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Combination of Legalism and Confucianism in Chinese History: Critical Essay

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Amidst the chaos during the end of the Zhou Dynasty and the beginning of the Warring State period (475 – 221 B.C.E), three schools of belief were developed. These schools were Confucian, Daoist, and Legalist and they carried the task of restoring peace and order to society due to the warfare that had engulfed the Chinese states. Confucianism is the belief concerned with a person’s character and conduct, Confucianists believed these were keys to a prosperous society. Daoism is the belief that people in the society should seek out harmony and should avoid getting involved with politics or affairs as such in order for society to prosper. Legalism is the belief that focused on harsh punishments for petty crimes and maximizing the ruler’s power during times of both War and Peace. All of these schools of belief are distinctive; however, they all contain a degree of overlap in their teachings. From my viewpoint, I find that Confucianism and Daoism are the best beliefs to form a prosperous society, due to the focus on righteousness and moral character when combined with Daoism society would be more focused on each other and no one person or party would have total control over society and would function with little government intervention. When government intervention is necessary it would involve a more individual moral punishment instead of a typical crime punishment system, while legalism is extra in the sense that it would punish citizens with the harsh punishment possible for the littlest of crimes and the system focuses on giving the power to one ruler rather than giving citizens flexibility with power and authority.

Confucianism was founded by a Chinese scholar named Kong Fuzi (Latinized, Confucius) he lived from 551 – 479 B.C.E., He was alive when China consisted of only a few feudal states and they were under the Zhou Dynasty rule but acted independently (Fuzi 1). Fuzi and many of his contemporaries were concerned with the state of turmoil, competition, and warfare between the feudal states (Fuzi 1). In “The Selections from the Confucian Analects: on Government”, the reading reveals some of Fuzi’s beliefs on government and order. Fuzi believed in punishing someone by showing they were dishonorable rather than a typical punishment, due to its ineffectiveness and in revealing dishonorable behavior. It makes people question his moral uprightness which is a foundational value in this school of belief (Fuzi 1). He also believed that the ruler should pick his own ministers according to ritual and these ministers should serve the ruler loyally, this is a great idea because you don’t want just any minister to perform certain rituals, as they may not be as familiar or acquainted with it as another minister might be. This flows into the point Fuzi made about letting people do jobs that they are genuinely good at not just giving people positions, the reason being that this can lead to unethical ness in the society and this would lead to a power struggle in the system making someone have to overly assist someone because of the incompetence in that position. Fuzi’s goal was to have/create a society that genuinely cared about one another, which is why I believe the first thing he said to go in society if it must be the military, then the food, and then the confidence of the people (Fuzi, 3). The confidence of people is the heart of the belief, because if they don’t believe in the system and work within the system then it will simply just collapse; this belief puts people and their morals first and does everything in its power to keep everyone on the straight and narrow to achieve prosperity.

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Daoism was developed by individuals that rejected Confucianism ideas specifically on the grounds of moral development and social order; they favored attending to a person’s physical and psychological health. This means they would teach people individual techniques for preserving the life spirit and use faith to remove bad or undesirable influences (Berger 129). One important thing to note is that Dao’s teachings, they recognized no law, unlike legalism and Confucianism where they are very strict on order through shaming or central law. One of the main books in Daoism is “Daodejing” It was written by several authors during the third century BCE, and the book involved the mysterious character, Laozi which means “the old master” (Laozi 1). “The more sharp weapons people have, The more disorder is fomented in the family and state”. When Laozi makes this statement, he is stating that he is not in favor of people bearing arms or using them to conduct and uphold social order. Similarly, Fuzi stated that if something must go in society then it would be the military, in both cases we see that they don’t want weapons to be the main source of maintaining social order in their society. In Daoism Laozi doesn’t believe in putting value into possessions scares and does not, as a result, people will not steal (Laozi 1). This belief system is best described as “Ignorance is Bliss” because the believers show no concern or worry about items or laws, only on people and their well-being; this is the most laid back and simplest belief of the three providing the least amount of social order and government action in society.

The Legalist belief was the work of several individuals but the one we credit with the most impact and influence is Han Fei, he abandoned the Confucian belief in favor of a more hardheaded and strong-arm approach, inspired by men like Shang Yang (Fei 1). He is most commonly recognized as having developed a thorough and systematic synthesis of Legalist and Daoist Beliefs which is found in a book that bears his name. In “The Five Vermin” Fei talks about how state offices only want men of great integrity and good faith, but now there are far too many positions and not enough good men to fill them so instead of excessively screening men for the positions the ruler will impose strict rules and guidelines for the men to follow and if they break any of these guidelines they will be met with dire consequences. Legalism is by far the most strict and extreme when It comes to keeping order and promoting a prospering society, comparing this to Confucianism they both believe in order but legalists believe in enforced-based punishment whereas Confucius believes in more shaming methods of punishment. The philosophy is virtually driven by the ruler’s judgment on how society should prosper, the goal of this belief is to give the ruler/administration as much power and control as possible in order to organize the state’s territory and people (Berger 133). While it takes a much more different approach to prosperity than the other two philosophies, that does not mean it is any less effective, it just seems like if the people are just giving power to the government or a ruler then over time they won’t be happy that they don’t have a say and that’ll have an impact of how fast they meet their goal of prosperity; what’s prosperity if the people aren’t confident and happy.

Confucianism is the middle ground of belief in this situation, offering strict rules similar to legalism but not as serve in actual punishment; the method of punishment is shame oriented rather than pain and enforcement style. Daoism is the most unrestricted philosophy, they believe in no punishment or law, they focus more on a therapy style of resolving issues in society, and they like to do things based on individual needs instead of focusing on the general needs of the people. Overall the best situation would be for a society to have a mixture of Confucianism and Daoism, the Confucianism order system, and bits of Daoism such as the people avoiding a lot of government interaction. This way the government only intervenes when they absolutely have to and when they do the people will have an input on how matters will be handled. Legalism works only as a government that is used to govern or control people in order to prosper, whereas Confucianism gives people a little more flexibility when it comes to governing as long as the people stay righteous and in the faith of the system. With Confucianism and Daoism, society will prosper at a faster rate, due to the freedom that people feel and the fact that the people aren’t all heavily involved in government affairs; as long as the people stay honest and believe in the system the state will succeed in its goal of reaching a prosperous society.

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