Class #29

Han Feizi and Huang-Lao

Reading:  "Legalism," pp. 13-29

Lecture PowerPoint Deck

The Han Feizi is the most philosophically developed of all Legalist texts, and one that is diverse in its interests. Although traditionally taken to be the work of a single man, the brilliant but ill-fated stuttering patrician from the state of Han, who met his sad end in the state of Qin, the book is clearly a compendium to which later editors added many chapters, something in the manner of the Zhuangzi, although the Han Feizi is in a number of ways more diverse in its form and content. Among the many chapters unlikely to have been authored by Han Feizi himself are two that constitute our earliest commentary on the Dao de jing. The inclusion of these chapters reflects the substantial overlap that developed between Legalism and Daoism.

In your reading for today, the first text, "The Two Handles," conveys the core of Legalist theory, reflecting basic ideas attributed to Shang Yang. The second, "Wielding Power," suggests the type of ground that would allow Legalism to find an accommodation with Daoist thinking, especially the type of Daoism attributed to Laozi. It is the ideas of Shen Dao and Shen Buhai that seem most influential over this strand of Legalism. Ultimately, this type of thinking became the basic core of a tradition that we now call "Huang-Lao," which dominated political thought in the early decades of the second century BCE, just after the end of the Warring States era and the brief initial Imperial dynasty of Qin (221-208). The second half of your readings concern the Huang-Lao tradition, and we will discuss how it permits us to see the way in which Daoism and Legalism first exercised their influence over Chinese thought as it moved from the period of our course into its 2000 year-long development in the Chinese Imperial state.