Statue of pivotal reformer Shang Yang
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Shang Yang (Chinese :商鞅; c. 390 – 338 BCE), also known as Wei Yang (Chinese :衞鞅) and originally surnamed Gongsun, was an ancient Chinese philosopher, politician and a prominent legalist scholar. Born in the Zhou vassal state of Wey during the Warring States period, he was a statesman, chancellor and reformer serving the State of Qin, where his policies laid the administrative, political and economic foundations that strengthened the Qin state and would eventually enable Qin to conquer the other six rival states, unifying China into a centralized rule for the first time in history under the Qin dynasty. He and his followers contributed to the Book of Lord Shang , a foundational philosophical work for the school of Chinese legalism.
Shang Yang is born as the son of a concubine to the ruling family of the minor state Wey (衞). His surname (氏, lineage name) is Gongsun and his personal name Yang. As a member of the Wey family, he is also known as Wei Yang.
At a young age, Yang studied law and obtained a position under Prime Minister Shuzuo of Wei (魏, not the same as his birth state). With the support of Duke Xiao of Qin, Yang left his lowly position in Weito become the chief adviser in Qin. His numerous reforms transformed the peripheral Qin state into a militarily powerful and strongly centralized kingdom. Changes to the state's legal system (which were said to have been built upon Li Kui's Canon of Laws ) propelled the Qin to prosperity. Enhancing the administration through an emphasis on meritocracy, his policies weakened the power of the feudal lords.
In 341 BC, Qin attacked the state of Wei. Yang personally led the Qin army to defeat Wei, and eventually Wei ceded the land west of the Yellow River to Qin. For his role in the war, Yang received 15 cities in Shang as his personal fief and became known as the lord of Shang (Shang Jun) or Shang Yang.According to the Records of the Grand Historian , with his personal connections while serving in the court of Wei, Shang Yang invited Gongzi Ang, the Wei general, to negotiate a peace treaty. As soon as Ang arrived, he was taken prisoner, and the Qin army attacked, successfully defeating their opponents.
Mark Edward Lewis once identified his reorganization of the military as responsible for the orderly plan of roads and fields throughout north China. This might be far fetched, but Yang was as much a military reformer as a legal one.Yang oversaw the construction of Xiangyang.
The Shang Yang school of thought was favoured by Emperor Wu of Han,and John Keay mentions that Tang figure Du You was drawn to Shang Yang.
He is credited by Han Fei, often considered to be the greatest representative of Chinese Legalism, with the creation of two theories;
Believing in the rule of law and considering loyalty to the state above that of the family, Yang introduced two sets of changes to the State of Qin. The first, in 356 BCE, were:
Yang introduced his second set of changes in 350 BCE, which included a new standardized system of land allocation and reforms to taxation.
The vast majority of Yang's reforms were taken from policies instituted elsewhere, such as from Wu Qi of the State of Chu; however, Yang's reforms were more thorough and extreme than those of other states, and monopolized policy in the hands of the ruler.Under his tenure, Qin quickly caught up with and surpassed the reforms of other states.
Yang introduced land reforms, privatized land, rewarded farmers who exceeded harvest quotas, enslaved farmers who failed to meet quotas, and used enslaved subjects as (state-owned) rewards for those who met government policies.
As manpower was short in Qin relative to the other states at the time, Yang enacted policies to increase its manpower. As Qin peasants were recruited into the military, he encouraged active migration of peasants from other states into Qin as a replacement workforce; this policy simultaneously increased the manpower of Qin and weakened the manpower of Qin's rivals. Yang made laws forcing citizens to marry at a young age and passed tax laws to encourage raising multiple children. He also enacted policies to free convicts who worked in opening wastelands for agriculture.
Yang partly abolished primogeniture (depending on the performance of the son) and created a double tax on households that had more than one son living in the household, to break up large clans into nuclear families.
Yang moved the capital to reduce the influence of nobles on the administration.
Deeply despised by the Qin nobility,Yang could not survive Duke Xiao of Qin's death. The next ruler, King Huiwen, ordered the nine familial exterminations against Yang and his family, on the grounds of fomenting rebellion. Yang had previously humiliated the new duke "by causing him to be punished for an offense as though he were an ordinary citizen." According to Zhan Guo Ce , Yang went into hiding and at one point Yang tried to stay at an inn. The innkeeper refused because it was against Yang's laws to admit a guest without proper identification, a law Yang himself had implemented.
Yang was executed by jūliè (車裂, dismemberment by being fastened to five chariots, cattle or horses and being torn to pieces);his whole family was also executed. Despite his death, King Huiwen kept the reforms enacted by Yang. A number of alternate versions of Yang's death have survived. According to Sima Qian in his Records of the Grand Historian , Yang first escaped to Wei. However, he was hated there for his earlier betrayal of Gongzi Ang and was expelled. Yang then fled to his fiefdom, where he raised a rebel army but was killed in battle. After the battle, King Hui of Qin had Yang's corpse torn apart by chariots as a warning to others.
Following the execution of Yang, King Huiwen turned away from the central valley south to conquer Sichuan (Shu and Ba) in what Steven Sage calls a "visionary reorientation of thinking" toward material interests in Qin's bid for universal rule.
Keeping in mind the information of the time (1955) and the era of which he is speaking, A. F. P. Hulsewé goes as far as to call Shang Yang the "founder of the school of law", and considers his unification of punishments one of his most important contributions, that is, giving the penalty of death to any grade of person disobeying the king's orders.
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 AD.
The Warring States period was an era in ancient Chinese history characterized by warfare, as well as bureaucratic and military reforms and consolidation. It followed the Spring and Autumn period and concluded with the Qin wars of conquest that saw the annexation of all other contender states, which ultimately led to the Qin state's victory in 221 BC as the first unified Chinese empire, known as the Qin dynasty.
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/law" (fa), the "school" represents several branches of what have been termed 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.
Zhao was one of the seven major states during the Warring States period of ancient China. It was created from the three-way Partition of Jin, together with Han and Wei, in the 5th century BC. Zhao gained significant strength from the military reforms initiated during King Wuling's reign, but suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Qin at the Battle of Changping. Its territory included areas now in modern Inner Mongolia, Hebei, Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces. It bordered the Xiongnu, the states of Qin, Wei and Yan. Its capital was Handan, in modern Hebei Province.
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.
Qin was an ancient Chinese state during the Zhou dynasty. Traditionally dated to 897 B.C., it took its origin in a reconquest of western lands previously lost to the Rong; its position at the western edge of Chinese civilization permitted expansion and development that was unavailable to its rivals in the North China Plain. Following extensive "Legalist" reform in the 3rd century BC, Qin emerged as one of the dominant powers of the Seven Warring States and unified China in 221 BC under Qin Shi Huang. The empire it established was short-lived but greatly influential on later Chinese history.
Duke Xiao of Qin, given name Quliang, was the ruler of the Qin state from 361 to 338 BC during the Warring States period of Chinese history. Duke Xiao is best known for employing the Legalist statesman Shang Yang from the State of Wey (衛), and authorizing him to conduct a series of ground breaking political, military and economic reforms in Qin. Although the reforms were controversial and drew violent opposition from many Qin politicians, Duke Xiao supported Shang Yang fully and the reforms did help to transform Qin into a dominant superpower among the Seven Warring States.
King Huiwen of Qin, also known as Lord Huiwen of Qin or King Hui of Qin, given name Si (駟), was the ruler of the Qin state from 338 to 311 BC during the Warring States period of Chinese history and likely an ancestor of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. He was the first ruler of Qin to style himself "King" (王) instead of "Duke" (公).
Gongsun is one of the few Chinese compound surnames.
Li Kui was a Chinese hydraulic engineer, philosopher, and politician. He served as government minister and court advisor to Marquis Wen in the state of Wei. In 407 BC, he wrote the Book of Law, which was the basis for the codified laws of the Qin and Han dynasties.
King Zhaoxiang of Qin, or King Zhao of Qin (秦昭王), born Ying Ji (Chinese: 嬴稷, was the king of Qin from 306 BC to 251 BC. He was the son of King Huiwen and younger brother of King Wu.
The Book of Lord Shang is an ancient Chinese text from the 3rd century BC, regarded as a foundational work of "Chinese Legalism". The earliest surviving of such texts, it is named for and to some extent attributed to major Qin reformer Shang Yang, who served as minister to Duke Xiao of Qin from 359 BC until his death in 338 BC and is generally considered to be the father of that state's "legalism".
The Guanzi is an ancient Chinese political and philosophical text that is named for and traditionally attributed to the 7th century BCE philosopher and 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 book Han Feizi.
Wei is the English spelling of several Chinese surnames.
Wei, commonly spelled Wey to distinguish from the larger Wei (魏) state, was an ancient Chinese state that was founded in the early Western Zhou dynasty and rose to prominence during the Spring and Autumn period. Its rulers were of the surname Ji (姬), the same as that of the rulers of Zhou. It was located in modern northeastern Henan Province, east of Jin, and west of Cao.
The Canon of Laws or Classic of Law is a lost legal code that has been attributed to Li Kui, a Legalist scholar and minister who lived in the State of Wei during the Warring States period of ancient China. This code has traditionally been dated to the early fourth century BCE, but scholars now widely consider it to be a forgery from the fifth or sixth century CE.
The Qin Empire is a 2009 Chinese television series based on Sun Haohui's novel of the same Chinese title, which romanticises the rise of the Qin state in the Warring States period under the leadership of Duke Xiao of Qin. It was produced in 2006 and first aired on television channels in China in December 2009. It was followed by three sequels: The Qin Empire II: Alliance (2012), The Qin Empire III (2017) and The Qin Empire IV (2019), which were also based on Sun Haohui's novels.
The nine familial exterminations or nine kinship exterminations was the most serious punishment for a capital offense in Ancient China. A collective punishment typically associated with offenses such as treason, the punishment involved the execution of all relatives of an individual, which were categorized into nine groups. Nine exterminations were often done by slow slicing. The occurrence of this punishment was somewhat rare, with relatively few sentences recorded throughout history. There were also variants of the punishment found in ancient Korea and Vietnam.
The Qin Empire II: Alliance is a 2012 Chinese television series adapted from Sun Haohui's novel of the same Chinese title, which romanticises the events in China during the Warring States period primarily from the perspective of the Qin state during the reigns of King Huiwen and King Wu.
The Qin Empire III is a 2017 Chinese television series based on Sun Haohui's novel of the same Chinese title, which romanticises the events in China during the Warring States period primarily from the perspective of the Qin state under King Zhaoxiang. It was first aired on CCTV-1 in mainland China in 2017. It was preceded by The Qin Empire (2009) and The Qin Empire II: Alliance (2012) and followed by The Qin Empire IV (2019), which were also based on Sun Haohui's novels.