Connection Between Legalist Thoughts and Empire
There is a deep connection between the quotation by the Legalist philosopher, Han Feizi, and the actions of the First Emperor of Qin. The sweeping changes and innovations carried out by the First Emperor were a reflection of this quotation. The Emperor sought to control the way his subjects acted and employed harsh punishments to ensure that people abode by the laws. Han Feizi’s advice to the rulers demonstrated his understanding that problems for the state came about because of human nature, which always acts out of self-interest even at the expense of good political order.
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The Emperor also engaged in measures for standardization across the empire and created a uniform nation. Since such actions resulted in opposition from many groups, the Emperor made use of harsh punishment with complete disregard for morals. This is in line with Han Feizi’s idea that the ruler should only concern himself with laws and not morals.
Sima Quian’s Views
Sima Quian’s editorial comments reveal his personal opinion concerning Han Feizi’s thoughts and ideas. Han Feizi proposed that drastic measures needed to be taken to deal with the ills that the ruler faced. Sima praised this idea by Feizi and observed that such an approach was crucial if the ruler was to succeed in preventing the empire from falling. Application of Han Feizi’s thoughts was able to bring about the unification of China by abolishing the old feudal system.
The Legalist practices advanced by Han Feizi led to a strong centralized government and succeeded in unifying the whole of China under one Emperor. This was an outcome that Sima Qian deemed desirable and he therefore commended Feizi’s ideas. However, even though Sima agreed with Han Feizi’s point of view, he found his harshness too extreme and therefore objected to the violence and ruthless ruling that Han Feizi championed.
Sima Qian disagreed with Han Feizi’s opinion on how the subjects were to be dealt with. Han Feizi believed that the strict enforcement of legal codes and a system of rewards and punishments would ensure good social order in the state. He emphasized the importance of strong political control over the subjects and imposition of harsh penalties. Sima Qian saw this point of view as faulty since it would lead to revolt once the people had been pushed too hard. He questioned the sustainability of the Legalist system and asserted that popular revolts are bound to follow if this approach is used on the people.
The historian Sima Qian agreed with the practical nature of Feizi’s ideas. Han Feizi emphasized practical problems of political control over ethical concerns in leadership. His perception was that the rulers should not attempt to return to a glorified past but instead should strive to create the best future based on their present realities. This view was supported by Sima Qian who saw holding on to past victories and hoping that they would occur again as a wasteful custom.
In my opinion, the stringent policies advocated for by the Legalist philosopher Han Feizi were appropriate in the historical time he lived. China was a divided nation and each region only looked out for its own interest. It is inconceivable that such a divided nation would have come together under the leadership of a benevolent ruler. Without employing stern measures, each regional ruler would have embarked on the path that best served his purposes.
Applying Han Feizi’s ideas enabled the emperor to bring the people under control and create a uniform nation, which exhibited great development. The prosperity that China was able to enjoy during this time was the result of the Legalistic system.
However, the ruler should have stopped using the harsh legalistic approach once the important goal of unifying the nation had been reached. Such a move would have endeared him to the people and avoided the revolt against the emperor. However, Han Feizi’s ideas did not give room for any benevolent action and the ruler was supposed to impose harsh authoritarian rules at all times.