Han Feizi

Han Feizi: Basic Writings

Translated by BURTON WATSON
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    Han Feizi
    Book Description:

    Trenchant, sophisticated, and cynical, Han Feizi has been read in every age and is still of interest today when people are more than ever concerned with the nature and use of power. Han Feizi (280?-233 B.C.), a prince of Han, was a representative of the Fa-chia, or Legalist, school of philosophy and produced the final and most readable exposition of its theories. His handbook for the ruler deals with the problems of strengthening and preserving the state, the way of the ruler, the use of power, and punishment and favor. Ironically, the ruler most influenced by Han Feizi, the king of Qin, eventually sent Han Feizi to prison, where he later committed suicide.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52132-1
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-14)

    As in the case of most early Chinese philosophers, little is known of the life of Han Feizi, or Master Han Fei. We are fortunate, however, in the few facts we have, for they supply us with a motive and setting for his writings, and an account of his death which, whatever its reliability as history, adds a fine touch of dramatic irony.

    So far as we know, Han Fei was the only nobleman among the important early Chinese philosophers. Confucius, Mozi, Mencius, Zhuangzi, Xunzi seem to have been men of the lower gentry, descendants perhaps of aristocratic families that...

  6. THE WAY OF THE RULER (Section 5)
    (pp. 15-20)

    The Way is the beginning of all beings and the measure of right and wrong. Therefore the enlightened ruler holds fast to the beginning in order to understand the wellspring of all beings, and minds the measure in order to know the source of good and bad. He waits, empty and still,¹ letting names define themselves and affairs reach their own settlement. Being empty, he can comprehend the true aspect of fullness; being still, he can correct the mover.² Those whose duty it is to speak will come forward to name themselves; those whose duty it is to act will...

  7. ON HAVING STANDARDS (Section 6)
    (pp. 21-28)

    No state is forever strong or forever weak. If those who uphold the law are strong, the state will be strong; if they are weak, the state will be weak. King Zhuang (r. 613–591) of Chu annexed twenty-six states and extended his territory three thousand li , but death called him from his altars of the soil and grain, and Chu in time declined. Duke Huan (r. 685–643) of Qi annexed thirty states and opened up his territory three thousand li, but death called him from his altars of the soil and grain, and Qi in time declined....

  8. THE TWO HANDLES (Section 7)
    (pp. 29-34)

    The enlightened ruler controls his ministers by means of two handles alone. The two handles are punishment and favor. What do I mean by punishment and favor? To inflict mutilation and death on men is called punishment; to bestow honor and reward is called favor. Those who act as ministers fear the penalties and hope to profit by the rewards. Hence, if the ruler wields his punishments and favors, the ministers will fear his sternness and flock to receive his benefits. But the evil ministers of the age are different. They cajole the ruler into letting them inflict punishment themselves...

  9. WIELDING POWER (Section 8)
    (pp. 35-42)

    Both Heaven [Nature] and man have their fixed destinies. Fragrant aromas and delicate flavors, rich wine and fat meat delight the palate but sicken the body. Fair lineaments and pearly teeth warm the heart but waste the spirit. Therefore renounce riot and excess, for only then can you keep your health unharmed.

    Do not let your power be seen; be blank and actionless. Government reaches to the four quarters, but its source is in the center. The sage holds to the source and the four quarters come to serve him. In emptiness he awaits them, and they spontaneously do what...

  10. THE EIGHT VILLAINIES (Section 9)
    (pp. 43-48)

    There are eight strategies which ministers customarily employ to work their villainy. The first is called “Making use of his bedfellows.” What do I mean by this? The ruler is easily beguiled by lovely women and charming boys, by all those who can fawn and play at love. They wait for the time when he is enjoying his ease, take advantage of the moment when he is sated with food and wine, and ask for anything they desire, for they know that by this trick their requests are sure to be heeded. The ministers therefore ply them in the palace...

  11. THE TEN FAULTS (Section 10)
    (pp. 49-72)

    These are the ten faults:

    1. To practice petty loyalty and thereby betray a larger loyalty.

    2. To fix your eye on a petty gain and thereby lose a larger one.

    3. To behave in a base and willful manner and show no courtesy to the other feudal lords, thereby bringing about your own downfall.

    4. To give no ear to government affairs but long only for the sound of music, thereby plunging yourself into distress.

    5. To be greedy, perverse, and too fond of profit, thereby opening the way to the destruction of the state and your own demise.

    6. To become infatuated with women...

    (pp. 73-80)

    On the whole, the difficult thing about persuading others is not that one lacks the knowledge needed to state his case nor the audacity to exercise his abilities to the full. On the whole, the difficult thing about persuasion is to know the mind of the person one is trying to persuade and to be able to fit one’s words to it.

    If the person you are trying to persuade is out to establish a reputation for virtue, and you talk to him about making a fat profit, then he will regard you as low-bred, accord you a shabby and...

  13. MR. HE (Section 13)
    (pp. 81-84)

    Once a man of Chu named Mr. He, having found a piece of jade matrix in the Chu Mountains, took it to court and presented it to King Li.¹ King Li instructed the jeweler to examine it, and the jeweler reported, “It is only a stone.” The king, supposing that He was trying to deceive him, ordered that his left foot be cut off in punishment. In time King Li passed away and King Wu came to the throne, and He once more took his matrix and presented it to King Wu. King Wu ordered his jeweler to examine it, and...

    (pp. 85-90)

    It is hazardous for the ruler of men to trust others, for he who trusts others will be controlled by others. Ministers have no bonds of flesh and blood which tie them to their ruler; it is only the force of circumstance which compels them to serve him. Hence those who act as ministers never for a moment cease trying to spy into their sovereign’s mind, and yet the ruler of men sits above them in indolence and pride. That is why there are rulers in the world who face intimidation and sovereigns who are murdered. If the ruler puts...

  15. FACING SOUTH (Section 18)
    (pp. 91-96)

    This is where rulers go wrong: having assigned certain ministers to office, they then try to use unassigned men to check the power of the assigned. They justify this policy by claiming that the interests of the assigned and the unassigned will be mutually inimical, but in fact the rulers find themselves falling under the power of the unassigned, for the men they are trying to check today are the men whom they used in previous days to check others. If the rulers cannot make the law clear and use it to restrain the authority of the high ministers, then...

  16. THE FIVE VERMIN (Section 49)
    (pp. 97-118)

    In the most ancient times, when men were few and creatures numerous, human beings could not overcome the birds, beasts, insects, and reptiles. Then a sage appeared who fashioned nests of wood to protect men from harm. The people were delighted and made him ruler of the world, calling him the Nest Builder. The people lived on fruits, berries, mussels, and clams—things rank and evil-smelling that hurt their bellies, so that many of them fell ill. Then a sage appeared who drilled with sticks and produced fire with which to transform the rank and putrid foods. The people were...

  17. EMINENCE IN LEARNING (Section 50)
    (pp. 119-130)

    In the present age, the Confucians and Mohists are well known for their learning. The Confucians pay the highest honor to Confucius, the Mohists to Mozi. Since the death of Confucius, the Zizhang School, the Zisi School, the Yan Family School, the Meng Family School, the Qidiao Family School, the Zhongliang Family School, the Sun Family School, and the Yuezheng Family School have appeared. Since the death of Mozi, the Xiangli Family School, the Xiangfu Family School, and the Dengling Family School have appeared. Thus, since the death of its founder, the Confucian school has split into eight factions, and...

  18. Index
    (pp. 131-138)
  19. Other Works in the Columbia Asian Studies Series
    (pp. 139-148)