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  • Piotr Gibas (a1)


This article offers a new reading of Mozi’s chapter “Ming gui” 明鬼, conventionally considered as a treatise explaining Mohist ideas about ghosts and spirits, by shifting the focus from the ghosts (gui 鬼) to the concept of ming 明, interpreted as “sagely illumination.” The “Ming gui” chapter does not discuss ghosts in general, but instead a specific group of “punitive ghosts” who mete out punishments and rewards; it also shows that ming gui was not a group of ghosts particular to Mozi or Mohism alone, but was widespread in the beliefs and practices of the period. The execution of justice, which is the crucial concern of the treatise, depends on ming—the principle of justice and Heaven’s agency in human life—and not on ghosts. Ming also is an indispensable component of sagehood, as it is the illuminated sage ruler (ming jun 明君) who, on behalf of Heaven, ultimately metes out just punishments and rewards.

本文論證《墨子》“明鬼”僅關注鬼神的一個種類,即具有“明”的鬼──明鬼。據《鬼神之明》戰國楚竹書鬼神不必都有明。據《墨子》有明鬼類專門處理“賞 賢 而 罰 暴”。明鬼此鬼類亦可見於其他戰國文獻如《侯馬盟書》或《左傳》。鬼神有明表示他們能夠探索各人的心思、識別好歹,由此明鬼專“司盟”,即懲罰有毀約行為的諸侯。完善國君謂“明君”,統治國家如明鬼一致處理賞罰而其“刑政之不過失”。

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1. All Mozi references in this article are to Yirang, Sun 孫詒讓, Mozi jiangu 墨子閒詁 (Beijing: Zhonghua, 2001).

2. The oldest existing version of Mozi, on which the present editions are based, comes from the Ming dynasty collection Zhengtong Daozang 正統道藏 (1447); according to it, the text originally consisted of seventy-one chapters, but only fifty-three of them are extant; the chapters are organized in fifteen books (juan 卷). Book VIII lists three “Ming gui” chapters: shang 上, zhong 中, and xia 下, with only the last one being extant. It is not known if the remaining two chapters of the triad ever existed or why they are missing.

3. Burton Watson translates the title as “Explaining Ghosts”; see Watson, Burton, Mozi Basic Writing (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 97113 ; Yi-Pao Mei renders “On Ghosts”; see Mei, Yi-Pao, The Ethical and Political Works of Motse, Probsthain’s Oriental Series (London: A. Probsthain, 1929), 160 . Sun Yirang, following the Hanshu 漢書 commentators, interprets ming as “making it evident (proving) that ghosts really exist” 明,謂明鬼神之實有也 (Mozi jiangu, 221). In his recent translation, Ian Johnston renders it as “Percipient Ghosts,” which seems to consider the notion provided by Master Mo that the ghosts are able to spot the villain even in the darkest alley and strike him down without fail; see Johnson, Ian, The Mozi: A Complete Translation (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010).

4. Knoblock, John and Riegel, Jeffrey, Mozi: A Study and Translation of the Ethical and Political Writings, China Research Monograph 68 (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, 2013); Defoort, Carine and Standaert, Nicolas, eds., The Mozi as an Evolving Text (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2013).

5. Brindley, Erica, “The Perspicuity of Ghosts and Spirits and the Problem of Intellectual Affiliations in Early China,Journal of the American Oriental Society 129.2 (2009), 215–36.

6. Roel Sterckx, “Mozi 31: Explaining Ghosts, Again,” Defoort and Standaert, 95–141.

7. Chengyuan, Ma 馬承源, ed., “Gui shen zhi ming” 鬼神之明, in Shanghai bowuguan cang Zhanguo Chu zhushu 上海博物館藏戰國楚竹書 5 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji, 2005), 307 .

8. Maspero, Henri, “Le mot ming 明,Journal Asiatique 223 (1933), 249–96.

9. Maspero, “Le mot ming 明,” 257.

10. Knoblock, John, Xunzi: A Translation and Study of the Complete Works, Vol. I (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), 253 .

11. Szabó, Sándor P., “The Term Shenming—Its Meaning in the Ancient Chinese Thought and in a Recently Discovered Manuscript,Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 56.2–4 (2003), 251–74.

12. Szabó, “The Term Shenming,” 271.

13. Szabó, “The Term Shenming,” 267.

14. Szabó, “The Term Shenming,”256.

15. Cook, Constance A., Death in Ancient China: The Tale of One Man’s Journey (Leiden, London: Brill, 2006), 22 .

16. Szabó, “The Term Shenming,” 257.

17. Szabó, “The Term Shenming,” 257.

18. Szabó, “The Term Shenming,” 261.

19. Szabó, “The Term Shenming,” 254–55.

20. Szabó, “The Term Shenming,” 257–58.

21. Szabó, “The Term Shenming,” 269.

22. Szabó quotes Xun Shuang; Szabó, “The Term Shenming,” 264.

23. Szabó, “The Term Shenming,” 268. The translation is that of Szabó.

24. E.g., in 今執無鬼者曰:鬼神者,固無有, the character 神 is omitted in the first part of the sentence, but used in the second, in the same context; Mozi jiangu, 223.

25. Mozi jiangu, 222.

26. Mozi jiangu, 224.

27. Master Mo alone asserts the historicity of these accounts; they are not mentioned in any other sources.

28. E.g., King Xuan of Zhou puts to death his minister, the Earl of Du, even though he had committed no crime. Before he dies, the earl warns the king that if ghosts and spirits do not exist, this will be the end of the matter, but if they do exist, then within three years he, the Earl of Du, will let the king know about it. Sure enough, after three years, the earl reappears as a ghost and strikes the king dead in front of everybody. Mozi jiangu, 224.

29. Roel Sterckx observes that the five incidents quoted by Master Mo as evidence take place across geographical space on the Spring and Autumn period map: Zhou (central), Qin (west), Yan (northeast), Song (south), and Qi (east), which is meant to strengthen the rhetoric of Mozi’s claim to apply his doctrine universally; Sterckx, “Mozi 31,” 101. The stylistic uniformity of the narrative also indicates that the ghosts’ pattern of action is always the same wherever and whenever it occurs.

30. Mozi jiangu, 230. One of the episodes is a “positive” example, where Duke Mu of Zheng is rewarded for his virtue. Mozi jiangu, 227–28.

31. 為君者以教其臣,為父者以警其子; Mozi jiangu, 226.

32. Mozi jiangu, 234.

33. E.g., in one of those stories we read: 天乃使湯至明罰焉. Mozi jiangu, 244. Johnston translates: “Heaven sent Tang to effect its clearly recognizable punishment.” Johnston, The Mozi, 299. Riegel in his translation leaves ming out altogether: “Heaven thereupon ordered Tang to punish him.” Riegel 268. The punishment on King Jie of Xia was executed not by ghosts, but by Tang acting on behalf of Heaven; as I will demonstrate, ming here has a different function and does not mean “clearly recognizable.”

34. See, e.g., Ding Sixin 丁四新, “Shangbo Chu jian “Gui shen” pian zhu shi” 上博楚簡《鬼神》篇注譯 (

35. Cao Jinyan believes that the dialog is between Mozi and his disciple, and that the text is a missing part of Mozi. He argues that the text does not fit into any particular Mozi chapter, and instead he assumes that it is a part of one of the missing essays in the “Ming gui” triad. See Cao Jinyan 曹錦炎, “Shanghai bowuguan cang Chu zhushu ‘Mozi’ yiwen” 上海博物館藏楚竹書《墨子》佚文, Wenwu 2006/07, 49; Li Ru and Liao Mingchun, albeit much more skeptical about the text’s provenance, still generally agree that the text belongs to the Mohist canon; see Li Rui 李銳, “Du Shangbo wu zhajiji” 讀上博五札記; (; Liao Mingchun 廖名春, “Du Shang Bo wu, Guishen zhi ming” pian zhaji” 讀《上博五,鬼神之明》篇札記 (

36. I agree with Sterckx, who interprets the fragment as representing one of the competing traditions and fractions within Mohism or coming from a school that was in direct opposition to it; in other words, it may be loosely associated with Mohist canon or directly refer to it from a dissident standpoint. Sterckx argues that, expressing an opinion opposite to that in Mozi, the fragment may even be associated with Ru tradition. See Sterckx, “Mozi 31,” 127–29. Brindley, on the other hand, rejects completely the idea of labeling a text based on the topic it discusses and associating it with any “school of thought.” See Brindley, “The Perspicuity,” 234–36.

37. See Mozi (“Ming gui” 明鬼; “Tian zhi” 天志; “Gong meng” 公孟).

38. Brindley, “The Perspicuity,” 216–17; Sterckx, “Mozi 31,” 122–25.

39. Ma Chengyuan, “Gui shen zhi ming,” 307–20. The Chinese transcription of the original bamboo text published in the Shanghai Museum volume retains some ancient graphs and provides their modern equivalents in parentheses. I omit the parenthesis and quote the final version on which all English translations are based.

40. Brindley and Sterckx read yu 譽 instead of ju 擧.

41. Editors supplemented five missing graphs in this line based on context; they do not appear on the original bamboo strip. I quote them in brackets, following Cao’s transcription.

42. Brindley and Sterckx translate ming as “perspicuous” and “aware,” respectively. See Brindley, “The Perspicuity,” 216; Sterckx, “Mozi 31,” 122. Due to the complexity of the term’s meaning, which I am going to discuss and explain below, I leave it not translated. As I demonstrate, “ming” indicates a group of ghosts, therefore the term is better understood as part of a generic term ming gui; “some ghosts are ming and some are not” would be the best way of rendering the meaning of this line, but it is grammatically less literal.

43. I discuss the meaning of this line in detail below.

44. I agree with Brindley and Sterckx, and read mo 沒 as “to die an unnatural death,” i.e. to fail to live out the years of one’s life to an end; however, I also consider the physical aspect, suggested by shen 身, of the bodies (or body parts) not being taken out of sight, but instead preserved and exposed to the public.

45. Cao reads ru 女 as 汝 “you”; and jia 加 as 嘉 “to praise”; “to support [an opinion]”; and a rhetorical question; Cao Jinyan, “Shanghai bowuguan,” 316–19.

46. Compare “Thus, it is clear from these [examples] that ghosts and spirits rewarded them,” Brindley, “The Perspicuity,” 216; “And so, that ghosts and spirits rewarded them is evident [from these examples],” Sterckx, “Mozi 31,” 123. Sterckx also proposes the reading “this is due to their clear percipience,” Sterckx, “Mozi 31,” 123, n. 60.

47. Mozi jiangu, 244.

48. “If proven to be Mohist, at most this new piece of evidence suggests that there were voices questioning the absolute nature of the Mohist thesis on certain spirit intervention. This reflects rivalry of ideas between different branches of Mohism, but does not express any Ru context. At best it demonstrates that the idea of spirit intervention in response to human behavior was debated.” Sterckx, “Mozi 31,” 139.

49. Weld, Susan, “Covenant in Jin’s Walled Cities: The Discoveries at Houma and Wenxian,” a dissertation presented by Susan Roosevelt Weld to the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations (Cambridge: Harvard University, MA, 1990).

50. Weld, “Covenant,” 353.

51. Mozi jiangu, 234.

52. Weld, “Covenant,” 353.

53. 今若使天下之人,偕若信鬼神之能賞賢而罰暴也, 則夫天下豈亂哉! “Now, if we cause all the people in the world to believe that the ghosts and spirits have the ability to reward the worthy and punish the violent, how could there be any chaos in the world!” Mozi jiangu, 222.

54. Weld, “Covenant,” 3.

55. Yili, 13.328, ch. 27, 7a–9a.

56. “Ming shen” appear in covenant context in Zhuang 32, ZZ13, 181, ch. 10, 21b; Xi 28, ZZ13, 274, ch. 16, 25b; Xi 28, ZZ13, 275, ch. 16, 28a; Cheng 9, ZZ13, 447, ch. 26, 24b; Cheng 12, ZZ13, 458, ch. 27, 5a–5b; Xiang 9, ZZ13, 530, ch. 30, 33a; Xiang 11, ZZ13, 546, ch. 31, 19a; Ai 12, ZZ13, 1026, ch. 59, 3a.

57. Chun qiu Zuo zhuan zhu 春秋左傳注, Bojun, Yang 楊伯峻, ed. (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1981), 856 .

58. Yang Bojun, Chun qiu, 842–43.

59. Yang Bojun, Chun qiu, 1671.

60. Yang Bojun, Chun qiu, 971.

61. Yang Bojun, Chun qiu, 251–53.

62. According to Constance Cook, “the rituals in pre-Han China that marked transitions from death through the traditional three-year period of mourning (for an elite male with progeny) ensured the social identity of the deceased—an identity that would eventually link together all aspects of the deceased: the aspects resident in his tomb, in his spirit tablet in the temple, and in Heaven.” Cook, Death in Ancient China, 32.

63. Mozi jiangu, 245–46.

64. The historicity of these (and other) episodes is, of course, questionable, but Master Mo assumed they were “historical events,” as would any potential contemporary reader or interlocutor.

65. According to Wong and Loy, the distinction Master Mo makes between punishing and offensive war is marked by the approval of ghosts: “War only then is justified when providential ghosts appear.” Wong and Loy, then, interpret Mozi episodes in which humans execute justice as punishments authorized and commissioned by ghosts. However, they do not examine the nature and provenance of the ghosts in question, or their actual function in relationship with humans. They never explain the terms they use in reference to ghosts (“agents of war”; “punitive ghosts”; “providential ghosts”) and it is unclear if this nomenclature is linked in any way with the vocabulary used in Mozi (are “punitive ghosts” “ming gui” 明鬼?). Instead, Wong and Loy see ghosts as a rhetorical device, by means of which Master Mo shows the rulers a means of justifying their military campaigns. See Wong, Benjamin and Loy, Hui-Chieh, “War and Ghosts in Mozi’s Political Philosophy,Philosophy East & West 53.3 (2004), 343–63. As I argue, it is not the ghosts’ presence, but rather the transformative power of ming that matters. It is still ghosts who carry out the punishment, but they appear in a human form; or else, it is humans who undergo a transformation and act in the capacity of ghosts (become ghost-like).

66. Maspero, “Le mot ming 明,” 258.

67. According to Huainanzi 淮南子 (“Bing lüe xun” 兵略訓), during the ritual the general would sit facing the North as a coffin and the ruler of the state would sit facing the East as a mourning son; leaving for battle, he would exit through the “inauspicious gate” xiong men 凶門 in the western wall of the temple, as would a coffin on its way out after the funeral. Maspero compares this ceremony to a description of a funerary rite in Liji 禮記 (“Tan gong xia” 檀弓下), according to which part of the western wall of the temple would be torn down to carry the coffin out: 及葬,毀宗躐行; Maspero, “Le mot ming 明,” 258–59.

68. During the ceremony at the ancestral temple, by becoming ritually dead, the general would be endowed with Heaven’s mandate ming 命 to begin the expedition; all wars and battles in Zhou times were ritual acts; see Maspero, “Le mot ming 明,” 259.

69. Mozi jiangu, 140.

70. 日妖宵出,雨血三朝 (…); Mozi jiangu, 146. The list of disasters that Heaven has in store for people is actually quite entertaining to read, and includes such delights as a woman turning into a man 有女為男 or the sky raining meat 天雨肉.

71. Mozi jiangu, 149–50.

72. Mozi jiangu, 152.

73. I do not quote the first example mentioned by Master Mo in “Fei gong xia” (Yu punishing the You Miao), because the received Chinese text in that fragment is skewed and impossible to understand. It is clear, however, that “a spirit with a face of a man and a body of a bird” 有神人面鳥身 assists Yu at the final battle. He promises Yu victory and sees through it. Sun, 147; Johnston, The Mozi, 189; Riegel, Mozi, 186.

74. 若以此三聖王者觀之則非所謂攻也,所謂誅也; Mozi jiangu, 153.

75. Mozi jiangu, 130.

76. In his study on heroic tradition in China, C. H. Wang introduces the concept of “cultural heroism” and points out that in China “the display of martial power (wu 武) is never as worthy as the exhibition of cultural eloquence (wen 文).” In effect, according to Wang’s definition, in Chinese tradition a “hero” is a king who is a sage and who uses culture and virtue for his governance over the people, instead of arms. Wang, C. H., “Towards Defining a Chinese Heroism,Journal of the American Oriental Society 95.1 (1975), 27 .

77. The narrative bears a significant similarity to the episodes quoted by Master Mo in “Fei gong xia.” It is Heaven who withdraws the mandate to rule Jin from Yiwu; his doom is predicted to take place in a battle for the sake of the enlightened ruler (Chong’er), and the ghost is the bearer of the tidings; he also prepares the ground for the punishment: “The Lord on High has allowed me to punish only the guilty one [Yi Wu]; he shall be defeated in Han.” 帝許我罰有罪矣,敝於韓 (Xi X, 3). Yang Bojun, Chun qiu, 335.

78. This assertion echoes Cook’s observation that the effects of the spiritual transformation of the sage’s heart “extended into eternity” yanyong 延永. Cook, Death in Ancient China, 22.

79. Yang Bojun, Chun qiu, 402.

80. Yang Bojun, Chun qiu, 403.

81. Yang Bojun, Chun qiu, 403.

82. Shangshu 尚書, V. ix. 9.

83. (Xi XXIV, 1) presents four accounts of Duke Wen’s sense of justice: (1) He acknowledges his faithful follower Zifan 子犯 through a covenant, calling as witness the spirit of the [Yellow] River 河; (2) He punishes the traitors who plan to assassinate him, but he hears out and pardons eunuch Pi 披, even though the latter was twice appointed as his assassin; (3) He admits an old attendant Touxu 頭須; he first rejects him, because Touxu stayed in Jin rather than following him into exile, but he changes his mind when Touxu argues that those who stayed were nonetheless his followers; and (4) He does not forget about Jie Zhitui 介之推, who once cut off a portion of his own thigh to feed Chong’er while in exile, even though Jie does not seek recompense. The accounts show that when rewarding the faithful, Duke Wen is flexible and considerate; he looks into each case individually and is willing to admit and amend possible mistakes; also, he is careful not to overlook even the smallest favors; Yang Bojun, Chun qiu, 412–19.

84. In Xi XXVII (633 b.c.e.), when preparing for the battle with Chu, Duke Wen appoints the commander in chief after consulting Zhao Shuai 趙衰; the minister, following the principles of Xia laid out in the Shu, recommends a man versed in Odes and Documents; (Xi XXVII, 4), Yang Bojun, Chun qiu, 444–46.

85. Yang Bojun, Chun qiu, 447.

86. Yang reads 情 as 實.

87. According to Yang, this refers to the nineteen years spent in exile—a length of time that was granted by Heaven to Chong’er so that he was able to return.

88. According to Yang, this is a reference to Duke Huai (Yu) and his follower Lü 呂 who were planning to assassinate Chong’er upon his return.

89. Yang Bojun, Chun qiu, 456.

90. A reference to three people guilty of treason during the battle.

91. Yang Bojun, Chun qiu, 472.

92. In the context of the Zuo zhuan, the “superior man” junzi 君子 is conventionally agreed to be Confucius.

93. Yang Bojun, Chun qiu, 467.

94. Yang Bojun, Chun qiu, 1016.

95. Sterckx, “Mozi 31,” 138–41.

96. Sterckx juxtaposes this episode with the bamboo text to demonstrate that skepticism about the ghosts’ “ming” is expressed also in Mozi; according to him, when saying that they cannot cause illness, Master Mo admits that “spirits have only partial powers,” Sterckx, “Mozi 31,” 127. Brindley similarly concludes that ghosts are “incapable of controlling for other causes of illness and health or misfortune and reward,” Brindley, “The Perspicuity,” 221.

97. Mozi jiangu, 461–64.


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