Law and Morality in Ancient China: The Silk Manuscripts of Huang-Lao

By R. P. Peerenboom | Go to book overview

V. The Pragmatic
Statesmanship of Han Fei

In the last chapter, I argued that during the Warring States and early Han periods one witnessed a breakdown in the moral order and with it the failure of Confucian politics of harmony. I further suggested that proponents of both Legalism and Huang-Lao responded to the social crisis and the theoretical inadequacies of Confucius's politics of harmony by endorsing a rule of law. Although I offered evidence that this is indeed the case for Huang-Lao, I have yet to do so for the Legalists. I rectify that deficiency in this chapter, arguing that Han Fei advanced a law-based rule, albeit one very different from that of Huang-Lao.

I concentrate on Han Fei's thought primarily for two reasons. First, he is generally acknowledged to be Legalism's most articulate and sophisticated spokesperson: he puts Legalism's best foot forward. Although the differences between Huang-Lao natural law and Legalist positive law are more obvious in the writings attributed to the extremist Shang Yang, if we are to give Legalism its best argument, we can do no better than to take Han Fei as its representative.

Second, some commentators have claimed that there are "striking and pervasive parallels" between the thought of Han Fei and Huang-Lao. 1 Indeed, they go so far as to assert that the writings of Han Fei and the Boshu are "intimately related in thought and content." 2

"The main thrust [of the Boshu] is unmistakably Fa-chia [Legalism] ... and remarkably analogous to Han Fei's synthesis of Fa-chia's divergent theoretical strains. More specifically, [ Han Fei's] adept theoretical grounding of Fa-chia's politial thought on Lao Tzu's 'purposive' Taoism ... is paralleled with a remarkable regularity in the four chapters of the Huang-ti ssu‐ ching [Boshu], although the four chapters are not as theoretically sophisticated and elaborately systematized as in Han Fei's five chapters." 3

-139-

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Law and Morality in Ancient China: The Silk Manuscripts of Huang-Lao
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Law and Morality in Ancient China *
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • I - Introduction 1
  • II - The Natural Way of Huang-Lao 27
  • III - The Socical and Political Philosophy of Huang-Lao 75
  • IV - The Anthropocentric Pragmatism of Confucius 103
  • V - The Pragmatic Statesmanship of Han Fei 139
  • VI - The Daoist Ways of Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi 171
  • VII - The Evolution of Huang-Lao Thought 217
  • VIII - Epilogue 263
  • Appendix - He Guan Zi and Huang-Lao Thought 273
  • Notes 285
  • Bibliography 355
  • Index 375
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