Han Feizi

(ca. 230 BCE)

Explanation and Analysis of the Document

Although some doubts remain about whether Han Fei authored the book that bears his name, the Han Feizi is widely accepted as an accurate reflection of his ideas as well as an authoritative and systematic exposition of Legalist thought. The Han Feizi builds its argument by using historical examples and refuting Confucian views on government and human nature. Organized into fifty-five chapters, the text offers perhaps the most coherent synthesis of Legalist ideas, which had already been in circulation for several centuries.

Perhaps the most famous chapter is chapter 49, which is discussed here. It sums up well the main principles of Legalism: the role of law in governance and the use of rewards and punishments to regulate the people. The chapter closes with a discussion of the “five vermin” mentioned in the chapter title; Han Fei blames these groups for the current state of disorder. Identified as scholars, speechmakers, wayward...