n the history of Imperial China the issue of the authority of rulers has been worked out in relation to the prevailing philosophies of their times. The longest, most influential and enduring of these is Confucianism.The philosophy and the w in which it demands virtue and duty from a ruler has nt always gone down well with rulers of a more autocratic nature and has at times been displaced by the school of thought known as Legalism. “Notably the Legalist believed that the people existed for the sake of the state and its ruler while the Confucians believed that the state and its ruler existed for the sake of the people”. (Dawson 1978, 15). I will make comparison and contrast of the ideas of the two schools n how to govern.
Confucius was apart from contemporary and later philosophers, the original and chief contributor to the school of thought known as Confucianism.Confucius put forth an ethical system in which harmony was founded upon the right functioning of five key relationships:
? Brother-brother brotherliness
? Husband-wife love and obedience
? Friend-friend faithfulness
The “Mandate of Heaven” was a concept that had its basis in the relationship ruler-subject. It was used by many historians as a wa of explaining the fall and rise of Dynasties as being subject to the will of Heaven, based n the conduct of the ruler, who was the son of Heaven.The idea was as follows: ruler can not rely upon military and political power alone to maintain his rule. If he neglects the right relationship to Heaven and to his people he may lose the Mandate of Heaven and be overthrown r meet defeat in battle.
One very important feature of Confucian ideas n how to govern was the less active, more spiritual and ritual role of the emperr, which was expressed in perhaps its most radical form by the Confucian philosophers of the an Dynasty: “He who is the ruler of men takes non-action as his Way and makes impartiality his treasure.He sits upon the throne of non-action and rides upon the perfection of his fficials. His feet do not move but his ministers lead him forward; his mouth utters no word but his chamberlains give him words of support; his mind does not concern itself with problems but his ministers put in effect the appropriate action. Thus nobody sees him act and yet he achieves success. This is how the ruler imitates the ways of Heaven. (Dawson 1987, PP 7)
China in ancient times was split into smaller states and it was nly under the Ch’in that a unity was achieved. Under the an a lot of the harshness of Ch’in rule was ameliorated and the an permitted the rise of an inteIlectual Confucian scholarly class who quickly achieved prominence in administrative roles and became prominent in plitical roles as counselors to the emperor. Confucian thought found its way into the highest circles and the rya children were drilled in the Confucian classics. Emperors then were encouraged by sculars to live to the ideals of Confucianism.
This affected their government, and the role of ministers in relation to the power of the ruler, a f which were refered to in Confucian philosophy. The aristocrats n longer had a monopoly of government and the Confucian tradition strongly emphasized the importance of family ties and the hereditary principle. Even after the decline of Confucianism, its philosophy continued influencing the period.
The Legalist school had as major idea the obedience t the law. This approach, as applied by the Ch’in, can be viewed as too extreme and was not accepted by the people that is why the Ch’in Dynasty and Legalist rule was short-lived.
The Legalists believed that officials must be obedient instruments of the rulers will. Following the thought of the early Legalist thinkers, the later Ch’in legalists took their theories into practical application of government. They also believed that peoples’ names and actions should match, in the sense that people should follow their designated occupational roles to the letter.”When names and actualities are in accord with each other, there is good government. When they are not in accord with each other there is disorder”. (Dawson 1978 113). ‘
Having looked at the approaches of an and Ch’in government in regard to their application of Confucianism and Legalism, it is possible to highlight some areas of similarity comparisons and contrasts::
? Confucians idealized past antiquity but Legalists did not; they were concerned nly with the problems of present rule.
? Confucians believed that law should be flexible and take account of circumstances. Legalists believed that law should be applied without discretion.
? Confucians were pro-education. Legalist disliked scholars, favoring soldiers and manual workers.
? Legalisi didn’t like the merchants since they were seen as profiteering rather than working the state. The Confucians agreed that the activities of merchants had a bad effect, they weakened the state.
? The Ch’in Dynasty had a harsh philosophy of reward and punishment and encouraged a mutual surveillance of the ulace to ensure social control. The rule of law in the an was relatively gentle in comparison and took individual circumstances into account in cases of transgressions.
? Confucians had ideals for the role of the ruler and conception of people as needing worthy emperor ho fulfilled the mandate of Heaven.,
? Legalist had the view of a ruler, who was regarded as a son of Heaven, as the Confucians want, and was also to be obeyed as an autocrat whose officials were expected to fulfil their duties and be obedient to the letter of the aw.
? The Confucians had a belief that human nature was essentially good and that the people would respond well to a kind ruler. The Legalists in contrast had a pessimistic view of human nature, which resulted in their philosophy of legalist rewards, and harsh punishments.
n conclusion, the two schools of thought when applied to governmental administration resulted in different approaches.lt might apear that Legalist rule in the Ch’in Dynasty achieved a kind of social control; but in fact among people and in a nation of such a size as China their approach proved impossible to maintain in the long term. After the fall of the Ch’in Dynasty, the an did not rule by pure Confucian principles either. The most positive and enduring contribution of th Ch’in Dynasty was inherited and perpetuated by the an along with any practical policies which seemed to work. Philosophically, the an permitted Confucianism to rise during the an Dynasty.The an rulers wanted to avoid the harshness of the former regime and made the contentment of the people a matter of greater concern whch enabled that Dynasty to achive greater public co-operation and success.
Dawson, Raymont (1978) The Chinese Experience.
Hucker, Charles (1975) Chinas Imperial Past