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韩非 han2 fei1 (circa 280-233 BC) Sage of harsh law

HAN Fei was born into an aristocratic family in the State of Han during the late years of the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). He is considered one of the greatest Legalist philosophers in Chinese history and his thinking greatly influenced Qin Shi Huang, the king of the State of Qin who became the first emperor of China.

Since his childhood, Han was a habitual stutter, who could not express himself very well, so he concentrated on writing. All his writings were collected in the 55-chapter "Han Fei Zi," which sets out the philosopher's ideas about Legalism and his political strategy. His thinking laid the foundation for the feudal autocratic monarchy system that affected China's social development for more than 2,000 years.

Han was once a student of Confucian philosopher Xun Zi, but he discarded his teacher's Confucian ideal of "government through virtue" and instead, insisted on "rule by fear."

Han agreed with his teacher that "all humans are born evil," so society needed strict laws and very harsh punishments to prevent people from doing wrong. He believed that a ruler should maintain firm control of a state by using three concepts, namely, his position of authority, statecraft and laws.

His writings were originally intended for his cousin, the king of the State of Han, but his advice was unheeded in his home state. Instead, they attracted the attention of the ruler of the State of Qin, who then launched an offensive against the State of Han and forced the Han ruler to surrender the philosopher.

After long talks with Han, the king of Qin gained a better understanding of his philosophy and later adopted it as a guiding principle of his political policy. This eventually helped him to unite the country and become the first emperor of China.

Li Si, a former fellow student of Han, was then serving the King of Qin as a senior aide. He became jealousy of Han's talent and felt his own career threatened. So he maligned Han in front of the king and eventually persuaded the ruler to imprison the philosopher.

Li personally sent poison to Han in the prison and forced him to commit suicide. When the Qin ruler regretted his treatment of Han, it was too late.

Today, many Chinese know of Han not only because of his philosophy, but also because of numerous anecdotes Han related in his book. Many of them have become the source of very popular idioms.

Here are three examples:

守株待兔 (shou3 zhu1 dai4 tu4):A farmer once picked up a hare that had run into a tree stump and died. Then the farmer decided to stand by the tree stump in the following days waiting for another hare to crash into it. But the godsend never came again.

自相矛盾 (zi4 xiang1 mao2 dun4):A vender was selling spears and shields in the market. He claimed his spears were the sharpest in the world and his shields were the strongest. When someone asked him to try his spear on his shield, he was trapped.

买椟还珠 (mai3 du2 huan2 zhu1):A man wanted to sell a pearl for a better price, so he placed it into an elaborately decorated casket. Few people were interested because of the exorbitant price. But one day a rich man bought the casket and then returned the pearl to the seller, saying that he was only attracted by the beautiful casket, not the pearl.


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