The Ch’in Dynasty and Legalism in Ancient China
The Ch’in Dynasty and Legalism in China
The philosophical principles that Legalism was based upon, set it apart from other Chinese philosophical views. These differences appealed to the rulers of the Ch’in Dynasty as they began the unification of China, which gave rise to the first Empire of China. Legalism was based on the premise that humans are inherently evil. A basic punishment and rewards system was put in place. Informers would be rewarded for reporting others for unlawful behavior. Harsh punishments were imposed upon those who were conducting the illegal behavior. The textbook, World History: Before 1600:The Development of Early Civilization mentions Shang Yang, Han Fei, and Li Ssu as some of the main Legalist leaders during the third and second centuries B.C.E. (Upshur, Pg. 109). The book, Chinese, Their History and Culture, credits Cheng or Shih Huang Ti, (meaning The First Emperor, as he was later named) as being the leader who directly affected the unification of the state. Li Ssu and Han Fei were pupils of Hsun tzu, whose theory of absolute power was in concurrence with their ideals. (Latourette, Pg. 67). These leaders and others applied the philosophies of Legalism to their government, and the used the concepts to unite the country.
The accomplishments that the Ch’in Dynasty achieved, which led to the prosperity of the state, were largely due to the strict implementation of Legalist practices. Individuals were regarded as valuable only if they leant a hand to the prosperity of the state. The Legalists believed that only farmers and soldiers were necessary, and the farm workers should be easily organized and deployed as needed for battle. This concept gave the Ch’in the strength the overcome all rivals in war and unite China, just a century after the implementation of Legalism. This philosophy led to a legal system that diminished...