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Han Feizi

"Han Feizi" redirects here. For the book, see Han Feizi (book).
Han Fei
Born c. 280 BC
State of Han
Died 233 BC (aged 47-48)
State of Qin
Cause of death Suicide by poisoning
Occupation philosopher
Notable work(s) Han Feizi
Political movement Legalism

Han Fei (Chinese, p Hán Fēi; c. 280–233 BC), also known as Han Feizi, was a Chinese philosopher who, along with Li Si, Gongsun Yang, Shen Dao and Shen Buhai, developed the doctrine of Legalism. Unlike the other famed philosophers of the time, Han Fei was a member of the ruling aristocracy, having been born into the ruling family of the state of Han during the end phase of the Warring States period. In this context, his works have been interpreted by some scholars as being directed to his cousin, the King of Han.[1]


Han Fei ("Hahn" "Fay") is his name, while -zi (, lit. "Master") was often added to philosophers' names as an honorific. The title Han Feizi is also used to denote the book written by him.


Han Fei belonged to the school of Ancient Chinese Philosophy called Legalism. Legalism assumed that people were naturally evil and always acted to avoid punishment while simultaneously trying to achieve gains; Thus, the law must severely punish any unwanted action, while at the same time reward those who follow it. Han Fei Synthesized the ideas of Shang Yang, Shen Buhai, and Shen Dao, while borrowing Shang Yang's emphasis on laws, Shen Buhai's emphasis on techniques, and Shen Dao's ideas on authority and prophecy. Han Fei's interpretation of Legalism stressed that the autocrat will be able to achieve the ultimate ends of Legalist philosophy of firm control over the state with the mastering of three concepts: his position of power (勢, Shì); certain techniques (術, Shù), and laws (法, ) as described in his classic work, the Han Feizi (book).

Comparison with Confucianism and Taoism

Apart from the Confucianist Xun Zi, who was his and Li Si's teacher, the other main source for his political theories was Lao Zi's Daoist work, the Tao Te Ching, which he interpreted as a political text, and on which he wrote a commentary (chapters 20 and 21 in his book, Han Feizi). He saw the Tao as a natural law that everyone and everything was forced to follow. Parallel to this, he believed that an ideal ruler made laws, like an inevitable force of nature, that the people could not resist.

His philosophy was very influential on, and became one of the guiding principles of, King Zheng of Qin, who became the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. After the early demise of the Qin Dynasty, Han Fei's philosophy was officially vilified by the following Han Dynasty. Despite its outcast status throughout the history of imperial China, Han Fei's political theory continued to heavily influence every dynasty afterwards, and the Confucian ideal of a rule without laws was never again realized.

Han Fei's entire recorded work is collected in the Han Feizi, a book containing 55 chapters.


  1. ^ Watson, Burton, Han Fei Tzu: Basic Writings. 1964, p. 2. The king in question is believed to be either King An (238–230 BC) or his predecessor, King Huanhui (272–239 BC).

Further reading

  • Burton Watson (1964). Han Fei Tzu: Basic Writings. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-08609-7.

External links

  • Li, Guangcan, Encyclopedia of China (Law Edition), 1st ed.
  • Project Gutenberg in Chinese.
  • Gu, Fang, Encyclopedia of China (Philosophy Edition), 1st ed.
  • The complete works of Han Fei Tzu, A classic of Chinese political science. Translator, Wenkui Liao.
  • Full text of Han Feizi
  • Template:PhilPapers

Template:Chinese philosophy

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