong Reign Period), vol. 15, edited by Chen Guoqiang 陳國強, 688–892. Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe 文物出版社, Shanghai: Shanghai Shudian 上海書店, and Tianjin: Tianjin guji chubanshe 天津古籍出版社.

Liu, Xiaogan. 2003. Classifying the Zhuangzi Chapters. Michigan: University of Michigan Center for Chinese.

Lundahl, Bertil. 1992. Han Fei Zi: The Man and the Work. Stockholm: Institute of Oriental Languages Stockholm University.

Luo, Genze 羅根澤. 1958. Zhuzi kaosuo 諸子考索 (Investigation of the Masters). Beijing: Renmin chubanshe人民出版社.

Lyell, William. 1962. The Birth and Death of the Yang-Mo Symbol. MA Diss., University of Chicago.

Mair, Victor H, tr. 1998. Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Men, Qiming 門啟明. 1982. “Yang Zhu pian he Yangzi zhi bijiao yanjiu 楊朱篇和楊子之比較研究 (A Comparative Study on the “Yang Zhu” Chapter and Yangzi).” In Gushi Bian 古史辨, vol. 4, edited by Luo Genze 羅根澤, 592–610. Shanghai: Shahai guji chubanshe 上海古籍出版社.

Nylan, Michael. 2009. “Kongzi and Mozi, the Classicists (Ru 儒) and the Mohists (Mo 墨) in Classical-era Thinking.” Oriens Extremus 48: 1–20.

Qian, Mu 錢穆. 1994 [1935]. Xianqin zhuzi xinian 先秦諸子繫年 (A Chronology of Pre-Qin Masters). In Qian Binsi xiansheng quanji 錢賓四先生全集 (Complete Collection of Qian Mu), vol. 5. Taibei: Lianjing chuban.

Shi, Chao 石超. 2015. “Meng Zhuang pi Yang Mo xintan—jian lun Ru Dao shenti guan zhi chayi 孟、莊闢楊墨新探—兼論儒道身體觀之差異 (A New Investigation into Mencius’ and Zhuangzi’s rejection of Yang-Mo: With a Discussion of the Difference in Confucian and Daoist Views of Body).” Yantai daxue xuebao 煙臺大學學報 28 (1): 13–18.

Shi, Xinhui’s 石昕暉. 2004. “Yang Zhu he Liezi Yang Zhu de sixiang 楊朱和《列子·楊朱》的思想 (Yang Zhu and the Thought of Liezi “Yang Zhu” Chapter).” Nandu xuetan 南都学坛 24 (5): 119–120.

Shun, Kwong-loi. 2000. Mencius and Early Chinese Thought. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

Tang, Yue 唐鉞. 1982. “Yang Zhu kao 楊朱考 (An Investigation of Yang Zhu).” In Gushi Bian 古史辨, vol. 4, edited by Luo Genze 羅根澤, 540–53. Shanghai: Shahai guji chubanshe 上海古籍出版社.

Wu, Renhua 吳仁華, ed. 1987. Hu Hong ji 胡宏集 (Collection of Hu Hong), vol. 2. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju 中華書局.

Yang, Bojun 楊伯峻. 1979. Liezi jishi 列子集釋 (Collected Commentaries on the Liezi). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju 中華書局.

Yang, Haiwen 楊海文. 2014. “‘Ju Yang Mo’ yu Mengzi de yiduan pipan yishi ‘距杨墨’与孟子的异端批判意识 (‘Resistance against Yang-Mo’ and Mencius’ Critical Awareness of Heresy).” Beijing shifan daxue xuebao 北京师范大学学报 242: 78–89.

Zhang, Hao 張浩. 2014. “Yang Zhu xuepai: baijia zhenming de qidongzhe—jian lun Zhuangzi ruogan pianmu de niandai wenti 楊朱學派:百家爭鳴的啟動者—兼論《莊子》若干篇目的年代問題 (Yangist School, the Initiator of the Hundred Schools: With a Discussion on the Dates of Several Zhuangzi Chapters).” Wen shi zhe 文史哲 344: 29–36.

Zhang, Hengshou 張恆壽. 1983. Zhuangzi xintan 莊子新探 (A New Investigation into the Zhuangzi). Wuhan: Hubei Renmin chubanshe 湖北人民出版社.

Ziporyn, Brook, tr. 2009. Zhuangzi: The Essential Writings: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.



8. 01. 2021



Developments of Classical Chinese Concepts

How to Cite

Chang, Yao-Cheng. 2021. “An Exceptional Portrait of Yang Zhu and Mozi: Beyond the Mencian Track”. Asian Studies 9 (1): 203-24.

Similar Articles

1-10 of 208

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.