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Ancient China Legalism

Later Legalism

The triumph of Legalism in the Qin empire (221–207 B.C.E.) was to a certain extent a Pyrrhic victory. Qin's harsh treatment of independent thinkers, which culminated in the burning of privately held book collections, backfired against the Legalist ideology, which lost its popularity among the educated elite. Although Legalist methods and ideas remained influential throughout the imperial millennia, the rulers overtly rejected Legalists' cynicism and anti-intellectualism and their emphasis on constant innovation. In the twentieth century the Legalists' ideas of the powerful state strongly appealed to modern intellectuals, and the school's fame reached its peak during the pro-Legalist campaign in the People's Republic of China in the early to mid-1970s. After Mao Zedong's death in 1976, however, the tide reversed again, and the Legalist contribution to traditional China's polity was again deemphasized.


Creel, Herrlee G. Shen Pu-hai: A Chinese Political Philosopher of the Fourth Century B.C. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974.

Fu, Zhengyuan. China's Legalists: The Earliest Totalitarians and Their Art of Ruling. Armonk, N.Y.: Sharpe, 1996.

Han Feizi jijie. Compiled by Wang Xianshen. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1998. Collected commentaries on Han Feizi.

Han Fei-tzu: Basic Writings. Translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

Shang jun shu zhui zhi. Edited by Jiang Lihong. Beijing: Zhonghua shu ju, 1986.

Wang, Hsiao-po, and Leo S. Chang. The Philosophical Foundations of Han Fei's Political Theory. Monograph no. 7 of the Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1986.

Zheng, Liangshu. Shang Yang ji qi xuepai. Shanghai: Gu ji chu ban she, 1989.

Yuri Pines

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Laser - Background And History to Linear equationAncient China Legalism - Shang Yang, Shen Buhai, Han Feizi, Later Legalism, Bibliography