This just in from a Reuters profile of Chen Guangcheng:
From Chinese history, Chen said he admired 5th-century BC philosopher Mo Tzu, and Taoism founder Lao Tzu, the works of which had also been read aloud to him.
I must say it's great to see a reference to Mozi (Mo Tzu), an odd man out in the cannons of Chinese thought. He, and his followers, were extraodinarily influential in pre-Qin times, but they fall out of the picture for centuries until being "rediscovered" in the Qing.
And it makes perfect sense that Chen, a man seeking consistent application of the law to all Chinese equally, would be inspired by Mozi. Perhaps the most famous concept associated with Mozi is jianai - 兼爱. For a long time the most common translation, coming from Burton Watson, had been "universal love." This always struck me as a bit too hippy-ish. Ivanhoe and Van Norden render it: "impartial caring," which strikes me as better. While Fraser goes with "inclusive care," also good.
What is common to all of these translations is a divergence from Confucianism, which, generally, tells us that our obligations to our family and closest relations are of greater importance than our obligations to others outside of those more immediate social networks. That is not to say that Confucianism does not recognize obligations to strangers; it does. Rather, it formulates an ethical hierarchy of sorts, positing the fulfillment of family duties as more important than fulfillment of duties outside the family.
Mozi rejects such ethical particularism. Here is a sample:
Our teacher Mozi says, “If people regarded other people’s sates in the same way that they regard their own, who then would incite their own state to attack that of another? For one would do for others as one would do for oneself. If people regarded other people’s cities in the same way that they regard their own, who then would incite their own city to attack that of another? For one would do for others as one would do for oneself. If people regarded other people’s families in the same way that they regard their own, who then would incite their own family to attack that of another? For one would do for others as one would do for oneself. And so if states and cities do not attack one another and families do not wreak havoc upon and steal from one another, would this be a harm to the world or a benefit? Of course one must say it is a benefit to the world.” (Ivanhoe and Van Norden translation, 68-69)
Classical golden rule thinking: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Of course, Confucius also articulated the golden rule, though in the negative: don't do to others what you would not want done to yourself. The general sense, positive or negative, is the same. The key difference, however, is that Confucius qualifies the universality of ethical reciprocity by his focus on family-first morality.
Mozi is is more universal, more inclusive. He rejects the idea that family obligations should always trump ourmore general obligation to maintain equal concern and treatment for all, an idea that comes close to modern, liberal notions of equality.
But Mozi is not a liberal. Far from it. He advocated for a centralized, monocratic administrative system run by a strong leader who rigorously enforced political unity. Ultimately, Mozi's politics is about the suppression of politics in the name of authoritarian stability. I suspect these are not quite the aspects of Mozi's thinking that Chen value. But who knows? Chen has not experienced the dynamic, chaotic give-and-take of democratic politics. His stay in the US will certainly be instructive in this regard.
So, I guessing Chen like Mozi for his inclusive/impartial care doctrine.
As to Daoism, it is easy to see how Chen would be drawn to Zhuangzi and the Daodejing. Both texts value individuals at the margins of society: the weak, the poor, the disabled. They also put forth powerful critiques of the powerful and the rich. As here in Daodejing 75:
The people are starving, and it's only because you leaders feast on taxes that they're starving.
The people are impossible to rule, and it's only because you leaders are masters of extenuation that they're impossible to rule.
The people take death lightly, and it's only because you leaders crave lavish pleasures that they take death lightly,
they who act without concern for life: it's a wisdom far beyond treasuring life.
Sounds very much like something Chen would say himself...