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Reviews 389 Zhengyuan Fu. China's Legalists: The Earliest Totalitarians and TheirArt of Ruling. Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1996. x, 177 pp. Hardcover $63.95, isbn 1-56324-779-8. Paperback $21.95, isbn 1-56324-780-1. Scholarship on Chinese legalism has been scanty, especially in contrast to that on Confucianism. For this reason, I was excited when I came across Zhengyuan Fu's China's Legalists. On reading Fu's preface, I promptiy agreed with him that China's legalists "remain little known" to Western readers and deserve to be introduced, as Fu sets out to do, to "the general Western public, including sinologists who do not specialize in ancient Chinese political philosophy." After reading Fu's volume, however, I doubt whether it can be said to live up to his good intentions at all. As he states in the introduction, Fu aims to present "both the ideas and tenets of the Legalists and a concise delineation of their practical impact in terms of institution building and state building during the imperial period of China" and to trace "the intellectual influence ofthe Legalists on the institutions, policies, and political praxis of the Chinese Communist Party and the PRC" (pp. 8-9). He attempts to develop two themes: that legalism is a political philosophy oftotalitarianism and that this totalitarian phUosophy informed the political processes of the Chinese Communist Party. Both are important themes in their own right. Legalism has been criticized for its totalitarian philosophy by other commentators, as Communist China has been watched for its totalitarian politics.1 When Fu picks up the two old themes, however, he merely undermines their cogency, and of course the cogency ofhis own arguments, with his unhistorical approach feebly sustained by inadequate research. Chapter 2, "The Legalist School," purports to provide biographical information about major legalists and the historical context of the legalist school. The biographical information is not useless, though it is neither critical nor judicious. For example, speaking of Shang Yang's death at the hands of the aristocracy (whose interests had suffered under Shang Yang's legalist reforms), Fu writes, "It seems poetic justice that Shang Yang became the victim ofhis own Legalist program " (p. 18). I wonder whether any informed scholar would really say so. Shang Yang's death was ultimately caused by his insistence on an indiscriminate application ofthe law to high and low alike. It was the egalitarian implications ofhis legalist reforms that offended fhe privileged aristocracy.2© 1997 by UniversityWhere Fu proffers to present the historical context ofthe legalist school, he ofHawai'i Press¿oes not discuss specific historical conditions or their relation to the intellectual trends ofthe time. Instead, he draws some broad affinities between legalism and other schools ofthought, such as Daoism, Moism, and Confucianism. To show 390 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 2, Fall 1997 that a legalist ruler resembles a Daoist sage in lacking compassion for the ordinary human being, Fu quotes from Lao Zi: "Heaven and Earth are not humane, they treat aU myriads of things as [sacrificial] straw dogs. The Sage is not humane, he treats all the people as [sacrificial] straw dogs" (p. 24). Fu's interpretation of fhis Daoist text is unreliable, as the connection he makes between Daoism and legalism is off the mark. Standard interpretations of this text offer the opposite reading . According to Chen Guying, for instance, this passage refers to the naturalistic thesis of Daoism: it is not that heaven and earth, or the sage for that matter, are not humane, but that they transcend humanity—they follow nature (the Way) instead ofpersonal whims in ordering worldly affairs.3 In this sense, they follow the principle ofjustice and impartiality. As Fu does not pursue the very concept of the Way as a vital link between Daoism and legalism, he does not perceive a real affinity between Daoism and legalism . He quotes Han Fei as saying, "The person who changes the law according to the Way is the ruler" (p. 67), but he does not perceive this as a legalist effort to base the ultimate source of power on the Way—the law of nature, rather than the ruler. He claims...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 389-396
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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