The 2019 Kyoko Selden Memorial Translation Prize in Japanese Literature, Thought, and Society

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The Conflict Between War and Peace in Early Chinese Thought  古代中国思想における戦争対平和の葛藤

March 12, 2012
Volume 10 | Issue 12 | Number 5


The Conflict Between War and Peace in Early Chinese Thought

John Gittings

The challenges of nuclear proliferation, conflict and terrorism, poverty and inequality, climate change and the deteriorating environment, are inextricably linked in our current world, and can only be tackled by a broad and unified effort to achieve peace in its fullest sense. Yet the perception of peace is much less vivid in popular imagination than that of war, and the growing body of serious peace studies is less accessible than it should be. Peace is often written off – especially by war historians – as a difficult concept to define, as a dull subject compared to war, or simply as ‘the absence of war’, a mere interval between wars which are claimed to be the driving motor of history.  In my new book, The Glorious Art of Peace: From the Iliad to Iraq, I argue to the contrary that from ancient times onwards there has been a rich discourse about the meaning of peace and how to secure it, that there is a wealth of ideas and debate which continues to be relevant, and that The Art of Peace is as complex as the Art of War. Human civilisation could not have developed without long periods of productive peace, which have allowed for the emergence of stable agriculture, the growth of urban society, and the expansion of peaceful trade and intercourse between societies. Peace, as the great humanist thinker Erasmus (1466-1536) put it, is ‘the mother and nurse of all that is good for man’.

In an early chapter I examine a number of historical and literary texts from ancient Greece and China, to show that a great deal was thought and said in these cultures about peace as well as about war. We can discern in Homer’s Iliad, alongside the more familiar themes of rage and war, an alternative vision of the peace denied by war – expressed visually in his remarkable description of the Shield of Achilles. Modern scholarship also shows that attitudes towards peace and war in classical Greece are much more complex than might be inferred from the Thucydidean approach, while critical attitudes on the Greek stage can be identified not only in the ‘Peace’ and other familiar works of Aristophanes, but in several of the surviving plays of the great tragedians. The chronicles of the Spring and Autumn and subsequent Warring States periods of pre-imperial China, with their endless tales of battle and intrigue, might also seem poor material for a peace-oriented study, yet they too reveal a wide range of thought and argument in which rulers and their advisers seriously engaged questions of both morality and expediency in the exercise of power, weighing up the benefits of peace against the advantages of war. In the extract from this chapter which follows below, I explore the way that peace and war were discussed in the main schools of political thought from Kongzi (Confucius) onwards, in a lively debate from which we can still learn today. This debate among China’s early thinkers casts interesting light on the Chinese government’s current claim to pursue a peaceful and harmonious foreign policy based on Confucian principles. It may also help us in setting out some basic principles on how to move from war to peace – particularly in focusing on human justice and welfare -- a task which remains as important today as it was in pre-imperial China. Do the debates over war and peace among China’s early thinkers cast light on contemporary issues, in China and globally, particularly on the preconditions for moving from war to peace? Read on.

Peace and War in the Warring States1

In wars to win land, the dead fill the fields; in wars to seize cities, the dead fill their streets. This is what we mean by ‘teaching the earth how to eat human flesh’. (Mengzi)2

Warfare in the Warring States period of Chinese history (403–221 bc) was no longer a seasonal pursuit led by the nobility and restrained to some extent by custom and ritual. The states which had survived from the previous Spring and Autumn period now commanded larger populations which could be recruited for larger armies, supported by improvements in agricultural techniques as the use of iron spread. We have a vivid picture of the everyday existence of the great majority of the rural-based Chinese people two millennia ago recorded in brick reliefs from the subsequent Han dynasty. Planting rice, tending sheep, feeding the ox, hoeing, dyeing, preparing meals, holding village festivals with dragon dances, and carrying produce for sale into town.

This was the life increasingly disturbed by chronic warfare between a diminishing number of rival states, which would lead to the first great unification by the state of Qin (Chin, hence ‘China’). The conventional history of the Warring States has been dominated by incessant rivalry, by shifting alliances and devious statecraft, by guile and deception on and off the battlefield, as recorded in semi-fictional annals such as the Zhanguo Ce (Stratagems of the Warring States) and later by the Han historian Sima Qian. Yet it was also a time of intense and lively discussion on war and peace, both from a moral and practical perspective, in which the plight of the common people was not forgotten. The main lines of argument may be reconstructed from the texts which survived the infamous ‘burning of the books’ by the first Qin emperor, and they raise issues which we can interpret in terms still current today.

Terracotta Warriors in the tomb of the first Qing emperor
Terracotta Warriors in the tomb of the first Qing emperor

With the break-up of the feudalistic and ritualized state system, a new breed of scholar-gentry (shi) had emerged enjoying more autonomy than the court retainers and hereditary officials of the past: in an age of social mobility, some were able to rise from humble origins. Some rulers became known for their patronage of argument and debate. King Xuan of Qi (ruled 319–301 bc) was famous not only for his pleasure palaces and hunting parks, but for setting up the Jixia Academy which hosted, it was later said by Sima Qian, as many as a thousand scholars from all the rival schools. Traditionally, they were said to have gathered ‘at the gate’: we may imagine them staying at hostels and drinking in tea-houses just inside the main gate of the typical walled city.

The various schools of philosophy and military and political thinking which emerged in the course of two and a half centuries became known as the ‘Hundred Schools of Thought’ (they are usually divided into ten or twelve schools, though they also numbered free-thinkers who adhered to no particular school). These include the School of Strategists (bingjia), with Sunzi, supposed author of the Art of War, as its illustrious predecessor. Much of this military thinking was incorporated into the political philosophy of the Legalists (fajia) who viewed agriculture and war under rigorously authoritarian rule as the essential basis for a successful state. Legalist advisers served the ruler of the state of Qin who in 221 bc defeated his rivals and became the first Qin emperor.3 Sunzi’s Art of War can be easily found today in translation— there are at least five or six English versions in print at any time— and is said to have influenced the military strategies of Napoleon, the Japanese naval command in the Russo-Japanese War, the German High Command in the Second World War, North Vietnamese General Giap in the Vietnam War, and senior US commanders in the Gulf War. Mao Zedong applied the principles set out by Sunzi during the anti- Japanese and Civil Wars of 1937–49; Chinese military leaders today continue to regard it as a fundamental text, which is ‘a valuable asset for the Chinese people and will remain so in any future war against aggression’.4

Yet the Strategists and Legalists were not unchallenged: our obsession with the Art of War can lead us to overlook the vigorous views on peace and war of the other main schools, the Confucians, Mohists, and Daoists, which directly criticized the militarism of the time. While differing among themselves, they all sought to blunt the rulers’ appetite for war, to counter the influence of their military advisers, and to redirect their attention to the primary purpose of government—to ensure the well-being of their own people. They also offered vivid descriptions of the impact of war on the common people: ‘Thorns and brambles will grow where armies have camped,’ says Laozi. ‘After a great war there will be years of terrible hardship.’5 Wars to capture cities or territory, says Mengzi, are a way of ‘teaching the earth how to eat human flesh’.6 If the peasants are taken from the fields to fight and cannot till the land, says Mozi, ‘the common people will freeze to death and die of starvation’.7 This constant topic of the peasants ‘freezing and starving’, a recent study of the Warring States suggests, ‘cannot be dismissed as pure propaganda: it evidently reflects the real empathy of the ruling elite for those they ruled’.8

Representation of Mozi
Representation of Mozi

The Confucian School

Living at the end of the previous Spring and Autumn period, Kongzi (Confucius, 551–479 bc) set the model for future generations of itinerant scholars, lending his services to the ruler whom he judged capable of good things, but packing his bags if the task seemed hopeless. When asked by the ruler of Wei to offer advice on military matters, he declined and left the court, saying, ‘A bird may choose its tree, but how on earth can a tree choose its bird?’9

Kongzi was a conservative who sought to maintain, or revive, the values of the remote founders of the Zhou dynasty by strict observance of the ancient rituals. He stressed the need for ‘reverence’ (jing), the concept traditionally applied to one’s state of mind when making sacrifice, but which for Kongzi—as his biographer D. C. Lau has observed—meant ‘the awareness of the immensity of one’s responsibilities to promote the welfare of the common people’.10 Such a responsibility was especially great for the ruler, and in Kongzi’s moral scheme of government, it was unlikely to be achieved through the use of force. When questioned by a disciple about the purpose of government, he replied, ‘Give the people enough to eat, and enough soldiers to defend them, and they will have confidence in you.’ To the follow-up question—which of the two, if one is obliged to, should be given up first?—he responded simply, ‘Give up the soldiers.’11 On another occasion he summed up the essence of good government with this advice:

Where goods are evenly distributed no one will be poor, where there is social harmony a small population does not matter [i.e. the population will unite in resisting aggression by a larger state], and where there is stability the state will not be overthrown.12

Mengzi (Mencius, 372–289 bc), the second founder of what would become known as Confucianism, lived in the increasingly violent age of the Warring States, and made no secret of his loathing for the Strategists. ‘The so-called good ministers of today [who advise their prince to go to war] would have been called robbers of the people in olden days,’ he remarked.13 Mengzi believed that the ruler had been installed by heaven solely for the benefit of his people, and that human nature tends towards goodness, just as it is the natural tendency for a forest to grow. Mengzi found himself obliged more than once during the chaotic struggles of the Warring States to weigh up the morality of what we would now call ‘humanitarian intervention’. The truly good ruler would be looked up to even by the people of neighbouring states, who will ‘turn to him like water flowing downwards with a tremendous force’. To wage an expedition (zheng) for the sake of people who wished to have their lives improved (zheng, literally ‘rectified’—a play on two words with the same sound) was not the same thing as war.14

However, Mengzi was soon disappointed by King Xuan of Qi who, having liberated the state of Yan, inflicted a new oppressive regime upon its people. Humanitarian intervention, Mengzi discovered—and as we know very well—can turn out very differently in practice. Far from taking an idealistic position, Mengzi had to recognize, as his modern translator W. A. C. H. Dobson has noted, that ‘the world of the fourth century bc . . . was a very different place from the world of his ideals’.15 His ultimate view remained one of extreme scepticism towards, and disapproval of, war, as reflected in his judgement that ‘In the Spring and Autumn Annals, there are no just (yi, ‘righteous’) wars. They merely show that some wars are not so bad as another.’16

Xunzi (Hsun Tzu, c. 312–? bc), the third great early Confucian thinker, lived half a century or so after Mengzi, witnessing the final decades of inter-state struggle leading up to the victory of the Qin. While Mengzi had believed that people have an intrinsic tendency towards goodness, Xunzi believed instead that human nature has an intrinsic tendency towards evil. As his translator Burton Watson has remarked, this was not a surprising conclusion considering the ‘cutthroat age’ in which he lived.17 These contrasting world views of Mengzi and Xunzi do not greatly affect their attitudes towards war and peace; indeed, Xunzi’s approach to a large extent builds on that of his predecessor. Xunzi’s contempt for the military strategists, who by this time were playing an ever larger role, is even more pronounced than Mengzi’s. Stratagems and ruses are only useful, he says, against a state in which the relationship between ruler and subjects has completely broken down. Asked by the ruler of his native state what was the best way for a king to manage his army, Xunzi replied dismissively that ‘such detailed matters are of minor importance to Your Majesty, and may be left to the generals’.18 Xunzi shared Mengzi’s insistence that what was of real importance was to rule with humanity and justice, and that unity between the ruler and the people was the best way to resist aggression. ‘For a tyrant to try to overthrow a good ruler by force would be like throwing eggs at a rock or stirring boiling water with your finger.’19 Again following Mengzi, Xunzi approved of humanitarian intervention, but added the important requirement that if there is strong resistance then the ruler should not persist in attack.

A true king may be compelled to intervene, but he does not go to war. When a city is well guarded, he does not lay siege; when the opposing soldiers are in good shape, he does not attack them. When the ruler and his people in another state have a happy relationship, he congratulates them.20

The Mohist School

Mozi (Mo Tzu, c. 460–390 bc) was born in the early years of the Warring States period, at about at the same time as the death of Kongzi, with whom he ranks as equal in influence among the ancient political thinkers. While Kongzi and his followers are described as ru (a word conventionally translated as ‘scholar’) the Mohists were known after the name of their founder and had more humble origins.21 Collectively, the Ru-Mo came to represent a humanist, nonmilitary strand of Chinese political thought which was denounced by the Legalists and banned by the first Qin emperor, but while both tendencies deplored war and its consequences, they disagreed sharply on how to achieve peace. The Confucians believed in what might now be called ‘peace in one state’: a ruler could ensure the survival of his state by practising humane policies which won the support of his people. Mozi advocated a more internationalist policy, arguing that the rulers of all states had a common interest in peace and stability and should practice, in effect, peaceful coexistence.

Mozi’s argument is based on the concept of jian ai— usually translated as ‘universal love’—though in the fuller phrase jian xiang ai, also used by Mozi, this conveys the wider sense of ‘mutual’ (xiang) responsibility. No one will attack anyone else if all regard themselves as part of the same big (international) family. If the rulers love the states of others as if they were their own, no one will commit aggression.22 Mozi also appeals for a state ruler to take the initiative (as we might say, to act unilaterally) to break the cycle of violence.

The world has been beset by aggression and war for too long, and it is as weary of it as a school boy who is tired of playing horse. If only one of the feudal rulers could convince the others of his sincerity by an act of unilateral benefit to them! When a large state behaved improperly, he would share the sorrow of those who suffered; when another large state attacked a small one he would join in its rescue; when the defensive walls of the city of a small state were defective he would help to repair them; to those who ran out of food and clothing he would supply them; when they were short of money and silk he would share his own.23

Although Mozi would be fiercely criticized by Mengzi and Xunzi, the universalizing aspect of Mohism was incorporated by the later Confucians into their core principle of humane behaviour (ren, ‘benevolence’).24 Conversely, Mohist contemporaries of Mengzi and Xunzi shared their view that punitive action was acceptable if undertaken to punish an evil ruler and to rescue his people. Some became adept in the art of military defence against armed attack, particularly in devising techniques to resist a siege. Itinerant Mohist siege experts offered their services to the rulers of states under threat—as portrayed today in popular Chinese films such as Battle of Wits(2006), with the martial arts star Andy Lau in the leading role. This aspect of later Mohism would obscure the original thrust of Mozi’s doctrine, and his skill in translating pacifist principle into coherent political thought.

The Daoist School

Laozi lived, according to the traditional view, at the time of Kongzi: however, the ‘Sayings’ attributed to him in the book known as the Classic of the Way and Virtue (Daodejing) are a composite work probably put together in the fourth century bc, reflecting a deep distaste for the conflict-ridden world of Warring States, and a desire to rediscover the roots of harmonious existence. Only by following the Way (Dao) would conflict be avoided—as put in a vivid phrase from the Daodejing: ‘When the Way prevails, horses are used to pull dung-carts. When the Way is absent, they breed war-horses at the frontier.’25 The early Daoists did not reject the society in which they lived, although Daoism would develop in later times in a more mystical and reclusive direction. Their famous concept of wu wei, ‘doing nothing’ or ‘inaction’, was not an injunction to withdraw from society but rather to ‘do nothing’ which did not conform with what was spontaneous and harmonious in life. They were interested, writes one modern scholar, ‘in convincing the ruler in power that policies which are aggressive, authoritarian, rigid, and violent will not succeed in achieving the goal they have set themselves—namely, political control’.26 In this context Daoism disapproved deeply of war but, recognizing its reality, did not condemn it solely from a pacifist perspective.

The Daodejing warns against the unforeseen consequences of war and cautions those who give advice to the ruler not to ‘encourage him to use force to dominate the world’. Doing so will only result in ‘retribution’ (huan). It is better to keep a low profile and avoid war if possible. ‘He who is skilful in martial arts, will not be aggressive; he who does fight well, will never do so in anger; he who can conquer the enemy, will avoid giving battle; he who can command men, will put himself beneath them.’27 The ideal relationship between states is one in which they are so close that they can hear their neighbour’s chickens squawk and dogs bark, and yet they leave each other alone.28

In addition to the Daoists, there are individual pacifist thinkers of considerable interest but only known to us indirectly, such as Song Xing and Yin Wen (both active in the late fourth century bc) who are loosely associated with Mohism and appear to have advocated total pacifism. The final chapter of the Daoist work attributed to Zhuangzi (c. 300 bc )—probably added during the early Han dynasty—describes them as peripatetic scholars seeking to persuade all who would listen (and some who would not) of the benefits of peace.

They were not ashamed to suffer insult in their efforts to save the people from conflict; they sought to deter aggression and to stop fighting, in their efforts to save the world from war. Roaming over the whole land with this purpose, they argued with rulers and preached to the people, and even though their ideas were not taken up, they pressed the case loudly and would not be silent. It was said of them that ‘High and low were tired of seeing them but they insisted on showing up.’29

The Strategists

We come finally to the Art of War, a text which has attracted many commentaries—unlike those examined above—in relation to issues of peace and war. Sunzi’s text summed up the military tactics and strategy of the Warring States which built in turn on ideas already formulated in the preceding Spring and Autumn period. (Whether Sunzi was a historical person is no clearer than in the case of Laozi.) The text is not a political treatise but starts at the point where the necessity of conflict is assumed,without considering the alternatives to war. However, the exercise of force is predicated on the assumption that the ruler who is making war benefits from a ‘moral law’ which ‘causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger’. An immoral ruler who does not satisfy his people’s interests will fail regardless of his skill in the art of war30

Sunzi and the art of war
Sunzi and the art of war

It has been argued that underlying Sunzi’s work is the recognition that ‘warfare is an evil’, and that ‘the resort to military means is a political failure’, but this may be reading too much into the text.31 It remains true that the military classics attributed to Sunzi and to Wuzi, another leading strategist of the Warring States period, generally prefer a non-violent alternative where possible and attach more importance to defence than offence. To conclude, none of the major schools of thinking in the Hundred Schools, except for the Legalists, endorsed war unequivocally as an instrument of state or approved of militarism; they believed rather that victory through violent means was more likely than not to destroy the order it sought to impose. Overall, war was a contested issue during the period of the Warring States. As one study on the ethics of warfare during this time has concluded, China produced ‘both moralists and Machiavellians. If the moralists never persuaded rulers to follow their teachings, the Machiavellians never extinguished peoples’ drive to place kindness or, at least, utilitarianism above the wild brutality of war.’32 The legacy of this for future history was that unity of the Chinese nation became prized above all because it ensured domestic peace. Warfare, in the judgement of the great historian of China, John King Fairbank, was ‘disesteemed’ and the values of the civil (wen) triumphed over the military (wu)—those of ‘literate culture over brute force’. For the emperor to resort to war was an admission that he had failed to deliver good government.33


The early Chinese classics, as in the case of the Greek classics considered elsewhere in this volume, suggest an evolution towards a more considered view of whether war is inevitable or indeed desirable. There is a shift over time from a single-minded focus on the martial virtues—wu—under the Shang dynasty to viewing these as complementary to the civil virtues—wen—as the rulers of the Zhou kingdoms wrestle with problems of statehood. This duality of wen and wu would become central to later Chinese philosophical thinking on peace and war.34 We may also detect a corresponding shift in the Greek experience from an uncomplicated emphasis on the achievement of fame (kleos) by feats of arms in the Mycenaean age, which probably survives in some of the battle scenes of the Iliad, to a greater appreciation of the dire effects of war, as conveyed in Homer’s more nuanced elaboration of the Troy myth.

The Chinese and the Greek texts also suggest a growth of scepticism towards the operational reality of the gods, whose intervention comes to be seen as of less consequence than human activity. By the middle of the Spring and Autumn period, heaven is still invoked, but on a pragmatic basis. Yuri Pines has noted that ‘if a leader succeeds, then that must mean he is backed by heaven, not that he will only succeed if he is backed by heaven’. Rulers are seen as needing to ‘concentrate on human affairs rather than seeking deities’ support’.35 The role of the gods in the Homeric epics is also problematic: when Athena and Apollo agree to halt the bloodshed temporarily by suggesting a duel (Iliad, Book 7), Hector issues a challenge which is accepted by Ajax. Yet the two gods have not told anyone to organize the duel! Homer merely says that one of Priam’s sons was able to ‘divine what the gods have agreed’ and hence encouraged Hector to issue his challenge. We need to ask, it has been suggested, ‘at what level of seriousness or acceptance the Homeric deities were understood. Did the Greeks believe in the Gods of their myths?’36 If war can no longer be simply attributed to, or blamed upon, the gods, this will require a higher degree of human responsibility for the choice between war and peace.

By the time of the Chinese Warring States and the Greek city-states, the decision to go to war had been to some extent democratized or at least opened up to a degree of debate. The so-called philosophers of the Hundred Schools function more as political advisers, ready to give an opinion (and presumably rewarded for it) when consulted by the contending rulers. Today we might regard their schools as political think-tanks. In Greece we know that there were both peace and war parties in the assemblies of the city-states, though the surviving records (principally Thucydides) obscure the record of debate by giving preference to the argument for war. The debate was also carried on, less directly but often more powerfully, on the stage of comedy and tragedy, as we can tell even from the very small number of surviving plays.

The discussions on war and peace which I have described above may be phrased in a remote Greek or Chinese idiom, but they address issues which ring true today. As we have seen, many modern scholars now take a less simplistic view of the role of war in ancient Greek culture. One striking development has been the reappraisal of the Iliad and of many Greek plays in the light of our experience of modern combat—particularly that of the Vietnam War which, through the new medium of television, played so vividly on our consciousness. Works such as Jonathan Shay’s Achilles in Vietnam, a study of the psychological devastation of war which compares the soldiers of the Iliad with Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, have opened up this new ground.37

The view that there was a ‘pacifist bias’ in the Chinese tradition of government, as suggested by Fairbank and Joseph Needham, is a matter of academic controversy today with a contemporary political edge.38 Although Mao Zedong in his later years extolled the Legalist approach and condemned the Confucians, China’s rulers in the twenty-first century advocate building a ‘harmonious’ society at home, and a peaceful world abroad, in terms which appeal explicitly to this presumed tradition of ‘peace and harmony’ in Chinese history. Chinese Buddhism has also regained sway in many parts of China—although in Tibetan areas it still suffers from restriction because of its association with the exiled Dalai Lama. In many areas, Temples have been rebuilt and images and posters of bodhisattvas (‘enlightened beings’) are often seen. These include the widely venerated Guan Yin, who conveys the spirit of compassion, and Tara, ‘the one who saves’, who offers peace and prosperity. Official pronouncements have invoked both Buddhism and Confucianism as evidence of China’s commitment since ancient times to a ‘harmonious world’.39 How far this is true, or relevant today, is a matter for debate between China’s friends and critics in assessing the current and future trajectory of Chinese foreign policy.

John Gittings was for many years chief foreign leader-writer and East Asia Editor at The Guardian, and is now on the editorial board of the Oxford International Encyclopedia of Peace and a research associate of the Centre of Chinese Studies at the School of Oriental & African Studies. After working at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, he began reporting on China during the Cultural Revolution, and later covered major events such as the Beijing massacre and the Hong Kong handover. He has also written extensively on the politics of the cold war and was active in the International Confederation for Disarmament and Peace. His last book was The Changing Face of China: From Mao to Market (2005), also published by Oxford University Press. His latest book, from which this material is excerpted, is The Glorious Art of Peace: From the Iliad to Iraq (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

Recommended citation: John Gittings, 'The Conflict Between War and Peace in Early Chinese Thought,' The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 10, Issue 12, No 5, March 19, 2012.


1 This is an edited extract from chapter 2 of John Gittings, The Glorious Art of Peace: From the Iliad to Iraq (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012),  62-72.

2 Mengzi, 4A. 14 (Harvard-Yenching concordance number).  [All translations are by John Gittings unless attributed to another source].

3 Shang Yang, ‘The Book of Lord Shang’, trans. in Robert Wilkinson, ed., The Art of War (Ware: Wordsworth, 1998), 214.

4 Tao Hanzhang, ‘Commentary on The Art of War’, in Wilkinson, ibid. , 130.

5 Laozi, Daodejing, ch. 30.

6 Mengzi, 4a. 14.

7 Mozi, Book 5, 2. 2.

8 Yuri Pines, Envisioning Eternal Empire: Chinese Political Thought of the Warring States Era (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2009), 201.

9 Zuo Qiuming, Chronicle of Zuo (henceforth cited as Chronicle), ‘Duke Ai’, 11th Year.

10 Confucius, The Analects, trans. D. C. Lau (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979), 26.

11 Kongzi [Confucius], Lunyu (Analects), 12. 7

12 Ibid ., 16. 1.

13 Mengzi, 6B. 9.

14 Ibid., 1B. 11, 7B. 4.

15 W. A. C. H. Dobson, Mencius: A New Translation (London: Oxford University Press, 1963), 124.

16 Mengzi, 7B. 2. Inconsistencies in Mengzi’s position would probably be clarified if we had his own writings rather than a collection of episodes, anecdotes, and sayings recorded by his disciples and compiled later.

17 Burton Watson, Hsun Tzu: Basic Writings (New York: Columbia University Press, 1963), 4–5.

18 Xunzi, 15. 5, 7. I have amended Xunzi’s comment on military matters to follow the same wording as when he refers back to it in 15. 21, i.e. fanzai yu jun(everything to do with the army), instead of fan zai da wang (everything to do with the ruler).

19 Xunzi, 15. 5.

20 Ibid., 15. 16. I have translated this more than usually terse passage quite loosely.

21 The word ru may originally have had the derogatory meaning of a ‘weakling’ who did not take up arms: Needham, Joseph, Science and Civilisation in China, vol. ii (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956), 31. The Confucians belonged mainly to the class of functionaries and specialists whose positions became less secure during the break-up of the feudal courts. Mozi may have begun life as a wheelwright, and the original meaning of mo was a captive engaged in hard labour.

22 Mozi, 4, 1. 4.

23 Ibid., 5, 3. 6.

24 The Confucian Gongsun Hong in the Han dynasty would define ren as ‘extending benefit and eliminating harm, inclusively caring without partiality’: Chris Fraser, ‘Mohism’, section 9 (revised March 2010) in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

25 Laozi, op. cit. n. 5 above, ch. 46.

26 Roger Ames, The Art of Rulership: A Study in Ancient Chinese Political Thought (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1983), 39.

27 Laozi, op. cit. n. 5 above, ch. 31, ch. 68.

28 Ibid., ch. 80.

29 Zhuangzi, 33. Fragments of both scholars have been collected by John Knoblock at Fragments of Song Xing. The Logician Gongsun Long (best known for his sophistry in defending the proposition that ‘a white horse is not a horse’) also advocated the peaceful settlement of disputes. The Annals of Lu Buwei contains an anecdote in which his clever use of logic undermines the Qin ruler’s attempt to persuade the state of Zhao to join him in an aggressive war. See the entry on Gongsun Long at New World Encyclopedia.

30 See further Paul Gregor, ‘War and Peace in Classical Chinese Thought, with Particular Regard to Chinese Religions’, in Perry Schmidt-Leukel, ed., War and Peace in World Religions (London: SCM Press, 2004), 72–5.

31 James Stroble, ‘Justification of War in Ancient China’, Asian Philosophy, 8: 3 (1998), 165–90.

32 Thomas Kane, ‘Inauspicious Tools: Chinese Thought on the Morality of Warfare’, in Paul Robinson, ed., Just War in Comparative Perspective (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003), ch. 9, 151–2.

33 John King Fairbank, ‘Introduction: Varieties of the Chinese Military Experience’, in Fairbank and Frank A. Kierman, eds., Chinese Ways in Warfare (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974), 4, 25. Fairbank’s approach is shared by Joseph Needham in his introduction to Science and Civilisation in China, vol. v, pt 6 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

34 Christopher Rand, ‘The Role of Military Thought in Early Chinese Intellectual History’ (Harvard University, unpublished PhD, 1977), 23.

35 Pines, op. cit. n. 8 above, 65–6, 78.

36 Emily Kearns, ‘The Gods in the Homeric Epics’, in Robert Fowler, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Homer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 59–73 at 70.

37 Jonathan Shay, Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (New York: Scribner, 1994). See also Lawrence Tritle, From Melos to My Lai: War and Survival (London: Routledge, 2000), and Robert Meagher, Herakles Gone Mad: Rethinking Heroism in an Age of Endless War (Northampton, Mass.: Olive Branch Press, 2006.)

38 For some contrary views, see Ralph Sawyer, ‘Chinese Warfare: The Paradox of the Unlearned Lesson’, American Diplomacy, 4: 4 (1999) ; Andrew Scobell, China and Strategic Culture (Carlisle, Pa.: US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, May 2002).

39 Li Shijia, ‘Harmonious World: China’s Ancient Philosophy for New International Order’, People’s Daily Online, 2 October 2007. Also ‘China Supports Buddhism in Building a Harmonious World’, People’s Daily Online, 13 April 2006.

The 2019 Kyoko Selden Memorial Translation Prize in Japanese Literature, Thought, and Society

The Department of Asian Studies at Cornell University is pleased to announce the 2019 prize honoring the life and work of our colleague, Kyoko Selden. The prize will pay homage to the finest achievements in Japanese literature, thought, and society through the medium of translation. Kyoko Selden's translations and writings ranged widely across such realms as Japanese women writers, Japanese art and aesthetics, the atomic bomb experience, Ainu and Okinawan life and culture, historical and contemporary literature, poetry and prose, and early education (the Suzuki method). Recognizing the breadth of Japanese writings, classical and contemporary, and with the aim of making such materials more widely available, we ask that prize submissions be of unpublished translations. Collaborative translations are welcomed. In order to encourage classroom use and wide dissemination of the winning entries, prize-winning translations will be made freely available on the web. The winning translations will be published online at The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus.

Prize selections will take into account both the quality of the translation and the significance of the original work. In cases where a text already published in English is deemed worthy of retranslation, new translations of significant texts are accepted (please provide date and place of earlier publication). Applicants should submit the following hard copies to the Kyoko Selden Memorial Translation Prize, Department of Asian Studies, 350 Rockefeller Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853:

  • 1 copy of an unpublished translation
  • 1 copy of a statement of up to 1,000 words explaining the significance of the text. Although we do not require that the translator has already obtained permission to publish the translation from the copyright holder, please include in the statement information about whether preliminary inquiries have been made or whether or not the work is in the public domain.
  • 1 printed copy of the original Japanese text
  • A brief c.v. of the translator
  • In addition, please send electronic copies of all the above as attachments to

The maximum length of a submission is 20,000 words. In case

of translation of longer works, submit an excerpt of up to 20,000 words. Repeat submissions are welcomed. Please note that

the closing date for the prize competition this year will be August 1, 2019. For the 2019 competition, one prize of $1,500 will be awarded in two different categories:

1) to an already published translator; 2) to an unpublished translator. The winners will be informed by November 1, 2019.

For further information, please visit the Asian Studies website or send questions to