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Notes on Literary Chinese

Selections from Han Feizi

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Notes on Literary Chinese

Collection of Literary Chinese Prose

Selections from Han Feizi

Han Feizi 韓非子 or just Han Fei 韓非 (c. 280—233 BCE) was pre-Han dynasty philosopher best known for being one of the developers of the Legalist school of philosophy 法家. Han Feizi was born into the ruling aristocracy of the state of Han near the end of the Warring States Period.

Legalism was one of the four principle schools of thought in the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods. The other three schools were Confusianism 儒家, Mohism 墨家, and Daoism 道家. In Legalism the ruler controls the state with the three principles of position of power, certain techniques , and laws . The philosophy distrusts human nature and focuses on methods to control people. Legalism was very influential to Qin Shi Huang 秦始皇, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty, known for his ruthless unification campaign and systematic regulation of writing, and weights and measures.

For a full English translation see the text translated by W. K. Liao (Han, 1939). The Chinese text can be found at the Chinese Text Project. See References.

The He Clan's Jade Disk

This text is from Chapter 13 The He Clan 《》.


A man from the state of Chu from the He clan, obtained a piece of uncut jade in the Chu Hills. He brought it back as an offering to present to King Li. King Li asked a jade carver to examine it. The jade carver said, “It is just an ordinary rock.” The king cut off He's left foot for decieving him. Upon the death of King Li King Wu ascended the throne and, once again, He presented his offering of the uncut piece jade, this time to King Wu. King Wu asked the jade carver to examine it. Once again the jade carver said, “It is just an ordinary rock.” The king cut off He's right foot for being deceitful again. When King Wu died and King Wen ascended the throne, He carried the uncut piece of jade to Chu Hills. He cried for three days and nights until his tears were exhausted and his tears turned to blood. The king sent men, who asked, “There are many people in the world with their feet cut off. Sir, why do you cry so bitterly?” He said, “I am not crying for the loss of my feet but for the false evaluation of this precious jade as an ordinary rock and for being branded as a liar. That is what I am upset about.” So the king had the jade carver work the uncut jade and thereupon called it the “Jade Tablet of the He Clan.”


Fuller gives notes and vocabulary on this section of text. (Fuller, 2004, pp. 141-143)

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