Pub. date: 2010 | Online Pub. Date: May 06, 2010 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412958660 | Print ISBN: 9781412958653 | Online ISBN: 9781412958660| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
“Legalism” is the conventional translation of the Chinese fajia (school of law), referring to a tradition of thought and practice that regards law as the principal instrument of governance. Although traces of this school can be found in writings dating to the seventh century BCE, it emerged as an influential body of thought in the fourth and third centuries BCE and came to be associated with the rise of the Chinese imperial state during the Qin and Han dynasties. Representative thinkers are Shang Yang (d. 338 BCE), Shen Buhai (d. 337 BCE), and Han Fei (d. 233 BCE). Legalism's conception of law, in the standard view, is that law is amoral and an instrument of power, used to strengthen and preserve the state. This emphasis arose from preoccupation with the conditions of social order and the aim, as Han Fei puts it, to rescue all living beings from chaos. For ...