Han Feizi

The Han Feizi (Chinese: 韓非子) is an ancient Chinese text attributed to foundational 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] Its 55 chapters, most of which date to the Warring States period mid-3rd century BC, are the only such text to survive intact.[3][2] Easily one of the most important philosophical classics in ancient China,[4] it touches on administration, diplomacy, war and economics,[5] and is also valuable for its abundance of anecdotes about pre-Qin China.

Han Fei's writings were very influential on the future first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. After the early demise of the Qin dynasty, Han Fei's philosophy was officially vilified by the following Han Dynasty. Despite its outcast status throughout the history of imperial China, his political theory continued to heavily influence every dynasty thereafter, and the Confucian ideal of a rule without laws was never again realized. Shu Han's chancellor Zhuge Liang demanded emperor Liu Shan read the Han Feizi for learning the way of ruling.

Though differing considerably in style, the coherency of the essays lend themselves to the possibility that they were written by Han Fei himself, and are generally considered more philosophically engaging than the Book of Lord Shang.[6]

Han Feizi
Hanfeizi or Han Feizi, Qing dynasty, Hunan Museum
A late 19th century edition of the Hanfeizi by Hongwen Book Company
AuthorHan Fei
Original title韩非子
GenreChinese classics
Han Feizi
Han Feizi (Chinese characters)
"Han Feizi" in seal script (top), Traditional (middle), and Simplified (bottom) Chinese characters
Traditional Chinese韓非子
Simplified Chinese韩非子
Literal meaning"[The Writings of] Master Han Fei"


Han's 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), systematically using Fa (law, measurement, statistic) to maintain leadership and manage human resources. Rather than rely too much on worthies, who might not be trustworthy, Han binds their programs (to which he makes no judgement, apart from observances of the facts) to systematic reward and penalty (the "Two Handles"), fishing the subjects of the state by feeding them with interests. That being done, the ruler minimizes his own input. Like Shang Yang and other Fa philosophers, he admonishes the ruler not to abandon Fa for any other means, considering it a more practical means for the administration of both a large territory and personnel near at hand.

Han'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, [who] were regarded as the party most likely, in practice, to cause him harm." 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."[7]

Wu wei

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.[8]

Han Fei's use of Wu-Wei may have been derivative of Taoism, but emphasizes autocracy ("Tao does not identify with anything but itself, the ruler does not identify with the ministers") and Shu (technique) as arguably more of a "practical principle of political control" than any state of mind.[9] He nonetheless begins by waiting "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.[10]

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.[11]

Performance and title (Xing-Ming)

Portrait of Han Fei
"If one has regulations based on objective standards and criteria and apply these to the mass of ministers, then that ruler cannot be duped by cunning fraudulence."[12] Han Fei

Han Fei was notoriously focused on what he termed Xing-Ming,[13] which Sima Qian and Liu Xiang define as "holding actual outcome accountable to Ming.(speech)"[14][15] In line with both the Confucian and Mohist rectification of names,[16] it is relatable to the Confucian tradition in which a promise or undertaking, especially in relation to a government aim, entails punishment or reward,[17] though the tight, centralized control emphasized by both his and his predecessor Shen Buhai's philosophy conflicts with the Confucian idea of the autonomous minister.[18]

Possibly referring to the drafting and imposition of laws and standardized legal terms, Xing-Ming may originally have meant "punishments and names", but with the emphasis on the latter.[19] It functions through binding declarations (Ming), like a legal contract. Verbally committing oneself, a candidate is allotted a job, indebting him to the ruler.[20] "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.[21][16]

Han Fei insists on the perfect congruence between words and deeds. Fitting the name is more important than results.[21] 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).[22] 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.[23]

Han Fei's "brilliant ruler" "orders names to name themselves and affairs to settle themselves."[23]

"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.[24]

Assessing the accountability of his words to his deeds,[25] the ruler attempts to "determine rewards and punishments in accordance with a subject's true merit" (using Fa).[26] It is said that using names (ming) to demand realities (shih) exalts superiors and curbs inferiors,[27] 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.[28]

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.”[29] He emphasizes that through this system, initially developed by Shen Buhai, uniformity of language could be developed,[30] 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.[31] By narrowing down the options to exactly one, discussions on the "right way of government" could be eliminated. Whatever the situation (Shih) brings is the correct Dao.[32]

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.[33]

The "Two Handles"

백호 조선고적도보
Mythical White Tiger. Qin Shi Huang was called the "Tiger of Qin"
Supposing the tiger cast aside its claws and fangs and let the dog use them, the tiger would, in turn, be subjected by the dog. Han Fei Zi
First Emperor
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.[34] 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.[35] The use of these "two handles" (punishment and reward) nonetheless forms a primary premise of Han Fei's administrative theory.[36] However, he includes it under his theory of Shu (administrative techniques) in connection with Xing-Ming.[37]

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.[38] 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 the "handles of the law" 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; law eliminates anyone who oversteps his boundary, regardless of intention. Law "aims at abolishing the selfish element in man and the maintenance of public order", making the people responsible for their actions.[8]

Han Fei's rare appeal (among Legalists) to the use of scholars (law and 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 Fa-Jia 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.[39][40] Combining Shen Buhai's methods with Shang Yang's insurance mechanisms, Han Fei's ruler simply employs anyone offering their services.[41]


Apart from the influence of Confucianist Xun Zi, who was his and Li Si's teacher, Han Fei wrote a commentary on the Tao Te Ching, which he interpreted as a political text. For this reason, the Han Feizi is sometimes included as part of the syncretist Huang-Lao (Taoist) tradition, seeing 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.

Translator W. K. Liao describes the world view of Han Fei Tzŭ as "purely Taoistic", advocating a "doctrine of inaction" nonetheless followed by an "insistence on the active application of the two handles to government", this being the "difference between Han Fei Tzŭ's ideas and the teachings of the orthodox Taoists (who advocated non-action from start to finish -ed)." Liao compares Han Fei's thought to Shang Yang, "directing his main attention... to the issues between ruler and minister... teaching the ruler how to maintain supremacy and why to weaken the minister."[42]


  • 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.

See also



  1. ^ Encyclopedia of World Biography
  2. ^ a b Levi (1993), p. 115.
  3. ^ Pines, Yuri, "Legalism in Chinese Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2014/entries/chinese-legalism/
    • (Goldin 2013)
  4. ^ Ann A. Pang-White. 2016. p.554. The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Chinese Philosophy and Gender. https://books.google.com/books?id=FaGKCwAAQBAJ&pg=PT554
  5. ^ Jacques Gernet 1982. p.90. A History of Chinese Civilization. https://books.google.com/books?id=jqb7L-pKCV8C&pg=PA90
  6. ^ Pines, Yuri, "Legalism in Chinese Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2014/entries/chinese-legalism/.
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ a b Ellen Marie Chen, 1975 pp. 2,4, 6–9 Reason and Nature in the Han Fei-Tzu, Journal of Chinese Philosophy Volume 2.
  9. ^ Xing Lu 1998. Rhetoric in Ancient China, Fifth to Third Century, B.C.E.. p. 264. https://books.google.com/books?id=72QURrAppzkC&pg=PA264
  10. ^ http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/saxon/servlet/SaxonServlet?source=xwomen/texts/hanfei.xml&style=xwomen/xsl/dynaxml.xsl&chunk.id=d2.5&toc.depth=1&toc.id=0&doc.lang=bilingual
    • HanFei, “The Way of the Ruler,”Watson, p. 16
    • Han Fei-tzu, chapter 5 [Han Fei-tzu chi-chieh 1), p. 18; cf. Burton Watson, Han Fei Tzu: Basic Writings (New York: Columbia U.P., 1964)
    • MARK CSIKSZENTMIHALYI. Chia I's "Techniques of the Tao". Asia Major, Third Series, Vol. 10, No. 1/2 (1997), pp. 49–67 JSTOR 41645528
    • Huang Kejian 2016 pp. 186–187. From Destiny to Dao: A Survey of Pre-Qin Philosophy in China. https://books.google.com/books?id=bATIDgAAQBAJ&pg=PA186
  11. ^ Chad Hansen, 1992 p. 371 A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought https://books.google.com/books?id=nzHmobC0ThsC&pg=PA371
  12. ^ Chad Hansen, 1992 p.367 A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought. https://books.google.com/books?id=nzHmobC0ThsC&pg=PA367
  13. ^ Chad Hansen, 1992 p.349 A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought https://books.google.com/books?id=nzHmobC0ThsC&pg=PA349
  14. ^ Pines, Yuri, "Legalism in Chinese Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), 1. Defining Legalism http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2014/entries/chinese-legalism/
  15. ^ Creel 1970, What Is Taoism?, 87, 104
    • Makeham, J. (1990) p. 91. 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. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/40726902
  16. ^ a b Chad Hansen, 1992 p.365 A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought https://books.google.com/books?id=nzHmobC0ThsC&pg=PA308
  17. ^ Chad Hansen, 1992 p.365 A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought https://books.google.com/books?id=nzHmobC0ThsC&pg=PA349
  18. ^ Creel 1970, What Is Taoism?, 83
  19. ^ Mark Edward Lewis, 1999 p.33, Writing and Authority in Early China. https://books.google.com/books?id=8k4xn8CyHAQC&pg=PA33
  20. ^ Makeham, J. (1990) p. 98, 100, 111. 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. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/40726902
  21. ^ a b A.C. Graham 1989. p.284. Disputers of the Tao. https://books.google.com/books?id=QBzyCgAAQBAJ&pg=PA283
  22. ^ John Makeham 1994 p.75. Name and Actuality in Early Chinese Thought. https://books.google.com/books?id=GId_ASbEI2YC&pg=PA75
  23. ^ a b Makeham, J. (1990) p. 96, 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. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/40726902
  24. ^ Makeham, J. (1990) p. 96, 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. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/40726902
  25. ^ Makeham, J. (1990) p. 90. 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. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/40726902
  26. ^ John Makeham 1994 p.68. Name and Actuality in Early Chinese Thought. https://books.google.com/books?id=GId_ASbEI2YC&pg=PA68
    • Makeham, J. (1990) p. 90. 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. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/40726902
    Chad Hansen, 1992 p.308, 349 A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought https://books.google.com/books?id=nzHmobC0ThsC&pg=PA349
  27. ^ Creel, 1959 p. 202. The Meaning of Hsing-Ming. Studia Serica: Sinological studies dedicated to Bernhard Kalgren
  28. ^ Creel 1970, What Is Taoism?, 86
    • Creel, 1959 p. 206. The Meaning of Hsing-Ming. Studia Serica: Sinological studies dedicated to Bernhard Kalgren
  29. ^ Makeham, J. (1990) p.114. 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. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/40726902
  30. ^ Chad Hansen. Philosophy of Language in Classical China. http://www.philosophy.hku.hk/ch/lang.htm
  31. ^ Jacques Gernet 1982 p.91. A History of Chinese Civilization. https://books.google.com/books?id=jqb7L-pKCV8C&pg=PA91
  32. ^ Chad Hansen, 1992 p.367, 370–372 A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought https://books.google.com/books?id=nzHmobC0ThsC&pg=PA372
  33. ^ John Makeham 1994 p.82. Name and Actuality in Early Chinese Thought. https://books.google.com/books?id=GId_ASbEI2YC&pg=PA82
  34. ^ Creel, What Is Taoism?, 100
  35. ^ Creel 1970, What Is Taoism?, 100, 102
  36. ^ Christian von Dehsen Christian von Dehsen, Philosophers and Religious Leaders https://books.google.com/books?id=XZrbAAAAQBAJ&pg=PT400
  37. ^ Chad Hansen, 1992 p.367 A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought https://books.google.com/books?id=nzHmobC0ThsC&pg=PA367
  38. ^ Eileen Tamura 1997 p.54. China: Understanding Its Past, Volume 1. https://books.google.com/books?id=O0TQ_Puz-w8C&pg=PA54
  39. ^ Yuri Pines 2003 p.77,83. Submerged by Absolute Power
  40. ^ (Chen Qiyou 2000: 2.6.107)
  41. ^ Jacques Gernet 1982 p.91. A History of Chinese Civilization. https://books.google.com/books?id=jqb7L-pKCV8C&pg=PA91
  42. ^ Chapter VIII. Wielding the Sceptre http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/saxon/servlet/SaxonServlet?source=xwomen/texts/hanfei.xml&style=xwomen/xsl/dynaxml.xsl&chunk.id=d2.8&toc.depth=1&toc.id=0&doc.lang=bilingual

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.
  • Lévi, 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.
  • Nivison, David Shepherd (1999). "The Classical Philosophical Writings". In Loewe, Michael; Shaughnessy, Edward. The Cambridge History of Ancient China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 745–812. ISBN 0-521-47030-7.

External links


For the Celtic F.C. footballer, see Zheng Zhi

There are many Chinese words whose pronunciation can be represented as "chih" (or, in the modern romanization, zhi) in Chinese:

志 zhì, aspiration, will. The "will" is a fundamental concept in the philosophy of Mencius, leading authorities such as David Nivison to classify Mencius as a "voluntarist" philosopher. Mencius believes that humans have four fundamental "beginnings" or embryonic drives that can, if protected and properly nurtured, form the basis of a human being who has immense powers to retain his or her autonomy. Each individual's zhì chooses that person's course in life on the basis of the four fundamental ethical drives and on other factors such as the desire for food, water, and the fulfillment of other ordinary requirements of life.

智 zhì, wisdom. This "wisdom" is the name of one of Mencius's four virtues which grow from the above-mentioned four beginnings. It is the innate ability to distinguish right from wrong in the actions of other people. For instance, one will automatically see something wrong when a large and powerful person takes advantage of a weaker adult or a child and be motivated to rectify the situation.

知 zhī, to know

質 zhí, substance. The Huai-nan-zi, 3:1a/19, says:Heaven (seen here as the ultimate source of all being) falls (duo 墮, i.e., descends into proto-immanence) as the formless. Fleeting, fluttering, penetrating, amorphous it is, and so it is called the Supreme Luminary. The dao begins in the Void Brightening. The Void Brightening produces the universe (yu-zhou ). The universe produces qi. Qi has bounds. The clear, yang [qi] was ethereal and so formed heaven. The heavy, turbid [qi] was congealed and impeded and so formed earth. The conjunction of the clear, yang [qi] was fluid and easy. The congelation of the heavy, turbid [qi] was strained and difficult. So heaven was formed first and earth was made fast later. The pervading essence (xi-jing) of heaven and earth becomes yin and yang. The concentrated (zhuan) essences of yin and yang become the four seasons. The dispersed (san) essences of the four seasons become the myriad creatures. The hot qi of yang in accumulating produces fire. The essence (jing) of the fire-qi becomes the sun. The cold qi of yin in accumulating produces water. The essence of the water-qi becomes the moon. The essences produced by coitus (Yin) of the sun and moon become the stars and celestial markpoints (chen, planets). The idea that there is a heavier fraction of qi seems to have originated with this passage. Similar ideas show up in the writing of Song dynasty philosopher, particularly Zhu Xi, and there this kind of "materialized lifebreath" is called zhí. Zhu Xi uses the idea of "materialized lifebreath" to explain what we today would call the phenotypical nature of a human being as opposed to the genotypical nature of that human being.

Fa (concept)

Fa (Chinese: 法;Mandarin pronunciation: [fà]) is a concept in Chinese philosophy that covers ethics, logic, and law. It can be translated as "law" in some contexts, but more often as "model" or "standard." First gaining importance in the Mohist school of thought, the concept was principally elaborated in Legalism. In Han Fei's philosophy, the king is the sole source of fa (law), taught to the common people so that there would be a harmonious society free of chance occurrences, disorder, and "appeal to privilege". High officials were not to be held above fa (law or protocol), nor were they to be allowed to independently create their own fa, uniting both executive fiat and rule of law.Xunzi, a philosopher that would end up being foundational in Han dynasty Confucianism, also took up fa, suggesting that it could only be properly assessed by the Confucian sage (ruler), and that the most important fa were the very rituals that Mozi had ridiculed for their ostentatious waste and lack of benefit for the people at large.

Fengbo (deity)

Fengbo, also known as Fengshi, is the Taoist deity of the wind.

In ancient times he was depicted as a grotesque deity with the body of a deer, the head of a bird, horns, the tail of a snake and the patterns of a leopard. In the Ming dynasty he was on old man with a white beard carrying a fan and known as Count of the Wind (Fengbo Fang tianjun 風伯方天君).In the Han Feizi (韓非子) or book of master Han Fei, when Huangdi the Yellow Emperor gathers all the demons at Mount Tai Fengbo sweeps the path.According to the Shiji records of the Historian, temples and festivals in honour of Fengbo show that from early times he was an object of state ritual.


Fenmao (Chinese: 蚡冒, died 741 BC) was from 757 to 741 BC the monarch of the state of Chu during the early Spring and Autumn period of ancient China. He was born Xiong Xuan (Chinese: 熊眴) and Fenmao was his posthumous title.Like other early Chu rulers, Fenmao held the hereditary noble rank of viscount that was first granted to his ancestor Xiong Yi by King Cheng of Zhou. However, Han Feizi and Chu Ci referred to him as King Li of Chu (楚厲王).Fenmao succeeded his father Xiao'ao, who died in 758 BC. He was succeeded by King Wu of Chu, the first Chu ruler to declare himself king.

Guanzi (text)

The Guanzi (Chinese: 管子) is an ancient Chinese political and philosophical text that is named for and traditionally attributed to the 7th century BCE statesman Guan Zhong, who served as Prime Minister to Duke Huan of Qi. At over 135,000 characters long, the Guanzi is one of the longest early Chinese philosophical texts. The Han Dynasty scholar Liu Xiang edited the received Guanzi text circa 26 BCE. It contains a wide variety of material from many different authors over several successive centuries, largely associated with the 4th century BCE Jixia Academy in the Qi capital of Linzi, but much of it may actually not have been compiled until after the Han Feizi (though the Neiye are thought to have inluenced the Zhuanghi.The Ming dynasty agricultural scientist Xu Guangqi frequently cited the Guanzi and the Xunzi.

Han Fei

Han Fei (; traditional Chinese: 韓非; simplified Chinese: 韩非; pinyin: Hán Fēi; c. 280 – 233 BC), also known as Han Fei Zi, was a Chinese philosopher of the Legalist school during the Warring States period, and a prince of the state of Han.Han Fei is often considered to be the greatest representative of “Chinese Legalism” for his eponymous work the Han Feizi, synthesizing the methods of his predecessors. Han Fei's ideas are sometimes compared with Niccolò Machiavelli and his book is considered by some to be superior to the "Il Principe" of Niccolò Machiavelli both in content and in writing style.His writings were very influential on the future first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, and were implemented into the state structure of the empire. However, after the early demise of the Qin dynasty, the philosophy of Legalism became officially vilified by the following Han Dynasty. Despite its outcast status throughout the history of imperial China, Han Fei's political theory and the concept of Legalism as a whole continued to heavily influence every dynasty thereafter, and the Confucian ideal of a rule without laws was never to be realised. Shu Han's chancellor Zhuge Liang demanded emperor Liu Shan read the Han Feizi for learning the way of ruling.Han borrowed Shang Yang's emphasis on laws, Shen Buhai's emphasis on administrative technique, and Shen Dao's ideas on authority and prophecy, emphasizing that the autocrat will be able to achieve firm control over the state with the mastering of his predecessors' methodologies: his position of power (勢; Shì), technique (術; Shù), and law (法; Fǎ). He stressed the importance of the concept of Xing-Ming (holding actual outcome accountable to speech), coupled with the system of the "Two Handles" (punishment and reward), as well as Wu wei (non-exertion).

Irresistible force paradox

The unstoppable force paradox, also called the irresistible force paradox, shield and spear paradox, is a classic paradox formulated as "What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?" The immovable object and the unstoppable force are both implicitly assumed to be indestructible, or else the question would have a trivial resolution. Furthermore, it is assumed that they are two entities.

The paradox arises because it rests on two incompatible premises: that there can exist simultaneously such things as unstoppable forces and immovable objects. The "paradox" is flawed because if there exists an unstoppable force, it follows logically that there cannot be any such thing as an immovable object and vice versa.

Legalism (Chinese philosophy)

Fajia (Chinese: 法家; pinyin: Fǎjiā) or Legalism is one of Sima Tan's six classical schools of thought in Chinese philosophy. Roughly meaning "house of Fa" (administrative "methods" or "standards"), the "school" (term) represents some several branches of realistic statesmen or "men of methods" (fashu zishi) foundational for the traditional Chinese bureaucratic empire. Compared with Machiavelli, they have often been considered in the Western world as akin to the Realpolitikal thought of ancient China, emphasizing a realistic consolidation of the wealth and power of autocrat and state, with the goal of achieving increased order, security and stability. Having close ties with the other schools, some would be a major influence on Taoism and Confucianism, and the current remains highly influential in administration, policy and legal practice in China today.Though Chinese administration cannot be traced to any one person, emphasizing a merit system administrator Shen Buhai (c. 400 BC – c. 337 BC) may have had more influence than any other, 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, if one wished to exaggerate, the first political scientist. The correlation between Shen's conception of the inactive (Wu wei) ruler responsible for examination into performance, claims and titles likely also informed the Taoist conception of the formless Tao (name that cannot be named) that "gives rise to the ten thousand things."Concerned largely with administrative and sociopolitical innovation, Shang Yang (390–338 BC) was a leading reformer of his time. His numerous reforms transformed the peripheral Qin state into a militarily powerful and strongly centralized kingdom. Much of Legalism was "principally the development of certain ideas" that lay behind his reforms, and it was these that helped lead to Qin's ultimate conquest of the other states of China in 221 BC.Shen's most famous successor Han Fei (c. 280 – 233 BC) synthesized the thought of the other "Fa-Jia" 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, and is believed to contain the first commentaries on the Tao te Ching in history. The grouping together of thinkers that would eventually be dubbed "Fa-Jia" or "Legalists" can be traced to him, and The Art of War would seem 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 tactics (shu). Attracting the attention of the First Emperor, It is often said that succeeding emperors followed the template set by Han Fei.Calling them the "theorists of the state", sinologist Jacques Gernet considered the Legalists/Fa-Jia to be the most important tradition of the fourth and third centuries BC, the entire period from the Qin dynasty to Tang being characterized by its centralizing tendencies and economic organization of the population by the state. The Han dynasty took over the governmental institutions of the Qin dynasty almost unchanged. Endorsement for the "school" of thought peaked under Mao Zedong, hailed as a "progressive" intellectual current.

Li Kui (legalist)

Li Kui (Chinese: 李悝; pinyin: Lǐ Kuī; Wade–Giles: Li K'uei, 455–395 BC) was an ancient Chinese government minister and court advisor to Marquis Wen (r. 403–387 BC) in the state of Wei. In 407 BC, he wrote the Book of Law (Fajing, 法经), which was the basis for the codified laws of the Qin and Han dynasties.

His political agendas, as well as the Book of Law, had a deep influence on later thinkers such as Han Feizi and Shang Yang, who would later develop the philosophy of Legalism based on Li Kui's reforms.

Li Shanchang

Li Shanchang (Chinese: 李善長; pinyin: Lǐ Shàncháng; Wade–Giles: Li Shan-ch'ang; 1314-1390) was the founding chancellor of the Ming dynasty. Deemed the recognized leader of the West Huai (Huaixi) faction, and given first rank among the six dukes in 1370, it is said that Li was the Emperor Hongwu's closest comrade during the war (against the Yuan dynasty), and greatest contributor to his ultimate victory and thus establishment of the Ming Dynasty. Deeply trusted by the Emperor, Hongwu consulted Li on institutional matters, but became "bored with Li's arrogance" in old age.

Li "planned the organization of the six ministries, shared in the drafting of a new law code, and supervised the compilations of the History of Yuan, the Ancestral Instructions and the Ritual Compendium of the Ming Dynasty." He established salt and tea monopolies based on Yuan institutions, eliminated corruption, restored minted currency, opened iron foundries, and instituted fish taxes. It is said that revenues were sufficient, yet the people were not oppressed.

A doubtful classicist at best, and yet a skillful draftsman of legal documents, mandates, and military communications, the History of Ming biography states that his studies included Chinese Legalist writings, a statement made of no other individual among more than three hundred others. Most of his activities seem to have supported Hongwu Emperor's firm control of his regime. Mainly responsible for ferreting out disloyalty and factionalism among military officers, he used a reward and punishment system reminiscent of the Han Feizi, and may have had a kind of secret police in his service. At times he had charge of all civil and military officials in Nanjing.

List of Chinese philosophers

This article is a list of Chinese philosophers.

School of Diplomacy

The School of Diplomacy (simplified Chinese: 纵横家; traditional Chinese: 縱横家; pinyin: Zōng héng Jiā), or the School of Vertical and Horizontal Alliances was a political and diplomatic clique during the Warring States period of Chinese history (476-220 BCE). According to the Book of Han, the school was one of the Nine Schools of Thought (Chinese: 九流; pinyin: Jiŭ Liú).

According to the Han Feizi, a contemporary work on Legalist Philosophy, supporters of "Vertical Alliance" encourage the weak multitude to attack the one strong side whilst the Horizontal Alliance promote the one strong side attacking the weak multitude. They are all fickle and capricious, change sides frequently and are unable to decide who their master is. Both Su Qin of the Vertical Alliance clique and Zhang Yi of the Horizontal Alliance clique issue many plans and schemes that are politically subjective.'

The origins of the terms "Vertical" and "Horizontal" are geographic and are based on either a North-South axis (i.e. vertical) or an East-West axis (i.e. horizontal). Thus the six states allied on the North-South axis were known as the "Vertical Alliance" whilst those on the East-West axis aligned with the State of Qin were termed the "Horizontal Alliance".

"Zong" indicates the "He Zong", or Vertical Alliance, the "weak multitude against the one strong side", made up of the six states of Qi, Chu, Yan, Han, Zhao and Wei united against Qin. "Heng" indicates the "Lian Heng", or Horizontal Alliance, the "one strong side to smash the weak multitude", thus illustrating the different diplomatic policies of the two sides.

The School of Diplomacy was one of the nine styles of the ten Schools of Thought of the Warring States period and starts with an objective point of view to reach the required goal. The school’s adherents were always an active group on the political stage during the Warring States period. Moreover, they played a decisive role and were described as extremely powerful and capable, constantly struggling to manipulate the situation.

Originated by Guiguzi, the School of Diplomacy’s main adherents were Su Qin, Zhang Yi (Su’s disciple), Gan Mao, Sima Cuo, Yue Yi, Fan Sui, Cai Ze, Zou Ji, Mao Sui, Li Yiji and Kuai Tong as detailed in the Annals of the Warring States.

The few principal written records of the School of Diplomacy that exist today are the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Gui or Guiguzi, the thirty-third chapter of Annals of the Warring States (not about the School of Diplomacy’s followers but primarily the words and actions of its advisors as well as actual combat case studies), the thirty-first chapter of Su Zi and the tenth chapter of Zhang Zi. The seventh chapter of the "Benjing Yifu" appendix to the Guiguzi describes the mental and moral cultivation methods used by the School of Diplomacy; the "Benjing" covers the ideas behind the basic guiding principles whilst the "Yinfu" consists of very mysterious concealed writings. The reader can comprehend these but is unable to discover their essential meaning. The Guiguzi is a book of theory that is complete in every detail and very subtly written, making its ideas hard to express. More importantly the work requires study and use in order to understand the nuances of its meaning. The Annals of the Warring States is a well-written rhetorical compendium the words and actions of the strategists of the School of Diplomacy who were all resourceful, intelligent, aware of the actual situation and gifted in the use of language.

Shang Yang

Shang Yang (Chinese: 商鞅; c. 390 – 338 BCE), also known as Wei Yang (Chinese: 衞鞅) and originally surnamed Gongsun, was a prominent legalist scholar. Born in Wey, Zhou Kingdom, he was a statesman and reformer of the State of Qin during the Warring States period of ancient China. His policies laid the administrative and political foundations that would enable Qin to conquer all of China, uniting the country for the first time and ushering in the Qin dynasty. He and his followers contributed to the Book of Lord Shang, a foundational work of what has modernly been termed Chinese Legalism.

Shen Buhai

The Chinese statesman Shen Buhai (Chinese: 申不害; c. 400 BC – c. 337 BC) was Chancellor of the Han state under Marquis Zhao of Han for fifteen years, from 354 BC to 337 BC. A contemporary of syncretist Shi Jiao and Legalist Shang Yang, he was born in the State of Zheng, and was likely a minor official there. After Han conquered Zheng in 375 BC, he rose up in the ranks of the Han officialdom, dividing up its territories and successfully reforming it. Though not dealing in penal law himself, his administrative innovations would be taken into "Chinese Legalist" statecraft by Han Fei, his most famous successor, and Shen Buhai's book most resembles the Han Feizi (though more conciliatory). He died of natural causes while in office.

Though Chinese administration cannot be traced to any one individual, emphasizing a merit system figures like 4th century BC reformer Shen Buhai may have had more influence than any other, 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, if one wished to exaggerate, the first political scientist, while the correlation between Shen's conception of the inactive (Wu-wei) ruler and the handling of claims and titles likely informed the Taoist conception of the formless Tao (name that cannot be named) that "gives rise to the ten thousand things." He is attributed the dictum "The Sage ruler relies on standards and does not rely on wisdom; he relies on technique, not on persuasions."

Shen Dao

Shen Dao (Chinese: 慎到; c. 350 – c. 275 BC) was a "Chinese Legalist" theoretician most remembered for his influence on Han Fei with regards to the concept of shi 勢 (circumstantial advantage, power, or authority), though most of his book concerns the concept of fa 法 (administrative methods & standards) more commonly shared among "Legalists". Compared with western schools, Shen Dao considered laws that are not good "still preferable to having no laws at all."Making use of the term dao without cosmological or metaphysical reference, the Shenzi serves as noteworthy precursor to both Taoism and Han Fei. Posthumously, he is also sometimes classified as Taoist, and Wang Fuzhi speculated that the chapter "Essay on Seeing Things as Equal" of the Zhuangzhi was actually written by Shen Dao. Compared with the egoist Yang Chu, Shen Dao is characterized by the Zhuangzhi as impartial and lacking selfishness, his great way embracing all things.Usually referred to as "Master Shen" ("Shenzi" 慎子) for his writings, very little is known of Shen Dao's life. An itinerant Chinese philosopher from Zhao, he was probably born about 350 BC, travelling to the city of Linzi (modern Zibo, Shandong) in 300 BC to become a member of the Jixia Academy. Shen probably left Linzi after its capture by the state of Yan in 285 BC, possibly moving to the Han kingdom and absorbing the "Legalist" tradition there. He died roughly 10 years later.

Si (concept)

Si 思 is a concept in Chinese philosophy that is usually translated as "reflection" or "concentration." It refers to a species of attentive, non-rational thought that is directed at a specific subject.

The Book of Lord Shang

The Book of Lord Shang (Chinese: 商君書; pinyin: Shāng jūn shū) is an ancient Chinese text from the 3rd century BC, regarded as a foundational work of "Chinese Legalism". The earliest surviving of such texts (the second being the Han Feizi, which is generally considered more philosophically engaging), it is named for and to some extent attributed to major Qin reformer Shang Yang, who served as minister to Duke Xiao of Qin (r. 361 – 338 BC) from 359 BC until his death in 338 BC and is generally considered to be the father of that state's "legalism".The Book of Lord Shang includes a large number of ordinances, essays, and courtly petitions attributed to Shang Yang, as well as discourses delivered at the Qin court. The book focuses mainly on maintaining societal order through a system of impartial laws that strictly mete out rewards and punishments for citizens' actions. The first chapters advise promoting agriculture and suppressing other low-priority secondary activities, as well as encouraging martial virtues for use in creating and maintaining a state army for wars of conquest.

Wu wei

Wu wei (無爲) is a concept literally meaning "without exertion". Wu wei emerged in the Spring and Autumn period, and Confucianism, to become an important concept in Chinese statecraft and Taoism, and was most commonly used to refer to an ideal form of government including the behavior of the emperor. Describing a state of unconflicting personal harmony, free-flowing spontaneity and savoir faire, it generally also more properly denotes a state of spirit or mind, and in Confucianism accords with conventional morality. Sinologist Jean François Billeter describes it as a "state of perfect knowledge of the reality of the situation, perfect efficaciousness and the realization of a perfect economy of energy", which in practice Edward Slingerland qualifies as a "set of ("transformed") dispositions (including physical bearing)... conforming with the normative order."

Zhang Yi (Warring States period)

Zhang Yi (before 329 BC – 309 BC) was born in the Wei state during the Warring States period of Chinese history. He was an important strategist in helping Qin to dissolve the unity of the other states, and hence pave the way for Qin to unify China. He was an advocate of horizontal alliance, unlike Su Qin; both were adherents of the School of Diplomacy.

Standard Mandarin
Hanyu PinyinHán Fēizǐ
Gwoyeu RomatzyhHarn Feitzyy
Wade–GilesHan2 Fei1-tzŭ3
IPA[xǎn féi.tsɨ̀]
Yue: Cantonese
Yale RomanizationHòhn Fēi-jí
IPA[hɔ̏ːn féi.tsǐː]
JyutpingHon4 Fei1-zi2
Southern Min
Hokkien POJHân Hui-chú
Tâi-lôHân Hui-tsú
Middle Chinese
Middle Chineseɦan pi.tzí
Old Chinese
Baxter–Sagart (2014)*[g]ˤar pəj.tsəʔ

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