Han Fei’s Political Philosophy

Han Fei, Chinese philosopher

Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in Confucian political philosophy and numerous attempts to analyze ways in which it may contribute to a political philosophy for East Asia, how it may need to be modified to suit the contemporary context, and how it can contribute to a dialogue with Western political theories. However, Confucianism is only one school of thought from China’s long philosophical history, and there are numerous other political theories from China’s past that have the potential to make important contributions to contemporary debates.

Furthermore, while it is acknowledged that Confucianism faces important challenges that must be overcome in order to profitably come into dialogue with Western political philosophy, there has been little recognition or analysis of the strong challenges it faces from Han Fei. Furthermore, far from merely being a critic of Confucianism, Han Fei advances his own unique positive vision of political organization.

Han Feizi, the political philosophy book written by Han Fei

However, his system has rarely been engaged with in an attempt to learn from it. As such, a deeper understanding of Han Fei’s political philosophy can lead to challenges to both Western political theories and Confucian political thought. By reconstructing Han Fei’s philosophy, I demonstrate that it has much to offer those interested in political theory, in Asia as well as in the world at large. He offers us a strong defense of the value of engaging in the history of political philosophy, a claim that is often questioned today. Furthermore, while he does not directly tackle many of the issues that are the central concerns of contemporary political philosophers, often we can, by reconstructing his philosophy and analyzing what his principles commit him to, determine how he would address numerous issues of contemporary interest.

This project certainly does not advocate a return to Han Fei’s political philosophy in its entirety. There are many areas in which Han Fei gets it wrong, and he seems to be blind to certain effective and appealing alternatives. However, by constructively engaging first with Han Fei himself and subsequently with important issues in contemporary political philosophy, this work will demonstrate not only that two vastly different political traditions can profitably be brought into dialogue but that regardless of our final analysis of the viability of Han Fei’s political philosophy, his arguments provide challenges that must be taken seriously by contemporary political philosophers.

This project has been awarded a General Research Fund (GRF) by the University Grants Committee (UGC).