The Internal Morality of Chinese Legalism

Singapore Journal of Legal Studies:313-347 (2005)
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Abstract

It is widely held that there are no indigenous roots in China for the rule of law; it is an import from the West. The Chinese legal tradition, rather, is rule by law, as elaborated in ancient Legalist texts such as the Han Feizi. According to the conventional reading of these texts, law is amoral and an instrument in the hands of a central ruler who uses law to consolidate and maintain power. The ruler is the source of all law and stands above the law, so that law, in the final analysis, is whatever pleases the ruler. This essay argues, to the contrary, that the instrumentalism of the Han Feizi is more sophisticated and more principled than the conventional reading acknowledges. It suggests that, by examining the text of the Han Feizi through the lens provided by American legal theorist Lon Fuller, we can detect an explicit articulation of what Fuller called the internal morality of law. The principles of this morality are elaborated and their importance explained. In this way, the Han Feizi is retrieved as a significant reference point for thinking about legal reform in China today.

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Citations of this work

Fuller and the Folk: The Inner Morality of Law Revisited.Raff Donelson & Ivar R. Hannikainen - 2020 - In Tania Lombrozo, Shaun Nichols & Joshua Knobe (eds.), Oxford Studies in Experimental Philosophy Volume 3. Oxford University Press. pp. 6-28.
Han Fei's Enlightened Ruler.Alejandro Bárcenas - 2013 - Asian Philosophy 23 (3):236-259.
Does Han Fei have a conception of justice?Gordon B. Mower - 2018 - Asian Philosophy 28 (2):170-182.
A Chinese Legalist Critique of Pettit’s The State.Tongdong Bai - 2023 - Journal of Social and Political Philosophy 2 (2):218-221.

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Justice as Fairness.John Rawls - 1998 - In James Rachels (ed.), Ethical Theory 2: Theories About How We Should Live. Oxford University Press UK.
The complete works of Han Fei Tzŭ..W. K. Liao - 1939 - London: A. Probsthain. Edited by Qian Sima.
The genealogy of legal positivism.Dyzenhaus David - 2004 - Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 24 (1):39-67.

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