An Exceptional Portrait of Yang Zhu and Mozi
Beyond the Mencian Track
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.
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