han feizi

Han Feizi (book)

The Han Feizi is a work written by Han Feizi at the end of the Warring States Period in China, detailing his political philosophy. It belongs to the Legalist school of thought. It is also valuable for its abundance of anecdotes about the China of pre-Qin times.


Observations on Human Nature

Han Fei developed his legalist theories based on his cold observations of the cruel and interest-oriented society that is ultra-competitive in terms of inter-personal and inter-state social-political-economic patterns during his comtemporary time in the late warring states period. In his youth Han Fei studied with Xunzi, a Confucian scholar most distingishly different from Confucius and Mencius in terms of his hypothesis that suggested human being, in its newly-born form, is against virtue, and have to be brought to its virtuous form through social-class-oriented Confucian morality educations, without such, Xunzi argued, man will act virtuelessly and be steered by his own human nature to commit immoral acts. Both life experience and education contributed on shaping Han Fei's philosophical point of view of an amoral and interest-driven human nature, in which his legalist theories founded upon. In his texts, Han Fei, unlike his teacher Xunzi, did not emphasize on morality, for which in his point of view morality is a loose and inefficient tool to educate a huge population. He however, agreed on his teacher's theory of "virtueless by birth", but instead of proposing an idealogical scheme of steering man by Confucian education to obtain morality, so as to minimize competition and war, he is more pragmatic in proposing practical methods of steering man by their own interest-driven human nature, to actively engage in competition and war if necessary if it is possible to get the better out of it, to the improvement of society, and the development of the state. His legalist philosophy is one that describes an interest-driven human nature together with the political methodologies to work with such human nature, in which practically his laws can be executed to steer the direction of manpower, his statecraft can be practices to manage human resources, as well as his authority can be exercised to maintain leadership, all for the interest of the state, and carried out by fishing the subjects of the state by positively feeding them with interests. The following are some examples of Han Fei's interest-oriented human nature:

(1) Between Parents and Children

"...despite the close relationship between parents and children, acts such as birth to a boy followed by celebration versus birth of a girl by her being killed. Both came from same parents, and resulted in dramatic differences from celebration to killing, is due to the considerations of future family development, as well as calculations of long term interest. Therefore, even parents to children uses interest as currency, other relationships can only be extrapolated downward..."

"...such as a child, parents did not treat him well, child grew up with complaints. As a grown up, his support towards his parents was meager, parents regreted with anger. Therefore, parents to children, the closest of all relationships, still resulted in complaints and anger, all due to one's interest not being fulfilled as they wish so..."

(2) Amorality - Something ought not to be weighted on the morality scale

"...chariot makers manufacture chariots, and thus wish more people making fortune; coffin makers craft coffins, and thus wish more people die. Not that chariot makers are good-hearted, since interests relates to people getting rich; nor are the coffin makers view people with hatred, since interests relates to people die. It all comes down to interests..."

"...doctors suck out poisonous blood from patient's wound, not that he is the patient's father, it is due to he receiving patient's medical fee..."

These seemingly cold-blooded descriptions are likely the day to day life stories normally observed and heard of during the late warring states period.


The Importance of Strength






To Qin Dynasty

Status Change in Han Dynasty

Contribution to Imperial Centralization


  • Liao, W. K. (trans.): The Complete Works Of Han Fei Tzŭ. 2 vol. London: Arthur Probsthain, vol. 1 1939, vol. 2 1959.

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