Han Fei

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
Han Fei
Born c. 280 BC
Eastern Zhou
Died 236 BC (aged 47-48)
State of Qin
Cause of death Suicide by poisoning
Occupation philosopher
Notable work Han Feizi
Movement Legalism
Han Fei
Traditional Chinese 韓非
Simplified Chinese 韩非

Han Fei (Chinese: 韓非; [xǎn féi̯]; c. 280 – 233 BC), also known as Han Feizi, was an influential political philosopher of the Warring States period "Chinese Legalist" tradition. Han synthesized the methods of his predecessors, as described in his eponymous work.[1]

Han borrowed Shang Yang's emphasis on laws, Shen Buhai's emphasis on technique, and Shen Dao's ideas on authority and prophecy, emphasizing that the autocrat will be able to achieve firm control over the state with the mastering of his predecessors methodologies: his position of power (勢, Shì); technique (術, Shù), and law (法, ).

Han Fei's philosophy was very influential on the future 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 ("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 studied together with future Qin chancellor Li Si under the Confucian Realist philosopher Xunzi. It is said that because of his stutter, Han Fei could not properly present his ideas in court. His advice otherwise being ignored, but observing the slow decline of his Han state, Fei developed "one of the most brilliant (writing) styles in ancient China." Han Fei's works ultimately ended up in the hands of the thrilled Qin king, who invited, but was convinced to imprison on pretexts by Fei's rival Li Si, on account of his likely loyalty to Han. Li Si convinced Fei to drink poison. The Emperor later regretted the course of events.[1]

In his youth, Han Fei studied with Xunzi, a Confucian scholar who formed the hypothesis that suggested human infants must be brought to their virtuous form through social-class-oriented Confucian moral education. Without such, Xunzi argued, man would act virtuelessly and be steered by his own human nature to commit immoral acts. Han Fei's education and life experience during the Warring States period, and in his own Han state, contributed to the synthesis of a philosophy for the management of an amoral and interest-driven administration, to which morality seemed a loose and inefficient tool. Fei agreed with his teacher's theory of "virtueless by birth", but as in previous Legalist philosophy, pragmatically proposed to steer people by their own interest-driven nature.

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]


  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