Important Chinese Philosophers: Kongfuzi, Dao, and Legalism

Who is Confucius? Who is Laozi? Most of us know the answers to these two questions. But who is Han Fei? That's something most of don't know.

If you'd like to read more about their philosophies, click here to visit our post about Confucianism, Daoism, Legalism, and Mohism. Remember, this post is part of our 180 Days of History series, where we'll try to post about history for 180 days straight - each day will have a new post about what we learned in history class.

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"Old and wise dude who wants you to
obey President Obama like never before."
From Wikipedia
Let's start with Confucius - who is this old man that most people know? Kongfuzi (or Confucius) was a teacher from the Shandong province who taught about morality, ethics, and philosophy. He didn't personally write the Analects that he's so famous for, but his students wrote it for him. But before he taught students (which was, by the way, in the last few years of his life only), he was an excellent politician.

Confucius believed in social order and control of the people by the ruler (for the Lu state, where Confucius lived, it was the duke). He was heavily influenced by his environment; the Lu dukedom had lost almost all of its power to three hereditary aristocratic families. He spent years working on this goal, and he was successful.

Meanwhile, the neighboring kingdom of Qi was worried about the Lu reforms, since they were enemies. The king sent the duke a whole batch of pretty dancers, and Confucius was disgusted. He quickly left, choosing to travel all around China, trying to convince rulers to follow his ideas and decisions. Though he never succeeded (unlike Han Fei, who succeeded on his first try), Confucius returned back to the Lu duchy where he taught more than 70 people about his ways.


Laozi is remarkable, since he's so very unlike either Han Fei or Confucius. He was an anti-should not rule because human nature is inherently good.
"Cool dude who told everyone
to just chill the heck out."
From Wikipedia
government person (a proto-anarchist, like how the Song Dynasty's Wang Anshi was a proto-socialist), arguing that rulers

He wrote his ideas down in the Dao de Jing (also known as the Tao te Ching), and this formed the basis of the Daoist religion that would prove influential in China for centuries to come. Though governmental Confucianism was officially in 'conflict' with Daoism, it was possible to see a Confucian government official go home and be a Daoist at home. In other words, these three philosophies were extremely blended, with all the emperors of China retaining hints of Legalism, cups of Daoism, and gallons of Confucianism.

Han Fei:

As Wikipedia says, "Han Fei borrowed Shang Yang's emphasis on laws, Shen Buhai's emphasis on techniques, and Shen Dao's ideas on authority and prophecy, emphasizing that the autocrat will be able to achieve firm control over the state..."

Like Confucius and Laozi, Han Fei's ideas were drawn from his life experiences. He was a cousin of the King of the Kingdom of Han - which, by the way, has almost nothing to do with the Han Dynasty except geography. Fei was an aristocrat, too, born close to the end of the Warring States period (in the exact same year as the future Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi).

Han Fei
You can't really tell that
he stutters, can you?
From QuotesGrams
In such a context, Fei's reasoning is much more easily rationalized. Further, he had a stutter, which made it impossible for him to talk in court. All he could do was write - and boy, did he write well. As Wikipedia said, he mixed an emphasis on laws, techniques, authority, and prophecy to create the idea of a perfect autocracy - having extremely harsh punishments on everybody equally would allow for complete social harmony.

Xunzi, from the state of Qi (in Shandong province), had lived in a similar period of time to Mencius. However, he believed that human inborn tendencies were evil, quite unlike Mencius, but it could be stopped or slowed through education and ritual. Xunzi taught both Han Fei and Li Si, the future Qin chancellor.

Li Si
He doesn't look evil at
first glance - oh wait,
he does.
From Cultural China
Qin Shi Huangdi found out about Fei's writings and eagerly invited him to the westernmost nation of Qin. He was, as most of us know, a power-hungry maniac who liked burning scholars alive (but apparently the 460 people he built were shamans who were scamming the empire). Before he would evolve into that stage, he still wanted to take power back from the Qin chancellors. Though Li Si convinced Qin to imprison Han Fei (out of jealousy, since Fei was smarter), since there was a chance that Fei was more loyal to the Han.

Li Si convinced Han Fei to commit suicide, and Qin Shi Huangdi went on to unify China with Han's philosophy. The early Han emperors (by the way, the Han dynasty was formed by peasant rebellions, not from the state of Han) were Legalist as well, Confucianism only gradually taking control over the bureaucracy.

We all know what happened. Confucianism took over, become the dominant philosophy by the end of the Han Dynasty. By the Song, imperial examinations were put into place, and they remained until the Xinhai Revolution in 1911.

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