Published on 2022.12.13

Micius :
The founder of science in ancient China

Most people associate Chinese culture with Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. However, apart from these three major schools of thought, there were various schools of thought during the Eastern Zhou Warring States Period (circa 476 B.C. – 221 B.C.), which has prominent statuses in the cultural history of China and have significant contribution to the civilization of humankind. Mohism, a school of thought founded by Micius (circa 470 B.C. -circa 391 B.C., in modern pinyin system Mozi), was regarded as equally influential as Confucianism in Spring and Autumn and Warring States Period (circa 770 B.C. – 221 B.C.). Mohism was not widely discussed mainly because its inheritance had been cut off since the Qin dynasty (221B.C. – 207 B.C.). Also, Mohist works had been largely neglected after Confucianism became the only officially-recognized school of thought since the Han dynasty. Thus, the Mohist concepts, particularly scientific concepts, had been sunk into oblivion and became obstruse to ancient Chinese scholars. The situation lasted until the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), when a philologist Sun Yi-rang (孫貽讓) re-examined the structure of The Book of Micius (the major work of Mohism) and rearranged the lines in a correct order. Since then, The Book of Micius was gaining more and more attention from Chinese scholars for its contribution of the history of thoughts in China. In the twentieth century, the important contributions of Micius in the history of science became well-known to world academia after British scholar Joseph Needham (1900-1995) had rediscovered and deciphered various descriptions on optics, mechanics, and mathematics from the chapter Jing (經, the text) and Jing-Shuo (經說, the illustration) in The Book of Micius.


Although Mohism and Confucianism were often debating with each other (and even regarded as rival schools) during the Period of Spring and Autumn and Warring States Period, major guiding principles of Mohism, especially universal love, impartial caring and pacifism, are actually commensurate with major tenets in Confucianism, in particular Mencius (Mengzi in modern pinyin system), which emphasized the ideas of benevolent government and humanitarianism. In fact, no matter Confucianism, Mohism and Taoism (as well as Buddhism after the Eastern Han Dynasty), all prominent schools of thought in China shared the core values of peace and harmony. However, distinct from other schools of thought, Micius called for universal love across countries and all social classes. Micius was one of the activists in human history who established an international non-governmental organization (the leader was called Ju Zi 鉅子) and provided technical support to weaker states to defend themselves. Therefore, Mohism emphasized the invention and education of science and technology. For example, in the Book of Micius, there are seven chapters describing methods in defending the city from encirclement, which were extremely meticulous and all-rounded, while the other two chapters, Qi-zhi (旗旘, Flags) and Hao-ling (號令, Orders), which are about how to express signals clearly, are often regarded as one of the ancient origins of semiotics. The Book of Micius not only comprises detailed discussions on logics, optics, mechanics, economics, linguistics, and psychology, but also the first encyclopedia in the Chinese history. The entries in the chapters Jing and Jing-shou reflect the leading status of scholarship and technology of China during the Warring States Period.


The book of Micius, the major work of Mohism, was believed to be written by its founder Micius (whose name in pinyin system is Mo Di 墨翟, circa 468 B.C. – 390 B.C.) and his successors. In the book of Micius, Micius’ sayings were denoted by “Master Mo said” (Zi Mozi, 子墨子). The major discrepancy between Mohism and Confucianism lies on their different understanding on filial piety. While Confucianism regarded filial piety as the necessary ethical foundation for maintaining social harmony, Mohism emphasized the role of attachment to parents as the prerequisite of filial piety, “Filial Piety, is to attach to the parents. While this is the prerequisite of doing something good for parents, it is not necessary to exist”. This illustrates that attachment to parents is the foundation of filial piety. However, it is not a must that such attachment will exist as parents should have the same responsibility to cultivate children’s trust and attachment, by doing so children would have the regard to filial piety. Based on this finding, Micius suggested that such attachment to parents is the foundation of “emotionally attached and devoted to the betterment of the society”. With reference to these descriptions, we can find out that the Book of Micius, which was written in the Warring States Period, echoes the findings in modern psychology. In this sense, theories of Mohism and Social Ethics of Confucianism can be regarded as complementary with each other.


Although these schools of thought often argued with each other in the Warring States Periods, they are perceived as academic disciplines from the contemporary perspective that can lead to the co-creation of knowledge. It is a pity that possibilities of communication across schools of thought were limited due to the restriction of social environment in ancient China. Now, we can go beyond such limitations. By revisiting these schools of thoughts and finding out the commensurable aspects from various schools of thoughts, we can find out complementary aspects from various Chinese paradigms and provide new momentum of rejuvenating Chinese culture in modern era.

Dr. Fu Wai

Dr. Fu Wai is an Associate Professor of Department of Counselling and Psychology, Hong Kong Shue Yan University, the Director of Positive Technology and Virtual Reality Laboratory, and Research Coordinator of Master of Social Sciences in Counselling Psychology and Doctor of Psychology in Counselling Psychology programs in Hong Kong Shue Yan University.
Dr. Fu is interested in research on history of psychology in ancient China, particularly the interaction among Moism, the School of Names, and the School of Diplomats In Warring States Period.
Dr. Fu is also interested in the development of hypnotism in Shanghai between 1900s-1940s.
Dr. Fu has completed the project funded by Hong Kong Research Grants Council, titled The missing link: An investigation of Moism, the School of Names, and the School of Diplomats, and their place in the history of ancient Chinese psychology (UGC/FDS15/H07/14)

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Chi Seng Pun

03-02-2023 11:42:48