The Warring States period was a time of radical socio-political change, and thinkers of different intellectual affiliations had to accept this change. The majority has tried to accommodate it within the paradigm of “change with time” (Kern 2000: 170-174): some innovations and changes in existing policies are inevitable, but they do not require a radical overhaul of the current socio-political system and do not undermine the usefulness of the past as a guideline for the present. Legalists were much more determined in their willingness to renounce traditional modes of government, and they questioned the relevance of the past to the present. Their attack on the proponents of learning from the past was twofold. First, in the past, there was simply no unified model of orderly government that could be emulated. Second, and more importantly, society is evolving, and this evolution renders outdated patterns of behaviour, institutions and even values of the past. However, after postulating the impossibility of learning from previous models, Shang Yang and Han Fei offer an alternative lesson that can be learned: that changing circumstances may not require a piecemeal adjustment, but a complete readjustment of the socio-political system. To demonstrate the extent of change in the past, the two thinkers look to the most distant antiquity and trace how the state was formed. For example, Shang Yang represents the social development of primitive life from promiscuity to a nascent stratified society, and then to a fully mature state with laws, regulations, officials, and coercive power (Shang jun shu 7:51-53; Book of Lord Shang 7.1). In the early stages of human history, people could be coerced by moral harassment; However, this happened simply because it was the age of relative abundance: “Formerly. people cut down trees and cut down animals [for food]; People were few, while trees and animals were abundant.

Men ploughed for food, women weaved for clothing; [the ruler] used neither punishments nor regulations, but there was order” (Shang jun shu 18:107; Book of Lord Shang 18:1). Han Fei repeats Shang Yang: In the distant past, “people were few, while goods were abundant; therefore the people did not compete” (Han Feizi 49:443). Well, that age of primordial morality is gone forever. Both thinkers point to the devastating effects of population growth on human morality. “Nowadays, five children are not considered too many, and each child also has five children; The grandfather is still alive and he already has twenty-five grandchildren. Therefore, people are numerous, while goods and commodities are few; People work hard, but supply is scarce; therefore men are in competition” (Han Feizi 49:443). In these new circumstances, moral standards are no longer relevant; Conflict is the rule, and it can only be suppressed by coercion. If the ruler abandons the norm (fa 法) and relies on himself to govern, then punishments and rewards, recruitment and downgrading come from the heart of the ruler. If this is the case, then expectations, even if the rewards are appropriate, are insatiable; Even if sanctions are appropriate, leniency is constantly being sought. If the ruler abandons the norm and relies on his heart to decide the degree [of rewards and punishments], then identical merits are rewarded differently and identical crimes are punished differently. This creates resentment. (Shenzi, 52; Harris 2016:120) The emperor and his top advisor/premier Li Siu (also known as Li Si, l.c.

280-208 BC, another disciple of Xunxi) understood how well legalism had worked for the Qin in wartime and adopted it as the official philosophy of the state in peacetime. According to historian and scholar Joshua J. Mark, Shi Huangdi “ordered the destruction of all history or philosophy books that did not conform to legalism, his family lineage, the State of Qin, or himself” and executed more than 400 Confucian scholars. Those in the world who perform tasks cannot do without models (Fa) and standards. There is no one who can do their job without models and standards. Even officers who serve as generals or ministers all have role models; Even the hundred craftsmen who perform their tasks also have all the models. The hundred craftsmen make squares with the square fixed, circles with the compass, straight lines with the string, vertical lines with the plumb line and flat surfaces with the plan. Whether they are skilled craftsmen or unskilled craftsmen, all take these five models to follow. Professionals are able to adapt to this. The unskilled, although unable to adapt to it, always surpass what they can do themselves by following them in the accomplishment of their tasks. Thus, the hundred craftsmen have all the models against which they can be measured in the accomplishment of their tasks. Well, for the greatest who order the world (zhi, also “rule”), and for those who are at the higher level to order large states without models to measure, it is less discriminatory than the hundred craftsmen.

[97] For more than 200 years, the Chinese people have experienced war as their daily reality, and a legalistic approach to controlling people`s worst impulses—controlling people by threatening to punish severely for doing wrong—seemed to be the best way to deal with the chaos. Shang Yang`s legalism dealt with everyday situations, but also extended to how to behave in wartime, and he is credited with the tactic of total war, which allowed the Qin state to defeat other warring states in order to control China. These and similar statements, along with the mocking language of the text (it refers to moral values as “parasites” or “lice”) explain why Shang Yang became known as an enemy of morality in the eyes of imperial writers as well as many modern scholars.