The Chinese Jesus

Mozi preaching to his disciples.


by Ernie Diaz


Ahhh, what could have been. It’s nice to think that, in some alternate universe, Jimi Hendrix had found a good NA program, or Barbara Bush had said, “Not tonight, dear.” And for those who know their Chinese sages, how uselessly pleasant to think what could have been if Mo Tzu, the Chinese Jesus, had gained as many converts as the western Jesus, that the first Chinese emperor had not been able to stamp him out and install Pharisee numero uno Confucius as a substitute.

Now, don’t get upset, normal Christians, those of you who prefer getting offended to unconditional love and forgiveness. Mo Tzu as Chinese Jesus is meant as metaphor, purely in the context of the Jesus of record, not faith; the dirty hippy who hung out with riffraff, who preached the vainglory in materialism and the liberation in humble faith.

See, Mo Tzu tried to turn cats on to universal love, to turn their hearts and spirits beyond the filial setting. But he spiked this hippy kool-aid with enough potent methodology to make it palatable, and a real threat to Confucius’ ‘All in the Family’ model. Unlike Jesus, Chinese Jesus had no objections to getting under the hood, micromanaging government affairs, all in the understanding that lord and peasant were equal under heaven, in the hope of providing maximum benefit to society, and in the faith that universal love was our ideal state.

The mundane never worked for Mo Tzu. He tried to fit in with a civil service gig, but even in the 5th century BCE, nine-to-fiving it for the man wasn’t copacetic for a dreamy dude like him. So like Master Confucius, who had died only a few years before his birth, Mo Tzu took to wandering philosophy. Call them primitive times, but today wandering philosophy gets you locked up for vagrancy. Back then, you could wind up sitting below a king’s dais in a drafty but well-stocked castle. If people dug your message.

So how did a self-respecting feudal lord swallow Mo Tzu’s medicine? These were Warring States days, when Tony Montana would have been praised as a practical humanist. And there was Mo Tzu: “No offensive wars;” “Cancel that fancy funeral and give the money to the poor;” “What’s with the dancing girls, let’s just have an erhu player.”

How, indeed. Well Mo Tzu was an exemplar, for starters. Not a man who didn’t swear to Mo Tzu’s walking it even more than he talked it. Once he walked ten days through the frozen heart of a Henan winter, through war-ravaged, bandit-infested countryside to confront the King of Chu, and dissuade him from attacking the King of Song.

King Chu didn’t even want to treat. He wanted to show off his general, Gongshu Ban, chief military strategist and all-around nasty piece of work. Gongshu didn’t like wise guys, and challenged Mo Tzu to a simulated war game. Chinese Jesus ordered his troops into seraphim wreaking the righteous vengeance of the Lord. Nine times he mopped the play-battlefield with Gongshu.

Gongshu threatened his life for the humiliation, finally getting the attention of King Chu. “Look, King,” Mo Tzu reasoned with yet another puffed-up homo sapien, “I’ve already taught the Song generals all my strategies. Call off the war and I’ll give you some fortification consulting, free of charge.” Game, set, match to Mo Tzu.

Oh yeah, Chinese Jesus was a carpenter, too, but given the times, the only kind of carpentry that paid was fortification. In this Mo Tzu excelled, designing mechanical birds, “cloud ladders” and other far out innovations in defending a city-state from attack. Mo Tzu’s concept of universal love naturally espoused self-love – not that kind (necessarily) – the kind that let you trust your own eyes, brain, and sense of logic to direct your own lives, to change your circumstances, to invent, regardless of parental decree or public opinion. For society in general, a useful principle. For traditional Chinese society, a revelation.

Thus Mo Tzu’s meditations on promoting the talented rather than the related, really listening instead of talking, and leaving fatalism to the unenlightened. But always, always, he prescribed universal love as both personal and societal salvation.

“Be filial to other people’s parents,” he’d say, “When people are nice to parents in general, your filial worries are over.”

If not preaching disinterested love and compassion, he was slinging simple logic to dissuade the powerful from standard jerkery.

“Look, King Ch’i,” he admonished one liege, “if a man sneaks into an orchard and steals plums, the authorities will punish him, right? And if a man enters another’s barn and steals his horse and pigs, he will be punished the more, for causing suffering in greater proportion, true? So how is it that a man who enters another state and despoils innocents of their homes, food, and very lives is not condemned by all with a brain and a grain of compassion?”

Therein lay the rub. Just as Jesus had a decidedly disapproving view of the way those in power ran things, Mo Tzu saw all too clearly the folly of the goons in charge. Said it all too clearly, too. Said that benevolence was the natural state of man, but only attainable if those in authority showed it first. Oops.

Enter Qin Shi Huang – first Chinese emperor, unifier, wall-builder, standardizer. Book-burner, burier of live scholars. By the time he was running the show, Mo-ism was  enjoying the high flower of its all-too-brief bloom. Qin wanted order, efficiency, and world-control. Loving everyone gummed the works. Confucian legalism kept people in line. By the end of the Han Dynasty, Mo-ism was little more than a rumor.

Today we have 53 of the 71 pages that comprise Mozi, the eponymous book of teachings. Of the three original chapters entitled “against Confucianism”, only one remains. But people and regimes inevitably die; ideas don’t. Neither do principles like Universal Love. Whether it’s the lyrics to Instant Karma the dogma of The Road Less Traveled , or the words of a saint like Ghandi, whenever some hippy espouses Love as God, he’s doing Mo Tzu’s work.

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2 Responses to The Chinese Jesus

  1. Ozymandias says:

    And I thought this was going to be about the discovery of a second Book of Mormon in China….

  2. Deng Fong Roi says:

    There were also revolutionary paintings of Mao depicting him in “Jesus at the sermon on the mount” images that were popular at the time.

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