Who Supported the Growth of Legalism

For more than 200 years, the Chinese people have experienced war as their daily reality, and a legalistic approach to trying to control people`s worst impulses – controlling people through the threat of severe punishment for injustice – would have been the best way to deal with the chaos. Shang Yang`s legalism dealt with everyday situations, but also extended to how to behave in wartime, and he is credited with the tactic of total war, which allowed the Qin state to defeat other warring states in order to control China. During the Qin Dynasty, all books that did not support legalistic philosophy were burned, and writers, philosophers, and teachers of other philosophies were executed. The excesses of legalism of the Qin Dynasty made the regime very unpopular with the people of the time. After the fall of Qin, legalism was abandoned in favor of Confucianism, which significantly influenced the development of Chinese culture. Li Shanchang (1314-1390), founding prime minister of the Ming dynasty, studied Chinese legalism. Li is said to have been the closest comrade of the Hongwu Emperor during the war and made the greatest contribution to his final victory and thus to the founding of the Ming Dynasty. [302] The emperor trusted him deeply,[303] Hongwu consulted Li on institutional matters. [304] Li planned the organization of the “six ministries” and participated in the drafting of a new law code. He established salt and tea monopolies based on yuan institutions, eliminated corruption, restored currency, opened iron foundries, and introduced taxes on fish. It is said that the incomes were sufficient, but the people were not oppressed.

[305] Most of his other activities appear to have supported the Hongwu Emperor`s firm control over his regime. Primarily responsible for detecting disloyalty and factionalism among military officers, he used a system of reward and punishment reminiscent of the Han Feizi, and perhaps had some sort of secret police at his service. Sometimes he was responsible for all civil and military officials in Nanjing. [305] [306] Legalism was discredited by later dynasties and ceased to be an independent school of thought. However, ancient and modern Confucian observers of Chinese politics have argued that some legalistic ideas have merged with mainstream Confucianism and still play a role in government. The philosophy of imperial China can be described externally as Confucianism (along with Buddhism during the Sui and Tang dynasties) and legalism within (儒表法裏). In addition to crises and bloodshed, the Warring States period was also a time of opportunity for intellectually active individuals. It was an extraordinarily dynamic period, marked by new beginnings and profound changes in all areas of life. Politically, the loose aristocratic units of the spring and autumn periods have been replaced by centralized, bureaucratized territorial states (Lewis 1999).

Economically, the introduction of iron utensils (Wagner 1993) has revolutionized agriculture, allowed higher yields, led to the development of wasteland, led to population growth and accelerated urbanization and commercialization of the economy. On the military front, new technologies such as the crossbow, as well as new forms of military organization, led to the replacement of aristocratic tank armies with mass infantry armies composed of peasant conscripts, resulting in a drastic increase in the scale and complexity of warfare (Lewis 1999). And socially dominated the hereditary aristocracy that eclipsed the Zhou world for much of the Bronze Age (c. 1500-400 BC) by a much broader layer of shi士 (sometimes translated as “men of service”), who owed their position primarily to their abilities rather than their pedigree (Pines 2013c). These profound changes required new approaches to various administrative, economic, military, social and ethical issues: old truths had to be reconsidered or reinterpreted. For intellectuals eager to tackle a multitude of new issues – and especially for legalists – it was a golden age. However, after postulating the impossibility of learning from previous models, Shang Yang and Han Fei offer an alternative lesson that can be learned: that changing circumstances may not require a piecemeal adjustment, but a complete readjustment of the socio-political system. To demonstrate the extent of change in the past, the two thinkers look to the most distant antiquity and trace how the state was formed.

For example, Shang Yang represents the social development of primitive life from promiscuity to a nascent stratified society, and then to a fully mature state with laws, regulations, officials, and coercive power (Shang jun shu 7:51-53; Book of Lord Shang 7.1). In the early stages of human history, people could be coerced by moral harassment; However, this happened simply because it was the age of relative abundance: “Formerly. people cut down trees and cut down animals [for food]; People were few, while trees and animals were abundant. Men ploughed for food, women weaved for clothing; [the ruler] used neither punishments nor regulations, but there was order” (Shang jun shu 18:107; Book of Lord Shang 18:1). Han Fei repeats Shang Yang: In the distant past, “people were few, while goods were abundant; therefore the people did not compete” (Han Feizi 49:443). Well, that age of primordial morality is gone forever. Both thinkers point to the devastating effects of population growth on human morality. “Nowadays, five children are not considered too many, and each child also has five children; The grandfather is still alive and he already has twenty-five grandchildren. Therefore, people are numerous, while goods and commodities are few; People work hard, but supply is scarce; therefore men are in competition” (Han Feizi 49:443). In these new circumstances, moral standards are no longer relevant; Conflict is the rule, and it can only be suppressed by coercion. The jurists stressed that the head of state is endowed with the “secrecy of authority” (勢 shì) and that his decisions must always require the respect and obedience of the people.

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