Legalism Heritage of China: A story of Civilization Self-Identity in an Orderly Rule of Law

China’s legal history can be traced back to the Xia Dynasty. “Yu Xing” is the general term of Xia Dynasty law. In “Yu Xing”, “Zhou Li·Qiu Gong·Xing Xing” we find: “Xia Xing had a large number of two hundred, and three penalties. One hundred, five hundred for imperial punishment, and one thousand for each.” Penalties in ancient China have the same meaning as law, and the emergence of penalties means that the Xia Dynasty legal system had emerged. The Xia, Shang and Zhou Dynasties were during the period of slavery in China, and the laws produced were naturally slavery laws. This kind of first-formed laws were generally based on customary laws and had the characteristics of both courtesy and punishment.

In the Warring States period, with the gradual disintegration of slavery and the initial formation of Chinese feudalism, in this period of great social change, and at the same time the most active period of political and academic thought in ancient China, and the most frequent exchanges, there appeared “a hundred schools of thought”. Prosperous situation. At this time, legal thought has also undergone unprecedented development. Thinkers in this period were no longer confined to the formulation and use of law. Law thinking began to expand to the origin, nature and function of law, as well as thinking about the country’s economic development, the nature of the times, and ethics , regime conflicts and even environmental protection, so the original theocratic and patriarchal ideology of safeguarding slave owners’ aristocratic rule in slavery was greatly impacted. Hundreds of scholars advocated lobbying their own ideas in various vassal states, and almost every family involved it. From the thoughts on law, we can see the important role of law in society.


Chinese School of Legal Thought

Each of the hundreds of schools of scholars has an understanding of the law. Among them, the four schools of thought that involve the most extensive legal thoughts are Confucianism, Mohism, Taoism, and Law. Important documents within the schools have their own ideas. The understanding of law in the current society. For example, Confucianism has inherited and developed Zhou Gong’s thought of “beneficial virtue and cautious punishment”, upholding “rule of courtesy” and advocating “rule of virtue” and emphasizing “rule of man”; “; There is also the “Tao law of nature” advocated by Taoists who seem to be away from society all the year round. They insist on laws under natural law, oppose violations of laws under natural law, and advocate the ruling class to “rule by doing nothing.”

Finally, legal thoughts are the main content, and the legalists represented by Li Li, Wu Qi, Shang Yang, Shen Dao, Shen Buhui, and Han Fei are the school of law whose main research is in the pre-Qin period. Legalists advocated the “rule of law” of “ruling the country by law”. This set of relatively complete legal theoretical systems and methods combined by the ideological works of representatives of legalists of the past generations is the main basis of the law of the Qin Dynasty. After the Han Dynasty inherited the Qin system , Which basically established the legal system of Chinese feudal society from now on, just like Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty “removed a hundred schools of thought and respected Confucianism.” It can be said that legalism actually came to the eyes of the modern world along with the entire Chinese feudal history.

Representatives of Legalism

1. Shang Yang

Shang Yang may not be enough to become the most famous reformer or politician in Chinese history, but the “Shang Yang Reform” must be the most well-known reform of the feudal era in modern China. Shang Yang, who was called “the first truly thorough reformer in Chinese history” , liked criminal spells when he was young, and was deeply influenced by Li Li and Wu Qi. The Shangyang Reform was a historical reform well-known to the public. People’s understanding of the Shangyang Reform is no longer the mere content of the reform, but is more inclined to understand this person who created a major reform. Most of the people who have just come into contact with Shangyang are because of his reforms.

History has proved that Shang Yang was indeed a ruthless man, facing the challenge of the old noble. At the same time, the law was tough, and the law was severe, and minor crimes were severely punished, so that the end of the “ruthless character” was often embarrassing. Shang Yang was cracked by the car, and the harshest punishment he had created was finally added to him. Shang Yang’s legal thoughts place too much emphasis on violence and underestimate civilization, too much trust in the operation of the state apparatus and neglect the consideration of human nature, and lose the law under human nature, and ultimately couldn’t be spread under people’s attention.

Mao on Legalism and Lord Shang

2. Han Fei

Unlike Shang Yang, Han Fei did not make any practical political means to achieve his legalist thought, but history still gave him the highest evaluation: “the master of the legalist”, it is not yet to be regarded as the master of the legal school.

Han Fei, who was equally proficient in the study of criminal names and magic as Shang Yang, had a broader vision than Shang Yang, who was educated by Xunzi. Most of the various schools in the Warring States period opposed Confucian legal thought, but for Xunzi, as a Confucian master. However, they were also extremely opposed to the legal viewpoints of Confucius and Mencius. Two legal scholars, Han Fei and Li Si, came out under such teachers.

He was a Confucian student and he also had considerable research on Taoist Huang Lao techniques, and he wrote famous articles such as “Jie Lao” and “Yu Lao”, and he was even hailed as “one of the two who have the most quintessence of Lao Zi thoughts.” The legal thoughts formed in Han Fei’s mind after the collision and fusion of rich ideas must be fundamentally different from those of Shang Yang.

This is also the factor that makes Han Fei and Shang Yang’s position in history very different. Shang Yang was an excellent reformer, Han Fei however, was a rare materialist philosopher of that era. Han Fei’s legal thought were no longer a state machine, but the beginning of a dialectical view of “law.” Han Fei was patriotic. Even if he was a Korean nobleman, he couldn’t get it done once and for all.

In fact, it is difficult for a person with such legal thoughts to be indifferent to his own internal and external troubles. However, Korea at that time still left him powerless, even though he was in Qin. He was able to show his talents, but was still persecuted and imprisoned for his own country, and was eventually poisoned to death by his fellows. Han Fei was not a simple legal scholar. He integrated legal thoughts into social economy and culture, sublimating the philosophical height of legalist thought, which made his thoughts spread throughout the world.

我读韩非子初见秦- 知乎

Feelings of Legalist Philosophy

The legal history of China for more than three thousand years has a long history. The major representatives of legalists have shown their magnificent ideological realm and great social contribution. In the 21st century, China is also working hard to become a country under the rule of law. The ancient legalist thought still has something worthy of consideration in modern society.

Han Fei’s works such as “Lonely Anger”, “Five Beetles”, “Internal and External Storage”, “Suo Lin”, “Said Difficulty” and other works embodied that it is not only legal philosophy, but also a treasure of legal literature. Among them, “everything governs the world must be based on human sentiment” and its “people-oriented” coincides with it. “Be good without leaving one’s husband”, “the legal system is clear, and the private favor. “The order must be carried out, and the prohibition must be stopped” these undoubtedly also became the principles of modern law. Even still now, it is an important factor that needs to be considered in modern legislation and law enforcement of China.

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