Li Si

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  • Died: 208 BCE

Li Si was one of the chief advocates of the Chinese political philosophy of Legalism, and a prominent official under the First Emperor of Qin.

Along with Han Feizi (d. 233 BCE), the other chief advocate of Legalism, Li Si supported the notion that it is human nature to be selfish, to enjoy rewards and dislike punishments. Putting aside notions of Heavenly morality asserted by Confucianism and Taoism, the Legalists advocated that the people, i.e. society, and the state, be regulated through systems of rewards and punishments.

Li Si rose to prominence in court politics around 238 BCE, when the Emperor appointed him chief minister, after the previous minister, Lü Buwei, was implicated in a plot against the throne. In 233 BCE, wary of Han Feizi's growing influence at court, Li Si arranged to have Han poisoned and killed. Li Si was executed himself in 208 BCE as the result of a political struggle against a court eunuch, being subjected to "the five mutilations" and then split at the waist in a public square.[1]


  • Albert Craig, The Heritage of Chinese Civilization, Third Edition, Prentice Hall (2011), 21-23.
  1. Craig, 30.