Legalism (Chinese philosophy)

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Statue of pivotal reformer Shang Yang
Literal meaningFa is "way of doing" and "standard", Jia "school of thought", but also "specialist" or "expert", the usage in modern Chinese.[1][2][3]: 59 

Fajia,[2][4] often termed Legalism,[2][1] is one of six classical schools of thought in Chinese philosophy. Literally meaning (administrative) methods/standards (Fa; 法) "house" or "school" (Jia),[1][5]: 93  the Fa "school" represents several branches of what Feng Youlan called "men of methods",[6] in the West often termed "realist" statesmen, who played foundational roles in the construction of the bureaucratic Chinese empire.[7] The earliest persona of the Fajia may be considered Guan Zhong (720–645 BCE). Although lacking a recognized founder,[8] Chinese historians commonly regard Li Kui (455–395 BCE) as the first "Legalist" philosopher. Sinologist Herrlee G. Creel regarded the combination of administrator Shen Buhai (400–337 BCE) and "Legalist" Shang Yang (390–338 BCE), syncretized under Han Fei (c. 240 BCE), as becoming what would historically be known as the Fajia, with the former two representing it's founding branches.

Calling them the "theorists of the state", Sinologist Jacques Gernet considered "those later christened 'Legalists' (Fajia)" to be the most important intellectual tradition of the fourth and third centuries BCE.[9] With the Han dynasty taking over the governmental institutions of the Qin dynasty almost unchanged,[10][5]: 105  the Qin to Tang dynasty may be characterized by the "centralizing, statist tendencies" of the "Legalist" tradition.[11] Leon Vandermeersch and Vitaly Rubin would assert not a single state measure throughout Chinese history as having been without "Legalist" influence.[12]

Dubbed by A. C. Graham the "great synthesizer of 'Legalism'", Han Fei is regarded as their finest writer, if not the greatest statesman in Chinese history (Hu Shi). Often considered the "culminating" or "greatest" of the "Legalist's" texts,[13] the Han Feizi is believed to contain the first commentaries on the Dao De Jing. Sun Tzu's The Art of War incorporates both a Daoist philosophy of inaction and impartiality, and a "Legalist" system of punishment and rewards, recalling Han Fei's use of the concepts of power (勢, shì) and technique (術, shù).[14] Temporarily coming to overt power as an ideology with the ascension of the Qin dynasty,[15]: 82  the First Emperor of Qin and succeeding emperors often followed the template set by Han Fei.[16]

Though the origins of the Chinese administrative system cannot be traced to any one person, prime minister Shen Buhai may have had more influence than any other in the construction of the merit system, and might be considered its founder, if not valuable as a rare pre-modern example of abstract theory of administration. Creel saw in Shen Buhai the "seeds of the civil service examination", and perhaps the first political scientist.[17][5]: 94 [18]: 4–5 

Concerned largely with administrative and sociopolitical innovation, Shang Yang was a leading reformer of his time.[19][15]: 83  His numerous reforms transformed the peripheral Qin state into a militarily powerful and strongly centralized kingdom. Much of "Legalism" was "the development of certain ideas" that lay behind his reforms, helping lead Qin to ultimate conquest of the other states of China in 221 BCE.[20][21]

Taken as "progressive," the Fajia were "rehabilitated" in the twentieth century, with reformers regarding it as a precedent for their opposition to conservative Confucian forces and religion.[22] As a student, Mao Zedong championed Shang Yang, and towards the end of his life hailed the anti-Confucian legalist policies of the Qin dynasty.[23]

Historical background[edit]

The Zhou dynasty was divided between the masses and the hereditary noblemen. The latter were placed to obtain office and political power, owing allegiance to the local prince, who owed allegiance to the Son of Heaven.[24] The dynasty operated according to the principles of Li and punishment. The former was applied only to aristocrats, the latter only to commoners.[25]

The earliest Zhou kings kept a firm personal hand on the government, depending on their personal capacities, personal relations between ruler and minister, and upon military might. The technique of centralized government being so little developed, they deputed authority to regional lords, almost exclusively clansmen. When the Zhou kings could no longer grant new fiefs, their power began to decline, vassals began to identify with their own regions. Aristocratic sublineages became very important, by virtue of their ancestral prestige wielding great power and proving a divisive force. The political structures late Springs-and-Autumns period (770–453 BCE) progressively disintegrated, with schismatic hostility and "debilitating struggles among rival polities."[26]

In the Spring and Autumn period, rulers began to directly appoint state officials to provide advice and management, leading to the decline of inherited privileges and bringing fundamental structural transformations as a result of what may be termed "social engineering from above".[3]: 59  Most Warring States period thinkers tried to accommodate a "changing with the times" paradigm, and each of the schools of thought sought to provide an answer for the attainment of sociopolitical stability.[19]

Confucianism, commonly considered to be China's ruling ethos, was articulated in opposition to the establishment of legal codes, the earliest of which were inscribed on bronze vessels in the sixth century BCE.[27] For the Confucians, the Classics provided the preconditions for knowledge.[28] Orthodox Confucians tended to consider organizational details beneath both minister and ruler, leaving such matters to underlings,[5]: 107  and furthermore wanted ministers to control or at least admonish the ruler.[29]: 359 

Concerned with "goodness", the Confucians became the most prominent, followed by the proto-Daoists and the administrative thought that Sima Tan termed the Fajia. But the Daoists focused on the development of inner powers, with little respect for mundane authority[30][31] and both the Daoists and Confucians held a regressive view of history, that the age was a decline from the era of the Zhou kings.[32]

Invention of the Fa School[edit]

Sima Qian

Less well defined compared to Confucianism and Mohism, it is unclear when what would be termed the Fajia came to be regarded as an intellectual faction. Although one might assume an ancient arcanum, with Guan Zhong (720–645) later included among them, it may not have been considered a coherent ideology until Han Fei, only forming a complex of ideas around the time of Li Si (280–208 BCE), elder advisor to the First Emperor. It was probably never a school in the sense of the Confucians or Mohists, or an organized or self-aware movement at all.

Along with Daoism it was only taken to be a school starting with the Han dynasty historians who created the traditional labels and categorized their thinkers. Modernly, Fa, as representing measurement standards used in the administration, can be seen to have precedent in the logic discussions of the Mohists who used the term. But with formal similarities between the two, and Sima Tan and Sima Qian portraying it as a subset of their own supposedly older and superior, Daoistic Huang-Lao syncretism, the theorists were often supposed by the Chinese and early scholarship to have studied and been rooted in Daoism. Modern scholarship does not take Daodejing to be as ancient as its portrayal, but arguments attempting to root the Han Feizi in a proto-Daoism can be seen within scholarship.

Han dynasty historiographers Sima Tan and Sima Qian essentially invented the so-called Fa-school or Fajia in the Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji). Although Sima Tan describes the Fajia as a school, he does not actually name anyone under it, or for that matter under any of the other schools. This is partly because they were intended to represent schools of thought, not groups of people. Although usually referring to the particular Warring States period philosophers, inclusion among the Fajia is purely ideological and essentially arbitrary. Texts commonly class Guan Zhong and Shen Dao under Daojia before they are later classed under Fajia. The much later Guanzi contains proto-Daoist texts, the outer Zhuangzi takes Shen Dao as Daoistic, and the Shiji claims that Shen Dao studied its own ideology.

Sima Qian says:

The fajia are strict and have little kindness, but their alignment of the divisions between lord and subject, superior and inferior, cannot be improved upon. … Fajia do not distinguish between kin and stranger or differentiate between noble and base; all are judged as one by their fa. Thus they sunder the kindnesses of treating one’s kin as kin and honoring the honorable. It is a policy that could be practiced for a time, but not applied for long; thus I say: “they are strict and have little kindness.” But as for honoring rulers and derogating subjects, and clarifying social divisions and offices so that no one is able to overstep them—none of the Hundred Schools could improve upon this.

With the synthesis of Han Fei as precedent, rather, the Records generalize Shang Yang (Gongsun), Shen Buhai and Han Fei as adherents of the doctrine of “performance and title” (xing ming 刑名). The doctrine of Han Fei originating in Shen Buhai, it involves personnel selection through the usage of proposals to establish offices (names), comparing them with results. Han Fei includes Shen Buhai under his doctrine of Shu (techniques) alongside his own advocation of harsh punishments, and the First Emperor lists Xing-Ming amongst his accomplishments.

But although the administration of Gongsun, remembered posthumously for harsh punishments, was otherwise pioneering, he did not practice the administrative method of Shen Buhai, and Shen Buhai practiced an earlier, less automated version lacking punishment.

Sima Qian names reformers like Jia Yi as an advocate of Shen Buhai and Gongsun, even though Jia Yi wrote the Disquisition Finding Fault with the Qin, and probably was not an advocate of Gongsun. Thus, we find Jia Yi exiled to the southern Changsha Kingdom under factional pressure. The historiographer Liu Xin (c. 50 BCE – 23 CE), as a kind of follow up work, assigned the schools as having originated in various ancient departments, portraying the Fajia as having originated in what Youlan (1948) translates as the Ministry of Justice, emphasizing strictness, reward and punishment.

With the Han dynasty shifting favor from Huang-Lao to Confucianism, the orthodox interpretation of the Fajia becomes Confucian and more critical. It would "be quite popular and respectable to oppose the harsh use of penal law"(Creel), and apart from disliking the managerial controls of Xing-Ming itself, those otherwise disliked by the Confucian orthodoxy, with some philosophical association, would also often be slurred as Fajia, like the otherwise Confucianistic reformers Guan Zhong and Xunzi, and the Huang Lao themselves.

Although Sima Qian appeared to be aware of the differences between Shen Buhai and Gongsun, Creel suggests that this would seem to disappear among scholars as early as the Western Han dynasty. Han Fei, Gongsun, and Shen Buhai are censured, and their administrative methods are obscured as penal law. Apart from fragments the work of Shen Buhai disappears from history, and "Legalists" are recruited under Confucian syncretism.

Although its proponents were often of the Shen Buhai branch, and Gongsun Hong, who founds the civil service, studied Xing-Ming, it becomes known as penal law within the administration. Administrative methods, Shen Buhai moderates and even otherwise Confucians are all slurred as Fajia depending on factional interests, becoming known as such.[33] [34] [35]

Major categories of interpretation[edit]

From Legalism to Mohism[edit]

John Austin (legal philosopher)

Varying between actual interpretation premodernly, and translational convention more modernly, the various Sinologists, particularly older one's like Arthur Waley (1939 Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China), but also more modernly Graham (1989 Disputers of the Dao), may employ Legalism or Realism in reference to the thinkers the Chinese traditionally termed Fajia; "Realists called in Chinese the Fajia, School of law... we might call Amoralists"(Waley) or "when Sima Tan classified the philosophers under his Six Schools he grouped the teachers of realistic statecraft under a 'School of Law' (Fa chia), for which the current English abbreviation is 'Legalists'"(Graham)". This is not to say that either were not respected major scholars.

Joseph Needham's (1956) Science and Civilization took the "central conception" of Fa as "positive law", expounded with "great clarity by Gongsun Yang in the Shangjunshu". Kenneth Winston (2005) argues against Peerenboom 1993 as Legal positivism's late notable comparative; Peerenboom compares the clarity and promulgation of Fa as law divorced from morality. While still including law as a variety of Fa, the Oxford (2011) thus presents the term Legalism as having interpreted Fa primarily as law, where anciently it did not specifically represent law. With Sinologist Chad Hansen (1992) as reference, the Oxford roots Fa in the easily applied Standards (Fa) and models of the Mohists, still taking law as a kind, being conceptually closer to performance standards represented by tools providing shape, weight and length.

The term Legalism still retains some conventional use, for instance in Adventures in Chinese Realism (2022). Hence, it is necessary to engage in some distinction as to whether the speaker is simply using it conventionally, or if they are (or were) engaging in Legalist interpretation. Those who did not accept the interpretation premodernly, namely Creel and Hansen, did not use the term, while Goldin and Pines distance themselves from it for disciplinary reasons.

In contrast to its term, even the early scholarship of Feng Youlan (1948) considered it incorrect to associate the thinkers with jurisprudence, describing them as teaching methods of organization and leadership for the governing of large areas. The term Legalist is apparently of unknown origin. Creel saw it to "contrast strangely" with Han Fei blaming Shen Buhai, as the opposite of his doctrine from Shang Yang, for concentrating all of his attention on administrative technique and neglecting law. Given its English history, Creel suggested the term may be Franciscan derived as a kind of mutual sympathy, essentially an inaccurate, distorting slur giving "undue prominence" to the harsh penalties of Shang Yang from a time when Shen Buhai had been largely forgotten.

Professor Tao Jiang (2021) regards part of Mr. Creel's work as the differentiation of Shen Buhai, Fa and the Fajia from the Legalist interpretation. Making a study of the Shen Buhai fragments, seeing remarkable similarities between the Han Feizi and the fragments, noting imperial China as never fully accepting the role of law and jurisprudence, taking the managerial Shen Buhai branch as predominantly influential, and noting the Shangjunshu as also sometimes using Fa administratively, in Creel's opinion, while one might say that the members of the Fajia played a great role in the basic establishment of traditional Chinese government, one cannot say that Legalists did. Moreover, their branches often had different interests historically, with Shen's branch often opposing penal punishment. Goldin suggests similiar religious origins for the English term.

Discussed elsewhere, although Hansen's historical materials are more commonly referenced, his 1994 Fa (Standards: Laws) and Meaning Changes in Chinese Philosophy amusingly locates Legalist interpretation in translation; Chinese characters are held to change meaning more often than words in other languages. The political thought of the Fajia are (were) said to resemble something like Legal positivism. Those who know Chinese, armed with a dictionary, translate it as law. When any of the others schools use Fa, it refers to measurement standards and exemplars. Han Fei says: "If the ruler has regulations based on Fa (measurement standards) and criteria and apply these to the mass of ministers, then the he cannot be dupped by cunning and fraud." Hansen suggests that laws cannot generally prevent deception. The meaning shared with the other schools (and Shen Buhai) can, comparing measurements against standards.

Having already mentioned Peerenboom and Winston, another couple notable Legalist interpreations are Soon-Ja Yang (2010) and Peng He (2014). Winston argues in favour of a legislative rule of law interpretation with moral backing, against the defunct amoral legal positivism. Soon-ja Yang puts aside Han Fei's interpretation of Shen Buhai for a more Confucian interpretation, the Confucian rectification of names, for a more expanded "Legalist" practice based on a universal registry, with Shu as Standards rather than method/technique. Peng He argues against consequentialism in favor of monarchical legitimacy, and the separateness of rules as a social institution; Hansen 1992 for instance did not regard Fa as particularly separate from Li (ritual) or other institutions. Other works may not actually argue for a Legalist interpretation, simply using one. Although not quite convinced of their arguments, in defense of Legalism's legitimacy within scholarship, Tao Jiang's work recalls Winston and Soon-Ja Yang as having explorative value.

Although not making extensive argument, given that its point cannot be assumed, Sinologists Tao Jiang and Yuri Pines each incorporate a standpoint or dialect for the inclusion of law as an important principle for Gongsun Yang, and with more interest modernly in positive moral analysis as backing for the tradition.[36] [37]

Daoist-Legalist restorationism[edit]

It may be remembered that Sima Qian grants the Fajia their own school of thought, treating it as Daoisticly rooted. A contemporary of Creel, Vitality Rubin at least operated under the impression of Legalism as a major competitor to Confucianism, based in the magnification of the Qin unification. A point of contention modernly in the figure's influence and status, although Tao Jiang does not reference Rubin, Rubin and more modernly Tao Jiang take Han Fei as Theorist rather than, so to speak, a mere statesman. Given Creel's scholarship as only then recent, Rubin more readily engaged in theory on the question of Daoist influence, or at least comparison, whereas modernly the Daodejing is not taken as being as old, and argued with that basis in mind in the west.

Peter Moody suggests that scholarship is more open to an affinity between Daoism and "Legalism" than it used to be. Mingjun Lu, Peng He, Huang Kejian, and Tao Jiang all either assume (Huang Kejian) or argue for Daoist influence, with Mingjun Lu based in Peter Moody, or argue for the legitimacy of Legalist interpretation (Peng He and Tao Jiang). Unfortuanately, Chinese scholar Peng He's Daoist argument simply references Sima Qian. Huang Kejian's negative interpretation of Legalism favours the administrative branch; we put him alongside Creel in this regard.

Following Feng Youlan's terminology, Creel regarded the Fajia as disparate statesmen lacking Daoist influence, with Shang Yang's "Legalist" branch petering out. Hansen treats them as a conflux of influences deriving predominantly from Mohist hermeneutics and Confucian framework, further arguing against Daoist influence. Some Legalist interpretation would continue after Hansen, but would not retain it's position. The Routledge would not regard the Fajia as constituting a major movement like that of the Mohists and Confucians, nor as particularly Legalist.

With the Creel and Hansen as references, contrasting the Mohists and Legalists, Sinologist Chris Fraser of the Oxford Handbook of World Philosophy (2011) rejects the Legalists (Fajia) and Daoists as having existed as pre-han schools, reiterating the latter as consisting of disparate statesmen, living in different times and different states, with no unified doctrine. The "Daoists" only existed as "loose networks" of master and disciple. Both are categories invented by Han historians. Mr Fraiser elaborates the Han history's School of Fa as including Li Kui, Shang Yang, Shen Buhai, Shen Dao, and Han Fei, with the often addition of Guan Zhong.

Discussed more later, taking Creel partly as antagonist in this regard, Tao Jiang recalls the Qin empire as backing for the importance of Shang Yang and the Fajia, with reference to more recent scholarship. In an explorative venture perhaps portending comparability to Hansen as a discussed figure, Tao Jiang similarly engages relations between the thinkers, but with a stated object of reifying the Fajia and in particular Han Fei, Shang Yang, and Legalist interpretation, although it's Legalist discussion is modernist and aiming more at legitimacy. Countering Fraiser's own work on the Mohists, Tao Jiang elabortes a theory of Mohist state consequentialism as a root for the Fajia in the Qin unification, returning to Daoism as to suppose a greater conflux. As some of our latest scholarship, although some of Tao Jiang's points would appear influential on Pines, accepting them as a Fa tradition, Pines would not adopt them as constituting a school or movement on the order of the Mohists and Confucians.[38]

Popular western reception as Realists[edit]

Waley's popular book Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China contrasted the theorists traditionally called Fajia as "Realists": the Realists, he says, largely ignored the individual, holding that the object of any society is to dominate other societies.[31] In this vein, Graham's "Disputers of the Tao" titled his "Legalist" chapter "Legalism: an Amoral Science of Statecraft", sketching the fundamentals of an "amoral science" in Chinese thought largely, Sinologist Goldin notes in a criticism, based on the Han Feizi, consisting of "adapting institutions to changing situations and overruling precedent where necessary; concentrating power in the hands of the ruler; and, above all, maintaining control of the factious bureaucracy."[39]: 267 [1]

Quoting his contemporary Benjamin I. Schwartz, Graham characterized the "Legalists" as the first political philosophers in China to start "not from how society ought to be but how it is." Contrary to common comparisons of Han Fei with Machiavelli, Schwarz observed that Machiavelli taught an art rather than a science of politics, while the Legalists "seem closer in spirit to certain 19th- and 20th-century social-scientific 'model builders'". Schwarz "finds in China more anticipations of contemporary Western social sciences than of the natural sciences", with Shen Buhai's 'model' of bureaucratic organization "much closer to Weber's modern ideal-type than to any notion of patrimonial bureaucracy."[40]

On the other hand, Paul R. Goldin does not regard Han Fei as trying to work out anything like a general theory of the state, nor does Han Fei always deal with statecraft.[1] The interests of the ruler need not be synonymous with the state, nor does Han Fei necessarily envision turmoil as resulting from his assassination, only that the ruler and his controlling dowager are replaced. The Han Feizi also has one chapter that offers advice to ministers contrary to the interests of the ruler.

Ross Terrill's 2003 New Chinese Empire views "Chinese Legalism" as "Western as Thomas Hobbes, as modern as Hu Jintao... It speaks the universal and timeless language of law and order. The past does not matter, state power is to be maximized, politics has nothing to do with morality, intellectual endeavour is suspect, violence is indispensable, and little is to be expected from the rank and file except an appreciation of force." He calls Legalism the "iron scaffolding of the Chinese Empire", but emphasizes the marriage between Legalism and Confucianism.[41]

Soon-Ja Yang (2010) stands against the idea Han Feizi and the other ancient Chinese "Legalists" support absolutism, autocracy, despotism or tyranny, or that they sacrifice the people's interests for that of the ruler. He argues that Han Feizi even advocates ren 仁 (humanity), yi 義 (rightness), and li (propriety), otherwise modeling himself after nature, with Shu technique preventing a ruler from abusing their power and to put laws into practice with justice.

Noting them as "generally devoid of overarching moral considerations, or conformity to divine will, Pines terms them "political realists who sought to attain a 'rich state and a powerful army' (Shang Yang) and to ensure domestic stability", only displaying "considerable philosophical sophistication" when they needed to justify departures from conventional approaches. Pines qualifies however the perception of them as totalitarian, as sated by "not a few scholars", as including Zhengyuan Fu's 1996 The Earliest Totalitarians, Feng Youlan (1948), and Creel (1953) himself as prior to some of his more prominent work on Shen Buhai. Although (the Shang Yang branch's) harsh laws and "rigid control over the populace and the administrative apparatus" might seem to support totalitarianism, apart from exposing the fallacies of their opponents, the Fa tradition has little interest for instance in thought control, and Pines does not take them as "necessarily" providing an ideology of their own.[2][1][42]

Three Elements view and critique of the Fajia's category[edit]

A three elements view was developed by Liang Qichao through a misinterpretation of Han Fei's critique of Shen Dao's views on power, chapter 40, the “Objection to Positional Power”, leading to a view of "Legalist" thought as having one primary current and two deviant sub-currents, being Shen Buhai's principle of rule by techniques (shuzhizhuyi 術治主義), and Shen Dao's “principle of rule by positional power” (shizhizhuyi 勢治主義).

Pines characterizes the chapter as dedicated to the defense and improvement of Shen's ideas.[2] The early incorporation of its discussions may be seen as an early modern evidence against the idea that, unlike India, China lacked a tradition to fall back on in modern reform, but its view of the Han Feizi was refuted by Chinese scholars long ago. No one holds the view in the west.

Liang Qichao received little literary attention. In his 2021 work, professor Tao Jiang takes the three elements view introduced by Youlan 1948 as representing a traditional understanding of the subject, which he compares against Creel. Feng Youlan introduced Shih as power or authority, Shu as the method or art of conducting affairs and handling men (statecraft), and Fa as law, regulation or pattern, connecting Fa with Gongsun Yang, Shu with Shen Buhai, and Shih with Shen Dao, with each supposed to have a group preceding Han Fei, the idea being that Han Fei synthesizes them.

To paraphrase from Creel's work directly, Creel saw however no evidence of a Shen Dao "school", while Shen Buhai focused on the dangers represented by the ministers. Han Fei criticizes Shen Buhai for lacking Fa, here as law, statute, decree, reward and punishment, and Gongsun for lacking Shu, providing no method for control of the ministers. Han Fei and Li Si (the latter as quoted by Sima Qian) quote Shen Buhai as using Fa in the sense of what Creel translated as method, but never law.

Although the "most frequently used term to describe Shen Buhai's doctrine in (Chinese) literature", Han Fei's Shu (technique) does not appear in the Shen Buhai fragments. Only Shu (数 numbers) does, and only twice, although Creel takes this as also used in the sense of technique. Also describing wu-wei and Xing-Ming as techniques of government, although Shu is often translated as technique, Creel often or even primarily translated Shu as method, as did Sinologists A.C. Graham (1989) and Chad Hansen (1992).

Although unreferenced in it's discussion by Tao Jiang, Shi was also discussed by Graham and Jacques Gernet, and has been taken as a secondary argument often even in support of Fa.

Zhengyuan Fu's (1996) The Earliest Totalitarians presented power (shi), law (fa), and statecraft (shu) as the three pillars of Legalism, with Shen Dao emphasizing power, Shang Yang law, Shen Buhai statecraft, and Han Fei their synthesizer. According to reviewer Randall Peenrenboom, by that time the view was considered as overly simplistic; Zhengyuan Fu employed it for the sake of the reader, organizing three chapters with one per theme.

Reviewer Song Hongbing notes Soon-ja Yang's (2010) New Studies of Han Feizi’s Political Thought as not relying on the traditional methodology of the three elements and three philosophers, instead presupposing dao as its highest concept, with Han Fei misunderstanding the concept. Soon-ja Yang compares Confucianism and "Legalism".[43]

Creel's interpretive unity[edit]

Recalled by Tao Jiang, Creel (1974) takes Shu as a variety of Fa. Taken more broadly, unlike A.C. Graham (1989) neither did Creel (or subsequently Hansen) regard Fa as necessarily shifting towards law. Creel's broader argument says: "In the Zuo Zhuan Fa is fairly common, using Fa in the sense of law 'almost two thirds of the time.'" But it also uses it in the sense of regulation, example, model and to imitate. The Zhan Guo Ce (Strategems of the Warring Stated period) has Fa as law a little more than half the time. In the Guoyu (book) (Discourses of the States) Fa occurs as law less than half the time. In the Mozi, it occurs as law rarely, representing model almost half the time, and method or technique three times more frequently than law, particularly in relation to military procedure.

While during the Warring States period law became prominent, and we might expect Fa as law would become also more prominent, it is 'not clear' that it did. Fa as law appears to be newer than method or even technique, as represented by the term fa-shu, or method technique. While the development of Fa follows a logical progression, it is not a series of steps but "rather a scale of infinite gradations, like a spectrum." Hansen would note that the Qin as adopting the term Lu for their legal code, a term used rarely in older texts.

Accepting the unity of Fa and Shu, A.C. Graham took Han Fei as "distinguishing between law as public and method as private", with the need to distinguish varieties of Fa possibly sharpened by the contrast between Lord Yang and Shen Buhai, the latter who "did not use Shu (technique) but included it within Fa (standard)". Although distinguishing the more standard or uniform usage of Shang Yang's reward and punishment across the population, from the managerial practice of Shen Buhai, Hansen notes Han Fei as connecting his own practice of reward and punishments with Shu, in which ministers are held to performance standards they set for themselves. However, although relevant here, Hansen's argument were against Legalist interpretation.

The point is, although there may some difference in practices, our founding sources took Shu to be a variety of Fa; despite seeming critique, we presently lack any leads for actual argument against it. Hansen does not explicitly state Shu as Fa, if his words are insufficient, but he demonstrates here no interest in the critique of the Fajia's category, let alone on such a basis, that would take place a decade later.[44]

Oxford (2011)[edit]

As at least suitable to a basic introduction, Mr. Fraiser elaborates a modern interpretation of the three elements as attributable to their posthumous synthesis under Han Fei. Although discussed elsewhere, he does not for instance reference Feng Youlan here, whose scholarship is quite old anyway. However, noteable to our subsequent discussion, he suggests that not all of the thinkers are focused on Fa, criticizing the Fajias category through the juxtaposition of a range of governmental methods against the Fajia's singular element. Elaborating no formal argument, with mention of Li Kui, Shang Yang, Shen Buhai, Shen Dao, Han Fei, and Guan Zhong, we could only speculate which thinker might be supposed above surface level not to be focused on Fa.

Mr. Fraser defines Han Fei's Fa as including clear, explicit, specific, publicly promulgated standards of conduct encompassing laws, standards for satisfactory job performance, criteria for military and bureaucratic promotion, and regulation of the general population. Han Fei aims to replace inherited moral teachings and sage kings with Fa and its officials. Objective standards prevent deception of the ruler, their transparency prevents official corruption or abuse, and their exactness and public knowledge prevent bending or violation, controlling the population and limiting official power. Fa eliminates differences in treatment between the population and the bureaucracy or aristocracy.

Mr. Fraser defines Han Fei's Shu as managerial arts or techniques constituting undisclosed and uncodified methods. They include merit-based appointment, strict accountability in relation to job titles, and the employment of reward and punishment ensuring the performance of duties. Officials are assigned duties according to their administrative proposals, whose doctrine under Han Fei is called Xing-Ming. Shu is in part an inheritance of the Mohists who advocated meritocracy, and the doctrine of the rectification of names, which is shared with the Confucians and others.

Mr. Fraser elaborates Shi as connoting institutional power or advantageous position, wielded to implement the standards of conduct and administrative techniques. Based on the idea of the average ruler, it contrasts with the Confucian ideal of rule by moral worth and moral authority, which Han Fei sees as "foolishly unrealistic", condemning the state to constant misgovernment awaiting a sage king. It is secondly based on the idea of ruling and controlling a large number of people, which power and position can accomplish, but charisma cannot. Shi renders moral worth redundant. From a position of power, the ruler employs Fa, wields the handles of life and death, and uses techniques to manage the administration. [45]

In defense of the Fajia's category[edit]

It may be remembered in the previous section that the Oxford makes a critique of the Fajia's category, saying that "not all of the thinkers are focused on Fa". On the other hand, Pines (2014-2022) merely suggested that the Fajia "reduces the rich intellectual content of this current to a single keyword." While this particular variety of critique may be rather unelaborated, professor Tao Jiang (2021) compares critique of the Fajia's category against the three elements view, to address whether it is "appropriate to single out fa, over other key notions, as representing the thought of philosophers grouped under fajia." Following Creel in differentiating Legalism from Fajia, Tao Jiang later argues in favor of Legalism's explorative value, although the latter is outside the section's scope.

Tao Jiang takes Goldin (2011) as antagonist in rejecting the utility of both Legalism and Fajia as categories of interpretation. While we are forced to elaborate the material critically, we do not intend criticism of the conversation itself, whose mode is not criticized anyway. As to Goldin himself, he is also referenced by Pines, and engages in other referenced criticisms, e.g. by Peter Moody; Goldin's essay is not without noteability. It makes a good deal of sense for Tao Jiang to reference him, although, despite Goldin's rejection of the Fajia's category, his material can even be on drawn to support the Fajia. It isn't his primary critique.

While Tao Jiang may utilize him for this purpose, being from the year of the Oxford's publishing, Goldin can be observed to argue primarily against Legalism. While the first half of Goldin's essay focuses on the broad range of Fa, the second half further argues against Legalism. Goldin takes this as his essay's "most important obligation", saying that "Creel’s objection to translating fajia as 'legalism'" is "still valid today and deserves to be repeated." Goldin includes references to a number of articles which still utilized Legalist interpretation, but unlike Winston many such documents do not contain actual arguments for a Legalist interpretation, merely adopting one.

Regarding Legalism, Goldin notes of Creel, even if one wishes to take Shang Yang, who engages statutes and questions from an administrative standpoint, as more Legalistic, the practices of Shen Buhai, which compare offices and performances, do not "presuppose a legal code or any legal consciousness whatsoever." Goldin's critique of the Fajia's category primarily considers Fajia "partisan and anachronistic", to which point Tao Jiang instead references Kidder Smith (2003), observing that "Sima Tan did not include any name under fajia". Goldin notes that while one might call oneself a Ru (Confucian), or pre-imperially a Mo (Mohists), no one ever actually called himself a Fajia, no Fa school actually existed, and no lineage actually existed.

Taking them as recently discussed, central issues, Tao Jiang similarly takes as his two primary questions here to be whether the term Fajia can be anachronistically applied, and whether it should be translated as Legalism.

As to whether fajia should be translated as Legalism, taking Creel as a theory, Tao Jiang says "since both Shang Yang and Shen Buhai were fajia but only Shang Yang was a Legalist, we can solve the problem by rejecting Legalism as the translation of Fajia." Rather, Creel takes Shang Yang as ancient China's Legalist school, and Han Fei as inadvertently responsible for the association of Shang Yang and Shen Buhai together in the Fajia. As for the Fajia, Tao Jiang references another Sinologist, Ivanhoe, who "defends the traditional Chinese use of jia to group classical thinkers by pointing out that jia 家 literally means family", whose intellectual families did not require relation by blood.

Tao Jiang says: "Fa in the classical Chinese context has a different semantic range and connotations from law in the contemporary Western context. Fa can refer to method, standard, regulation, law, model, or (as a verb) to follow, etc. Hence, translating fa as law does not do justice to how the term is used and what it encompasses in the texts involved." Tao Jiang takes a statement by Goldin defining Fa as most relevant. Taking Shen Dao as using Fa similarly to Shen Buhai in the sense of administrative technique, as opposed to a more Legalist view, Goldin defines Fa in Shen Dao's regard as “an impersonal administrative technique of determining rewards and punishments in accordance with a subject’s true merit."

While Shen Dao is not taken as much a major historical figure, unmentioned by Tao Jiang Goldin further notes that "if anyone deserves to be recognized as a member of fajia, it is Shen Dao, who was criticized by Xunzi for being 'beclouded by fa'". Shen Dao discusses several other concepts, including human dispositions and professional virtues. Recalled by Tao Jiang however, Chinese scholar Soon-Ja Yang similarly considers Shen Dao's focus to be Fa, not Shi. Soon Ja Yang says: "Han Fei quotes Shen Dao not because Shen Dao focused on the concept of shi, but because it is Shen Dao who pointed out that political power or authority takes precedence over individual capabilities in achieving political control."

Tao Jiang however otherwise takes Goldin as arguing that "Other well-known fajia tools include shu and shi. Therefore, from such a perspective it is misleading to single out fa as representing the core idea of those thinkers grouped under the nomenclature fajia or Legalism." Tao Jiang does not reference a particular page, although Goldin does note in a critique of Han Fei that “to say Shen Buhai speaks of ‘technique’ and Gongsun Yang speaks of ‘standards,’ as though these were the only topics they discussed, is a sophisticated falsification, for Shen Buhai referred to fa quite often (as we have seen), and, if the received text of The Book of Lord Shang can be trusted, Gongsun Yang addressed many other administrative questions. 'Agriculture and war' (nong zhan 農戰) may have been his single most important slogan."

Having already discussed Creel, as with Tao Jiang we can only ask if these are not included under Fa. Tao Jiang feels no need here to addend Creel. In defense of the Fajia against its purported opponent (Goldin), Tao Jiang recalls Creel with Fa as coming to represent law, administrative method, and even managerial technique (Shu) as covering the bulk of their thought. Tao Jiang takes the Fajia as holding in common a focus in the institutionalization of political power, and a questioning of the moral values of the Confucians, disputing an assumed connection between personal virtue and political authority. Apart from Fa's generality, it has been argued that they are all in fact focused on Fa (Soon-ja Yang 2010).

Regardless, Pines subsequently abandons the Fa-focused critique of the category in favor of the Fa tradition. Pine's only remaining subsequent criticism is the scope of the movement and term's analytical usefulness, and notes that while fa can as often refer to “standards,” “models,” “norms,” “methods,” and the like, sometimes it refers to the entirety of political institutions. He differentiates Shu along Graham's lines of private arcanum, it's private usage by the ruler having different consequences from it's public manifestation.[46][1]

Fajia and the Fa tradition[edit]

Having previously used the popular term Legalist with reference to Goldin, Pines (2023), modern translator for the Book of Lord Shang (2017), now characterizes them as the Fa tradition, calling them Fa thinkers. The term is shared by an as yet unpublished multi-authored work, the Dao Companion to China's fa Tradition. As stated by their publisher, the Dao Companions aim to provide the most comprehensive and up-to-date introductions to various aspects of Chinese philosophy.

Pines accounts the term Legalism as focusing the subject on comparisons with the Western concept of “rule of law”, with such discussions common in early modern scholarship, undercuting the depth of the subject for questions that were not necessarily of primary importance for the theorists. Moreover, although with reference to the new work Pines takes law to be a correct translation for Fa in many contexts, he reiterates that it also often refers to “standards,” “models,” “norms,” and “methods". As mentioned, Shang Yang is generally taken to be the most "Legalist" of them if anything.

Tao Jiang (2021), as unfortunately unreferenced on Pine's page but otherwise considered by him a major achievement in the purportedly multi-authored Tao Jiang on the Fa Tradition, had previously argued for the legitimacy of Fajia within scholarship as a considered historical category denoting the commonality of Fa between the statesmen; Creel used it (as did Hansen). Pine's Fa thinker's can be seen to adopt Tao Jiang's terminology of Thinker, his review lauding the work as "engaging the thinkers as theorists rather than mere statesmen, immersed in a dialog with earlier thinkers and texts." Given their writings, and seeing as neither Shen Dao nor Han Fei would appear to have been directly involved in the administration, we adopt the thinker and theorist terminology in the article.

Fajia's term is misleading, Pines says, because it implies a self-aware, organized intellectual current commensurate with the followers of Confucius 孔子 (551–479 BCE) or Mozi 墨子 (ca. 460–390 BCE), whereas no early thinker identified himself as a member of the Fajia (or "School of Fa.") As opposed to this, Tao Jiang emphasizes their political prominence as unusual among classical thinkers, standing "at the beginning of a top-down political revolution that would radically transform the subsequent political history of China."

Although characterizing Fa thinkers as political realists, as defended modernly to be more or less legitimate, Pines takes its usage as a designation to give the impression that "the opponents of fajia were mere idealists, which was not the case."[2][1][47]


Power as prerequisite for administration[edit]

The Oxford (2011) considers a primary difference between Mohist and "Legalist" Fa to be its arbitrariness in suiting the purposes of the ruler

Wing-tsit Chan (1963) described "Legalism" as the most radical of the schools, primarily interested in power, subjugation, uniformity, and force, recognizing no authority apart from the ruler. Han Fei calls the method he recommends to sovereigns the Way of the Ruler, and echoing Wing-tsit, Professor Roger T. Ames (1983) characterized Legalist political philosophy as "government of the ruler, by the ruler, for the ruler", involving control in the interests of "absolute power, stability, personal safety, military strength, wealth and luxury", although one must bear in mind the strife giving rise to its "totalitarianism." Indeed, Chinese sociologist Dingxin Zhao views both Daoism and Legalism as "products of a war-driven rise in rationality."

Sinologist Chad Hansen (1992) characterizes Han Feizi as the first Zi (master) from the ruling nobility. Eschewing ethics in favour of strategy, it is taken for granted that the goal of the ruler was conquest and unification of all under heaven. Although focused on Fa, and relegated as secondary by Han Fei as Shen Dao's doctrine of power or situationist authority (shi), Shen Buhai, Shang Yang, and Han Fei are all motivated "almost totally from the ruler's point of view". Hansen considers this as constituting a key difference between the Han Feizi and Western law, Confucianism, or the more universal social standpoint of Mohism, despite otherwise having a Mohist conceptual framework.

Although the conception of the ruler's sovereignty had already been in development, and the Legalists emphasized the legitimacy of the king, they stressed the necessity of strengthening the ruler's force. With the proclaimed goal of a “rich state and powerful army”, the writings of Han Fei are almost purely practical, teaching the ruler techniques (shu) to survive in a competitive world through administrative reform: strengthening the central government, increasing food production, enforcing military training, or replacing the aristocracy with a bureaucracy.

Though Han Fei espoused that his model state would increase the quality of life, he did not consider this a legitimizing factor; rather, a side-effect of good order. He focused on the functioning of the state, the ruler's role as guarantor within it, and aimed in particular at making the state strong and the ruler the strongest person within it. To this end, Shen Buhai and Han Fei are concerned in particular with "the role of the ruler and the means by which he may control a bureaucracy." Han Fei's prince must make use of Fa, surround himself with an aura of wei (majesty) and shi, and make use of the art (shu) of statecraft. The ruler who follows Dao moves away from benevolence and righteousness, and discards reason and ability, subduing the people through Fa. Only an absolute ruler can restore the world, and orderly rule for all “All-under-Heaven” can be attained only under an omnipotent monarch. "[48]

Impersonal administration and anti-ministerialism[edit]

The key figure in the late imperial bureaucracy was the district magistrate, a combination of a mayor, chief of police, judge, and even military commander.[49] He obtained the position by passing the examination for the civil service and performance at a lower level. He had a staff, some who moved with him, some permanently located in the district. Any penalty more serious than bambooing had to be approved by higher officials, any decision not based on statute required approval from Peking.[50]
Drawing by William Alexander, draughtsman of the Macartney Embassy to China in 1793.

Sinologist Herrlee G. Creel (1970) considered the "locus of authority to make policy" a basic difference between Confucianism and the Fajia. Proposing a return to feudal ideals and propounding wisdom and virtue, Confucians sought authority to govern as they saw fit. By contrast, Shen Buhai and Shang Yang (Gongsun) monopolized policy in the hands of the ruler, and Qin administrative documents focused on rigorous control of local officials, and the keeping of written records. Roger T. Ames and the Oxford take the theorists doctrines as seeking self-regulating, mechanically reliable, if not foolproof institutions to control if not dispense with state administrators, with the universally applicable public Fa, as including laws, of Shang Yang, limiting ministerial power over the people.

Yuri Pines (2023) reiterates Creel's emphasis on the staffing of an extensive and tightly monitored bureaucracy as the fa thinkers lasting contribution to China's administrative thought practice. Pines distinguishes them by their selfish view of human nature and profound anti-ministerial stance. Strongly suspicious of the ministers and officials, they promulgated of "impersonal means of recruitment, promotion, demotion, and performance control."

Han Fei holds every member of the elite to further their own interests by any means possible. In contrast to the Confucians, the Fa thinkers dismiss the possibility of reforming the elite, being the ruler and ministers, or driving them by moral commitment. Preserving and strengthening the ruler's authority against them may be considered their "singularly pronounced political commitment".

Despite this, Tao Jiang suggests that the Fajia actually overestimated the willingness of bureaucrats to follow the rules, or to abuse them, with Gongsun being the blindest of them to it. Han Fei criticizes Gongsun for being "too focused on fa" at the expense of managing the apparatus, to which Han Fei pays primary attention. Pines quotes: “the sage orders the officials, not the people." However, although the Book of Lord Shang focuses less on ministerial control, it still makes early note of 'wicked officials' who exploit the populace.

The clear parallels, Pines says, between the Shangjunshu and the Han Feizi, amongst other works, is its "insistence on the advantage of impersonal administrative methods (Fa) over individual decision making by the ruler and his aides." Strongly emphasizing their differing interests, long sections of the Han Feizi provide examples of how ministers undermined various rulers, the ruler's need to protect himself against them, and how they can do so.[51]

Han Fei rarely praises benevolence and propriety. Given the times, the "Legalists" did not believe the moral influence of the ruler could create order.[52] Considering the power struggle between ruler and minister irreconcilable, and focusing on the prevention of evil rather than the promotion of good, the Legalists largely rejected Confucian rule of virtuous men, insisting on impersonal norms and regulations in their relations.[2] Their approach was therefore primarily at the institutional level, tending toward a clear power structure, "objective, consistent and enforceable rules and regulations," and in the Han Feizi, engaging in sophisticated manipulation tactics to enhance power bases.[53]

Rather than aristocratic fiefs, Qin territory came under the direct control of the Qin rulers, directly appointing officials on the basis of their qualifications.[54] With the state of Qin conquering all the Warring States and founding the "first" Chinese empire in 221 BCE, the Legalists had succeeded in propelling state centralization and laying the foundations of Chinese bureaucracy, establishing "efficient and effective" codes that "became the pattern for Chinese politics for the next two millennia".[55] The philosophies of the reformers fell with the Qin, but tendencies remained in the supposedly Confucian imperial government, and the Han Feizi would be studied by rulers in every dynasty.[56]

Creel's branches of the Fajia[edit]

Sinologist Herrlee G. Creel (1970/1974) presents Han Fei as largely responsible for syncretising the various tendencies that would be grouped together under what Sima Tan termed the Fajia. These stem primarily from what Creel considered to be two disparate contemporary thinkers, Shang (Gongsun) Yang and Shen Buhai. Han Fei at least portrays himself as combining the two. The combined reference, Creel explains, is what would commonly become known as the Fajia, with continued influence after the fall of the Qin dynasty. although discussed elsewhere, Creel's 1974 Shen Pu-Hai: A Chinese Political Philosopher of the Fourth Century B. C. represents the only major publication on Shen Buhai, with Tao Jiang (2021) notably devoting a chapter to him.

Because, historically, despite the presentation of their opponents, those advocating policies derived of Shang Yang or Shen Buhai did not endorse each other's views, Mr. Creel advised that the Shen Buhai group be called "administrators", "methodists" or "technocrats". While Tao Jiang regards the ultimate effect as devastating for the subject, Creel's administrative assertions and Shen Buhai's influence on scholarship would appear to be less successful in Creel's time; while Graham, Ames and Peerenboom's Legalism has to account for Shen Buhai, they largely accommodated him within a Legalist framework. Not yet incorporating Hansen's considerations, S. R. Hsieh's subsequent introductory recap followed Creel to the letter, calling them "Legalists/Administrators", while Karyn Lai's dedicated Introduction to Chinese Philosophy relied heavily on Creel and Benjamin Schwarz.

Although accepting the branches lens by the time of its writing, Michael Loewe of the Cambridge History of China Volume 1 (1978) had reservations: Han Fei called both branches "the instruments of Kings and Emperors", and Li Si praises them equally, finding no contradiction between them. Mr. Loewe instead argues for their complementarity, with life in the Qin Empire being more reasonable, and government more sophisticated, than if it had been based on the dogma of the Book of Lord Shang (Shangjunshu) alone.

Han Fei says, with a more modern translation;

Now Shen Buhai spoke about the need of Shu ("Technique") and Shang Yang practices the use of Fa ("Standards"). What is called Shu is to create posts according to responsibilities, hold actual services accountable according to official titles, exercise the power over life and death, and examine into the abilities of all his ministers; these are the things that the ruler keeps in his own hand. Fa includes mandates and ordinances promulgated to the government offices, penalties that are definite in the mind of the people, rewards that are due to the careful observers of standards, and punishments that are inflicted upon those who violate orders. It is what the subjects and ministers take as a model. If the ruler is without Shu he will be overshadowed; if the subjects and ministers lack Fa they will be insubordinate. Thus, neither can be dispensed with: both are implements of emperors and kings.[57][5]: 94 [58][59]: 184 [60]

Although their topics are not as narrow as Han Fei presents, and despite Han Fei's inclusion of power over life and death under his own Shu, there is no basis to suppose that Shen Buhai advocated Shang Yang's doctrine of reward and punishments. Creel notes six works as identifying Shen with bureaucracy; none identify him with penal law when spoken of by himself, and none pre-Han. Only when he is paired with Shang Yang is penal law attributed to them together in the Han dynasty. Historically, as with Shen himself, Shen's so-called Shu "branch" largely ignored Shang Yang or penal practice and sometimes even opposed punishments. Not without its then opposing vacillation, neither Shen Buhai's or his successors, Creel said, can be understood as "Legalist" by the English definition of the term.

In contrast to the limited body pertaining to Shen Buhai, censured under Han dynasty Confucian influence, Creel notes an "impressive body" of early works unanimously testifying Gongsun Yang's doctrines as described by Han Fei. That is, his doctrine being called Fa, as including penal law, rewards and punishments, and lacking Shu, or managerial technique. Apart from general mutual surveillance and holding ministers to the public Fa, he advised no method to control and supervise ministers. Most historical works posthumously emphasize his use of harsh penal law. None indicate concern for organization or control of the bureaucracy. Recalled by Tao Jiang, Creel mostly leaves the Legalist interpretation of him alone, accepting it as the "Legalist" branch.

However, despite portrayal and the Han dynasty's penal reception, in reviewing the Shangjunshu, Creel also saw Gongsun as sometimes using Fa in an administrative sense, of which Shu is a variety. The Book of Lord Shang, Goldin says, still engages statutes more from an administrative standpoint, as well as addressing many other administrative questions.[1] Pines's translation of the Book of Lord Shang uses law where appropriate, but employs a Shu interpretation in analyzing the Fa of the Book of Lord Shang, considering it's Fa to have impersonal administration as its second most common meaning after law.

The scholar Shen Dao (350 – c. 275 BCE) covered a "remarkable" quantity of "legalist" and Daoistic themes, and there was a time speculating a third "branch" (e.g. Feng 1948), but he lacked a recognizable group of followers. Xun Kuang goes as far as to call him "beclouded" by Fa, and Han Fei sidelines him, basing himself more in Shen Buhai's method of administration. He was instead incorporated into the Han Feizi and The Art of War for his themes on Shih, being "power" or "situational advantage". Despite its necessity, Han Fei say that he speaks on Shih "for mediocre rulers." Moreover, Xun Kuang references Shen Buhai rather than Shen Dao for the origin of the doctrine of power, which Han Fei may have otherwise derived from the Book of Lord Shang.[61] [62]

Decline of Daoist-Legalist interpretation[edit]

Arthur Waley (1939) supposed a "very real and close connection" between what he termed Chinese "Realism" and Daoism, rejecting appeals to tradition and the way of the former kings, condemning book learning to keep the people dull and stupid, and advocacy of wu wei as a non-activity of the ruler, enabled by heavy penalties (with the Shangjunshu translated in 1928). However, this would not be an accurate characterization of the Shen Buhai fragments, which ignore penalties and take wu wei as a foundation in the management of bureaucracy.

On the contrary, sinologist Herrlee G. Creel (1970/1974) did not find Shen Buhai to be Daoist influenced, lacking metaphysical usages. Although few scholars take Mr. Creel's chronologies at face value, because of this, and because the Daodejing would appear to have been written later, he suggested that Shen instead influenced the Daodejing. The Han Feizi is most similar to the Shen Buhai fragments, with Shen being prior prime minister of their native Hann state.

Although there are old arguments for the legitimacy of much of the Han Feizi, Creel did not regard the Han Feizi's Daodejing commentary as having been written by Han Fei, which he notes as already generally accepted by scholarship at the time. Creel does however note that Shen Buhai quotes the Analects of Confucius, in which Wu Wei can also be seen as an idea. If anything, reviews suggested that Creel could have underestimated potential Confucian influence.

Following Creel's elaboration of Fa as administrative method for Shen Buhai, Benjamin I. Schwartz (1985), with reference to the Mohists, noted the inaccuracy of law in many such cases, translating it as model, standard, copy, or imitation, with reference to the carpenter's square, compass and builder's plumb-line. The behavior of Mozi's ruler acts as Fa for the noble's and officials as in Confucianism, moving towards "prescriptive method or techne", describing craft and political technique. Schwarz regards Fa as an alternate means to social control from Li.

Graham takes takes particular note of the precedent of the Confucian Mencius, whose Fa, apart from models, exemplars and names, includes such physical characteristics as statistics, scales, volumes, consistencies, weights, sizes, densities, distances, and quantities. Accepting distinctions regarding Shen Buhai, Graham views Fa as shifting from persons to be imitated towards impersonal relations of bureaucracy, "contracting" Standards (Fa) towards law as paired with and backed by parallels of reward and punishment as early as 600bc. Outside of logical contexts, Graham notes Fa as representing a "standard or exemplar to be imitated", which is still illustrated geometrically.

A.C. Graham (1989) reiterates that the "Legalists" do not appear to make effective use of the Daodejing, as the Han dynasty Huainanzi does. The final chapter of the Zhuangzhi furthermore does not regard Lao Tzu and Zhuangzhi as having been part of a Daoist school. "The Way of Heaven" chapter regards Wu Wei as the first two stages of government, ministerial jobs and Confucian benevolence the third stage, responsibilities the fourth, shape and name the fifth, grounds for appointment the sixth, inquiry and inspection the seventh, approval and condemnation the eight, and reward and punishment the ninth. The Zhuangzi refers to those who start at the fifth stage as "men whose words turn the Way upside down."

Mr. Creel (1970) established Shen Buhai's Xing-Ming terminologies as pertaining to management rather than a Legalist practice, with the Shen Buhai fragments not advocating punishment, and his "branch" often advocating against punishment. John Makeham (1990) links Shen Buhai's terminologies with the school of names as evolving out of the Mohists, from which the easily applied standards of the Fajia are derived.

Given its substantial evidences, the schools, Sinologist Chad Hansen (1992) says, are "after-the-fact inventions of Han historians." Referencing Graham as theory, Hansen says, the Confucians and Mohists represent the earliest analysis and arguably only self-conscious pre-Han schools. The Outer Zhuangzi's developmental history of thought, excluding the Confucians, includes Mozi, Song Xing as another Mohist-derived school, Shendao, Laozi, and finally Zhuangzi. With the Zhuangzi taking him as one of their own, Shen Dao was a scholar early classed in the Han dynasty as Daojia, and only later Fajia. Essentially, the period knew neither Daoists nor Fajia. Sima Tan would claim that the Fajia studied his own daoistic Huang-Lao ideology. Hence, they may not initially have been taken as separate.

Essentially all Chinese philosophy uses the term Dao. Sinologist Yuri Pines (2022) suggests that the Han Feizi includes some metaphysical stipulation of political order. Outside of its Daodejing commentary, Daoist evidences are located more in located more in Chapters 20–21. A couple of prior attempts to root the Han Feizi in a proto-Daoism consist more for instance in a notice of the work's moral attitudes or perspectives, or an ante-dating of Huang-Lao naturalism.

"Sinology searches for the original text of the Daodejing, but it is restricted to written editions, of which the earliest complete ones date only as far back as the early Han dynasty. Its consensus view is that the original Daodejing is dated to just before then, at the end of the Warring States period, since there are no earlier textual records attesting to it." The Original Text of the Daodejing, 2022[63] [64]

Deng Xi[edit]

The logician Deng Xi (died 501 BCE), a contemporary of Confucius, is cited by Liu Xiang for the origin of the principle of Xing-Ming. Deng is regarded as the first proponent to advocate following the li, or pattern of things. A term which refers to the processing of jade, it would be utilized by the neo-mohists as the term identifying the logic and history of a thing in the growth of a proposition.

Serving as a minor official in the state of Zheng, Deng is reported to have drawn up a code of penal laws. Associated with litigation, he is said, to have argued for the permissibility of contradictory propositions, engaging in hair-splitting debates on the interpretation of laws, "legal principles and definitions. But the purpose of his concept of bian is specifically to examine and distinguish categories so as to prevent hindrances or disturbances. Inferences are then made categorically.

However, he distinguishes great and small bian ethically rather than logically, as Xun Kuang would later (although the Mohists also had ethical discussions). Under the influence of the Mohists, Xun Kuang suggests that categorization is a key to understanding things.[65]

Fa branch (introduction)[edit]

While Han Fei critiques Shang Yang as lacking shu, or personnel management, Pines translation takes Fa as impersonal administration as the Shangjunshu's second most common usage. To paraphrase Goldin, addressing statutes along with a number of other questions from an administrative perspective, Gongsun and the Shangjunshu can also be regarded as administrative rather than merely "Legalist".

Tao Jiang (2021) takes Creel as primary for a dominant interpretation relegating the importance Gongsun Yang in favor of Shen Buhai. With Han Fei and Creel as divisional precedent, the subsequent section focuses in brief on a lack of Shu or managerial technique amongst early figures and the decline of the branch, as interpreted in part by Singaporean professor Huang Kejian (2016). The Oxford regards "Legalism" as dying out in the Western Han dynasty for the totalitarian excesses of the Qin dynasty, albeit with continued use of the administrative methods.

Our first narrative, that of Huang Kejian, would not appear to be discussed in western scholarship, nor does his bibliography reference western dialectic on the subject, despite referencing a number of other western works. He espouses three philosophers and three separate elements preceding Han Fei. Differentiating Shu from Fa, and making no argument for Legalist interpretation, he considers Fa to be Mohist measurement at root. He nonetheless takes a view of Fa's first principle as "only aimed to limit subjects from acting contrary to the law". He takes its secondary function as anti-ministerial. He takes the potential of the Early Legalists as firstly limited by their managerial potential.

Comparing with Roman justice, Huang secondly Kejian presents a deficiency in the moral dimension as a contributor to the limited potential of Fa for law, attributing this to its essence as Mohist measurement. He takes Shen Buhai and Shen Dao as making an "odd" turn towards Huang-Lao (proto)Daoism, whose doubtful pre-Han evidences the west takes more critically. Chinese scholar Peng He (2014) for instance also engages in interpretive through the directly referenced medium of Sima Qian's Huang-Lao Shiji. With limited work on the subject regardless, not wishing to exclude eastern views on the subject, Huang Kejian is included an adjunct negative narrative, dissolving the Legalist subject along Shu and moral lines.

In contrast to prior Legal positivism, sinologist Chad Hansen (1992) did not regard Fa as law. Although the Routledge and Oxford would still regard law as a variety of Fa, we take Hansen's informal references as making him something of a foundation in our discussion for Mohist interpretive. The Routledge (2008) consigns Legalism to its appendix with Han Fei as its notable mention, not regarding the Fajia as an independent philosophy or movement. It takes Fa as primarily concerned with weights, measures, width of chariots etc., only derivatively including penal law as "explicit public formulations of punishments mechanically geared to named wrongs." We take it as our second negative interpretation, pronouncing an early modern dissolution of Legalist interpretive in the west.

Our introductory therefore presents a dissolution of the "Legalist branch" historically, and Legalist interpretation modernly, along lines of the managerial, moral and legal potential. Tao Jiang (2021) presents counter-arguments bolstering the valuation of what we may term Shang Yang's Fa "branch". Noting that "while Creel might be justified in speculating that 'Shen Pu-hai had more influence on the creation of the Chinese administrative system than any other individual'", Tao Jiang promotes Shang Yang as "a more serious contender of such an honor in the history of Chinese political system."

With Han Fei as the generally contended more complex figure of the two, argument often pertain rather to his development of what Hansen broadly terms general public Fa. Taking Gongsun as part of a philosophical tradition (or branch or wing etc.; Creel) together with Han Fei and Mozi, Hansen leaves Gongsun more as secondary extension in his argument. Huang Kejian's "mature Legalism" takes Han Fei as devoid of ethical teaching. Tao Jiang recalls several figures for a moral backing for Han Fei, himself contributing argument for Mohist Justice, and perhaps more conservatively Impartiality, whose argument is shared by Pines and earlier work.[66]

Early Legalists (Huang Kejian)[edit]

Creel (1970) saw the difference between the Han Feizi and the Book of Lord Shang to be "striking". Its method for personnel control, let alone control of a bureaucracy, is very simple, consisting in mutual surveillance and reward and punishment, with an emphasis on promoting agriculture and war. Terming its ilk the Shang Yang "branch" or "wing", but focused on Shen Buhai and considering it not as favored in China as that of bureaucracy, Creel only elaborated its branch as favored by Emperor Wu of Han.

However, Professor Huang Kejian (2016) similarly contrasts figures like Li Kui, Wu Qi, and Shang Yang (Gongsun) as early Legalists. He rejects Fa as comparable to modern law, as is not uncommon. In line with Han Fei and Creel's division along Shu lines, the Early Legalists represent figures for Huang who did not yet realize the limited potential of Fa for law, and the significance of Shu (managerial technique), contributing to the downfall of some of its members as including Gongsun himself.

Goldin (2005) quotes Han Fei as criticizing Zichan's method of rule as lacking Shu, "requiring many things", being uncanny ability, shrewdness, circumstances, and indeed Zichan's sensitive ear. Zichan's rule is talented and wise, and elevating criminology to an art form, requires a genius like Zichan to catch all villains. Han Fei is interested not in art but technique (Shu), being reproducible procedures performable by "common ministers without extraordinary skills."

In an account preceding but similar to that of Gongsun's agricultural and other reforms, Li Kui's reforms lead to wealth and strength in Gongsun's native Wei state. Huang Kejian regards Gongun's reforms, unifying reward, punishment, and education, as creating a culture shock. As a figure lacking Shu, Gongsun ultimately did not believe that the method of rule really mattered as long as the state was rich, and tried to dispense with the selection of exceptional men through insurance mechanisms while attacking moral discussion as empowering ministers. In contrast to Gongsun, though seeking at the motivation of his subjects, Han Fei is much more skeptical of self-interest despite also aiming to channel it in service of the ruler and state.

As in contrast to Confucianism and Daoism (whose broad tradition, as in Huang-Lao, does have moral dimension), Huang Kejian takes the "Legalist" pursuit of profit and achievement, or devoting "not to virtue but to law", quite fatally. Essentially, Fa asks the results and not the motivation, de-emphasizing concepts like virtue. While effective in a feudal state, it "completely ignores issues pertaining to an individual's existence" such as individual rights. Hence, the scope of Fa in this regard will be limited.

With an emphasis on measurement to the exclusion of other considerations, its "legal" usage tends not to move beyond penal codes toward a system of civic regulation, orienting its development towards Shu, or tact and method in managing a bureaucracy. Huang concludes that Fa "has no recognizable connection to the modern concept of law." An accessory to wealth and strength, it does not inspire or concern itself with a conception of rights, nor does "rectifying chaos" or correcting weights promise justice, a value Huang considers "intricately tied" to Roman law.

Michael Loewe (1978) noted the Qin as more sophisticated than would be suggested by the dogma of the Book of Lord Shang alone, and Pines notes the "simplistic emphasis on agriculture" and suppression of commerce as eventually abandoned by the Qin. In Gongsun's defense, and proposing a greater historical impact that might be supposed for instance by Sima Qian, professor Tao Jiang (2021) recalls Francis Fukuyama's Origins of Political Order (2011) as regarding China under the Qin as the first Weberian modern state. Tao Jiang counts the Fajia, with Shang Yang as its pivotal figure, as instrumental in bringing about a "new model of powerful states, drastically changing the trajectory of Chinese and world political history."[67][68]

Early modern comparatives (Hansen)[edit]

Small bronze plaque containing an edict from the second emperor of the Qin dynasty. 209 BCE.

As a view shared by Gongsun and Han Fei, if people were generous in the past, and dishonest in the present, it is because resources were previously abundant. Their approach to government in this regard, Graham (1989) said, therefore does not rest on human nature apart from reward and punishment. In contrast to a moral order, Graham's Legalism distinguished the statesmen more generally by this state order of reward and punishment, being Han Fei's Two Handles. Fa shifts from examples of actions and persons to be imitated towards impersonal relations of bureaucracy, backed by reward and punishment, with example dating back to 600bc.[69]

However, Legal positivist interpretation does not quite substantiate modernly.

As opposed to Graham, Hansen (1992) regards Gongsun's anti-bureaucracy as a precursor to that of Han Fei. Hansen characterizes them together with their predecessor Mozi as following a philosophical tradition of "objective, public, accessible standards (Fa)" as opposed to that represented by Xun Kuang's schooled magistrates, a contrast reiterated by the Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy (2003/2013) between Shang Yang and Xunzi. Hansen is included in it's references, but discussed more in relation to the Mohists and Logicians, writing the chapter on Later Mohism.

The Routledge (2008) echoes Hansen's view of Fa, in which the late Guanzi text regards Fa as an interpretive adjunct to li (ritual). Following Graham's usage of the Guanzi, Hansen emphasizes that the Guanzi advocates clear standards but not a "Western retributive rule of law." The intention is to fix appropriate punishments to names to reduce resentment on the part of criminals. But it is intended to provide more in the way of warning than proportion.

Along with the Mozi, the Guanzi believes that people will conform to precise administrative measures and a ruler-like attitude. Regardless of Li's predominance, given a variety of social codes, punishment by itself is not what backs regulation, per Legal positivism. The Fa (Standards) of the Guanzi text circumscribe arbitrary punishments, controlling penal officials.

Hansen's anti-Legalist interpretation therefore stands in part on anti-ministerialism; while Shen Buhai is most concerned with controlling the bureaucracy, Shang Yang promulgates Fa against ministerial power in the interests of the ruler. The Shangjunshu says: "Government officials and people who are desirous of knowing what the fa stipulates shall all address their inquiries to the fa officers."

Modern work[edit]

For Pines (2023), advocating harsh punishment for even minor transgressions, no other text matches the Shangjunshu for its "brazennes in exposing the perennial contradiction between society (“the people”) and the state." As opposed to Hansen, Pines consider the punitive system pivotal to Shang Yang's model, with mutual responsibility, tight residential control, and mandatory denouncements intended ensure the apprehension of every criminal. But the intention is actually to overawe the populace.

However, Pines reiterates that Fa is not primarily a tool of intimidation and suppression but a principle of transparency, with the importance of legal knowledge among the populace represented in chapter 26 (“Fixing divisions”) of the Book of Lord Shang. Combining transparency and fairness with harshness, the ultimate goal was to “eradicate punishments with punishments."

Despite Gongsun's simpler managerial technique, as a contemporary of Shen Buhai, his reforms may still be regarded as pioneering. Tao Jiang (2021) says: "Sima Qian recounts the strong resistance Shang Yang encountered in trying to implement new rules and regulations that would radically change the way the state was governed. He had to convince Duke Xiao repeatedly of the merits of the reform."

Emphasizing the "uniqueness and independence of the political domain" for the Fajia as underestimated by it's opponents, Tao Jiang (2021) elevates Gongsun as aiming at a centralized, Fa-based bureaucratic system utilizing monarchical authority and credibility in the reliable and predictable enforcement of standards (Fa) as regulations, wherein "impartial and impersonal laws of reward and punishment were reliably enforced."[70]

When the sovereign holds the handles of name and benefit and is able to bring together merit and name, this is the method [of proper rule]. The sage examines [the nature of] authority to operate the handles; he examines the method to direct the people. The method is the technique employed by the ministers and the sovereign; it is the essential [matter] of the state. . . . Farming is what the people consider bitter; war is what the people consider dangerous. Yet they brave what they consider bitter and perform what they consider dangerous because of calculation [of name and benefit].

Shang Yang[edit]

Terracotta Army

Hailing from Wei, as Prime Minister of the State of Qin, Shang Yang (390–338 BCE) engaged in a "comprehensive plan to eliminate the hereditary aristocracy".[1] Drawing boundaries between private factions and the central, royal state, he took up the cause of meritocratic appointment, stating "Favoring one's relatives is tantamount to using self-interest as one's way, whereas that which is equal and just prevents selfishness from proceeding."

As the first of his accomplishments, historiographer Sima Qian accounts Shang Yang as having divided the populace into groups of five and ten, instituting a system of mutual responsibility tying status entirely to service to the state. It rewarded office and rank for martial exploits, going as far as to organize women's militias for siege defense.

The second accomplishment listed is forcing the populace to attend solely to agriculture (or women cloth production, including a possible sewing draft) and recruiting labour from other states. He abolished the old fixed landholding system (Fengjian) and direct primogeniture, making it possible for the people to buy and sell (usufruct) farmland, thereby encouraging the peasants of other states to come to Qin. The recommendation that farmers be allowed to buy office with grain was apparently only implemented much later, the first clear-cut instance in 243 BCE. Infanticide was prohibited.

Shang Yang deliberately produced equality of conditions amongst the ruled, a tight control of the economy, and encouraged total loyalty to the state, including censorship and reward for denunciation. "Law" as such was what the sovereign commanded, and this meant absolutism, but it was an absolutism of Fa (administrative standards) as impartial and impersonal, which Gongsun discouraged arbitrary tyranny or terror as destroying.

Emphasizing knowledge of the Fa among the people, he proposed an elaborate system for its distribution to allow them to hold ministers to it. He considered it the most important device for upholding the power of the state. Insisting that it be made known and applied equally to all, he posted it on pillars erected in the new capital. In 350, along with the creation of the new capital, a portion of Qin was divided into thirty-one counties, each "administered by a (presumably centrally appointed) magistrate". This was a "significant move toward centralizing Ch'in administrative power" and correspondingly reduced the power of hereditary landholders.

Shang Yang considered the sovereign to be a culmination in historical evolution, representing the interests of state, subject and stability.[71] Objectivity was a primary goal for him, wanting to be rid as much as possible of the subjective element in public affairs. The greatest good was order. History meant that feeling was now replaced by rational thought, and private considerations by public, accompanied by properties, prohibitions and restraints. In order to have prohibitions, it is necessary to have executioners, hence officials, and a supreme ruler. Virtuous men are replaced by qualified officials, objectively measured by Fa. The ruler should rely neither on his nor his officials' deliberations, but on the clarification of Fa. Everything should be done by Fa,[15]: 88  whose transparent system of standards will prevent any opportunities for corruption or abuse. [72][73][74]

Evolutionary view of history[edit]

What Pines terms the evolutionary view of history was regarded by the early scholarship of Feng Youlan (1948) as a commonality between Gongsun Yang and Han Fei, with Graham (1989) also quoting the Guanzi, a text which may have been written even after the Han Feizi. Feng Youlan took the "Legalists" as fully understanding that needs change with the times. Admitting that people may have been more virtuous anciently, they maintained that this was due to material circumstances. Han Fei believes that new problems require new solutions. Although a view of history as a process of change may be common modernly, Feng Youlan suggests it contrasted with the beliefs of Ancient China.

While Pine's work holds it as a kind of first principle, Creel did not for instance espouse it as a view of Shen Buhai. In contrast to Shang Yang, Shen's fragments take no issue in quoting the Analects. On the other hand, a changing with the times paradigm was common apart from the Confucians regardless. If taken as an extension of the subject, Creel's Shen Bhai "branch" or post-Qin figures wouldn't appear to be noted.

More broadly, Graham regarded the “Legalists” as the first political philosophers in China to start "not from how society ought to be but how it is", a view echoed by Eirik Lang Harris of The Shenzi Fragments (2016) as a commonality between the four figures. The difference is taken more to be more matter of emphasis, and elucidation of the particular view held in the Book of Lord Shang. We thus retain a categorization of its more "progressive" direction as tending more along the Shang Yang branch, with Hu Shih's Xun Kuang and Li Si as Qin-influenced figures.

In what Graham calls a "highly literary fiction in a stilted parallelistic style", the Book of Lord Shang opens with a debate held by Duke Xiao of Qin, seeking to "consider the changes in the affairs of the age, inquire into the basis for correcting standards, and seek the Way to employ the people." Gongsun attempts to persuade the Duke to change with the times, with the Shangjunshu citing him as saying: "Orderly generations did not [follow] a single way; to benefit the state, one need not imitate antiquity."

While Xun Kuang's doctrine held human nature to be bad, noting the existence of differences with regards Shen Buhai, Graham compared the "Legalists", Han Fei in particular, with the Malthusians, as "unique in seeking a historical cause of changing conditions", namely population growth. Human nature is a Confucian issue. The statesmen acknowledge that an underpopulated society only need moral ties. The Guanzi text sees punishment as unnecessary in ancient times with an abundance of resources, making it a question of poverty rather than human nature. Graham otherwise considers the customs current at the time as having no significance to them.

Hu Shih (essays 1919–1962) calls Xun Kuang, Han Fei and Li Si "champions of the idea of progress through conscious human effort," with Li Si abolishing the feudal system, and unifying the empire, law, language, thought and belief, presenting a memorial to the throne in which he condemns all those who “refused to study the present and believed only in the ancients on whose authority they dared to criticize."

Hu Shih quotes a song by Xun Kuang.

You glorify Nature and meditate on her:

Why not domesticate and regulate her?
You follow Nature and sing her praise:
Why not control her course and use it? … … … …
Therefore, I say: To neglect man’s effort and speculate about Nature,

Is to misunderstand the facts of the universe.

As a counterpoint, Han Fei or Shen Dao do still employ argumentative reference to 'sage kings'; Han Fei claims the distinction between the ruler's interests and private interests are said to date back to Cangjie, while government by Fa is said to date back to time immemorial. Tao Jiang takes Han Fei's statements in this regard seriously, with Han Fei considering the demarcation between public and private a "key element" in the "enlightened governance" of the former kings.[75]


While Shen Buhai and Shen Dao's current may not have been hostile to Confucius,[5]: 64  Shang Yang and Han Fei emphasize their rejection of past models as unverifiable if not useless ("what was appropriate for the early kings is not appropriate for modern rulers").[76] Han Fei argued that the age of Li had given way to the age of Fa, with natural order giving way to social order and finally political order. Together with that of Xun Kuang, their sense of human progress and reason guided the Qin dynasty.[77]

Intending his Dao (way of government) to be both objective and publicly projectable,[29]: 352  Han Fei argued that disastrous results would occur if the ruler acted on arbitrary, ad-hoc decision making, such as that based on relationships or morality which, as a product of reason, are "particular and fallible". Li, or Confucian customs, and rule by example are also simply too ineffective.[52][78][79] The ruler cannot act on a case-by-case basis, and so must establish an overarching system, acting through Fa (administrative methods or standards). Fa is not partial to the noble, does not exclude ministers, and does not discriminate against the common people.[79]

Linking the "public" sphere with justice and objective standards, for Han Fei, the private and public had always opposed each other.[80] Taking after Shang Yang he lists the Confucians among his "five vermin",[81] and calls the Confucian teaching on love and compassion for the people the "stupid teaching" and "muddle-headed chatter",[82] the emphasis on benevolence an "aristocratic and elitist ideal" demanding that "all ordinary people of the time be like Confucius' disciples".[52] Moreover, he dismisses it as impracticable, saying that "In their settled knowledge, the literati are removed from the affairs of the state ... What can the ruler gain from their settled knowledge?",[83] and points out that "Confucianism" is not a unified body of thought.[84]

In opposition to Confucian family sentiment, Tao Jiang (2021) notes Han Fei's analysis of family dynamics as based entirely on the position of the ruler, requiring structural solutions rather than Confucian education or moral cultivation. According to the Liji, an "important early Confucian canon", penal laws should not be applied to high officials. As a major source of political corruption, ministers shielded family members from penal measures in the name of Humaneness and others moral justifications. Only those without connections are subject to the law. Although noting an opposition between politic and morality, Tao Jiang takes Han Fei's opposition in this as clearly pointing to a moral dimension in his vision of political order. In what Tao Jiang takes as one of Han Fei's "most powerful condemnation of the gross injustice suffered by the commoners", Han Fei says:[85]

Judging from the tales handed down from high antiquity and the incidents recorded in the Spring and Autumn Annals, those men who violated the laws, committed treason, and carried out major acts of evil always worked throughsome eminent and highly placed minister. And yet the laws and regulations are customarily designed to prevent evil among the humble and lowly people, and it is upon them alone that penalties and punishments fall. Hence the common people lose hope and are left with no place to air their grievances. Meanwhile the high ministers band together and work as one man to cloud the vision of the ruler. (Watson trans. 2003, 89)

Shen Buhai[edit]

Han state bronze candle holder

Creel considered Shen Buhai (400–337 BCE), a past Chancellor of the Han state for fifteen years (351–337 BCE), whose philosophy he dubbed administrative, to have played a greater, if not "outstanding role in the creation of the traditional Chinese system of government", with the "immensely important contribution" of the ruler's role stemming "principally" from him, and not at all from Shang Yang. Apart from Shang Yang's doctrine of penalties, mutual spying, and denouncement among ministers, Han Fei recommends the ruler protect himself through the careful employment of doctrines that had been recommended by Shen Buhai.

The Huainanzi states that Han's officials lacked coherence, leading to the creation of the 'Books on Xing-Ming.' Han Fei criticizes Shen for not unifying Fa, reward or punishment, but what Shen appears to have realized is that the remnants of feudal government, or merely "getting together a group of 'good men'", could not be mixed with the control of a qualified bureaucracy.

Shen's "cardinal principle" is selecting officials based on their abilities and achievements (Xing Ming). The "routine functions"(Shen) of government business are carried out "entirely by the officials", and Shen insists that ministers "must have nothing to do with functions that were not assigned to them."(Creel).

Unlike Shang Yang, Shen sees the ruler abstractly, as simply the head of a bureaucracy, and who need not necessarily be the monarch. Creel's modernizing interpretation sees Shen's ruler as a "majestic arbiter" with a "team" of ministers, firmly but unobtrusively controlled by a number of techniques. The ruler does not often speak, act, or flaunt power, with Shen himself apparently sometimes declining to give opinions on important matters of state. The ruler occupies himself with larger matters, principles or policies. Shen emphasizes a discreet, informed, independent evaluation of ministers and their reports, using the same operational method (Fa) as others of the Fajia to measure and categorize information.

Well aware of the possibility of the loss of the ruler's position, and thus state or life, from said officials, Shen says:

One who murders the ruler and takes his state ... does not necessarily climb over difficult walls or batter in barred doors or gates. He may be one of the ruler's own ministers, gradually limiting what the ruler sees, restricting what he hears, getting control of his government and taking over his power to command, possessing the people and seizing the state.

Creel elaborates that unlike Han Fei, Shen still required a strong ruler at the center, emphasizing that without impeding his ministers he must neither trust nor allow any one minister to gain too much power. Ideally, Shen's ruler had the widest possible sovereignty, was intelligent (if not a sage), had to make all crucial decisions himself, and had unlimited control of the bureaucracy.[86][2][87][29]: 359 [15]: 93 [39]: 283 [18]: 11, 26, 30, 59–60, 68–69 [88][5]: 63, 81, 86, 97, 100, 103 

Following after proposals[edit]

As previously noted, Han Fei calls the doctrine of Shen Buhai Shu, or Technique, and describes it as concerned "almost exclusively" with selecting and governing capable ministers, checking performances, and holding power "in his own hands". However, the fragments do not use the term, using (Shu) numbers instead. Hence, Creel believed Shu term originally had the sense of numbers, with implicit roots in statistical or categorizing methods, using record-keeping in financial management as a numerical measure of accomplishment. He notes command of finance as generally held by the head of government from the beginning of the Zhou dynasty; an example of auditing dates to 800 BCE, and the practice of annual accounting solidified by the Warring States period and budgeting by the first century BCE.

With Han Fei and Sima Qian as precedent, Liu Xiang wrote that Shen advised the ruler of men use Shu ('technique') rather than punishment, emphasizing the scrutinizing of achievement to give reward and select capable ministers. He describes describes Shen's doctrines as concerned almost exclusively with personnel management and the monopolization of power, namely the "ruler's role and the methods by which he may control a bureaucracy"(Creel), being the control of and relations between ruler and minister which he characterized as Wu Wei (a kind of tactical non-activity leaving ministerial duties to ministers).

Liu Xiang says that "Shen Buhai's book says a ruler of men ought to use technique rather than punishment, relying on yin hsun to 'supervise and hold responsible' (tu tse) his ministers and subordinates; his holding responsible is very strict. Therefore his doctrine is called shu (method)." And another translation; "Master Shen writings say that the lord of men should grasp shu and do away with punishments, and yinxun in order to supversive and hold responsible his vassals and subordinates."

Literally meaning "to follow after" or imitate, Creel (1970) translates yin hsun (modern: yinxun) as relying on going along with, but confusingly shortens it to relying on persuasion. Goldin quotes Shen as famous for the dictum, "The Sage ruler relies on method (Fa) and does not rely on wisdom; he relies on technique, not on persuasions."[1] Yinxun, Goldin says, is classically associated with Shen Buhai:

The Zhushu (Shu or Techniques of the ruler), or ninth chapter chapter of the Han dynasty Huainanzi, describes Yinxun as "to follow and comply, and delegate responsibilities to one's subordinates." In line with Shen, its primary subject is refraining from the utilization of one's own abilities to co-opt those of the populace, utilizing their eyes and ears instead of his. Completely unmoving, he recognizes the particular talents of his subjects, retaining control over the earth.[89][90][18]: 51 [39]: 283 [29]: 359 [5]: 80–81, 93, 100, 103 

Shu (later narratives)[edit]

In the Guanzi the artisan's Shu is explicitly compared to that of the good ruler.[91] The History of the Han (Han Shu) lists texts for Shu as devoted to "calculation techniques" and "techniques of the mind", and describes the Warring States period as a time when the shu arose because the complete Dao had disappeared.[92]

The Han dynasty Lunheng says: "People themselves posses the knowledge to decieve others, but when they are to persuade rulers they need a special art (shu) to motivate the superiors--just as super men (commanders) themselves posses a powerful braveness that inspires awe in others."[93]

Another example of Shu is Chuan-shu, or "political maneuvering". The concept of Ch'uan, or "weighing" figures in "legalist" writings from very early times. It also figures in Confucian writings as at the heart of moral action, including in the Mencius and the Doctrine of the Mean. Weighing is contrasted with "the standard". Life and history often necessitate adjustments in human behavior, which must suit what is called for at a particular time. It always involves human judgement. A judge that has to rely on his subjective wisdom, in the form of judicious weighing, relies on Ch'uan. The Confucian Zhu Xi, who was notably not a restorationist, emphasized expedients as making up for incomplete standards or methods.[94]

One of the narratives or sayings of Shen Buhai is the ruler being an axis causing the ministers to advance like the spokes of a wheel, so that no one minister gains supremacy. The ruler must be able to access all senior ministers, and not trust any single minister. The general cultural relevance and political connection with the axis and wheel is astronomy related; "Imperial majesty corresponded, not to a legislating creator, but to a polar star, the focal point of universal ever-moving pattern and harmony not made with hands, even those of God." In Confucianism the Emperor, serving as a bridge between heaven and earth, is compared to the pole star, who remains motionless while all others move around him.[95]

Zhuangzi calls "the view from nowhere" the "hinge of daos", or dao-shu, a nonpurposive perspective preceding language, or "view from the axis of daos"(Hansen) from which anything can be said. Speech then leads to particular daos.[96] Hsu Kai (920–974 AD) calls Shu a branch in, or components of, the great Dao, likening it to the spokes on a wheel. He defines it as "that by which one regulates the world of things; the algorithms of movement and stillness". Mastery of techniques was a necessary element of sagehood.[92]


"The Way of Listening is to be giddy as though soused. Be dumber and dumber. Let others deploy themselves, and accordingly, I shall know them."
Right and wrong whirl around him like spokes on a wheel, but the sovereign does not complot. Emptiness, stillness, non-action—these are the characteristics of the Way. By checking and comparing how it accords with reality, [one ascertains] the "performance" of an enterprise.[97][98]
Han Fei
Detail of The Spinning Wheel, by Chinese artist Wang Juzheng, Northern Song Dynasty (960–1279)[99]

In the Han Dynasty secretaries of government who had charge of the records of decisions in criminal matters were called Xing-Ming, which Sima Qian (145 or 135 – 86 BCE) and Liu Xiang (77–6 BCE) attributed to the doctrine of Shen Buhai (400 – c. 337 BCE). Liu Xiang defines Shen Buhai's doctrine as Xing-Ming, as Sima Tan and Sima Qian had (less accurately) for the Fajia more generally before him. Its meaning was so completely lost as to have previously been translated as criminal law by JJL Duyvendak, otherwise translator for the 1928 Book of Lord Shang.[100]

Despite the penal associations in the Han era, and the association of the term Xing with punishment in Han times, Creel suggests that the term did not originally mean punishment. Moreover, Creel finds it highly unlikely that Shen used punishments in his own time, with Shen's fragments quoted as saying the ruler practices Xing-Ming while lacking punishment, and the apparent absence of the doctrine or practice of uniform reward and punishment in his state.

Liu Xiang and Creel both associate its practice in Qin and Han times as denoting a "system for the organization and control" of official corps, comparing title and performance, and "emphasizing the high position of superiors"(Creel), or as Liu Xiang says, ""honoring the ruler and humbling the minister, exalting superiors and curbing inferiors."[101]

Shen actually used an older, more philosophically common equivalent, ming-shi, (simplified Chinese: 名实; traditional Chinese: 名實; pinyin: míngshí) linking the "Legalist doctrine of names" with the 200-year name and reality (ming shi) debates of the school of names – another school evolving out of the Mohists. But the earliest literary occurrence for Xing-Ming, in the Zhan Guo Ce, is also in reference to the school of names.[102]

Ming-shi discussions are prominent in the Han Feizi,[103] and Dong Zhongshu's writings on "personnel testing and control" still use Ming-shi instead of Xing-Ming, in a manner "hardly distinguishable" from the Han Feizi,(Creel) although advocating against punishments.[104]

Ming ("name") sometimes has the sense of speech – so as to compare the statements of an aspiring officer with the reality of his actions – or reputation, again compared with real conduct (xing "form" or shi "reality").[5]: 83 [105][106] Two anecdotes by Han Fei provide examples: The Logician Ni Yue argued that a white horse is not a horse, and defeated all debaters, but was still tolled at the gate. In another, the chief minister of Yan pretended to see a white horse dash out the gate. All of his subordinates denied having seen anything, save one, who ran out after it and returned claiming to have seen it, and was thereby identified as a flatterer.[106]

Shen Buhai's personnel control, or rectification of names (such as titles) worked thereby for "strict performance control" (Hansen) correlating claims, performances and posts.[29]: 359  It would become a central tenant of both "Legalist" statecraft[107] and its Huang-Lao derivatives. Rather than having to look for "good" men, ming-shi or xing-ming can seek the right man for a particular post, though doing so implies a total organizational knowledge of the regime.[18]: 57 

More simply though, it can allow ministers to "name" themselves through accounts of specific cost and time frame, leaving their definition to competing ministers. Claims or utterances "bind the speaker to the realization a job (Makeham)." This was the doctrine, with subtle differences, favoured by Han Fei. Favoring exactness, it combats the tendency to promise too much.[108][106][109] The correct articulation of Ming is considered crucial to the realization of projects.[108][107]

Robin Yates suggests it otherwise derives from the use of military flags and pennants in war, as in a military method of organization, in the fifth century B.C.[110][15]: 90 

Wu wei (inaction)[edit]

Zhaoming mirror frame, Western Han dynasty

Sinologist Chad Hansen characterizes Shen Buhai's Shu or techniques as primarily Wu Wei, aimed at "preventing the usual drain and flow of the ruler's power to ministers", and secondarily a rectification of names for personnel control. What Creel noted as Wu Wei's Confucian variation meant that ministers carry out all the functions. The (qualified) non-action of the ruler ensures his power and the stability of the polity, and can therefore, Roger T. Ames says, be considered his foremost technique.

Although less antagonistic than his Han Fei, Shen still believed that the ruler's most able ministers are his greatest danger, and is convinced that it is impossible to make them loyal without techniques. Shen Buhai argued that if the government were organized and supervised relying on proper method (Fa), the ruler need do little – and must do little, portraying the ruler as putting up a front to hide his dependence on his advisors.

Aside from hiding the ruler's weaknesses, Shen's ruler, therefore, makes use of method (Fa) ("Shu") in secrecy. Even more than with Han Fei, Shen Buhai's ruler's strategies are a closely guarded secret, aiming for a complete independence that challenges "one of the oldest and most sacred tenets of Confucianism", that of respectfully receiving and following ministerial advice.

Creel explains: "The ruler's subjects are so numerous, and so on alert to discover his weaknesses and get the better of him, that it is hopeless for him alone as one man to try to learn their characteristics and control them by his knowledge ... the ruler must refrain from taking the initiative, and from making himself conspicuous – and therefore vulnerable – by taking any overt action."

Shen Buhai solves the problem of defining the terms of a job through Wu wei, or not getting involved, making an official's words his own responsibility, saying, "The ruler controls the policy, the ministers manage affairs. To speak ten times and ten times be right, to act a hundred times and a hundred times succeed – this is the business of one who serves another as minister; it is not the way to rule."[108][5]: 65 

Creel considers the "conception of the ruler's role as a supreme arbiter", who maintains power while leaving details to ministers, to have a "deep influence on the theory and practice of Chinese monarchy". Playing a "crucial role in the promotion of the autocratic tradition", what is termed Wu wei (or inaction) would become the political theory of the Fajia (or "Chinese Legalists"), if not becoming their general term for political strategy.

Following Shen Buhai strongly advocated by Han Fei, during the Han dynasty up until the reign of Emperor Wu of Han, rulers confined their activity "chiefly to the appointment and dismissal of his high officials", a plainly "Legalist" practice inherited from the Qin dynasty.[111][112][5]: 99 [29]: 359 

Lacking any metaphysical connotation, Shen used the term Wu wei to mean that the ruler, though vigilant, should not interfere with the duties of his ministers,[5]: 62–63 [15]: 92  acting through administrative method. Shen says:

The ruler is like a mirror, reflecting light, doing nothing, and yet, beauty and ugliness present themselves; (or like) a scale establishing equilibrium, doing nothing, and yet causing lightness and heaviness to discover themselves. (Administrative) method (Fa) is complete acquiescence. (Merging his) personal (concerns) with the public (weal), he does not act. He does not act, and yet as a result of his non-action (wuwei) the world brings itself to a state of complete order.[5]: 64 [113]: 172 

Though espousing an ultimate inactive end, the term does not appear in the Book of Lord Shang, ignoring it as an idea for control of the administration.[114]

Yin (passive mindfulness)[edit]

Shen's ruler plays no active role in governmental functions. He should not use his talent even if he has it. Not using his own skills, he is better able to secure the services of capable functionaries. However, Creel also argues that not getting involved in details allowed Shen's ruler to "truly rule", because it leaves him free to supervise the government without interfering, maintaining his perspective.[5]: 65–66 [112][108]

Adherence to the use of technique in governing requires the ruler not engage in any interference or subjective consideration.[115] Sinologist John Makeham explains: "assessing words and deeds requires the ruler's dispassionate attention; (yin is) the skill or technique of making one's mind a tabula rasa, non-committaly taking note of all the details of a man's claims and then objectively comparing his achievements of the original claims."[115]

A commentary to the Records of the Grand Historian quotes a now-lost book with Shen Buhai saying: "By employing (yin), 'passive mindfulness', in overseeing and keeping account of his vassals, accountability is deeply engraved." The Guanzi similarly says: "Yin is the way of non-action. Yin is neither to add to nor to detract from anything. To give something a name strictly on the basis of its form – this is the Method of yin."[115][116]

Yin also aimed at concealing the ruler's intentions, likes and opinions.[115] Shen advises the ruler to keep his own counsel, hide his motivations and conceal his tracks in inaction, availing himself of an appearance of stupidity and insufficiency.[5]: 67 [18]: 35 

If the ruler's intelligence is displayed, men will prepare against it; If his lack of intelligence is displayed, they will delude him. If his wisdom is displayed, men will gloss over (their faults); if his lack of wisdom is displayed, they will hide from him. If his lack of desires is displayed, men will spy out his true desires; if his desires are displayed, they will tempt him. Therefore (the intelligent ruler) says "I cannot know them; it is only by means of non-action that I control them."[5]: 66 [117][59]: 185 

Said obscuration was to be achieved together with the use of Method (Fa). Not acting himself, he can avoid being manipulated.[15]: 92 

Despite such injunctions, it is clear that the ruler's assignments would still be completely up to him.[118]

Legacy of the Shu branch[edit]

Creel elaborates a number of figures as potentially influenced by Shen Buhai, including Emperor Qinshihuang, Han figures Jia Yi, Emperor Wen of Han, Emperor Jing of Han, Chao Cuo, Dong Zhongshu, Gongsun Hong, and Emperor Xuan of Han. Emperor Wen of Sui is recorded as having withdrawn his favour from the Confucians, giving it to "the group advocating Xing-Ming and authoritarian government." Although a Confucian-oriented minister, Zhuge Liang is noted (by others) as attaching great importance to the work of Han Fei and Shen Buhai.

Michael Loewe considered Creel correct to distinguish between the stands of "Legalism", but questions the thrust of tracing lineages between the personas as a historical method. Loewe characterizes them as sympathizers of imperial government over that of the small states, endeavoring to permanently establishment imperial government without the dangers that destroyed the Qin.

Emperor Qinshihuang erected an inscription naming himself as taking control of the government and for the first time establishing Xing-Ming, a retroactive terminology for Shen Buhai's method utilized by Han Fei. Although Han Fei may be noted as relevant to the Emperor, Shen Buhai has his own historical relevance.

As mentioned previously, Sima Qian names Jia Yi as an advocate of Shen Buhai and Shang Yang, even though Jia Yi would not seem to be not an advocate of Shang Yang. With the encouragement of the Emperor Wen of Han, who the Shiji and Hanshu both regard as being basically fond of Xing-Ming, Jia Yi drew up "complete plans for revising the institutions of government and reorganizing the bureaucracy", which Emperor Wen put into effect. Although exiled by Emperor Wen under factional pressures, Jia Yi was sent to tutor one of Wen's sons, Liu Yi/Prince Huai of Liang.

Jia Yi describes Shen Buhai's Shu as a particular method of applying the Dao, or virtue, bringing together Confucian and Daoist discourses. He uses the imagery of the Zhuangzi of the knife and hatchet as examples of skillful technique in both virtue and force, saying "benevolence, righteousness, kindness and generosity are the ruler's sharp knife. Power, purchase, law and regulation are his axe and hatchet."[119]

Heir successor Emperor Jing of Han also had two mentors in the doctrines of Shen Buhai, and appointed another "Legalist", Chao Cuo. Chao Cuo is regarded by the Hanshu as a student of the doctrines of Shen Buhai, Shang Yang and Xing-Ming. Unlike Jia Yi, he does appear to take interest in Shang Yang.

Following the Rebellion of the Seven Kingdoms, Emperor Jing reformed criminal penalties to reduce injustices and punishments.

An advocate for the civil service examinations, Dong Zhongshu's writings on personnel testing and control use the terminology of Ming-shih, another (older) term for the method of Shen Buhai, in a manner "hardly distinguishable" from the Han Feizi,(Creel) but unlike Han Fei, advocate against punishments. Dong's advocacy aside, the civil service examination did not come into existence until its support by Gongsun Hong, who wrote a book on Xing-Ming. Thus, Creel credits the origination of the civil service examination in part to Shen Buhai.

The Emperor Xuan of Han was still said by Liu Xiang to have been fond of reading Shen Buhai, using Xing-Ming to control his subordinates and devoting much time to legal cases[120]

Shen Dao[edit]

Iron weight dated from 221 BCE with 41 inscriptions written in seal script about standardizing weights and measures during the 1st year of Qin dynasty "Where there is a scale, people cannot deceive others about weight; where there is a ruler, people cannot deceive others about length; and where there is Fa, people cannot deceive others about one's words and deeds." Shen Dao[121]: 137 
Mold for making banliang coins

Graham characterizes Shen Dao (350 – c. 275 BCE) as a theoretician of centralized power.[122] He argued for Wu wei in a similar manner to Shen Buhai, saying

The Dao of ruler and ministers is that the ministers labour themselves with tasks while the prince has no task; the prince is relaxed and happy while the ministers bear responsibility for tasks. The ministers use all their intelligence and strength to perform his job satisfactorily, in which the ruler takes no part, but merely waits for the job to be finished. As a result, every task is taken care of. The correct way of government is thus.[123][124]

Shen Dao also espouses an impersonal administration in much the same sense as Shen Buhai, and in contrast with Shang Yang emphasizes the use of talent[125] and the promotion of ministers, saying that order and chaos are "not the product of one man's efforts". Along this line, however, he challenges the Confucian and Mohist esteem and appointment of worthies as a basis of order, pointing out that talented ministers existed in every age.

Taking it upon himself to attempt a new, analytical solution, Shen advocated fairness as a new virtue, eschewing appointment by interview in favour of a mechanical distribution ("the basis of fairness") with the invariable Fa apportioning every person according to their achievement. Scholar Sugamoto Hirotsugu attributes the concept of Fen, or social resources, also used by the Guanzi and Xunzi, to Shen, given a "dimensional" difference through Fa, social relationships ("yin") and division.[126][121]: 122, 126, 133–136 

If one rabbit runs through a town street, and a hundred chase it, it is because its distribution has not been determined ... If the distribution has already been determined, even the basest people will not go for it. The way to control All-under-Heaven and the country lies solely in determining distribution.

The greatest function of Fa ("the principle of objective judgement") is the prevention of selfish deeds and argument. However, doubting its long-term viability Shen did not exclude moral values and accepted (qualified) Confucian Li's supplementation of Fa and social relationships, though he frames Li in terms of (impersonal) rules.[121]: 134–135 [127]

The state has the li of high and low rank, but not a li of men of worth and those without talent. There is a li of age and youth, but not of age and cowardice. There is a li of near and distant relatives, but no li of love and hate.

For this reason he is said to "laugh at men of worth" and "reject sages", his order relying not on them but on the Fa.[127]

Linking Fa to the notion of impartial objectivity associated with universal interest, and reframing the language of the old ritual order to fit a universal, imperial and highly bureaucratized state,[80] Shen cautions the ruler against relying on his own personal judgment,[128] contrasting personal opinions with the merit of the objective standard, or fa, as preventing personal judgements or opinions from being exercised. Personal opinions destroy Fa, and Shen Dao's ruler therefore "does not show favouritism toward a single person".[80]

When an enlightened ruler establishes [gong] ("duke" or "public interest"), [private] desires do not oppose the correct timing [of things], favoritism does not violate the law, nobility does not trump the rules, salary does not exceed [that which is due] one's position, a [single] officer does not occupy multiple offices, and a [single] craftsman does not take up multiple lines of work ... [Such a ruler] neither overworked his heart-mind with knowledge nor exhausted himself with self-interest (si), but, rather, depended on laws and methods for settling matters of order and disorder, rewards and punishments for deciding on matters of right and wrong, and weights and balances for resolving issues of heavy or light ...[80]

The reason why those who apportion horses use ce-lots, and those who apportion fields use gou-lots, is not that they take ce and gou-lots to be superior to human wisdom, but that one may eliminate private interest and stop resentment by these means. Thus it is said: "When the great lord relies on fa and does not act personally, affairs are judged in accordance with (objective) method (fa)." The benefit of fa is that each person meets his reward or punishment according to his due, and there are no further expectations of the lord. Thus resentment does not arise and superiors and inferiors are in harmony.

If the lord of men abandons method (Fa) and governs with his own person, then penalties and rewards, seizures and grants, will all emerge from the lord's mind. If this is the case, then those who receive rewards, even if these are commensurate, will ceaselessly expect more; those who receive punishment, even if these are commensurate, will endlessly expect more lenient treatment... people will be rewarded differently for the same merit and punished differently for the same fault. Resentment arises from this.[1][121]: 129 [129]

Although Sinologis. Creel (1970:63) believed that Shen had the same sort of administrative idea denoted by Shen Buhai's Xing-Ming, he does not use the term.

Doctrine of position (shi)[edit]

The people of Qi have a saying – "A man may have wisdom and discernment, but that is not like embracing the favourable opportunity. A man may have instruments of husbandry, but that is not like waiting for the farming seasons." Mencius

Used in many areas of Chinese thought, shi probably originated in the military field.[130] Diplomats relied on concepts of situational advantage and opportunity, as well as techniques (shu) involving secrecy, long before the ascendancy of such concepts as sovereignty or law, and were used by kings wishing to free themselves from the aristocrats.[131] Sun Tzu would go on to incorporate Taoist philosophy of inaction and impartiality, and Legalist punishment and rewards as systematic measures of organization, recalling Han Fei's concepts of power (shi) and techniques (shu).[14]

Henry Kissinger's On China says: "Chinese statesmanship exhibits a tendency to view the entire strategic landscape as part of a single whole ... Strategy and statecraft become means of 'combative coexistence' with opponents. The goal is to manoeuvre them into weakness while building up one's own shi, or strategic position." Kissinger considers the "manoeuvring" approach an ideal, but one that ran in contrast to the conflicts of the Qin dynasty.[132]

Gernet considered the "merit" of the "Legalists" to be the understanding that the power of the state resides in social and political institutions. Their "originality" lies in their aim to subject the state to them.[133][113]: 175  Similarly, Graham (1989) concludes that 'Legalism' marks a shift from the "man-to-man relations of feudalism." 'Legalism' is lacking on discussions on De, or awe-inspiring personal potency. Power shifts to simply occupying institutional positions.[69]

Like Shen Buhai, Shen Dao largely focused on statecraft (Fa), and Confucian reformer Xun Kuang discusses him in this capacity, never referencing Shen Dao in relation to power, which he attributes to Shen Buhai.[134][135][136][1][15]: 93  Shen Dao is remembered for his theories on shi (lit. "situational advantage", but also "power" or "charisma") because Han Fei references him in this capacity.[128]

Xun Kuang views military science as expressions which can be worked out rationally and systematically, albeit framing them as cultivated rituals. But in explanation as to why talent and worth do not find success, he has a saying; "If the right person does not meet with the right time, then will even one who is talented be able to succeed?"; Sinologist John Makeham suggests the earliest version of this particular line may be taken from the Analects; "The noble man is firm in hard times; when the lesser man falls on hard times, he becomes dissolute."[137]

The thrust of Han Fei's argument is negating Confucianist discussions of rule by moral worth versus rule by power, which might include brigands. Neither will do the job, nor do they rule together. As quoted of Han Fei, Shi, or what Graham translates as the power-base, is not intended to refer to any single doctrine. It may have innumerable variations. It refers to power acquired spontaneously, and political order as such is not based on it, anymore than it is based on moral order. Singular men cannot institute power. Political order is based on order like clearly defined "laws."(Fa) But, power and position will at least enable the ruler to enact these.[138]

In the words of Han Fei,

The reason why I discuss the power of position is for the sake of ... mediocre rulers. These mediocre rulers, at best they do not reach the level of [the sages] Yao or Shun, and at worst they do not behave like [the arch-tyrants] Jie or Zhou. If they hold to the 'law' (Fa) and depend on the power of their position, there will be order; but if they abandon the power of their position and turn their backs on the 'law', there will be disorder. Now if one abandons the power of position, turns one's back on the law, and waits for a Yao or Shun, then when a Yao or a Shun arrives there will indeed be order, but it will only be one generation of order in a thousand generations of disorder ... Nevertheless, if anyone devotes his whole discourse to the sufficiency of the doctrine of position to govern All-under-Heaven, the limits of his wisdom must be very narrow.[139]

Shen Dao on shi[edit]

Searching out the causes of disorder, Shen Dao observed splits in the ruler's authority.[121]: 122  Shen Dao's theory on power echoes Shen Buhai, referenced by Xun Kuang as its originator, who says "He who (can become) singular decision-maker can become the sovereign of All under Heaven."[39]: 268 [140][141] Shen Dao's theory may have been borrowed from the Book of Lord Shang,[15]: 93 [142] if he received any portion of it.[143] It may otherwise have originated in Shen Dao's abandonment of a singular Fa, or Standard, as correct.[29]: 317 

For Shen Dao, "Power" ( shi) refers to the ability to compel compliance; it requires no support from the subjects, though it does not preclude this.[128] (shi's) merit is that it prevents people from fighting each other; political authority is justified and essential on this basis.[128] Shen Dao says: "When All under Heaven lacks the single esteemed [person], then there is no way to carry out the principles [of orderly government, li ]. ... Hence the Son of Heaven is established for the sake of All under Heaven ... All under Heaven is not established for the sake of the Son of Heaven ..."[141]

Talent cannot be displayed without power.[144] Shen Dao says: "The flying dragon rides on the clouds and the rising serpent wanders in the mists. But when the clouds disperse and the mists clear up, the dragon and the serpent become the same as the earthworm and the large winged black ant because they have lost what they ride."[128] Leadership is not a function of ability or merit, but is given by some process, such as giving a leader to a group.[130] "The ruler of a state is enthroned for the sake of the state; the state is not established for the sake of the prince. Officials are installed for the sake of their offices; offices are not established for the sake of officials ..."[80][130]

While moral capability is usually disregarded by the Fajia, Shen Dao considers it useful in terms of authority. If the ruler is inferior but his command is practiced, it is because he is able to get support from people.[128] But his ideas otherwise constitute a "direct challenge" to Confucian virtue.[145] Virtue is unreliable because people have different capacities. Both morality together with intellectual capability are insufficient to rule, while position of authority is enough to attain influence and subdue the worthy, making virtue "not worth going after".[128][146][113]: 174 

Han Fei on Shi[edit]

Like Shen Dao, Han Fei seems to admit that virtue or charisma can have persuasive power even in his own time.[147] However, he considers virtue instrumental, and Wu-wei, or nonaction, as its essence.[148] Furthermore, he criticizes virtue as insufficient; power should be amassed through "laws" (fa),[142] and unlike Shen considers government by moral persuasion and government by power (shi) mutually incompatible.[128] The ruler's authority (shi) should depend neither on his own personal qualities or cultivation, or even upon Shen Dao's position or power, but on Fa (law or checks and balances), a more vital source for his authority. Shang Yang and Han Fei's rejection of charisma (shi) as ineffective underwrite their rejection of the Confucian ruler.[29]: 366 [113]: 170, 181  Han Fei does stress that the leader has to occupy a position of substantial power before he is able to use these or command followers. Competence or moral standing do not allow command.[144]

For Han Fei, in order to actually influence, manipulate or control others in an organization and attain organizational goals it is necessary to utilize techniques (shu), regulation (fa), and rewards and punishment – the "two handles".Reward and punishment determine social positions – the right to appoint and dismiss. In line with Shi, these should never be relegated. The ruler must be the sole dispenser of honors and penalties. If these are delegated to the smallest degree, and people are appointed on the basis of reputation or worldly knowledge, then rivals will emerge and the ruler's power will fall to opinion and cliques (the ministers). Allowing him to prevent collapse by combating or resolving ministerial disagreements and ambitions, the rulers exclusive authority outweighs all other considerations, and Han Fei requires that the ruler punish disobedient ministers even if the results of their actions were successful. Goods may not be considered meaningful outside of his control.[133][149][150][151][152]

Han Fei[edit]

Han Fei's (280–233 BCE) theory is more interested in self-preservation than formulating any general theory of the state.[1] Sinologist Daniel Bell considers Han Fei's work a "political handbook for power-hungry rulers... (arguing that) political leaders should act like rational sociopaths" with "total-state control" strengthened by rewards and punishments.[153][154]

Nonetheless, Han Fei inheres to the tradition of Fa, or objective "public standards guiding performance", sometimes stressing public proclamations with "measurement-like precision" linking performance with reward or punishment. Considering coherent discourse essential for the functioning of the state, Han Fei's analysis of the problem of rulership is that "people naturally incline to private interpretation"(Chad Hansen). Differentiating his theory from that of the Confucians through the objectivity and mass public accessibility of Fa, he considers measurement (Fa) the only justification for adopting an explicit code, rather than leaving matters to tradition and elite conceptions of virtue (de). As with Shen Buhai and most of the School of Names he takes the congruence between name and reality as a primary goal.

Public, measurement-like standards for applying names (administrative standards or job contracts) can "plausibly make it hard for clever ministers to lie, (or) for glib talkers to take people (or the ruler) in with sophistries ... [They make it possible to] correct the faults of superiors, expose error, check excess, and unify standards ... Laws, by themselves, cannot prevent the ruler from being fooled or deceived. The ruler needs Fa." Han Fei's arguments for "rule by law" (Fa) would not have as much persuasive power as they do if not for Fa, without which its objectives cannot be achieved. He rejects Confucian Li, scholarly interpretation and opinion, worldly knowledge, and reputation: models must be measured, dissolving behaviour and disputes of distinction into practical application.

Considering politics the only means of preserving the power of the state, he emphasizes standards (Fa), preventing disputes in language or knowledge, as the ruler's only protection. Providing reward and penalty automatically, Fa strictly defines state functions through binding, general rules, removing from discussion what would otherwise only be opinion, and preventing conflicts of competencies, undue powers or profits. To this end, Han Fei's high officials focus solely on definition through calculation and the construction of objective models, judged solely by effectiveness.[155][156][157][29]: 348–349, 352, 366–367 

Wu wei[edit]

Devoting the entirety of Chapter 14, "How to Love the Ministers", to "persuading the ruler to be ruthless to his ministers", Han Fei's enlightened ruler strikes terror into his ministers by doing nothing (wu wei). The qualities of a ruler, his "mental power, moral excellence and physical prowess" are irrelevant. He discards his private reason and morality, and shows no personal feelings. What is important is his method of government. Fa (administrative standards) require no perfection on the part of the ruler.[158]

Sinologist Hansen views Han Fei as "playing an important role in furthering the authoritarian distortion of Daoism", which would later be inherited by Neo-Confucianism.[29]: 345  Although Han Fei's use of Wu-Wei may have been derivative of Daoism, he references Shen Buhai for it, and its Dao emphasizes autocracy ("Tao does not identify with anything but itself, the ruler does not identify with the ministers"). Randall Peerenboom argue's that Han Fei's Shu (technique) is arguably more of a "practical principle of political control" than any state of mind.[159][160] Han Fei nonetheless begins by advising the ruler to remain "empty and still".

Tao is the beginning of the myriad things, the standard of right and wrong. That being so, the intelligent ruler, by holding to the beginning, knows the source of everything, and, by keeping to the standard, knows the origin of good and evil. Therefore, by virtue of resting empty and reposed, he waits for the course of nature to enforce itself so that all names will be defined of themselves and all affairs will be settled of themselves. Empty, he knows the essence of fullness: reposed, he becomes the corrector of motion. Who utters a word creates himself a name; who has an affair creates himself a form. Compare forms and names and see if they are identical. Then the ruler will find nothing to worry about as everything is reduced to its reality.

Tao exists in invisibility; its function, in unintelligibility. Be empty and reposed and have nothing to do-Then from the dark see defects in the light. See but never be seen. Hear but never be heard. Know but never be known. If you hear any word uttered, do not change it nor move it but compare it with the deed and see if word and deed coincide with each other. Place every official with a censor. Do not let them speak to each other. Then everything will be exerted to the utmost. Cover tracks and conceal sources. Then the ministers cannot trace origins. Leave your wisdom and cease your ability. Then your subordinates cannot guess at your limitations.

The bright ruler is undifferentiated and quiescent in waiting, causing names (roles) to define themselves and affairs to fix themselves. If he is undifferentiated then he can understand when actuality is pure, and if he is quiescent then he can understand when movement is correct.[161][162][163][164][59]: 186–187 [165]

Han Fei's commentary on the Tao Te Ching asserts that perspectiveless knowledge – an absolute point of view – is possible, though the chapter may have been one of his earlier writings.[29]: 371 

Performance and title (Xing-Ming)[edit]

Han Fei was notoriously focused on what he termed Xing-Ming (Chinese: 刑名; pinyin: xíngmíng) Possibly referring to the drafting and imposition of standardized terms Xing-MIng functions through binding declarations (Ming), like a legal contract. Verbally committing oneself, a candidate is allotted a job, indebting him to the ruler. "Naming" people to (objectively determined) positions, it rewards or punished according to the proposed job description and whether the results fit the task entrusted by their word, which a real minister fulfils.

Han Fei insists on the perfect congruence between words and deeds. Fitting the name is more important than results. The completion, achievement, or result of a job is its assumption of a fixed form (xing), which can then be used as a standard against the original claim (ming). A large claim but a small achievement is inappropriate to the original verbal undertaking, while a larger achievement takes credit by overstepping the bounds of office.

Han Fei's "brilliant ruler" "orders names to name themselves and affairs to settle themselves".

If the ruler wishes to bring an end to treachery, then he examines into the congruence of the congruence of hsing (form/standard) and claim. This means to ascertain if words differ from the job. A minister sets forth his words and on the basis of his words, the ruler assigns him a job. Then the ruler holds the minister accountable for the achievement which is based solely on his job. If the achievement fits his job, and the job fits his words, then he is rewarded. If the achievement does not fit his jobs and the job does not fit his words, then he will be punished.

Assessing the accountability of his words to his deeds, the ruler attempts to "determine rewards and punishments in accordance with a subject's true merit" (using Fa). It is said that using names (ming) to demand realities (shi) exalts superiors and curbs inferiors, provides a check on the discharge of duties, and naturally results in emphasizing the high position of superiors, compelling subordinates to act in the manner of the latter.

Han Fei considers Xing-Ming an essential element of autocracy, saying that "In the way of assuming Oneness names are of first importance. When names are put in order, things become settled down; when they go awry, things become unfixed." He emphasizes that through this system, earlier developed by Shen Buhai, uniformity of language could be developed, functions could be strictly defined to prevent conflict and corruption, and objective rules (Fa) impervious to divergent interpretation could be established, judged solely by their effectiveness. By narrowing down the options to exactly one, discussions on the "right way of government" could be eliminated. Whatever the situation (shi) brings is the correct Dao.

Though recommending use of Shen Buhai's techniques, Han Fei's Xing-Ming is both considerably narrower and more specific. The functional dichotomy implied in Han Fei's mechanistic accountability is not readily implied in Shen's, and might be said to be more in line with the later thought of the Han dynasty linguist Xu Gan than that of either Shen Buhai or his supposed teacher Xun Kuang.[166][167][168][169][15]: 81 [39]: 284 [170][5]: 86 [5]: 83, 87, 104 [29]: 308, 349, 365, 367, 370, 372 

The "Two Handles"[edit]

A modern statue of the First Emperor and his attendants on horseback
The two August Lords of high antiquity grasped the handles of the Way and so were established in the center. Their spirits mysteriously roamed together with all transformations and thereby pacified the four directions. Huainanzi

Though not entirely accurately, most Han works identify Shang Yang with penal law. Its discussion of bureaucratic control is simplistic, chiefly advocating punishment and reward. Shang Yang was largely unconcerned with the organization of the bureaucracy apart from this.[3]: 59 [5]: 100, 102, 105  Han Fei connects his own rewards and punishments under his theory of Shu (managerial technique) in connection with Xing-Ming (correlating performances to titles).[29]: 367 [157]

As a matter of illustration, if the "keeper of the hat" lays a robe on the sleeping Emperor, he has to be put to death for overstepping his office, while the "keeper of the robe" has to be put to death for failing to do his duty.[56] The philosophy of the "Two Handles" likens the ruler to the tiger or leopard, which "overpowers other animals by its sharp teeth and claws"(rewards and punishments). Without them he is like any other man; his existence depends upon them. To "avoid any possibility of usurpation by his ministers", power and its "handles" of reward and punishment must "not be shared or divided", concentrating them in the ruler exclusively.

In practice, this means that the ruler must be isolated from his ministers. The elevation of ministers endangers the ruler, with which he must be kept strictly apart. Punishment confirms his sovereignty; eliminating anyone who oversteps his boundary, regardless of intention. Fa "aims at abolishing the selfish element in man and the maintenance of public order", making the people responsible for their actions.[158]

Han Fei's rare appeal (among Legalists) to the use of scholars (method specialists) makes him comparable to the Confucians, in that sense. The ruler cannot inspect all officials himself, and must rely on the decentralized (but faithful) application of laws and methods (fa). Contrary to Shen Buhai and his own rhetoric, Han Fei insists that loyal ministers (like Guan Zhong, Shang Yang, and Wu Qi) exist, and upon their elevation with maximum authority. Though Fajia sought to enhance the power of the ruler, this scheme effectively neutralizes him, reducing his role to the maintenance of the system of reward and punishments, determined according to impartial methods and enacted by specialists expected to protect him through their usage thereof.[171][172] Combining Shen Buhai's methods with Shang Yang's insurance mechanisms, Han Fei's ruler simply employs anyone offering their services.[167]


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  11. ^ Hengy Chye Kiang 1999. p. 44. Cities of Aristocrats and Bureaucrats.
  12. ^ Rubin, Vitaliĭ, 1976. p55. Individual and state in ancient China : essays on four Chinese philosophers
  13. ^ Yu-lan Fung 1948. p. 157. A Short History of Chinese Philosophy.
    • Eno, Robert (2010), Legalism and Huang-Lao Thought (PDF), Indiana University, Early Chinese Thought Course Readings
    • Hu Shi 1930: 480–48, also quoted Yuri Pines 2013. Birth of an Empire
    • Graham 1989. 268
  14. ^ a b Chen, Chao Chuan and Yueh-Ting Lee 2008 p. 12. Leadership and Management in China
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Bishop, Donald H. (27 September 1995). Chinese Thought: An Introduction. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. ISBN 9788120811393.
  16. ^ Kenneth Winston p. 315. Singapore Journal of Legal Studies [2005] 313–347. The Internal Morality of Chinese Legalism.
  17. ^ Creel, Herrlee Glessner.1970.p.95. What Is Taoism?: And Other Studies in Chinese Cultural History
  18. ^ a b c d e Creel, 1974. Shen Pu-hai: A Chinese Political Philosopher of the Fourth Century B.C.
  19. ^ a b Pines, Yuri, "Legalism in Chinese Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), 1.2 Historical Context.
  20. ^ Eno (2010), p. 1.
  21. ^ Chad Hansen, University of Hong Kong. Lord Shang.
  22. ^ Charles Holcombe 2011 p. 42. A History of East Asia.
  23. ^ Pines, Yuri, "Legalism in Chinese Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Epilogue.
  24. ^ K. K. Lee, 1975 p. 24. Legalist School and Legal Positivism, Journal of Chinese Philosophy Volume 2.
  25. ^ Yu-lan Fung 1948. p. 155. A Short History of Chinese Philosophy.
  26. ^ Herrlee G. Creel, 1974 p. 124. Shen Pu-Hai: A Secular Philosopher of Administration, Journal of Chinese Philosophy Volume 1
    firm hand, devolution, aristocratic lineages:
    • Edward L. Shaughnessy. China Empire and Civilization p26
    rise of regional powers
    • Pines, Yuri, "Legalism in Chinese Philosophy", 1.2 Historical Context.
    disintegration and struggle
  27. ^ David K Schneider May/June 2016 p. 20. China's New Legalism
  28. ^ Knoblox Xunzi 148
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Hansen, Chad (17 August 2000). A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought: A Philosophical Interpretation. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195350760 – via Google Books.
  30. ^ K. K. Lee, 1975 p. 26. Legalist School and Legal Positivism, Journal of Chinese Philosophy Volume 2.
  31. ^ a b Waley (1939), p. 194.
  32. ^ Huang, Ray, China A Macro History. p.20.
    Daoists little respect for mundane authority. Daoists and Confucians regressive view of history
  33. ^ Invention of the Fa "School" A more formal source will be sought, but although Eno doesn't write a lot of books, he appears respected and quoted within the field - he isn't just some random professor. Not an organized school or movement.
    • Herrlee G. Creel, 1974. p123. Shen Pu-Hai: A Secular Philosopher of Administration, Journal of Chinese Philosophy Volume 1.
    • Graham, A. C. 1989/2015. Disputers of the Tao. p377. No one is named. p268. Guanzi was classed as Daoist in the Han bibliography
    • Daniel Guiguizi 1999. p114. Shendao/Guanzhong Fajia/Daojia.
    Disseratation, more pertinent source may be located in direct Shendao article when I recheck them
    • Allyn Ricket. 2001. p19. Guanzi Volume 1 p19. Shendao ref
  34. ^ Invention of the Fa "School" Part 2.
    Arguments for the influence of Daoism
    • Peter R. Moody 2011. Han Fei in his Context: Legalism on the Eve of the Qin conquest. John Wiley and Sons; Wiley (Blackwell Publishing); Blackwell Publishing Inc.; Wiley; Brill (ISSN 0301-8121), Journal of Chinese Philosophy, #1, 38, pages 14-30, 2011 feb 24
    "Daoistic" attitudes
    • Mingjun Lu 2016. p.344. Implications of Han Fei’s Philosophy. Journal of Chinese Political Science.
    Referencjing moody, Mingjun argues for natural-law Daoism in the Han Feizi that would typically be located in the Han dynasty e.g. Huainanzi as per Sima Qian.
    • Taking Yuri Pines as source, proto-Daoism does not appear to be a currently incorporated status for the Fajia within scholarship, e.g. with regards the bulk of the Han Feizi
    • Yuri Pines (2022) Han�Feizi and the Earliest Exegesis of Zuozhuan, Monumenta Serica, 70:2, 341-365, DOI: 10.1080/02549948.2022.2131797
    • a disciplinary rejection of assumed daoist influence does not appear to be shared by the Chinese, who may simply reference Sima Qian out of hand despite what i would otherwise consider quality content
    • Peng He 2014. p. 69. Chinese Lawmaking: From Non-communicative to Communicative.
    • Kejian, Huang 2016. p180. From Destiny to Dao: A Survey of Pre-Qin Philosophy in China.
  35. ^ Invention of the Fa "School" part 3.
    • Feng Youlan 1948. p.30,33. A short history of Chinese philosophy
    (Liu Xin/"Ministry of justice" Defining the fa Tradition. Essentially arbitrary. Pairing Shen Buhai and Shang Yang, adding Han Fei
    The historian Sima Qian 司馬遷 (ca. 145–90 BCE) identified these three thinkers as adherents of the teaching of “performance and title”
    • Creel, Herrlee Glessner.1970,1982., What Is Taoism?: And Other Studies in Chinese Cultural History
    p90. The Confucians disliked Xing-Ming
    p100. Unlike Shen Buhai, Shang Yang's use of Xing-Ming is not substantiated by his biography or other works
    p101. No longer aware of the differences in the former Han
    p106. Jia Yi glossing. Han officials made a point of detesting the Qin dynasty until Emperor Wen.
    p.113 popular opposition to penal law, deliberate promotion of confusion among opponents of the Fajia
  36. ^ Early western reception as Legalists
    • Waley, Arthur (1939). p151. Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China. London: G. Allen & Unwin.
    • Graham, A. C. 1989/2015. Disputers of the Tao. p268
    • Jay L. Garfield, William Edelglass 2011, p.59,65-67 The Oxford Handbook of World Philosophy
    There may not be a single instance of legal positivist interpretation following Peerenboom.
    • 2022 Adventures in Chinese Realism. Continued conventional use.
    • Bo Mou 2009. p208. Routledge History of Chinese Philosophy. Only derivatively includes penal codes
    The Routledge's bibliography regards Legalism as a category of interpretation as having ended in Hansen's advent.1992/1994
    • Joseph Needham 1956.206. Science and Civilization in China Volume 2
    • Tao Jiang 2021. p233,235. Origins of Moral-Political Philosophy in Early China
    • Feng Youlan 1948. p.157. A short history of Chinese philosophy
    • Creel, 1974. p122. Shen Pu-Hai: A Secular Philosopher of Administration, Journal of Chinese Philosophy Volume 1
    • Creel, Herrlee Glessner.1970,1982. What Is Taoism?: And Other Studies in Chinese Cultural History
    p92. Chapter: The Fa-Chia, "Legalists" or "Administrators"?
    p93. The term Legalist misconstrues and distorts the Fajia's role in Chinese history, giving undue prominence to Shang Yang
    p119-120. You could say the Fajia would be greatly influential, Legalists not so much
    • Pines, Yuri, "Legalism in Chinese Philosophy", 2023.
    Predominant influence of managerial branch modernly supported by Pines p12. First usage of the term Legalism with reference to China still unknown in 2011. Apart from the early translation of Fa as law, Goldin makes a similar religious supposition to Creel.
  37. ^ Legalist arguments
    • R. P. Peerenboom 1993 p. 241. Law and Morality in Ancient China.
    • Pines, Yuri, "Legalism in Chinese Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2023 Edition), Edward N. Zalta & Uri Nodelman (eds.), 2.3 The rule by impartial standards and the principle of impartiality.
    • No monumenta serica article contains the term in its title after 1990 or otherwise much discussed; the Qin is discussed. The Han Feizi reappears in 2022 with an uptick of related scholarship; the same cannot be said for the others, e.g. apart from book translation.
  38. ^ Predominance question
    • Rubin, Vitaliĭ, 1976. p55. Individual and state in ancient China : essays on four Chinese philosophers
    Peter R. Moody 2011. Han Fei in his Context: Legalism on the Eve of the Qin conquest. John Wiley and Sons; Wiley (Blackwell Publishing); Blackwell Publishing Inc.; Wiley; Brill (ISSN 0301-8121), Journal of Chinese Philosophy, #1, 38, pages 14-30, 2011 feb 24
    • Jay L. Garfield, William Edelglass 2011, p.59,65-67 The Oxford Handbook of World Philosophy
    • Tao Jiang 2021. p132.
  39. ^ a b c d e Graham, A. C. (15 December 2015). Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China. Open Court. ISBN 9780812699425 – via Google Books.
  40. ^ Graham, A. C. 1989/2015. p269. Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China. Open Court. ISBN 9780812699425 – via Google Books.
  41. ^ Ross Terril 2003 pp. 68–69. The New Chinese Empire
  42. ^ Yang, Soon-ja (2012). Song, Hongbing 宋洪兵, New Studies of Han Feizi’s Political Thought 韓非子政治思想再硏究: Beijing 北京: Renmin Chubanshe 人民出版社, 2010, 414 pages. Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 11 (2):266. & Soon-Ja Yang (2010). p168. New Studies of Han Feizi’s Political Thought
  43. ^ Han Fei's elements of the Fajia
    • "Rule by Man" and "Rule by Law" in Early Republican China: Contributions to a Theoretical Debate. The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 69, No. 1 (FEBRUARY 2010), pp. 181-203.
    • Tao Jiang 2021. p233,237.
    • Feng Youlan 1948. p157-158. A short history of Chinese philosophy.
    • Creel, Herrlee Glessner.1970. What Is Taoism?
    p.95,100 Two schools, Shen Dao.
    61 Hu shih, Han Fei critique; fragments always method, never law
    61-62 Shu as method not in fragments, Shu 数 numbers instead, but used in the same sense of method
    74. Wu wei as a practical technique of government control and administration
    97-98,100. Ministerial danger, techniques
    93. Notes 103. Fa as method in fragments, no Shu
    102. Role of the ruler and bureaucracy, Legalism rejection.
    103. Li Si, Sima Qian
    113. Imperial China and Jurisprudence
    • Chad Hansen 1992/2000 p363. Daoist Theory of Philosophy
    • Pines, Yuri, "Legalism in Chinese Philosophy", 2023
    • Yuri Pines. 2019. p689. Worth Vs. Power: Han Fei’s “Objection to Positional Power” Revisited
    • Peerenboom, R. P. The Review of Politics vol. 59 iss. 3. Totalitarian Law Zhengyuan Fu: China's Legalists: The Earliest Totalitarians and Their Art of Ruling.
    • Yang, Soon-ja (2012). Song, Hongbing 宋洪兵, New Studies of Han Feizi’s Political Thought 韓非子政治思想再硏究: Beijing 北京: Renmin Chubanshe 人民出版社, 2010, 414 pages. Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 11 (2):266.
    • For discussion on institutionalization of power see the Shih section per Jacques Garnet and Graham
  44. ^
    • Creel, 1974. p159. Shen Pu-hai: A Chinese Political Philosopher of the Fourth Century B.C.
    • Chad Hansen 1992/2000. p350,367. Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought
    • Graham 1989. 282-283. Disputers of the Dao
  45. ^ * Jay L. Garfield, William Edelglass 2011, p.59,65-67 The Oxford Handbook of World Philosophy
    • 64. Unlike Goldin, this introductory work still accepted Han Fei as synthesizer, at least conventionally
  46. ^ Tao Jiang 2021. p235-236,267
  47. ^ Tao Jiang 2021. p238,244. Origins of Moral-Political Philosophy in Early China
  48. ^ Power (Shi) as prerequisite 344-345. Han Fei prepares the ruler for conquest, eschew ethics in favor of strategy emphasized the legitimacy of the king, but considered force the basis of law.
    • Goldin 2005. Studies in Early China Philosophy
    p65. way of the ruler. 360. Ruler's standpoint
    • Creel, Herrlee Glessner 1970/1982. What Is Taoism?
    103, Creel quote, role of the ruler
    • Ellen Marie Chen, 1975 pp. 6–8, 10, 14 Reason and Nature in the Han Fei-Tzu, Journal of Chinese Philosophy Volume 2.
    • Chen, Chao Chuan and Yueh-Ting Lee 2008 p111. Leadership and Management in China.
    food production, military training, replacing old aristocracy
    • "Pines, Yuri, "Legalism in Chinese Philosophy", 1. 2. Philosophical Foundations. rich state and powerful army, 5.1 The Ruler’s Superiority
    • Han Fei, De, Welfare. Schneider, Henrique. Asian Philosophy. Aug2013, Vol. 23 Issue 3, p260-274. 15p. DOI: 10.1080/09552367.2013.807584., Database: Academic Search Elite
    may practice welfare, but not taken as a legitimizing factor
  49. ^ Yang Zhong 2003 p. 26. Local Government and Politics in China: Challenges from Below.
  50. ^ "Chinese Law". Retrieved 17 September 2023.
  51. ^ Anti-ministerialism checked source group
    • Creel, Herrlee Glessner (September 15, 1970/1982). p107. What Is Taoism?: And Other Studies in Chinese Cultural History. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226120478 – via Google Books.
    • Tao Jiang 2021. p266. Origins of Moral-Political Philosophy in Early China
    • Pines, Yuri, "Legalism in Chinese Philosophy", 2023
    • Pines 4. references Creel 1974
    • Roger T. Ames 1983. p. 50. Art of Rulership, The.
    self-regulating systems is a perfectly acceptable generalization, universal law isn't per Shen Buhai, so qualify it. I don't know if it was universal law, but I can say "universally applicable" in conjunction with Hansen; Fraiser reiterates Ames' excellent statement without the 30 years prior Legalist interpretive priority.
    • Hansen, Chad 1992/2000. p347,359. A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought
    • Jay L. Garfield, William Edelglass 2011, p59. The Oxford Handbook of World Philosophy
    • K. K. Lee, 1975 p. 24. Legalist School and Legal Positivism, Journal of Chinese Philosophy Volume 2. (University reference not yet rechecked)
    • Roger Boesche Asian Philosophy Vol. 15, No. 2, 2005 p. 162, Han Feizi's Legalism Versus Kautilya's Arthashastra
    Han Fei long sections quotation
  52. ^ a b c Ellen Marie Chen, 1975 pp. 6–8, 10, 14 Reason and Nature in the Han Fei-Tzu, Journal of Chinese Philosophy Volume 2.
  53. ^ Chen, Chao Chuan and Yueh-Ting Lee 2008 pp. 12–13. Leadership and Management in China
  54. ^ Robert Eno 2011 p. 4, The Qin Revolution and the Fall of the Qin
  55. ^ David K. Schneider May/June 2016 p. 21. China's New Legalism
  56. ^ a b Eileen Tamura 1997 p. 54. China: Understanding Its Past, Volume 1.
  57. ^ "XWomen CONTENT".
  58. ^ John Makeham 1994 p. 68. Name and Actuality in Early Chinese Thought.
  59. ^ a b c Kejian, Huang (27 January 2016). From Destiny to Dao: A Survey of Pre-Qin Philosophy in China. Enrich Professional Publishing Limited. ISBN 9781623200701 – via Google Books.
  60. ^ Pines, Yuri, "Legalism in Chinese Philosophy", 4.2 Monitoring Officials. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Introduction.
  61. ^ Han Fei's branches of the Fajia
    • Creel, Herrlee Glessner.1970. What Is Taoism?: And Other Studies in Chinese Cultural History
    p93.Shen Buhai "school" indifferent or opposed to penal law
    p100. The two schools as derived of Han Fei, with Han Fei criticizing them for lacking each other's components.
    p100. No work associates Shang Yang with bureaucracy
    p101. Six works identify Shen with bureaucracy, nothing with penal law by himself.
    p49,69,103. The combination commonly became known as the Fajia.
    • Creel, 1974. p32. Shen Pu-hai: A Chinese Political Philosopher of the Fourth Century B.C.
    No basis to suppose that Shen Buhai practiced Shang Yang's doctrine of Reward and Punishments. I haven't organized comprehensive reference for this work yet.
    • Michael Loewe (1976) Review: Shen Pu-hai: A Chinese Political Philosopher of the Fourth Century B.C. by Herrlee G. Creel (1976)
    Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies Han Fei/Li Si "the instruments of Kings and Emperors". Direct Creel reference.
    • Yuri Pines, 2017. p71. The Book of Lord Shang
  62. ^ Additional branches comparison +Shendao ref Shen Dao ref. Shang Yang vs Shen Buhai secondary
    • Graham, A. C. 1989/2015. p283. Disputers of the Tao
    p268. ref Shendao. ditto+ Shendao + Han Fei Shi shangjunshu
    • Vitali Rubin, "Shen Tao and Fa-chia" Journal of the American Oriental Society, 94.3 1974,pp. 337-46
    ditto Shendao ref primary
  63. ^
    • Waley, Arthur (1939). p153-154. Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China.
    • Creel, Herrlee Glessner 1970. What Is Taoism?
    p80-p91. Creel Xing-Ming Shen Buhai terminologies chapter. Hu shih. 95,99 Analects. 99. Not a Daoist Herrlee G. Creel, 1974 p. 124. Shen Pu-Hai: A Secular Philosopher of Administration, Journal of Chinese Philosophy Volume 1
    • Graham, A. C. 1989/2015. Disputers of the Tao.
    268. Fa/Standards/Mencius. Shen Buhai. 374. Daodejing. 376. Zhuangzi. 345. Hansen references Graham's discussion as a theory that Confucians and Mohists may have been the only school
    346-347. Meaning change rejection. Explicitly argues against Legal positivist interpretation and Fa as law
    346, 350. targets the ministers instead of the people. Contrast accessible measurement standards and elitist li (ritual) rather than penal law and morality.
    360. rejection of Daoist influence. 367. Han Fei Peter R. Moody 2011. Han Fei in his Context: Legalism on the Eve of the Qin conquest. John Wiley and Sons; Wiley (Blackwell Publishing); Blackwell Publishing Inc.; Wiley; Brill (ISSN 0301-8121), Journal of Chinese Philosophy, #1, 38, pages 14-30, 2011 feb 24
  64. ^ Han Fei daoist influence theories
    • Mingjun Lu 2016. p.344. Implications of Han Fei’s Philosophy. Journal of Chinese Political Science.
    • The Original Text of the Daodejing: Disentangling Versions and Recensions.
    • Goldin 2013. Dao Companion to the Han Feizi. Han Feizi and the old master
    • Yuri Pines (2022) Han�Feizi and the Earliest Exegesis of Zuozhuan, Monumenta Serica, 70:2, 341-365, DOI: 10.1080/02549948.2022.2131797
  65. ^ Deng Xi (Mohistic antecedent) pattern of things, bian, Xun Kuang
  66. ^
    • Jay L. Garfield, William Edelglass 2011, p59. The Oxford Handbook of World Philosophy
    • Kenneth Winston 2005. p314. THE INTERNAL MORALITY OF CHINESE LEGALISM. Singapore Journal of Legal Studies, 2005 313-347
    • Kejian, Huang 2016.
    166-167. View of Fa. 191. Three elements view. 192. Han Fei ethic.
    • Bo Mou 2009. p208. Routledge History of Chinese Philosophy.
    • Tao Jiang 2021. 446-447. Several persons for moral argument
  67. ^ Early Legalist statecraft
    • Creel, Herrlee Glessner 1970/1982. What Is Taoism?
    p100-102.Han Fei vs Gongsun. p111. Emperor Wu
    • Pines, Yuri, "Legalism in Chinese Philosophy", 2023,
    2.3 The rule by impartial standards and the principle of impartiality Pines dismisses legalism as a primary interpretative, and contributes a positive moral interpretation against its negatives, also included.
    3.2 Rewards: The Ranks of Merit Abandonment of Gongsun's policies
    • Goldin 2005. p93. After Confucius. Zichan reference
    • Han Fei Han Fei, De, Welfare. Schneider, Henrique. Asian Philosophy. Aug2013, Vol. 23 Issue 3, p260-274. 15p. DOI: 10.1080/09552367.2013.807584., Database: Academic Search Elite
    • Cheng Lin, Terry Peach, Wang Fang 2014. The History of Ancient Chinese Economic Thought.
    • Kejian, Huang 2016. p170,172-173.Li Kui. From Destiny to Dao: A Survey of Pre-Qin Philosophy in China.
  68. ^ Shang Yang as an administrator p245. Sima Qian p247. Shang Yang as an administrative-legalist pioneer p255. reward and punishment p4001-401. Tao Jiang's interpretive for Han Fei's standards or "law" is Mohists rather than Legalist Tao Jiang makes a positive moral interpretation under Justice.
  69. ^ a b Graham, A. C. 1989. p281-282. Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China. Open Court. ISBN 9780812699425 – via Google Books.
  70. ^ Comparative views
    • Graham, A. C. (December 15, 2015). Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China.
    p278. reward and punishment anti-bureaucracy as precursor to Han Fei. Quotes Schwarz, pending Schwarz reference
    • Bo Mou 2009. p208. Routledge History of Chinese Philosophy.
    • Stephen Angle 2003/2013 p.537, Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy
    • Legalism in Chinese Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2023 Edition), Edward N. Zalta & Uri Nodelman (eds.). 3.1 Punishments
    • Huang Kejian 2016 p179.
  71. ^ Creel 1974: 380
  72. ^ Shang Yang (encylopedic)
    • Pines, Yuri, "Legalism in Chinese Philosophy", 2014
    • Jay L. Garfield, William Edelglass 2011, The Oxford Handbook of World Philosophy p66 measures and weights.
    • Stephen Angle 2003/2013 p.537, Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy
  73. ^ Shang Yang
    • Bodde, Derk (1986). "The State and Empire of Ch'in". In Twitchett, Denis; Loewe, Michael (eds.). The Cambridge History of China Volume I: Ch'in and Han Empires, 221 B.C. -- A.D. 220. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521243278.
    • Chad Hansen, 1992. 359. A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought: A Philosophical Interpretation.
    • Zhiyu Shi 1993 p. 51. China's Just World: The Morality of Chinese Foreign Policy.
  74. ^ Shang Yang (articles)
  75. ^ Shang Yang's evolutionary view of history
    • Jay L. Garfield, William Edelglass 2011, p. 65 The Oxford Handbook of World Philosophy
    • Feng Youlan 1948. p.30,33. A short history of Chinese philosophy
    • Graham, A. C. 1989/2015. p270-272. Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China. Open Court. ISBN 9780812699425
    • Pines, Yuri, "Legalism in Chinese Philosophy", 2023,
    • Hu Shih, editor Chih-Ping Chou. p89. English Writings of Hu Shih. Chinese Philosophy and Intellectual History. Volume 2
    Goldin 2005 p59. Studies in Early China Philosophy +Graham sagekings secondary. Tao Jiang 2021. p237,452. Origins of Moral-Political Philosophy in Early China
    • Ditto Harris ref. Harris 2016, 24)
  76. ^ Eric L. Hutton 2008. p. 437 Han Feizi's Criticism of Confucianism and its Implications for Virtue Ethics.
    • Pines, Yuri (2023), "Legalism in Chinese Philosophy", in Zalta, Edward N.; Nodelman, Uri (eds.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2023 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 2023-08-23
    • Hansen, Chad. Philosophy East & West. Jul94, Vol. 44 Issue 3, p. 435. 54p. Fa (standards: laws) and meaning changes in Chinese philosophy
    • Han Fei, De, Welfare. Schneider, Henrique. Asian Philosophy. Aug2013, Vol. 23 Issue 3, p269. 15p. DOI: 10.1080/09552367.2013.807584., Database: Academic Search Elite
    recheck sources
  77. ^ Chi-yen Ch'en 1980. p. 11. Hsun Yueh and the Mind of Late Han China.
  78. ^ Joseph Needham, 1956 Science and Civilisation in China: Volume 2, History of Scientific Thought
  79. ^ a b Jinfan Zhang 2014 p. 90. The Tradition and Modern Transition of Chinese Law.
  80. ^ a b c d e Erica Brindley, The Polarization of the Concepts Si (Private Interest) and Gong (Public Interest) in Early Chinese Thought. pp. 6, 8, 12–13, 16, 19, 21–22, 24, 27
  81. ^ Eric L. Hutton 2008. p. 424 Han Feizi's Criticism of Confucianism and its Implications for Virtue Ethics.
  82. ^ Ellen Marie Chen, 1975 p. 10 Reason and Nature in the Han Fei-Tzu, Journal of Chinese Philosophy Volume 2.
  83. ^ Alejandro Bárcenas 2013, Han Fei's Enlightened Ruler
  84. ^ Eric L. Hutton 2008. p. 427 Han Feizi's Criticism of Confucianism and its Implications for Virtue Ethics.
  85. ^ Tao Jiang 2021. p418,420-421
  86. ^ Pines, Yuri, "Legalism in Chinese Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), 5. The Ruler and his Ministers.
  87. ^ Creel, 1959 p. 206. The Meaning of Hsing-Ming. Studia Serica: Sinological studies dedicated to Bernhard Kalgren
  88. ^ Creel, Herrlee Glessner.1970.p.86,95,97,98,100,106,113 What Is Taoism?: And Other Studies in Chinese Cultural History
  89. ^ Creel, Herrlee Glessner.1970,1982. What Is Taoism?: And Other Studies in Chinese Cultural History Liu Xiang, Yin hsun, and see reference notes.
  90. ^ Shu or "Technique"
    Bulked references from time of writing pending review
    • Mark Czikszentmihalyi p. 50. Chia I's "Techniques of the Tao" and the Han Confucian Appropriation of Technical Discourse. Asia Major, Third Series, Vol. 10, No. 1/2 (1997), pp. 49–67 JSTOR 41645528
    • Creel, 1959 p. 200. The Meaning of Hsing-Ming. Studia Serica: Sinological studies dedicated to Bernhard Kalgren
    • Herrlee G. Creel, 1974. p. 66 Shen-Pu Hai, A Chinese Political Philosopher of the Century B.C.
    • Makeham, J. (1990) p. 88. The Legalist Concept of Hsing-Ming: An Example of the Contribution of Archaeological Evidence to the Re-Interpretation of Transmitted Texts. Monumenta Serica, 39, 87–114. JSTOR 40726902
    • John Makeham 1994 p. 90. Name and Actuality in Early Chinese Thought.
    • Makeham, J. (1990) pp.92,98. The Legalist Concept of Hsing-Ming: An Example of the Contribution of Archaeological Evidence to the Re-Interpretation of Transmitted Texts. Monumenta Serica, 39, 87–114. JSTOR 40726902
  91. ^ Mark Csikszentmihalyi p. 64. Chia I's "Techniques of the Tao" and the Han Confucian Appropriation of Technical Discourse. Asia Major, Third Series, Vol. 10, No. 1/2 (1997), pp. 49–67 JSTOR 41645528
  92. ^ a b Mark Cxikdzentmihalyi pp. 49–51. Chia I's "Techniques of the Tao" and the Han Confucian Appropriation of Technical Discourse. Asia Major, Third Series, Vol. 10, No. 1/2 (1997), pp. 49–67 JSTOR 41645528
  93. ^ Daniel Guiguizi 1999. p11. Shendao/Guanzhong Fajia/Daojia.
  94. ^ Robert P. Hymes, Conrad Schirokauer 1993 pp. 208–212. Ordering the World: Approaches to State and Society in Sung Dynasty China.
  95. ^ Creel, Herrlee Glessner.1970.p.98. What Is Taoism?: And Other Studies in Chinese Cultural History
    • Zhengyuan Fu. 1996/2016. China's Legalists: The Earliest Totalitarians
    • Creel 1974 pending
    • Carine Defoort. 1996. The Pheasant Cap Master
    • Rodney Leon Taylor. Confucianism 2014.
    • Confucian reference is not particular and may be replaced
  96. ^ Hansen, Chad (August 17, 2000). p283. A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought: A Philosophical Interpretation. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195350760 – via Google Books.
  97. ^ Paul R. Goldin 2013. p. 10. Introduction: Han Fei and the Han Feizi.
  98. ^ Chen Qiyou 2000: 2.8.156
  99. ^ Deng, Yingke and Pingxing Wang. (2005). Ancient Chinese Inventions. 五洲传播出版社. ISBN 7-5085-0837-8. Page 48.
  100. ^
    • Creel, Herrlee 1970/1982. What Is Taoism?
    • Creel, 1959 pp. 199–200. The Meaning of Hsing-Ming. Studia Serica: Sinological studies dedicated to Bernhard Kalgren
    • Makeham, J. (1990) pp. 91–92. The Legalist Concept of Hsing-Ming: An Example of the Contribution of Archaeological Evidence to the Re-Interpretation of Transmitted Texts. Monumenta Serica, 39, 87–114. JSTOR 40726902
    • Pines, Yuri, "Legalism in Chinese Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), 1. Defining Legalism
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Sources and further reading[edit]

  • Pines, Yuri (2023), "Legalism in Chinese Philosophy", in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2018 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 28 January 2022
  • Garfield, Jay L.; Edelglass, William. The Oxford Handbook of World Philosophy. 2011
  • Creel, Herrlee Glessner. What Is Taoism?: And Other Studies in Chinese Cultural History (1982)
  • Creel, Herrlee Glessner. Shen Pu-hai: A Chinese Political Philosopher of the Fourth Century B.C. (1974)
  • Creel, Herrlee G. (1953), Chinese Thought from Confucius to Mao Tsê-tung, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0-226-12030-0.
  • Creel, Herrlee Glessner, 1974 Shen Pu-Hai: A Secular Philosopher of Administration, Journal of Chinese Philosophy Volume 1.
  • Schwartz, Benjamin I. (1985), The World of Thought in Ancient China, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, ISBN 978-0-674-96191-3.
  • Graham, A.C., Disputers of the TAO: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China (Open Court 1993). ISBN 0-8126-9087-7
  • Hansen, Chad. A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought: A Philosophical Interpretation (1992/2000)
  • Hansen, Chad. Philosophy East & West. Jul94, Vol. 44 Issue 3. Fa (standards: laws) and meaning changes in Chinese philosophy
  • Bodde, Derk (1986). "The State and Empire of Ch'in". In Twitchett, Denis; Loewe, Michael (eds.). The Cambridge History of China Volume I: Ch'in and Han Empires, 221 B.C. -- A.D. 220. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521243278.
  • Barbieri-Low, Anthony, trans. The Standard Measure of Shang Yang (344 B.C.) (2006)
  • Eno, Robert (2010), Legalism and Huang-Lao Thought (PDF), Indiana University, Early Chinese Thought Course Readings
  • Goldin, Paul R. (March 2011). "Persistent misconceptions about Chinese 'Legalism'". Journal of Chinese Philosophy. 38 (1): 88–104. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6253.2010.01629.x. See also
  • Harris, Eirik Lang, Legalism (Oxford Bibliographies Online) (Oxford University Press, 2018).
  • Lai, Karyn L. (2008), An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-1-139-47171-8.

External links[edit]