Trenchant, sophisticated, and cynical, Han Feizi has been read in every age and is still of interest today when people are more than ever concerned with the. Read the full-text online edition of Han Feizi: Basic Writings (). from the hand of Han Feizi himself, but it illustrates the fond- ness of the Legalists for elucidating their pronouncements by concrete examples from history.

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Burton Watson is one of the world’s best-known translators from the Chinese and Japanese.

He received the PEN translation prize in Zen Monk-Poet of Japan, Saigyo: This book presents Watson’s renowned translation of a Chinese philosophy classic in pinyin romanization for the first time. Fezii you like to tell us about a lower price? If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support? Trenchant, sophisticated, and cynical, Han Feizi has been read in every age and is still of interest today when people are more ahn ever concerned with the nature and use of power.

His aritings for the ruler deals with the problems of strengthening and preserving the state, the way of the ruler, the use of power, and punishment and favor. Ironically, the ruler most influenced by Han Feizi, the king of Qin, eventually sent Han Feizi to prison, where he later committed suicide.

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Burton Watson, Han Feizi: Basic Writings – PhilPapers

Add all three to Cart Add all three to List. Some of these items ship sooner than the others. Buy the selected items together This item: Ships from and sold by Amazon. Tales from Tang Dynasty China: Customers who bought this item also bought. Page 1 of 1 Start over Page 1 of 1. Mozi Translations from the Asian Classics. Selections from the Taiping Guangji. The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. Basic Writings Translations from the Asian Classics. English translation Original Language: Translations from the Asian Classics Paperback: Columbia University Press April 15, Language: Start reading Han Feizi on your Kindle in under a minute.

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Please try again later. Kindle Edition Verified Purchase. I’ve always had a special enthusiasm for books in the Realpolitik tradition.

Han Feizi: Basic Writings

I’ve been acquainted with the concept of Legalism and its influence on Qin and subsequent Dritings dynasties for a wrtings time through my carousal of history and other books in the Eastern Classics canon.

However, I’ve never pursued this interest to the extent of engaging with the primary sources that developed this Chinese variation on the realpolitik. So why set aside a weekend to writungs study of a primary Legalist text now? Ergo Commoner soldiers could obtain entry into the gentry by collecting enemy heads in battle, and Commoner farmers could do the same by producing greater quantities of food. This early Legalist maxim deviated from the Confucian norm that individuals ought to be content with their status in society and only seek advancement if the circumstances dictated.

The resemblance between the ancient policy and the overtures of China’s present government was fascinating enough to turn what had hitherto been a passing interest into a serious one. A brief analysis of commentaries indicated Han Feizi was the most philosophically engaging Legalist.

Unfortunately, locating a complete version of his works proved difficult, so I had to rely on the Basic Writings. Because the translation is incomplete the text will make occasional jumps like from Section 10 to Section The Way of the Ruler evokes Daoism of all philosophies to describe the attributes of a fit ruler.

Like the Daoist sage he must be mysterious and apart from the broader society. This is includes refraining from making public appearances among commoners hunting, concerts, religious rituals, etc or fraternizing with subordinates as though they were trusted friends. The minarchist school of Chinese political thought seems like a strange bedfellow for what essentially amounts to fascism, but this evocation of mystery prevents subordinates from comprehending the ruler astutely enough to sense his weaknesses or exploit his ignorance, disarming potential rebellions before they start.


In the ancient world, alongside whatever courts administered justice, most rulers could order their attendant strong men to bestow rewards and punishments in a casual way, regardless of court procedures. Instead, Han Feizi argues that rulers should only enforce rewards or punishments for things that have been written into, and publicly held up as, law.

Indulging in personal will when confronted with procedural or administrative problems will pattern an example that laws don’t reach far, and aren’t worth respecting, thereby undermining the authoritarian bsic the Legalist ruler depends on to preserve his reign.

The idea is that a ruler should issue rewards to people that succeed and punishments to those who fail. The rewards should be small to prevent subordinates from developing independent power bases that can challenge the ruler, but punishments severe so that those on the receiving end of them can’t seek vengeance, potential replacements for subordinates being abundant among the state’s social climbers anyway.

Importantly, ministers must be rewarded or punished to the letter of what they set out feizo accomplish, not on the quantity. Thus an agricultural minister who promised a small net gain in grain production but produced a huge surplus would be punished equally as much as a minister who promised a huge surplus, but ran a deficit. Again, this is because the exact laws authorized by the ruler must be respected above personal achievement, or society will spiral into chaos as individuals pursue desperate and risky policies to gain greater and greater rewards.

Unlike other philosophies which empathize the importance of rulers being active presences in the lives of their subjects, Legalist rulers need to resist the impulse frizi micro manage. Whereas rulers following other philosophers might blend the role of king, general, warrior, and even farmer, wrihings Legalist ruler should only be the first.

He doesn’t need to understand military strategy except to make it work in cohesion with his other policies agricultural production, trade, diplomatic relationships, etc and issue directives to his generals, nor should he ever expose himself to the dangers of combat or the drudgery of running a farm. His only concern is to coerce honest reports bsaic his ministers so that can understand what is happening in his kingdom and issue rewards and punishments accordingly. Essentially, promoting a subordinate to a higher position because you like him rather than because he is a good Legalist minister invites ruination.

Whereas rulers function as remote Daoist sages, ministers have to engage directly with subjects farmers, soldiers, etc in order to get results. Thus when a farmer wants to plant a luxury crop that sells for a lot but doesn’t meet the ceizi consumption needs of the state or a soldier wants to engage in combat that doesn’t contribute to the security of the country, the minister has to convince them to live in strict compliance with law by pointing out how pursuing these deviant interests will bring ruin.

It also unsurprisingly encourages ministers to live in compliance with the law themselves, so the ruler will respect the advice they give him. He” doesn’t seem to be addressed to anyone, but rather consists of Han Feizi’s personal evaluation of the Warring States Period and the difficulties that exist in being a good ruler, minister, or subject according to Legalist maxims, as well as the dangers of being a Legalist in a Confucian world, and life’s general unfairness.

He muses on the trouble a Legalist minister must face living in a society where rulers don’t appreciate Legalism, a situation he probably felt himself teaching Legalism to disinterested higher ranking relatives. Concubines the ruler cherished early in life will wish the ruler is dead so that the children of late life concubines won’t have a share in the inheritance. Therefore the ruler can’t trust in anyone’s good will, and should investigate every suggestion thoroughly, as pertains to his security.

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Appointing an minister to be a liaison between himself another minister who has been assigned an important task places too wrtings distance between the ruler and his ability to administrate. It also encourages ministers to feiz together to deceive the ruler and develop their own power bases.

It also suggests “The Five Vermin” is one of the longest entries. Han Feizi was arguing from within a tradition that unquestionably maintained previous eras were golden ages where China was bsic and well fed, and that living up felzi the ostensibly ancient ideals recommended by rival philosophers Conscious and Mozi would reproduce the prosperity that existed back then.

Consequently rulers should coax good behavior from subjects by working fields, securing borders, and filling stomachs, rather than fermenting discontent with obscure philosophies or religions. Although each of them claimed to have grounded their tenets in the teachings of ancient Sages whose wisdom is beyond contestation not even by Han Feizihe points out they contradict each other and that their ideologies have split into rival schools, making it impossible to verify which tenets from which schools are the correct ones.

It also recommends the criteria by which rulers should appraise intellectuals. As in all things Legalistic, consistency is key: Being more of a Minarchist of the Daoist variety myself, I find Legalist ideas as terrifying as they are compelling. There’s a kind of dread to knowing that human beings can be reduced to automatons of the state before realizing they have the individual will to challenge this power dynamic. Wriings I see a lot of value in Han Feizi’s teachings. Partly vasic is excused because of the chaotic times he lived in, but also because his book shows how authoritarianism can plant roots in the human consciousness, and what sorts of things can drive people to accept authoritarianism.

It gives you a much more developed sense of how bad humanity can be than Confucius or Mozi, and how political relationships can become toxic and pervert enterprise. Regardless if you agree with its prescribed cures for an unruly society, it is a valuable book for turning the light on aspects of humanity optimists won’t or can’t address.

You will come way better wriings about the difficulty of having ideals in a fallen world, and the dangers of trying to live by them.

That is a value that is constant among realpolitik books. Product came quickly and as described. Han Feizi, Mo Tzu and Confucius -Mencius were four of the “hundred philosophers” in the period from to BC that made recommendations about how a country should be governed.

These doctrines were developed during “Warring States” period, to BC. During that period China consisted of several independent Kingdoms that were continuously at war. If you are interested in the practice of government you should study all three philosophers and determine what they think is useful and is useless in their teachings. It is at least at the same level as the teachings of Aristotle. It is based on far more experience of a large state.

The teaching wrktings Han Feizi are referred to as the “realistic” and also as the “legalistic school.

He wrote this book on how a ruler should govern wishing to survive and conquer other states. He tried to convince the King of Han to apply his doctrine. Qin Shi Huang was already well aware of Feizi’s theory. Shi Huang was told that Han Feizi could not be trusted because he belonged to the royal Han family. Feizi was told to take poison, which he did. Qin Shi Huang conquered all independent Chinese kingdoms including Han.