Han Feizi (book)

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The Han Feizi is a work written by Han Feizi at the end of the Warring States period of ancient China, containing 55 chapters detailing his political philosophy. It belongs to the Legalist school of Chinese philosophy. It is also valuable for its abundance of anecdotes about pre-Qin China.

Observations on Human Nature[edit]

Han Fei developed his theories based on observations of the competitive society in which he lived, in the late warring states period. In his youth, Han Fei studied with Xunzi, a Confucian scholar who formed the hypothesis that suggested human infants must be brought to their virtuous form through social-class-oriented Confucian moral education. Without such, Xunzi argued, man would act virtuelessly and be steered by his own human nature to commit immoral acts. Both life experience and education contributed to shaping Han Fei's philosophical point of view of an amoral and interest-driven human nature, upon which he founded his legalist theories. In his texts, Han Fei did not emphasize morality, as in his view morality was a loose and inefficient tool to educate a huge population. He agreed with his teacher's theory of "virtueless by birth", but instead of proposing an ideological scheme of steering man by Confucian education to achieve morality, so as to minimize competition and war, he pragmatically proposed to steer people by their own interest-driven nature, to actively engage in competition and war if necessary to improve society and develop the state. His legalist philosophy describes an interest-driven human nature together with the political methodologies to work with it, in which his laws can be executed to guide humanity, his statecraft can manage human resources, as well as his authority to maintain leadership, all for the interest of the state, and carried out by fishing the subjects of the state by feeding them with interests. The following are some examples of Han Fei's interest-oriented human nature:

(1) Between Parents and Children

"...despite the close relationship between parents and children, compare the birth of a boy resulting in celebration versus the birth of a girl resulting in her being killed. Both came from the same parents, but resulted in dramatically different outcomes from celebration for a boy to killing for a girl. This is due to considerations of future family development, as well as calculations of long term interests. Even parents towards their children use interest as currency, therefore other relationships can only be extrapolated downward..."

"...such as a child. If his parents did not treat him well, the child will grow up with complaints. As a grown up, his support towards his parents will be meager, and parents will regret their actions with anger. Therefore, parents to children, the closest of all relationships, still resulted in complaints and anger, all due to one's interest not being fulfilled as they wish so..."

(2) Amorality - Something ought not to be weighted on the morality scale

"...chariot-makers manufacture chariots, and thus wish more people would make a fortune; coffin-makers craft coffins, and thus wish more people would die. Not that chariot-makers are good-hearted, since their interests relate to people getting rich; nor do the coffin-makers view people with hatred, since interests relate to people dying. It all comes down to interests..."

"...a doctor sucks out poisonous blood from a patient's wound. Not that he is the patient's father. It is due to his receiving the patient's medical fee..."

These seemingly cold-blooded descriptions are likely the day-to-day life stories normally observed and heard of during the late Warring States Period.


  • Liao, W. K. (trans.): The Complete Works Of Han Fei Tzŭ. 2 vol. London: Arthur Probsthain, vol. 1 1939, vol. 2 1959.

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