Legalism in Ancient China

by: Alivia Kantola


Many people think of Legalism as a religion but it is really a political philosophy that dealt with government.Legalism was used in ancient China during the Warring States Period, and did you know that it formed the first imperial dynasty, the Qin Dynasty. Keep reading to learn about what it is, how it was used, and how the Qin Dynasty used it.

What is Legalism?

Legalism is a political philosophy that has nothing to do with religion and it dealt with government and social control. Legalists believed that someones punishment should fit their crime. A part of that was a persons neighbor and relatives should also be punished so everyone would get the idea that you have to follow the law. Another thing is that the legalists disagreed with the preaching's of Confucius. They also disagreed with with Daoism because they didn't use respect for authority. Apart of legalism is that they only wanted appointed officials to run China. They also believed that political institutions should be represented in response to human behavior and the human behavior is the belief that people are selfish and short-sighted. Overall I think legalism was a harsh way of ruling.

How Legalism was used in Ancient China

Legalism was used in many ways and some ways seem a bit harsh. Legalism was first used in the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.E). It was used to compete against Confucianism and Daoism for followers. Rulers also used it to have management for techniques. Another thing they used legalism for was manipulation. There is so many ways they used it but one last thing they used for was widely known laws.

Qin Dynasty

Legalism was influenced by Shang Yang, Li Si, and Hanfeizi. Legalism also formed the Qin Dynasty which in fact was the first imperial dynasty. In the Qin Dynasty, they believed that uneducated people were easier to control, so they burnt all the books unless they had something to do with legalism. They also executed scholars. The Qin Dynasty was the first to put legalist ideas in practice throughout China. They also wanted their empire to expand. Overall the Qin Dynasty was harsh with their ruling.
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This is a picture of Shi Haungdi. Shi Haungdi was ruler of the Qin Dynasty during the time that legalism was used.


As I stated in the 1st and 3rd paragraphs, legalism was a harsh way of ruling. For example how scholars were executed for being smart. Were just lucky we aren't in ancient China or we might have already been buried alive!!!!!!