Many lovers of Western Philosophy look down their Greco-Roman noses at Chinese Philosophy without realizing its impact on the West. Many of the English and German philosophers of the Age of Reason, as well as the French Philosophies, read Chinese Philosophy. Indeed, there is a story of Goethe, who witnessed the first battle of twenty-three years struggle known as the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. At the battle was Valmy (1792) that Goethe remarked, “From this place, and from this day forth begins a new era in the history of the world, and you can all say that you were present at its birth.” However, he was also at the Battle of Leipzig (1813) when the largest battle of conflict took place, but he did not witness it. He did not even step outside because he was too busy reading Chinese Philosophy.
Many of the Chinese Philosophers of the One Hundred Schools of Thought (770-221BC) are well known to the West: Confucius (K’ung-Tzu 551-479BC), Mencius (Meng-Tzu 372-289BC), and Lao-Tzu (Loazi 6th Century BC), as well as the war philosophers Sun-Tzu (Sun Wu ?-?BC ) and his distant relation Sun Pin (Sun Bin ?-316BC).
Lesser known were the pacifist philosophers Mo-Tzu and Sung Jung. Before turning to Mo and Sung, it should be noted that Confucius, Mencius, and Lao-Tzu were all against violence, but were not pacifists. Confucius was against war because it would bring social disorder and disharmony. Mencius discouraged war and promoted agriculture and encouraged humane rule. Lao-Tzu thought war was a “regrettable necessity” and one should “enter battle gravely, with sorrow and great compassion, as though attend a funeral.”
Even Sun-Tzu was against the wastefulness of war. Although the Spring and Autumn Period, in which Sun-Tzu was alleged to have lived was a extremely sanguine time, he would have been disagreed with the Clausewitzian idea that every effort must be made to bring the war to a conclusion by one decisive battle, and would have been appalled by the battles in World War One where “casualties measured in hundred of thousands and victory in yards gained.”
Lao-Tzu influenced much of Sun-Tzu’s thinking by his statement “With the orthodox govern the state; with the unorthodox employ the army” and by the Tao idea of yin and yang. Here are some samples of Sun-Tzu’s frequently used quotes:
“To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”
“In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to capture an army entire than to destroy it.”
“There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare.”
Mo-Tzu (470-391BC) felt Confucius and Lao-Tzu had not gone far enough in condemning war. He argued:
“If a man kills an innocent man, steals his clothing and spear and sword, his offence is graver than breaking in a stable and stealing an ox or a horse. The injury is greater, the offence is greater, and the crime of a higher degree. Any man of sense knows that is wrong, knows that is unrighteous. But when murder is committed in attacking a country it is not considered wrong; it is applauded and called righteous. Can this be considered as knowing what is righteous and what is unrighteous? When one man kills another man it is considered unrighteous and he is punished by death. Then by the same sign when a man kills ten others, his crime will be ten times greater, and should be punished by death ten times. Similarly one who kills a hundred men should be punished hundred times more heavily…If a man calls black black on a small scale, but calls black white when see it is seen on a large scale, then he is one who cannot tell black from white…Similarly is a small crime is considered crime, but a big crime such attacking another country is applauded as a righteous act, can this be said knowing the difference between righteous and unrighteous?”
Mo-Tzu, while considered a pacifist, did not condemn self-defense or fighting a defensive war. Indeed, his followers, the Mohists, would rush to the defense of any country being invaded. The fought along side the defenders and even invented new war machines to help in the defense. They did not realize their “defensive weapons” could be turned round and used as offensive weapons.
Lest we smirk at their naiveté, consider how many twentieth-century, pacifist scientists worked on the atomic bomb to stop Hitler without considering their defensive weapon would be used on Japan and later bring the world to the brink of Nuclear Armageddon.
Sung Jung (Sung K’eng) and his colleague Yin Wen were of the Mohists school, but did not believe Mo-Tzu had gone far enough in renouncing war. Unfortunately, none of Sung Jung and Yin Wen writings have survived. We only know of them through their detractors.
Sung Jung, also called, Sung Yung, Sung, Hsing, Sung K’eng, and Sung Chein; had six principle rules. His rules are remarkably not unlike ideas set forth by early as well as early and modern Friends:
1) “In intercourse with all things, to begin with knowing the prejudices.”
2) “In talking about tolerance of the mind, to call it the action of the mind.”
3) “Men’s passions desire but little.”
4) “To endure insult without feeling it a disgrace, so as to save the people from fighting.”
5) “To check aggression and propose disarmament in order to save the generation from war.”
6) “To desire the peace of the world in order to preserve the life of the people, to seek no more than is sufficient for nourishing oneself and others.”
When the states of Ch’in and Ch’u went to war, Sung Jung was about to go to Ch’u, but Mencius stopped him and asked why he was going.
He replied, “I have heard that Ch’in and Ch’u are fighting each other, and I am going to see the King of Ch’u and persuade him to cease. If he be not pleased with this, I shall go to see the King of Ch’in, and persuade him in the same way. Of the two kings, I shall succeed to speak to one of them.”
Two thousand years before the Naturalists (the “Killer Apes” or Hobbesian “violence is part of us”) camp and the Materialists (“Noble Peaceful Savages” or Roussoeian “humans are peaceful by nature”) camp squared off on their views of war, Sung Jung was already calling for people to reduce their needs for natural resources in order to prevent war. Before Gandhi called on us to humble ourselves before our foe, Sung Jung was suggesting enduring insults. Long before Kissenger’s famous shuttle-diplomacy, Sung Jung was practicing the self-same thing. Long before there was a disarmament movement, a lone Chinese philosopher was crying out for laying down weapons.
He was truly a head of his times… way ahead.