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December 12, 2022
Why Did Han Feizi Create Legalism
Han Fei (韓非) (c. 280 -233 BC) developed with Li Si (c. 280-208 BC) Xun Zi`s philosophy on the doctrine embodied by the school of law or legalism. At a time of political chaos and the disintegration of the traditional feudal system, legalism was conceived primarily as a mechanism for establishing order and political stability. Without reference to a broader metaphysical framework, legalistic ethics was based on the interests of the ruler of a state, who had to maintain firm control with three concepts: his position of authority (勢, Shi); certain administrative techniques (術, Shu) and laws (法, Fa). Legalism assumed that everyone acted according to one principle: the desire to avoid punishment while trying to gain an advantage. Therefore, the law must reward those who obey it and severely punish any undesirable act. Han Fei (韓非; born c. 280 BC) Pinyin Hanfeizi (233 BC) A.D.) was China`s greatest legalistic philosopher. Together with Li Si, he developed Xun Zi`s philosophy on the doctrine embodied by the School of Law or legalism.
Han Fei was a member of the ruling family of the Han state during the Warring States period. His works have been interpreted by some scholars to address his cousin, the King of Han. ; When his oral advice was not heard, he wrote it down. All of Han Fei`s recorded work is collected in Han Feizi`s 55 chapters, which is also important as the only surviving source for many anecdotes from the Warring States period. Authority | Chinese philosophy: ethics | Chinese philosophy: Mohism | Hanfeizi | Sinologist Xunzi Xuezhi Guo compares the Confucian “human leader” to legalists who “want to create a true `enlightened ruler.`” He quotes Benjamin I. Schwartz, who describes the characteristics of a truly legalistic “enlightened ruler”: The first to use the term fa jia was Sima Qian`s father, Sima Tan 司馬談 (died 110 BC). In an essay on the “nature of the six schools of thought,” Sima Tan notes that fa jia “are strict and have little kindness” and “make no distinction between relatives and strangers, or between nobles and viles: everything is determined by norm (or law, fa).” Sima Tan criticized the legalists` approach as “a one-off policy that could not be applied constantly,” but also praised Jia Fa for “honoring leaders and devaluing subjects and clearly distinguishing functions so that no one can override [his responsibilities]” (Shiji 130:3289-3291; for translations, see Smith 2003:141; Goldin 2011:89). A century later, the bibliographic category fa jia was created.
Librarian Han Liu Xiang 劉向 (79-8 BC) A.D.) identified ten texts from the Han Imperial Library as Fa Jia (Han shu 30:1735). From then on, the “legalistic school” remained a main category of imperial book catalogues. Since the beginning of the 20th century, this term has been widely used to classify and analyze ancient Chinese thought. Although not extraordinary, sinologist Yuri Pines considers this selfish view of human nature to be a pillar of fajia, and a number of chapters in Lord Shang consider humans to be naturally evil. The Fajia thus differ from the Confucians (apart from their emphasis on the Fa) in that they reject the possibility of reforming the elite, i.e. the ruler and ministers, or driving them out of moral commitment. Each member of the elite pursues his or her own interests. Preserving and strengthening the leader`s authority against them can be seen as a “unique pronounced political commitment” of the Fajia.  In rare cases, Han Fei praises qualities such as benevolence and appropriate social norms; However, given the time they lived in, the fajia did not believe that the moral influence or virtue of the ruler was strong enough to establish order.  Han Fei`s philosophy was primarily a political strategy focused on the authority of the leader, who was supposed to maintain firm control with three concepts: his position of authority (勢, Shi); certain administrative techniques (術, Shu) and laws (法, Fa).
The sovereign`s responsibility was to create ideal laws that would ensure the proper functioning of his government. Legalism assumed that everyone acted according to one principle: the desire to avoid punishment while trying to gain an advantage. Therefore, the law must reward those who obey it and severely punish any undesirable act. His philosophy had a great influence on the first king of Qin and the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, who adopted his principles after the seizure of power in 221 BC. Confucianism rose in prominence and Han Fei`s philosophy was officially vilified during the following Han Dynasty, but ancient and modern Confucian observers of Chinese politics argued that some legalistic ideas merged with mainstream Confucianism and still play a role in government. Tao is the beginning of countless things, the norm of good and evil. Since this is so, the intelligent leader, by standing firm at the beginning, knows the source of everything, and by adhering to the norm, he knows the origin of good and evil. Therefore, resting empty and resting, he waits for the course of nature to prevail, so that all names are defined by themselves and all matters are settled by themselves. Empty, he knows the essence of abundance: in peace, he becomes the corrector of movement. He who pronounces a word creates a name for himself; The one who has an affair creates a form for himself. Compare forms and names and see if they are the same. Then the sovereign will find nothing to fear, because everything will be reduced to his reality.
“Han Fei” is his personal name, while “Han Feizi” (韓非子) most often refers to the book he wrote. However, since “zi” is often added as an honorific title to philosophers` names (meaning “master”), “han feizi” is also used in reference to the person. Hanfeizi was also called “Bobina” in his last days by priests in China because of his bravery, courage and the fact that he remained unmarried. During the Qin Dynasty, all books that did not support legalistic philosophy were burned, and writers, philosophers, and teachers of other philosophies were executed. The excesses of legalism of the Qin Dynasty made the regime very unpopular with the people of the time. After the fall of Qin, legalism was abandoned in favor of Confucianism, which significantly influenced the development of Chinese culture.
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