Han Fei

Last updated
Han Fei
韓非
BornUnknown, c.280 BC
Died233 BC
Cause of deathForced to commit suicide by drinking poison
Era Ancient philosophy
Region Chinese philosophy
School Legalism
Han Fei
Traditional Chinese 韓非
Simplified Chinese 韩非

Han Fei ( /hɑːn/ ; [2] 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 or statesman [3] of the Legalist school during the Warring States period, and a prince of the state of Han. [4]

Traditional Chinese characters Traditional Chinese characters

Traditional Chinese characters are Chinese characters in any character set that does not contain newly created characters or character substitutions performed after 1946. They are most commonly the characters in the standardized character sets of Taiwan, of Hong Kong and Macau. The modern shapes of traditional Chinese characters first appeared with the emergence of the clerical script during the Han Dynasty, and have been more or less stable since the 5th century.

Simplified Chinese characters Standardized Chinese characters developed in mainland China

Simplified Chinese characters are standardized Chinese characters prescribed in the Table of General Standard Chinese Characters for use in mainland China. Along with traditional Chinese characters, they are one of the two standard character sets of the contemporary Chinese written language. The government of the People's Republic of China in mainland China has promoted them for use in printing since the 1950s and 1960s to encourage literacy. They are officially used in the People's Republic of China and Singapore.

Pinyin Chinese romanization scheme for Mandarin

Hanyu Pinyin, often abbreviated to pinyin, is the official romanization system for Standard Chinese in mainland China and to some extent in Taiwan. It is often used to teach Standard Mandarin Chinese, which is normally written using Chinese characters. The system includes four diacritics denoting tones. Pinyin without tone marks is used to spell Chinese names and words in languages written with the Latin alphabet, and also in certain computer input methods to enter Chinese characters.

Contents

Han Fei is often considered to be the greatest representative of “Chinese Legalism” for his eponymous work the Han Feizi, [5] synthesizing the methods of his predecessors. [6] Han Fei's ideas are sometimes compared with Niccolò Machiavelli [7] and his book is considered by some to be superior to the "Il Principe" of Niccolò Machiavelli both in content and in writing style. [8] It is said that Shu Han's chancellor Zhuge Liang demanded emperor Liu Shan read the Han Feizi for learning the way of ruling. [9]

<i>Han Feizi</i> ancient Chinese text attributed to foundational political philosopher, "Master" Han Fei

The Han Feizi is an ancient Chinese text attributed to foundational political philosopher, "Master" Han Fei. It comprises a selection of essays in the "Legalist" tradition on theories of state power, synthesizing the methodologies of his predecessors. Its 55 chapters, most of which date to the Warring States period mid-3rd century BC, are the only such text to survive intact. Easily one of the most important philosophical classics in ancient China, it touches on administration, diplomacy, war and economics, and is also valuable for its abundance of anecdotes about pre-Qin China.

Niccolò Machiavelli Italian politician, writer and author

Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was an Italian diplomat, politician, historian, philosopher, humanist, writer, playwright and poet of the Renaissance period. He has often been called the father of modern political philosophy and political science. For many years he served as a senior official in the Florentine Republic with responsibilities in diplomatic and military affairs. He wrote comedies, carnival songs, and poetry. His personal correspondence is renowned by historians and scholars. He worked as secretary to the Second Chancery of the Republic of Florence from 1498 to 1512, when the Medici were out of power. He wrote his best-known work The Prince in 1513, having been exiled from city affairs.

Shu Han former country during Three kingdoms of China era

Shu or Shu Han was one of the three major states that competed for supremacy over China in the Three Kingdoms period (220–280). The state was based in the area around present-day Sichuan and Chongqing, which was historically known as "Shu" after an earlier state in Sichuan named Shu. Shu Han's founder Liu Bei had named his state "Han" as he considered it the legitimate successor to the Han dynasty, while "Shu" is added to the name as a geographical prefix to differentiate it from the many "Han" states throughout Chinese history.

Sima Qian recounts the First Emperor as being presented with Han Fei’s works, going so far as to go to war with Han to obtain an audience with Han Fei, but is ultimately convinced to imprison him, whereupon he commits suicide. [10] 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. [6] {Citation needed}

Qin dynasty Dynasty that ruled in China from 221 to 206 BC

The Qin dynasty was the first dynasty of Imperial China, lasting from 221 to 206 BC. Named for its heartland in Qin state, the dynasty was founded by Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of Qin. The strength of the Qin state was greatly increased by the Legalist reforms of Shang Yang in the fourth century BC, during the Warring States period. In the mid and late third century BC, the Qin state carried out a series of swift conquests, first ending the powerless Zhou dynasty, and eventually conquering the other six of the Seven Warring States. Its 15 years was the shortest major dynasty in Chinese history, consisting of only two emperors, but inaugurated an imperial system that lasted from 221 BC, with interruption and adaptation, until 1912 CE.

Legalism (Chinese philosophy) A tradition of Chinese thought and practice

Legalism or Fajia is one of Sima Tan's six classical schools of thought in Chinese philosophy. Literally meaning "house of administrative methods" or "standards" (fa), the "school" represents several branches of realist statesmen, or "men of methods", who played foundational roles in the construction of the bureaucratic Chinese empire. In the Western world, Legalism has often been compared to Machiavellianism, and considered akin to an ancient Chinese philosophy of Realpolitik. 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. With their close connections to the other schools, some Legalists would go on to be a major influence on Taoism and Confucianism, and the current remains highly influential in administration, policy and legal practice in China today.

Confucianism Chinese ethical and philosophical system

Confucianism, also known as Ruism, is described as tradition, a philosophy, a religion, a humanistic or rationalistic religion, a way of governing, or simply a way of life. Confucianism developed from what was later called the Hundred Schools of Thought from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius, who considered himself a recodifier and retransmitter of the theology and values inherited from the Shang and Zhou dynasties. In the Han dynasty, Confucian approaches edged out the "proto-Taoist" Huang–Lao as the official ideology, while the emperors mixed both with the realist techniques of Legalism.

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; ). 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).

Shang Yang statesman of the Qin state

Shang Yang, also known as Wei Yang and originally surnamed Gongsun, was a Chinese philosopher and politician. He 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 was a Chinese essayist, philosopher, and politician. He served as 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 incorporated into "Chinese Legalist" statecraft by Han Fei, his most famous successor, and Shen Buhai's book most resembles the Han Feizi. He died of natural causes while in office.

Shen Dao was a Chinese philosopher and writer. He was a "Chinese Legalist" theoretician most remembered for his influence on Han Fei with regards to the concept of shi 勢, though most of his book concerns the concept of fa 法 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."

Name

Han Fei is his name, while -Zi ( , lit. "Master") was often added to philosophers' names as an extra addition honorific. The title Han Feizi is also used to denote the book written by him.

Chinese honorifics and honorific language are words, word constructs, and expressions in the Chinese language that convey self-deprecation, social respect, politeness, or deference. Once ubiquitously employed in ancient China, a large percent has fallen out of use in the contemporary Chinese lexicon. The promotion of vernacular Chinese during the New Culture Movement of the 1910s and 1920s in China further hastened the demise of a large body of Chinese honorifics previously preserved in the vocabulary and grammar of Classical Chinese.

Life

The exact year of Han Fei's birth remains unknown, however scholars have placed it at around 280 BCE. [4]

Unlike the other famed philosophers of the time, Han Fei was a member of the ruling aristocracy, having been born into the ruling family of the State of Han during the end phase of the Warring States period. In this context, his works have been interpreted by some scholars as being directed to his cousin, the King of Han. Sima Qian’s Shi ji says that Han Fei studied together with future Qin chancellor Li Si under the Confucian philosopher Xunzi. It is said that because of his stutter, Han Fei could not properly present his ideas in court. His advice otherwise being ignored, but observing the slow decline of his Han state, he developed "one of the most brilliant (writing) styles in ancient China." [5] [6]

Sima Qian's biography of Han Fei is as follows: Han Fei was a prince of Han, in favor of the study of name/form and law/art, which Sima Qian dubiously espoused as taking root in the Huang-Lao philosophy. He was born a stutterer and was not able to dispute well, but he was good at writing papers. Together with his friend, Li Si, he served Xun Qing, and Si himself admitted that he was not as competent as Fei. Seeing Han was on the decline, he often remonstrated with the king of Han by submitting papers, but the king did not agree to employ him. At this, Han Fei was frustrated with the reality that, in governing a state, the king did not endeavour to refine and clarify the juridical system of the state, to control his subjects by taking over power, to enhance state property and defence, or to call and employ the wise by enhancing the state.

Rather, the king employed the corrupted and treacherous and put them in higher positions over the wise. He regarded the intellectuals as a disturbance to the law by employing their literature, and thought that knights violate the prohibition of the state by using armed forces. While the state was in peace, the king liked to patronise the honoured; while in need, he employed warriors with armour and helmet. So the cultivated men could not be employed and the men employed could not be cultivated. Severely distressed over the reality that men of high integrity and uprightness were not embraced by the subjects with immorality and corruption, he observed the changes in the gaining and losing of the past. Therefore, he wrote several papers like Gu Fen, Wu Tan, Nei-Wai Chu, Shou Lin, and Shei Nan, which amount to one hundred thousand words. However, while Han Fei himself knew well of the difficulty of persuasion and created the detailed writing, Shei Nan, he eventually killed himself in Qin. He could not escape the trap of words for himself." [11]

His works ultimately ended up in the hands of the thrilled Qin king, Ying Zheng, who commented, "If I can make friends with this person [Han Fei], I may die without regrets." and invited Han Fei to the Qin court. Han Fei presented the essay "Preserving the Han" to ask the king not to attack his homeland, but his ex-friend and rival Li Si—who was jealous of Han Fei—used that essay to have Han Fei imprisoned on account of his likely loyalty to Han. Han Fei responded by writing another essay named "In the first time of meeting Qin king", hoping to use his writing talent to win the king's heart. Han Fei did win the king's heart, but not before Li Si forced him to commit suicide by drinking poison. The Qin king later felt regret about the unfortunate death of Han Fei. [5] [6]

Xunzi formed the hypothesis that human nature is evil and virtueless, therefore suggesting that 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. Han Fei's education and life experience during the Warring States period, and in his own Han state, contributed his synthesis of a philosophy for the management of an amoral and interest-driven administration, to which morality seemed a loose and inefficient tool. Han agreed with his teacher's theory of "virtueless by birth", but as in previous Legalist philosophy, pragmatically proposed to steer people by their own interest-driven nature.

Assessment

Vietnamese authors

Phan Ngọc  [ vi ] in his foreword to the Han Feizi praised Han Fei as a knowledgeable man with sharp, logical and firm arguments, supported by large amount of practical and realistic evidence. Han Fei's strict methods were appropriate in a context of social decadence. Phan Ngọc claimed that Han Fei's writings has three drawbacks, however: first, his idea of Legalism was unsuited to autocracy because a ruling dynasty will sooner or later deteriorate. Second, due to the inherent limitation of autocratic monarchy system, Han Fei did not manage to provide the solutions for all the issues that he pointed out. Third, Han Fei was wrong to think that human is inherently evil and only seeks fame and profit: there are humans who sacrificed their own profit for the greater good, including Han Fei himself. [12] Trần Ngọc Vương  [ vi ] considered the Han Feizi to be superior to Machiavelli's Prince , and claimed that Han Fei's ideology was highly refined for its era. [13]

Notes

  1. ^ Watson, Burton, Han Fei Tzu: Basic Writings. 1964, p. 2. The king in question is believed to be either King An (238–230 BC) or his predecessor, King Huanhui (272–239 BC).

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References

  1. "Leader Taps into Chinese Classics in Seeking to Cement Power". The New York Times. 12 October 2014.
  2. "Han". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary .
  3. 2018 Henrique Schneider. p.1. An Introduction to Hanfei's Political Philosophy: The Way of the Ruler.
  4. 1 2 Watson, Burton (2003). Han Feizi – Basic Writings. Columbia University Press. p. 2. ISBN   9780231521321. OCLC   796815905.
  5. 1 2 3 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-08-08. Retrieved 2015-07-25.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  6. 1 2 3 4 Hàn Phi Tử, Vietnamese translation by Phan Ngọc, Nhà xuất bản Văn học, HCMC 2011
  7. Nguyển Hiến Lê, Giản Chi (1995). Hàn Phi Tử. NXB Văn hóa thông tin.
  8. http://antgct.cand.com.vn/Nhan-vat/PGS-%E2%80%93-TS-Tran-Ngoc-Vuong-Nguy-thien-cung-vua-phai-thoi-khong-thi-ai-chiu-duoc-314289/
  9. https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2014/entries/chinese-legalism/
  10. The biography by Sima Qian is presented in "The Biography of Han Fei Tzŭ By Ssŭ-ma Ch`ien" chapter of The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu, translated by W.K. Liao, 1939, reprinted by Arthur Probsthain, 1959. https://books.google.com.tw/books?id=op8KAQAAIAAJ http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/saxon/servlet/SaxonServlet?source=xwomen/texts/hanfei.xml&style=xwomen/xsl/dynaxml.xsl&chunk.id=d1.4&toc.depth=1&toc.id=0&doc.lang=bilingual
  11. Tae Hyun KIM 2010 p.15, Other Laozi Parallels in the Hanfeizi
  12. Vietnamese translation, 2011, Nhà Xuất bản Văn Học
  13. http://antgct.cand.com.vn/Nhan-vat/PGS-%E2%80%93-TS-Tran-Ngoc-Vuong-Nguy-thien-cung-vua-phai-thoi-khong-thi-ai-chiu-duoc-314289/

Further reading