Han Feizi

(ca. 230 BCE)

About the Author

As a descendant of the royal Han family that ruled over the state by the same name, Han Fei (ca. 280–233 BCE) not only held a keen interest in the political developments of his time but also had a personal stake in the outcome. He allegedly stuttered, which placed him at a serious disadvantage against his more eloquent rivals. Turning to writing to communicate his ideas, Han Fei composed a series of memorials to his relatives advising them on how to strengthen the Han state, with the ultimate goal of conquering their neighbors, who were for the most part larger and more powerful.

Although they were ignored by his own kin, Han Fei’s writings caught the attention of Li Si, a minister in the Qin state, who presented Han Fei’s ideas to the Qin ruler. Li Si and Han Fei had both studied under the Confucian master Xunzi, who had held that human nature was inherently bad. But whereas Xunzi had emphasized moral education as a corrective measure, Han Fei and Li Si...