Most scholarly contributions analysing the Han Feizi tend not only to overlook the influence military literature might have had on its conception and unfolding, but also to assert that the figure of the ruler, as described in this text, and that of the commander, as portrayed in military treatises, are incompatible. In refuting this view, I shall attempt to demonstrate that the writings collected in the Han Feizi fully embrace the logic of military confrontation, which entails, among other things, the deployment of deception and irregular procedures as a necessary means to secure sovereign power and to achieve a complete control of the administration. Accordingly, I shall show that a comprehensive understanding of this important work in the history of classical Chinese thought is not possible unless one takes into account this convergence of shared ideas and concepts from both spheres, that of military strategy and that of political science as set forth in the Han Feizi.
1 Historically speaking, the designation “Legalism” or “Legalist School” (fa jia 法家) is probably an anachronism in as much as it was coined for bibliographical reasons during the Han Dynasty 漢 in the second century bce, and none of the texts catalogued under this heading contain elements that might enable one to state with any certainty that their authors or compilers were aware of belonging to an established doctrinal school. See, in this regard, Mark Csikszentmihalyi and Nylan, Michael, “Constructing lineages and inventing traditions through exemplary figures in early China”, T'oung Pao 89/1–3, 2003, 59–99 . The translation of the term fa jia as “Legalism” also presents problems, as Goldin, Paul R. has shown in his article “Persistent misconceptions about Chinese legalism”, Journal of Chinese Philosophy 38/1, 2011, 88–104 . However, although I am aware of the problematic nature of these terms, I shall use them in this article because they are still used in many academic writings. Here, they will be employed only to the extent that common usage permits.
2 On this issue see Pines, Yuri, “A ‘total war’? Rethinking military ideology in the Book of Lord Shang”, Journal of Chinese Military History 5, 2016, 97–134 .
3 Qian, Sima, Shiji 史記 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1956), 68.2227.
4 Gu, Ban, Hanshu 漢書 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1962), 30.1655.
5 See, for instance, Xiangyong, Fan 范祥雍 (annot.), Zhanguo ce jian zheng 戰國策戔證 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2008), “Wei ce” 魏策, 1257.
6 For a survey of the influence of this figure on the intellectual history of early China, see Kuan, Yang 楊寬, Zhanguo shi 戰國史 (Taipei: Taiwan Shangwu yinshuguan, 1997), 192–5; and Fulin, Chao 晁福林, Chunqiu zhanguo de shehui bianqian 春秋戰國的社會變遷 (Beijing: Shangwu yinshuguan, 2011), 790–4.
7 If one is to take Sima Qian at his word, Marquis Wen 魏文候, who ruled Wei from 424 to 387 bce, wished to secure the services of Wu Qi as commander of his armies after his military successes in Lu 魯 and sought the opinion of his trusted adviser Li Kui, who did not hesitate to praise the talents of Wu Qi. Hearing this, Marquis Wen decided to enlist his services (Shiji, 55.2166).
8 The Han Feizi provides a number of anecdotes which reflect the essential place given to disciplinary methods in both Wu Qi and Li Kui: see Qiyou, Chen 陳奇猷 (annot.), Han Feizi xin jiao zhu 韓非子新校注 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2000), 34.795; and chapter 30.596.
9 An excellent example of this way of conceiving the genealogy of the so-called Legalist doctrines and the impact of the military sphere on its proposals may be found in the study by Xiaobo, Wang 王曉波, Xian Qin fajia sixiang shilun 先秦法家思想史論 (Taipei: Lianjing chuban shiye gongsi, 1991), 91–123 . As far as I know, some of the few scholars who have explored the confluence of ideas between military treatises, in this case the writings attributed to Sunzi, and the Han Feizi are Zehou, Li 李澤厚: “Sun Lao Han heshuo” 孫老韓合說, in his Zhongguo sixiang shilun 中國思想史論 (Anhui: Anhui wenyi chubanshe, 1998), 82–109 ; and Levi, Jean, “Sunzi, Han Fei et la pensée stratégique chinoise”, in his Réflexions chinoises. Lettrés, stratèges et excentriques de Chine (Paris: Albin Michel, 2011), 119–40.
10 This is, for example, the case for the books by Guisheng, Li 李桂生, Zhuzi wenhua yu xian Qin bingjia 諸子文化與先秦兵家 (Changsha: Yuelu shushe, 2008), 314–6; and Pumin, Huang 黃朴民, Xian Qin liang Han bingxue wenhua yanjiu 先秦兩漢兵學文化研究 (Beijing: Zhongguo renmin daxue chubanshe, 2010), 222–31.
11 Lewis’ arguments to support his hypothesis may be found in his book Sanctioned Violence in Early China (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990), 122–8.
12 For a linguistic study of these notions in early China, see Wallacker, Benjamin, “Two concepts of early Chinese military thought”, Language 42/2, 1966, 295–9.
13 A passage from chapter 57 of the transmitted version of the Laozi 老子 clearly expresses this idea: “Rule the state by means of the correct (zheng), use the troops by means of the unexpected (qi)”. See Guying, Chen 陳鼓應 (annot.), Laozi zhuyi ji pingjie 老子註譯及評介 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1988), 284 .
14 Bing'an, Yang 楊丙安 (annot.), Shiyi jia zhu Sunzi jiaoli 十一家注孫子校理 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1999), 1.12–8. For a similar line of reasoning, see for instance: Peigen, Xu 徐培根 (annot.), Tai gong Liu Tao jinzhu jinyi 太公六韜今註今譯 (Taipei: Taiwan shangwu yinshuguan, 1984) 16.97; and the military manuscript unearthed in the archaeological site of Yinqueshan, in 1972, titled “Ten questions” (Shi wen 十問), Yinqueshan Hanmu zhujian (er) 銀雀山漢墓竹簡[貳], ed. Yinqueshan Hanmu zhujian zhengli xiaozu 銀雀山漢墓竹簡整理小組 (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 2010), 194.
15 See Xianqian, Wang 王先謙 (annot.), Xunzi jijie 荀子集解 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1988), 15.266.
16 Yunze, Zhang 張震澤 (annot.), Sun Bin bingfa jiaoli 孫臏兵法校理 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1984), 1.28.
17 Tai gong Liu Tao jinzhu jinyi, 27.130.
18 Yinqueshan Hanmu zhujian (er), 155.
19 This idea is well expressed in a passage from a manuscript unearthed in 1973 at Mawangdui 馬王堆 and entitled “Lord's righteousness” (“Jun zheng” 君正): “Laws and standards are the epitome of the regular” (法度者正之至也): Guying, Chen 陳鼓應 (annot.), Huangdi sijing jinzhu jinyi 黃帝四經今註今譯 (Taipei: Taiwan shangwu yinshuguan, 1995), 123.
20 As Mark E. Lewis puts it, “The prince, whether as the moral exemplar of the Confucians or the distributor of rewards and punishments of the Legalists, could rule only if his commands and rules were trustworthy, so the deceit and treachery that defined the Way of the commander undercut the foundations of the Way of the Ruler” (Sanctioned Violence in Early China, 125).
21 For a detailed account of this battle see Bojun, Yang 楊伯峻 (annot.), Chunqiu Zuozhuan zhu 春秋左傳注 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1986), 1.452–67 (“Xi gong” 僖公 28.3). For a study on the strategic issues of this battle, see Kierman, Frank A. Jr., “Phases and modes of combat in early China”, in Kierman, Frank A. Jr. and Fairbank, John K. (eds), Chinese Ways in Warfare (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974), 27–66 , especially 47–56.
22 According to the Zuozhuan, Jin used trickery against Chu by sending chariots with real soldiers on the left and fake ones on the right to create the illusion of large formations on the move (Chunqiu Zuozhuan zhu, 1.461 (“Xi gong” 28.3)).
23 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 36.840.
24 Zonglu, Xiang 向宗魯 (annot.), Shuo yuan jiaozheng 說苑校証 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1989), 13.330–1.
25 Shuangdi, Zhang 張雙棣 (annot.), Huainanzi jiaoyi 淮南子校譯 (Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 1997), 18.1868.
26 See Chunqiu zuozhuan zhu, 1.402–3 (“Xi gong” 23.4).
27 For an analysis of the moral reading of this anecdote in the Huainanzi, see Vankeerberghen, Griet, The Huainanzi and Liu An's Claim of Moral Authority (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001), 90–1.
28 Qiyou, Chen 陳奇猷 (annot.), Lüshi chunqiu xin jiao shi 呂氏春秋新校釋 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2002), 786–7 (“Yi shang” 義賞 14.4).
29 Lüshi chunqiu xin jiao shi, 787.
30 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 36.842.
31 Han Feizi xin jiao zh, 36.842.
32 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 19.366–7. On this issue, see Goldin, Paul R., “Han Fei's doctrine of self-interest”, Asian Philosophy 11, 2001, 151–9.
33 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 14.289–90.
34 In this and other sections of the article, I shall use several anecdotes from the six chapters of the Han Feizi coming together under the heading of “Chu shuo” 儲說 (chapters 30–35). Most of these chapters consist of a mixture of vignettes and anecdotes in which, on many occasions, variations on the same story are juxtaposed. Some scholars, Chen Qiyou among them, consider that some of these different versions are later interpolations and, accordingly, that much of the content of the six chapters is spurious. However, I take the view of a number of recent studies that this hypothesis is not tenable: Liangshu, Zheng 鄭良樹, “Han Feizi chushuo pian wu lun” 韓非子儲說篇五論, Gugong xueshu jikan 故宮學術季刊 7/4, 1990, 33–69 ; Hong, Chen 陳洪, “Pi lun: xian Qin zhuzi yan shuo fangshi de zhuanbian – yi Han Feizi neiwai chushuo zhi yiwen weili” 譬論:先秦諸子言說方式的轉變 – 以韓非子內外儲說之異聞為例, Nanjing Shida xuebao 南京師大學保 3, 2009, 124–30; and Du Heng, “The tapestry of vignette collections: a study of the Chu shuo chapters of the Hanfeizi”, M.A. Thesis (University of Colorado, 2010).
35 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 31.635.
36 Letting one's hair loose (jie fa 解髮, pi fa 被髮) was a sign frequently associated with madness and possession by spirits in the ancient literature. See the article by Schwermann, Christian, “Feigned madness, self-preservation, and covert censure in early China”, in Hermann, M., Schwermann, C. et al. (eds), Zurück zur Freude. Studien zur chinesischen Literatur und Lebenswelt und ihrer Rezeption in Ost und West (Sankt Augustin: Monumenta Serica, 2007), 531–72.
37 Han Feizi xin jiaozhu, 31.625.
38 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 51.1151.
39 Koyré, Alexandre, Réflexions sur le mensonge (Paris: Allia, 1998), 36.
40 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 8.170.
41 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 31.617.
42 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 28.552.
43 For further discussion of the importance of this notion for the political system in the Han Feizi see, for example, Duxiu, Luo 羅獨修, Xian Qin shi zhi sixiang tanwei 先秦勢治思想探微 (Taipei: Zhongguo wenhua daxue chubanshe, 2002), 109–22.
44 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 21.440–1. For a more detailed analysis of this anecdote, see Brown, Miranda, The Art of Medicine in Early China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 47–62 ; and Galvany, Albert, “Signs, clues and traces: anticipation in Ancient Chinese political and military texts”, Early China 38, 2015, 151–93.
45 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 17.321.
46 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 30.580.
47 See Pines, Yuri, Envisioning Eternal Empire. Chinese Political Thought of the Warring States Era (Honolulu: Hawaii University Press, 2009), 100.
48 For the relationship between paranoia and information, see Neocleous, Mark, Imagining the State (Maidenhead: Open University Press, 2003), 61–2. On the other hand, Garret P.S. Olberding provides a comprehensive analysis of the important role played by information and misinformation in late pre-Qin and early imperial China: Dubious Facts. The Evidence of Early Chinese Historiography (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2012), especially 137–53.
49 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 34.780.
50 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 34.759.
51 For further analysis of the notion of “information control” and the processes involved, see Wilsnack, Richard, “Information control: a conceptual framework for sociological analysis”, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 8/4, 1980, 467–99.
52 See, for instance, Tai gong Liu Tao jinzhu jinyi, 26.124–5.
53 On the relevance of the information and intelligence services for ancient Chinese warfare, see Sawyer, Ralph D., “Subversive information: the historical thrust of Chinese intelligence”, in Davies, P. and Gustafson, K. (eds), Intelligence Elsewhere: Spies and Espionage Outside the Anglosphere (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2013), 29–48 .
54 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 48.1072. See also Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 24.522
55 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 34.777.
56 See, for instance, Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 7.120–1.
57 On this issue, see Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 19.359.
58 For an excellent description of the rules devised to safeguard this strict correspondence between what is said and what is done in the Han Feizi, see Eirik L. Harris, “Morality in politics: panacea or poison” (PhD dissertation, University of Utah, 2009), 135–50. However, Harris’ account of the notion shu in the Han Feizi is limited to these verification procedures applied to discourse while overlooking other practices, which I shall now go on to discuss.
59 See, for instance, Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 7.130; and 8.145.
60 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 5.66.
61 For a detailed account of these techniques, see Zhengmin, Yao 姚蒸民, Han Feizi tong lun 韓非子通論 (Taipei: Dongda tushuguan chuban, 1999), 199–240 .
62 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 30.560.
63 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 30.607.
64 According to some ancient written sources, and probably as a result of the moral imperative deriving from self-preservation doctrines, in early China individuals pertaining to the ruling classes could not allow any of the tangible signs of their vital growth (nail clippings, hair) to be lost. See for instance: Liji jijie 禮記集解, ed. Xidan, Sun 孫希旦 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1998), 1181 (“Sang da ji” 喪大記 22.2).
65 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 30.609.
66 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 30.613.
67 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 30.614.
68 Whaley, B., “Toward a general theory of deception”, Journal of Strategic Studies 5/1, 1982, 178–92.
69 Xingming, Wu 吳興明, Mouzhi, shengzhi, zhizhi: Moulue yu Zhongguo guannian wenhua xingtai 謀智,聖智,知智:謀略與中國觀念文化型態 (Shanghai: Shanghai sanlian shudian, 1994), 241.
70 Han Feizi xin jiao zhu, 38.922–3.
71 On the exceptional condition of the ruler in the Han Feizi and its apparent contradiction regarding the rule of law, see Galvany, A., “Beyond the rule of rules: the foundations of sovereign power in the Han Feizi ”, in Goldin, Paul R. (ed.), Dao Companion to the Philosophy of Han Fei (Dordrecht: Springer, 2012), 87–106 .
* Generous financial support for this research was provided by a Senior Fellowship of the Research in Paris programme in 2014–15 at the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Université Paris Diderot. I had the opportunity to present an early version as an invited lecture at the Department of East Asian Studies of Princeton University in March 2014. I am indebted to all the participants in this event for their questions, comments and suggestions. I would also like to express my gratitude to P. Goldin, E. Harris, J. Levi and Y. Pines, as well as to the two anonymous reviewers, for their corrections and criticism.
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.
* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.
Usage data cannot currently be displayed