Background

One of the earliest Chinese law came from a country called Qi during the Spring and Autumn Period. It was not a law code but an ideology at first. This ideology was hugely affected by it birth place as Qi was a coastal country which was enriched by fishing and making salt. Therefore, in order to restrain people’s lust, Xun Zi started to spread the idea of punishments and law in his home country. Contrasting Confucianism, Legalism’s elites believed the humans were evil when they were born; however, ironically, the earliest Legalists were all students in Confucius Schools. Because of people’s evilness from birth, the Legalists believed that a king should use heavy laws to punish those who do sinful activities. Also, Legalism focused more on economical development and state-own business, which prospered the whole nation’s growth.

Key Legal Issues

  • Legalism highlighted people’s dark sides and believed that people live to fulfil their desires, and this ideology totally neglected the optimistic ideas in humans.
  • When Legalism was firstly used in a central government, it was used to exploit common people and give more power to the emperor, which was really cruel.
  • The ideology was too extreme, and in later dynasties emperors combined Legalism with Confucianism to solidify their reigns.

Case

Burning of Books and burying of scholars

It refers to the events in burning Confucian texts in 213 BCE and burial of 460 Confucian scholars in 210 BCE. These two events both revealed the tyranny of Qin dynasty and the extreme usage of Legalism — it became totalitarianism. The prime minister of the first emperor was  Li Si, a student of Xun Zi, and Li Si himself taught the first emperor; however, Li Si’s use of Legalism was so radical that it was also a big factor in ending the Qin dynasty.