Chinese Legalism

10 Dec, 2015 950 History of Asia

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origins and rise of Legalism in China, from the start of the Warring States Period (c475 - 221 BC) to the time of The First Emperor Qin Shi Huang (pictured), down to Chairman Mao and the present day. Advanced by the Qin statesman Shang Yang and later blended together by Han Fei, the three main aspects of Legalism were the firm implementation of laws, use of techniques such as responsibility and inscrutability, and taking advantage of the ruler’s position. The Han dynasty that replaced the Qin discredited this philosophy for its apparent authoritarianism, but its influence continued, re-emerging throughout Chinese history.

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • Frances Wood 10 episodes
    Former Curator of the Chinese Collections at the British Library
  • Hilde de Weerdt 6 episodes
    Professor of Chinese History at Leiden University
  • Roel Sterckx 4 episodes
    Joseph Needham Professor of Chinese History at the University of Cambridge

Reading list

  • The Grand Scribe's Records, volume 1, The Basic Annals of Pre-Han China
    Ssu-Ma Ch'ien (ed. William H. Nienhauser Jr.) Google Books →
  • All Under Heaven: China's Dreams of Order
    Jeanne-Marie Gescher Google Books →
  • Dao Companion to the Philosophy of Han Fei
    Paul R. Goldin (ed.) Google Books →
  • The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600
    Valerie Hansen Google Books →
  • Remnants of Ch'in Law: An annotated translation of the Ch'in legal and administrative rules of the 3rd century BC, discovered in Yun-meng Prefecture, Hu-pei Province
    A. F. P Hulsewe Google Books →
  • The Chinese Emperor: A Novel
    Jean Levi (trans. Barbara Bray) Google Books →
  • The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han
    Mark Edward Lewis Google Books →
  • A Biographical Dictionary of the Qin, Former Han and Xin periods (221 BC - AD 24)
    Michael Loewe Google Books →
  • The Cambridge History of Ancient China: From the Origins of Civilisation to 221 BC
    Michael Loewe and Edward L. Shaughnessy (eds.) Google Books →
  • Birth of an Empire; The State of Qin Revisited
    Yuri Pines, Lothar von Falkenhausen, Gideon Shelach, Robin D. S. Yates (eds.) Google Books →
  • The Book of Lord Shang: A Classic of the Chinese School of law
    Yang Shang (trans. J. J. L. Duyvendak) Google Books →
  • The Cambridge History of China, volume 1, The Ch'in and Han Empires 221 BC - AD 220
    Denis Twitchett and Michael Loewe (eds.)
  • Han Fei Tzu: Basic Writings
    Han Fei Tzu (trans. Burton Watson) Google Books →
  • The First Emperor of China
    Frances Wood Google Books →
  • Picnics Prohibited: Diplomacy in a Chaotic China during the First World War
    Frances Wood Google Books →

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Programme ID: b06r84qy

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Auto-category: 951.05 (History of China)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. In 338 BC, the Chinese statesman Shang Yang was torn apart by four chariots pulling in opposite directions and his entire extended family was murdered.