Confucianism, the Literati, and Chinese Imperial Traditions

Membership, Community, Diversity

Were any other related schools of thought important in understanding Confucianism?

Mo Zi (468-390 B.C.E.) started out as a Confucian but went his own way, opting for a less stratified, more egalitarian model of society. Some have characterized Mo Zi as a pragmatist because he insisted that observable improvement in the welfare of the populace was the ultimate criterion of good public policy. Confucius, he argued, put too much emphasis on ritual and filial devotion and too little on measurably advancing civilization. Mo Zi taught the importance of striving for a society united by a kind of mutual love that amounted to a form of enlightened self-interest. His school flourished for just over a century, but it offers a glimpse at one of several credible critiques of the classical Confucian approach. Another dissenting voice of Mo Zi’s era were the Legalists (fa jia). They took Mo Zi’s critique several steps further from Confucius’ global confidence that the mere example of virtuous leadership could bring about a moral conversion in society. Governance, they argued, required clear and comprehensive legislation that capitalized on people’s fear of punishment and hope of reward. Confucius and Mo Zi clearly had greater faith in human perfectibility and in a reservoir of good will at the heart of humankind.


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