Han Feizi: Basic Writings

Han Feizi: Basic Writings

Han Feizi: Basic Writings

Han Feizi: Basic Writings

Synopsis

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 nature and use of power. Han Feizi (280?-233 B. C.), a prince of Han, was a representative of the Fa-chia, or Legalist, school of philosophy and produced the final and most readable exposition of its theories. His handbook 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.

Excerpt

As in the case of most early Chinese philosophers, little is known of the life of Han Feizi, or Master Han Fei. We are fortunate, however, in the few facts we have, for they supply us with a motive and setting for his writings, and an account of his death which, whatever its reliability as history, adds a fine touch of dramatic irony.

So far as we know, Han Fei was the only nobleman among the important early Chinese philosophers. Confucius, Mozi, Mencius, Zhuangzi, Xunzi seem to have been men of the lower gentry, descendants perhaps of aristocratic families that had sunk into poverty and no longer occupied a position of any real power in the feudal hierarchy of the day. Hence, as we see from their lives, though they manifested the customary loyalty and respect toward the ruler of their native state, they did not hesitate to travel about visiting other rulers, settle in other states, or withdraw from the world entirely. The very humbleness of their birth allowed them a freedom of thought and movement that was denied to the noblemen above them in the social scale, as it was to the peasants beneath them.

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