Running head: THE CH’IN DYNASTY AND LEGALISM IN ANCIENT CHINA 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.
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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 social class, and eliminated the need for certain trades and philosophical occupations. This allowed the rulers to focus the civilizations efforts on producing raw material for trade and maintaining forces to avoid depredation from the Era of the Warring States, overcome ivals, and unite China. Legalism was based on the concept that all humans are inherently evil, and must be controlled by a system of rewards and punishment which applied to each person in the society. This eliminated the class systems, and focused the efforts of the people on farming and battle. Confucianism and Taoism preceded Legalism as major schools of thought in Ancient China. Confucianism held the belief in the inherent good of humanity, and that people should be ruled by morality and good example. They emphasized the importance of basing aristocracy on merit rather than birth right.
Taoism was based on the theory that humans are born innocent and corrupted by society. The Taoists believed that government interference should be minimal to none in regards to everyday practices. The philosophical views of Taoism were based on the concept of returning to innocence and a natural environment. The Legalist views differed greatly from these philosophies. The idea that all people were equal, and subject to the same laws, allowed leaders to gain control and homogenize society. Prince Cheng or Shih Huang Ti of the Ch’in Dynasty began the unification of China, and founded the first Empire of China’s history.
Chapter five in the book, A History of Chinese Civilization, spells out major unifying measures that were applied to each of the thirty-six commanderies’ or chun (which soon increased to forty-eight). The History of Chinese Civilization, offers a further understanding of these measures which included a single unit of currency, and standardized measurements and written symbols. The ancient walls dividing the kingdoms were brought down, roads and canals were developed, and all cart wheels were made with a standard wheel base.
The Great Wall of China was built on the northern frontier with the intent of avoiding depredation by the nomadic Hsuing-Nu. (Gernet, Pg. 107). The concepts that the Ch’in implemented stayed in effect throughout the fall of the Ch’in and the rise of the Han. The harsh penalties and control of the peasantry was successful in uniting China and bringing about the first Empire in China. The eventual fact that the leaders would face was that people will revolt if they are controlled. Regardless of the internal strife that China has suffered as a result, Legalism impacted the development of a overning system in China, unified the people, and ended the Era of the Warring States. References Gernet, Jacques. (1972) A History of Chinese Civilization (2nd edition). Translated by J. R. Foster, Charles Hartman. Cambridge University: England (1982). Latourette, Kenneth Scott. (1962) The Chinese: Their History and Culture. (4th Edition) The Macmillan Company: New York and Collier-Macmillan Limited: London. Upshur, Terry, Holoka, Gorr, Cassar. World History; Before 1600: The Development of Early Civlization, Fourth Edition. Volume I. Thomas Wadsworth.