Doctrines Legalism is a political philosophy that does not address higher questions pertaining to the nature and purpose of existence. It is concerned with the most effective way of governing society. The legalist tradition derives from the principle that the best way to control human behaviour is through written law rather than through ritual, custom or ethics. The two principal sources of Legalist doctrine were the Book of Lord Shang and the Han Fei-tzu. The Book of Lord Shang teaches that laws are designed to maintain the stability of the state from the people, who are innately selfish and ignorant. There is no such thing as objective goodness or virtue; it is obedience that is of paramount importance.
The Han Fei-tzu advocates a system of laws that enable the ruler to govern efficiently and even ruthlessly. Text books apart from law books are useless, and rival philosophies such as Moism and Confucianism are dismissed as "vermin". The ruler is to conduct himself with great shrewdness, keeping his ministers and family at a distance and not revealing his intentions. Strong penalties should deter people from committing crime.

History The origins of Legalist thought are unclear. Some would date it as far back as the teaching of the 7th century BCE statesman Kuan Chung (d. 645 BCE), prime minister of the state of Ch'i, whose teachings are supposed to be represented by the Kuan-tzu. Other figures associated with an early form of legalism are Shang Yang (d. 338 BCE), the putative author of The Book of Lord Shang, and Shen Pu-hai (d. 337 BCE). Shang Yang was particularly important for the development of legalism since it was he who served as governor of the state of Ch'in and strengthened it to the extent that it was able to unify China in the following century.
It was, however, Han Fei-tzu (d. 233 BCE) who systematised the various strands of Legalism in his work The Han Fei-tzu. Han Fei-tzu had been taught by the Confucianist Hsun-tzu, whose philosophy claimed that people were basically evil but could be guided towards goodness. Han Fei-tzu adopted and developed Hsun-tzu's negative pessimistic attitude towards human nature by teaching that people were so bad that they needed to be controlled by strong government and strict laws. This principle was put into practice by the Ch'in dynasty, which on unifying China in 221 BCE, destroyed the feudal system and placed the country under a single monarch. Under the Ch'in dynasty land was privatised, a uniform law code was established, and weights, measures and currency were standardised. Confucianism was severely persecuted; hundreds of Confucian scholars were killed and virtually all Confucian texts were destroyed.
The two most powerful figures in the Ch'ing dynasty were Ch'in Shih Huang Ti (d.210 BCE), the first emperor, and the prime minister, Li Ssu (d.208 BCE). The death of Li Ssu created a power vacuum which led to peasant uprisings and rebellions that broke out all over the country. In 207 BCE the Ch'in dynasty was overthrown and replaced by the Han dynasty, which favoured Confucianism. The viciousness of the Ch'in dynasty served to discredit Legalism. In spite of this legalism left its heritage in the form of a strongly centralised political system that would define Chinese government up until the present day and influence despotic Chinese rulers. When, for example, in 1973 Mao Tse Tung launched a campaign against his political opponents he identified himself with the first Ch'in emperor.

Symbols Legalism does not identify itself through the use of symbols.

Adherents Legalism has no contemporary adherents.

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