Mo Di, the founder of Mohism, (c. 468 –376 B.C.), also called Mo Zi, lived in the State of Song during the Spring and Autumn Period. He first followed Confucianism, but he disliked its elaborate rites so he founded a new school. He advocated arduous practice and obedience to disciplines so that “the starved are fed, the poor are clothed, workers get rest, and disorder is controlled.”
Mohist thought and practice reflected the people’s urgent demand for food and clothing in the social turbulence of the time. Mo Di said: “The five cereals are what the people rely on and what the emperor wants to grow. Therefore, if there is nothing the people rely on, there is nothing the emperor wants to grow.” He also said: “Food is the treasure of the nation.”
Mo Zi said: “Why does a farmer leave home early and return late instead of being idle, farming and gardening diligently to accumulate more grain and beans? The answer is: If he works hard, he is sure to get rich; if he does not work hard, he is sure to get poor; if he works hard, he is sure to get fed; if he does nor work hard, he is sure to starve. So he dares not be idle.”
Driven by their need for food, people had to work hard. However, because of heavy exploitation, “People have insufficient property, and countless people have died of cold and hunger.” Mo Zi called for “eliminating unnecessary expenditures,” and being moderate in food and drink. He said the rulers “extort heavy taxes on the common people and eat beef, mutton, pork, chicken, steamed turtle, and roasted fish. A hundred utensils are used in the big states, and 10 utensils in the small states. Delicious dishes are so numerous in a square Zhang (a little more than 100 square feet) that it is impossible for the eyes to see, the hands to touch, or the mouth to taste all of them. In winter they freeze, in summer they rot. The emperor eats like this, so do his attendants. The wealthy live in luxury and the poor are cold and starved. Although you want no trouble, it is impossible. If Your Majesty really wants peace in the land, you must practice frugality in your food.”
When the king was extravagant, his attendants were likewise, causing great waste because a person can only eat a limited amount. When delicious foods were spread over a square Zhang, it was merely for show and had no actual meaning. Mo Zi stressed the relationship between diet and health and was against pursuing delicacies; it was enough if food could “replenish my energy and vigor, strengthen my muscles, and sharpen my eyes and ears.” His ideal daily diet for the king was “either millet ir broomcorn, and either a thick soup or a big piece of meat.” In other words, one dish of staple food and one dish of non-staple food. The dinnerware should be simple pottery. All this reflected the Mohist school’s wish for simple living, but it could not be achieved in reality.