Han Feizi

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  • Born: c. 280 BCE
  • Died: c. 233 BCE
  • Chinese/Japanese: 韓非子 (Hán Fēizi / Kan Pishi)

Han Feizi, or Master Han Fei, was a student of Xunzi and, along with Li Si, one of the chief authors of the ancient Chinese philosophy of Legalism. Advancing a realpolitik approach to statecraft, Han Feizi's writings have been compared in modern times to those of Machiavelli.

Since the displacement of Legalism by Confucianism as the central political philosophy, Han Feizi's writings have been largely reviled for their content, though they were often appreciated for their style of argument and colorful choice of phrase. Setting aside issues of morality, and thus standing in opposition to the likes of Confucius and Mencius, Han Feizi and his fellow Legalists advocated a practical approach to politics: what can be done to attain and retain power, to maximize tax revenues, to prevent rebellion, and so forth, in practical political economic terms. The rule of law, and a coordinated system of rewards and punishments, was also a key feature of Han Feizi's philosophy.

A member of the royal family of the State of Han[1], Han Feizi might have risen to greater power, but it is said he had a stammer, severely impeding his ability to demonstrate himself as a great orator. His writings consist in large part of memorials to his king, who for the most part ignored Han Feizi's advice. He gained some recognition from Li Si, chief minister of the State of Qin, alongside whom he had studied under Xunzi. However, when the Qin invaded the Han in 234 BCE, and Han Feizi was sent to plead with the King of Qin on behalf of Han, Li Si had Han Feizi executed.


  • Conrad Schirokauer, et al, A Brief History of Chinese and Japanese Civilizations, Fourth Edition, Cengage Learning (2012), 43-45.
  1. 韓国, not to be confused with the Han Dynasty 漢, or with Korea 韓国.