Han Feizi

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Han Feizi
Traditional Chinese 韓非子
Simplified Chinese 韩非子
Literal meaning "[The Writings of] Master Han Fei"

The Han Feizi (Chinese: 韓非子; Old Chinese: *[g]ˤar pəj tsəʔ) is an ancient Chinese text attributed to foundational political philosopher,[1] "Master" Han Fei. It comprises a selection of essays in the "Legalist" tradition on theories of state power, synthesizing the methodologies of his predecessors.[2] Its 55 chapters are the only such text to survive intact, most of which date to the Warring States period mid-3rd century BC. Though differing considerably in style, their coherency lends itself to the possibility that they were written by Han Fei himself.[3][4][2] It is generally considered more philosophically engaging than the Book of Lord Shang.[5]


Han's worldview describes an interest-driven human nature together with the political methodologies to work with it in the interest of the state and Sovereign, namely, engaging in wu-wei (passive observation), and systematically using using Fa (law, measurement, statistic) and the Two Handles of reward and penalty to maintain leadership and manage human resources, fishing the subjects of the state by feeding them with interests. Like Shang Yang and other Fa-focused Realists, he admonishes the ruler not to abandon Fa for any other means. It is also valuable for its abundance of anecdotes about pre-Qin China.

Like other Fa-focused political philosophers, Han Fei considered Fa (measurement, protocol, "law") a more practical means to rule both a large territory and administration near at hand. Rather than rely too much on worthies, who might not be trustworthy, Han binds their programs Han binds to systematic reward and penalty (the "Two Handles"). That being done, the ruler should minimize his own input.

Han's philosophy proceeds from the regicide of his era. Goldin writes: "Most of what appears in the Han Feizi deals with the ruler’s relations with his ministers, [who] were regarded as the party most likely, in practice, to cause him harm." Han Fei quotes the Springs and Autumns of Tao Zuo: “'Less than half of all rulers die of illness.' If the ruler of men is unaware of this, disorders will be manifold and unrestrained. Thus it is said: If those who benefit from a lord’s death are many, the ruler will be imperiled."[6]

Comparison with Confucianism and Daoism

Apart from the Confucianist Xun Zi, who was his and Li Si's teacher, the other influence for his political rhetoric was Taoism and 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). For this reason, the Han Feizi is sometimes included as part of the Huang-Lao tradition. Han Fei 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.


  • Liao, W. K. (1939). The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu. London: Arthur Probsthain.
  • ——— (1959). The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu, Volume II. London: Arthur Probsthain.
  • Watson, Burton (1964). Han Fei Tzu: Basic Writings. New York: Columbia University Press.


  1. Encyclopedia of World Biography
  2. 2.0 2.1 Levi (1993), p. 115.
  3. Pines, Yuri, "Legalism in Chinese Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2014/entries/chinese-legalism/.
  4. (Goldin 2013)
  5. Pines, Yuri, "Legalism in Chinese Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2014/entries/chinese-legalism/.
  6. https://www.sas.upenn.edu/ealc/system/files/bio/%5Buser-raw%5D/papers/Introduction.pdf Introduction: Han Fei and the Han Feizi. Paul R. Goldin. Chen Qiyou 2000: 5.17.321–2
Works cited
  • Knechtges, David R. (2010). "Han Feizi 韓非子". In Knechtges, David R.; Chang, Taiping. Ancient and Early Medieval Chinese Literature: A Reference Guide, Part One. Leiden: Brill. pp. 313–317. ISBN 978-90-04-19127-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Levi, Jean (1993). "Han fei tzu 韓非子". In Loewe, Michael. Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide. Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China; Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California Berkeley. pp. 115–24. ISBN 1-55729-043-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links