Legalism (Chinese philosophy)

  • legalism
    statue of shang yang.jpg
    statue of pivotal reformer shang yang
    chinese法家
    literal meaningthe two basic meanings of fa are "method" and "standard". jia can mean "school of thought", but also "specialist" or "expert", this being the usage that has survived in modern chinese.[1]
    birth places of notable chinese philosophers from the hundred schools of thought in the zhou dynasty. philosophers in legalism are marked by black triangles.

    legalism or fajia (chinese: 法家; pinyin: fǎjiā)[2] is one of sima tan's six classical schools of thought in chinese philosophy.[3] literally meaning "house of administrative methods" or "standards/law" (fa),[4] the "school" represents several branches of what have been termed realist statesmen,[5] or "men of methods" (法術之士; fǎshù zhī shì),[6] who played foundational roles in the construction of the bureaucratic chinese empire.[7] in the western world, legalism has often been compared to machiavellianism,[8] and considered akin to an ancient chinese philosophy of realpolitik.[9] the legalists emphasized a realist project of consolidating the wealth and power of the state and its autocrat, with the goal of achieving order, security and stability.[10] with their close connections to the other schools,[7] some legalists would go on to be a major influence on taoism[11] and confucianism, and the current remains highly influential in administration, policy and legal practice in china today.[12]

    though the origins of the chinese administrative system cannot be traced to any one person, the administrator shen buhai (c. 400 bc – c. 337 bc) may have had more influence than any other on 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. sinologist herrlee g. creel sees in shen buhai the "seeds of the civil service examination," and perhaps the first political scientist.[13]

    concerned largely with administrative and sociopolitical innovation, shang yang (390–338 bc) was a leading reformer of his time.[14][15] 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, which would help lead to qin's ultimate conquest of the other states of china in 221 bc.[16][17]

    shen's most famous successor han fei (c. 280 – 233 bc) synthesized the thought of the other legalists in his eponymous text, the han feizi. written around 240 bc, the han feizi is commonly thought of as the greatest of all legalist texts,[18] and is believed to contain the first commentaries on the tao te ching in history.[19] the grouping together of thinkers that would eventually be dubbed "fa-jia" or "legalists" can be traced to han fei.[20][21] sun tzu's the art of war incorporates both a taoist philosophy of inaction and impartiality, and a legalist system of punishment and rewards, recalling han fei's concepts of power (shi) and tactics (shu).[22] attracting the attention of the first emperor,[23] it is often said that succeeding emperors followed the template set by han fei.[24]

    calling them the "theorists of the state," sinologist jacques gernet considered legalism to be the most important intellectual tradition of the fourth and third centuries bc.[25] the legalists pioneered the centralizing measures and the economic organization of the population by the state that characterized the entire period from the qin to the tang dynasty;[26] the han dynasty took over the governmental institutions of the qin dynasty almost unchanged.[27] legalism rose to prominence again in the mao zedong era, when it was hailed as a "progressive" intellectual current.[28]

  • historical background
  • introduction
  • antecedents: guan zhong and mozi
  • branches of the fajia
  • shang yang (390–338 bc)
  • shen buhai (400–c. 337 bc)
  • shen dao (350–c. 275 bc)
  • han fei (280–233 bc)
  • enlightened absolutism
  • later history
  • references
  • sources
  • external links

Legalism
Statue of Shang Yang.jpg
Statue of pivotal reformer Shang Yang
Chinese法家
Literal meaningThe two basic meanings of Fa are "method" and "standard". Jia can mean "school of thought", but also "specialist" or "expert", this being the usage that has survived in modern Chinese.[1]
Birth places of notable Chinese philosophers from the Hundred Schools of Thought in the Zhou dynasty. Philosophers in Legalism are marked by black triangles.

Legalism or Fajia (Chinese: 法家; pinyin: Fǎjiā)[2] is one of Sima Tan's six classical schools of thought in Chinese philosophy.[3] Literally meaning "house of administrative methods" or "standards/law" (fa),[4] the "school" represents several branches of what have been termed realist statesmen,[5] or "men of methods" (法術之士; fǎshù zhī shì),[6] who played foundational roles in the construction of the bureaucratic Chinese empire.[7] In the Western world, Legalism has often been compared to Machiavellianism,[8] and considered akin to an ancient Chinese philosophy of Realpolitik.[9] The Legalists emphasized a realist project of consolidating the wealth and power of the state and its autocrat, with the goal of achieving order, security and stability.[10] With their close connections to the other schools,[7] some Legalists would go on to be a major influence on Taoism[11] and Confucianism, and the current remains highly influential in administration, policy and legal practice in China today.[12]

Though the origins of the Chinese administrative system cannot be traced to any one person, the administrator Shen Buhai (c. 400 BC – c. 337 BC) may have had more influence than any other on 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. Sinologist Herrlee G. Creel sees in Shen Buhai the "seeds of the civil service examination," and perhaps the first political scientist.[13]

Concerned largely with administrative and sociopolitical innovation, Shang Yang (390–338 BC) was a leading reformer of his time.[14][15] 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, which would help lead to Qin's ultimate conquest of the other states of China in 221 BC.[16][17]

Shen's most famous successor Han Fei (c. 280 – 233 BC) synthesized the thought of the other Legalists in his eponymous text, the Han Feizi. Written around 240 BC, the Han Feizi is commonly thought of as the greatest of all Legalist texts,[18] and is believed to contain the first commentaries on the Tao Te Ching in history.[19] The grouping together of thinkers that would eventually be dubbed "Fa-Jia" or "Legalists" can be traced to Han Fei.[20][21] Sun Tzu's The Art of War incorporates both a Taoist philosophy of inaction and impartiality, and a Legalist system of punishment and rewards, recalling Han Fei's concepts of power (shi) and tactics (shu).[22] Attracting the attention of the First Emperor,[23] it is often said that succeeding emperors followed the template set by Han Fei.[24]

Calling them the "theorists of the state," sinologist Jacques Gernet considered Legalism to be the most important intellectual tradition of the fourth and third centuries BC.[25] The Legalists pioneered the centralizing measures and the economic organization of the population by the state that characterized the entire period from the Qin to the Tang dynasty;[26] the Han dynasty took over the governmental institutions of the Qin dynasty almost unchanged.[27] Legalism rose to prominence again in the Mao Zedong era, when it was hailed as a "progressive" intellectual current.[28]