Han Feizi (book)

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Han Feizi
Traditional Chinese 韓非子
Simplified Chinese 韩非子
Literal meaning "[The Writings of] Master Han Fei"

The Han Feizi (Chinese: 韓非子; Old Chinese: *[g]ˤar pəj tsəʔ) is an ancient Chinese text attributed to the foundational scholar and political philosopher,[1] "Master" Han Fei. It comprises a selection of essays in the Legalist tradition on theories of state power, synthesizing the methodologies of his predecessors.[2] The text is arranged into 55 chapters, most of which date to the Warring States period mid-3rd century BC and were probably actually written by Han Fei himself.[2]

Han's Realpolitikal worldview describes an interest-driven human nature together with the political methodologies to work with it in the interest of the state and Sovereign, namely, engaging in wu-wei (passive observation) and using Fa (law, measurement, statistic) to maintain leadership and manage human resources, systematically using the Two Handles of reward and penalty, fishing the subjects of the state by feeding them with interests. Like Shang Yang and other Fa-focused Realists, he admonishes the ruler not to abandon Fa for any other means. It is also valuable for its abundance of anecdotes about pre-Qin China.


Han Fei's philosophy proceeds from the regicide of his era. Goldin writes: "Most of what appears in the Han Feizi deals with the ruler’s relations with his ministers, regarded as the party most likely to cause him harm, because they were indispensable." Han Fei quotes the Springs and Autumns of Tao Zuo “'Less than half of all rulers die of illness'... If the ruler of men is unaware of this, disorders will be manifold and unrestrained. Thus it is said: If those who benefit from a lord’s death are many, the ruler will be imperiled."[3]

Han Fei, like other Fa-focused Realists advised using Fa (measurement and protocol) rather than rely too much on worthies, who might not be trustworthy. Said "Leglists" considered such methodologies, including that of the late-innovated rule by law, to be a more practical means to rule a large territory, or administration near at hand, than the mere discretion of differing individuals, whose programs Han Fei binds to reward and penalty. That being done, the ruler should minimize his own input.

Comparison with Confucianism and Daoism[edit]

Apart from the Confucianist Xun Zi, who was his and Li Si's teacher, the other influence for his political rhetoric was Taoism and Lao Zi's Daoist work, the Tao Te Ching, which he interpreted as a political text, and on which he wrote a commentary (chapters 20 and 21 in his book, Han Feizi). For this reason, the Han Feizi is sometimes included as part of the Huang-Lao tradition. Han Fei saw the Tao as a natural law that everyone and everything was forced to follow. Parallel to this, he believed that an ideal ruler made laws, like an inevitable force of nature, that the people could not resist.


  • Liao, W. K. (1939). The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu. London: Arthur Probsthain.
  • ——— (1959). The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu, Volume II. London: Arthur Probsthain.
  • Watson, Burton (1964). Han Fei Tzu: Basic Writings. New York: Columbia University Press.


  1. ^ Encyclopedia of World Biography
  2. ^ a b Levi (1993), p. 115.
  3. ^ https://www.sas.upenn.edu/ealc/system/files/bio/%5Buser-raw%5D/papers/Introduction.pdf Introduction: Han Fei and the Han Feizi. Paul R. Goldin. Chen Qiyou 2000: 5.17.321–2
Works cited
  • Knechtges, David R. (2010). "Han Feizi 韓非子". In Knechtges, David R.; Chang, Taiping. Ancient and Early Medieval Chinese Literature: A Reference Guide, Part One. Leiden: Brill. pp. 313–317. ISBN 978-90-04-19127-3. 
  • Levi, Jean (1993). "Han fei tzu 韓非子". In Loewe, Michael. Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide. Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China; Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California Berkeley. pp. 115–24. ISBN 1-55729-043-1. 

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