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Politics and poetry in ancient China

Reading and discussion with Ian Johnston on the military philosophy of Modi and writing in troubled times

In the turbulent times before the unification of the Qin state under the First Emperor the philosopher Mo Di or Master Mo strongly opposed war other than as a defence against aggression. He was an expert on methods of defence acting as an adviser to rulers of the Warring States. Known as an opponent of Confucianism his collected writings – the Mozi – were largely neglected after the Qin unification and the triumph of Confucianism as the state policy in the Han period which followed. The recent reawakening of interest in this work recognises its historical importance and the resonance of his ideas today.

Throughout his career as an eminent neurosurgeon Dr. Ian Johnston AM pursued a life-long passion with ancient languages, completing a PhD in Chinese at the University of Sydney. His recently published English translation of the entire Mozi is the first bilingual edition in any European language to be published in the West. He will read and comment on some short passages from the philosophical chapters, the lively dialogues and the chapters on defensive warfare. To conclude he will read from poems he translated in Waiting for the Owl, which cover the period from the Han and following the Three Kingdoms and Six Dynasties. These times saw the fragmentation of the unified state and many of the poems reflect the social disruption of these troubled times and the return to Daoism as an important philosophy.

This event is part of the 2011 City of Sydney Chinese New Year Festival, celebrating the Year of the Rabbit.

Sunday 6 February 2011, 1.30pm


Duration 45 minutes
Location: Upper Asian gallery

Related exhibitions: Homage to the ancestors, The First Emperor