The Warring States Period (453221 BCE) in China was a time of great social chaos and political volatility. It was from this soil of turmoil that Chinese Legalism germinated and grew, amidst a general flowering of new ideologies. These ideologies, amongst which we find Confucianism and Taoism in addition to Legalism, were essentially a response to the instability characteristic of the period, and their main objective thus was to restore societal order.
Hence, when we ask the question, Has Chinese Legalism been successfully applied?', the criteria for successful application must necessarily concern the restoration of order if we are to judge the ideology on its own terms and context. Moreover, let me clarify that it should be two-fold: firstly, it must have been able to impose order; and secondly, it must have maintained the order. In addition, since we are concerned with the practice of Chinese Legalism (rather than the theory), I will also analyse its mechanisms because this directly addresses the question of how it has been applied.
[...] Total subordination of subjects to rulers, sons to fathers, and female to male. principle of party leadership for consolidating the superordination of the party-state.”3 Here we see at work the branch of Legalism that “advocate[s] the supremacy of the ruler and expound[s] ways to strengthen the power of the state” In the case of Singapore, it is necessary to understand that the primary mechanism of Chinese Legalism is the harsh penal code. This is recommended by both Shang Yang (390–338 BCE), the main proponent of the punitive branch of Legalism5, and Han Fei (280–233 BCE), the most famous of all Legalists6. [...]
[...] Even as the rule Ibid., pg 49. In the form of Neo-Confucianism under the main proponent Zhu Xi Guan Zhong, Guanzi, chapter Fu, Autocratic tradition and Chinese politics, pg Ibid., pg Ibid., pg 3. of law becomes increasingly important, it will be some time before this notion (the rule of law) is fully and properly understood by the Chinese. Bibliography Creel, H. G.: The Origins of Statecraft in China, USA, 1st edition, The University of Chicago Press Fu, Z.: Autocratic tradition and Chinese politics, USA, 1st edition, Cambridge University Press Guan Zhong: Guanzi, Spring and Autumn Period Han Fei: Han Feizi, Warring States Period Li Kui: Book of Laws (Fa jing), Warring States Period Lee, K. [...]
[...] Successful applications of Legalism A. Successful legalist imposition of order Legalism proved its strengths from its inception. The first semblance of what is known as Legalism today appeared in fourth century BCE, when Li Kui, who was a government minister of the Wei state and is traditionally considered the first Legalist, wrote his Book of Laws. Li Kui's legalist policies included instituting a system of rewards and punishments, and this led to the strengthening of his state, which eventually became one of the most powerful at that time. [...]
[...] This served two ends: firstly, as an extreme form of deterrence, since the would-be criminal would think twice before endangering his family; secondly, to prevent the families from taking revenge on the emperor or the relevant authorities, as this would upset the status quo of authority. Ultimately such measures enforced order, and can thus be considered a success on Legalism's part. Moreover, because central idea of this school of political philosophy is the supremacy of authority”8, it maintained order by ensuring that the state hierarchy was kept. [...]
[...] This has not only been seen in the context of China, but also in the example of Singapore. The crux of the issue is that Legalism is almost always expressed through the harsh penal code mechanism, and is thus vulnerable to associations with ruthless, despotic and oppressive rule. Hence, even though Chinese Legalism in its broadest theoretical sense encompasses the rule of law, it has largely been a failure in practice. Left to its own devices, it collapses in the maintenance of societal order, and consequently has always needed Confucian crutches to function after the initial stages. [...]
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