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Ancient China Legalism

Shen Buhai

Shen Buhai, Shang Yang's contemporary, was a chancellor in the state of Han. Reportedly his administrative reforms restored stability in this state and made it a model of efficiency for the rest of the Chinese world. Indeed where Shang Yang is associated with the law (fa), Shen Buhai's hallmark was the development of technique of rule (shu). Shen Buhai's book was lost and partly reconstructed from remaining quotations in the nineteenth century.

Shen ridiculed the traditional emphasis on harmonious relations within the ruling apparatus and warned the ruler that his worst enemy would not "batter in barred doors and gates" but would rather be one of the ministers "who by limiting what the ruler sees and restricting what the ruler hears, seizes his government and monopolizes his commands, possesses his people and takes his state." Rather than trusting his deceitful aides, the ruler should establish a strict system of surveillance over his ministers. He should divide the tasks between the officials, inspect their performance, and prevent a horizontal flow of information between them. To maximize his power, the sovereign must strictly preserve his prerogatives as a chief decision maker but should never interfere in the everyday administrative routine that is the task of the ruled. Shen's system, perfected and modified by others, contributed greatly toward the establishment of an efficient bureaucracy on Chinese soil.

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