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One the the best intellectual discussions in human background that has taken location in every people has to be the role that the government or the state need to play in the resides of that citizens. This question commonly relies on another important ontological debate, i beg your pardon is the controversy on human nature. Those that argue that human being nature is naturally evil, frequently advocate because that a larger role by the state in the resides of its citizens. Conversely, those who think that human being nature is inherently good, generally argue the the states duty in the lives of the citizens have to be limited, in stimulate to enable rational individuals to satisfy their potential. This file will evaluate economic thought during the Warring States duration to the establishment of the Han Dynasty, and how it relates come the ontological inquiry of person nature. This record will seek to market a comparison in between the Confucian financial thought that Confucius, Mencius and Sima Qian, and also the Legalist economic thought of mr Shang Yang, Han Fei Tzu and also Xunzi. Back Xunzi to be a monitor of Confucius, this record will argue that Xunzi was a Legalist who deviated from traditional Confucian thought, and therefore his debates on the duty of the state in the economy and also on person nature varied dramatically from Confucius and Mencius. Legalism play an instrumental role in complicated the inherent assumptions of Confucianism during the Warring States duration and played a critical role in unifying the realm, thus finishing the Warring says Period. Legalist scholars argued that if the state allowed individuals to seek their own self-interest and accumulate wealth, the state would come to be weak. However, the can be fried downfall the the state arisen through the be oppressive of the individual, or together Confucius argued, by governing versus nature. This resulted in the return of a Confucian layout of economics during the Han dynasty, which was broadened upon by the an excellent Chinese historian, Sima Qian.

The Master, Confucius, believed that a government’s duty in the lives of the citizens should be limited. Confucius told Tsze-kung that “The requisites of federal government are the there be sufficiency the food, sufficiency of army equipment, and confidence that the civilization in your ruler.”<1> Therefore, the function of federal government was an easy and its objective was essentially to defend the population, while allowing individuals to pursue what they are meant for, based upon your own natural rationality. Confucius opposed unnecessary state treatment in the economy and also was also opposed come governing against nature.<2> Additionally, one of the greatest followers of Confucius, Mencius, broadened upon Confucius’ best of minimal government intervention by mentioning the rationality of the individual. Mencius proclaimed that, “There is a common expression, ‘The Empire, the state, the family’. The empire has its basis in the state, the state in the family, and also the family in one’s own self.”<3> Therefore, because that Mencius, people were the many important element of society in relation to heaven.<4> Additionally, Mencius’ the contrary to government intervention in the economy is noticeable by his opposition to sector monopolies. Follow to Mencius:

In antiquity, the industry was because that exchange that what one had for what one lacked. The authorities oversaw it. There was, however, a despicable other who constantly looked because that vantage point and, going up on it, gazed into the distance to the left and to the appropriate in order to secure himself all the profit there remained in the market. The human being all believed him despicable, and, together a result, they taxation him. The count of merchants began with this despicable fellow.<5>

Additionally, when explaining the ide of Kingly government to King Hsüan of Ch’I, Mencius stated, “there was inspection but no levy in ~ border stations and market places.”<6> Therefore, Mencius to be advocating that sellers be exempted indigenous taxes on what castle import into the market place, and limited government intervention. Mencius’ writings on the economic climate were based ~ above his check out of person nature. Mencius thought that the individual was rational and also capable of learning, something that would certainly be viewed as a liberal view of person nature, today.

Mencius’ conclusions became an extremely controversial to scholar of the Warring claims Period, including Lord Shang Yang, Han Fei Tzu and Xunzi, and also this cause the production of Legalist thought. Xunzi, an additional prominent follower of Confucius, disagreed through Mencius’ assessment of human being nature. Xunzi thought that person nature was bad; that stated, “Human nature is together that world are born v a love the profit. If lock follow this inclinations, they will certainly struggle and snatch from every other, and inclinations to defer or yield will die.”<7> Additionally, Xunzi stated:

Mencius said that people’s capacity to find out is proof that their nature is good. Ns disagree. His statement reflects he go not know what human nature is and has not pondered the difference between what is person nature and what is created by man. Human nature is what heaven supplies. It can not be learned or functioned at… human being nature refers to what is in people yet which lock cannot examine or job-related at achieving. Human commodities refers come what world acquire v study and also effort…<8>

The belief that person nature is inherently evil resulted in the belief that human being nature and the anarchy that results from it necessary to it is in controlled. This is what led to the doctrine of Legalism. Legalists make use of the state together a way to regulate human nature, and to prevent human beings from follow their own self-interest. Therefore, just like how Mencius’ financial policy was educated by his belief in the rationality the the individual, the financial policy the Legalists was educated by their id in the irrationality that the individual, and also the require to regulate the individual in bespeak to manage the inescapable chaos and also anarchy.

The most substantial account the Legalist financial thought throughout this duration was lord Shang Yang, who organized high office in the state that Qin in between the years of 359-338 B.C.E. Shang’s works on Legalism became the basis for Xunzi’s and also Han Fei Tzu’s writings. Lord Shang said that “weakening the people” to be a device that the state can utilize in order to keep stability in ~ society. According to lord Shang, “If the people live in ~ humiliation, they value rank; if they room weak, they respect office; and if they space poor, they prize rewards.”<9> Additionally, together opposed to Mencius, lord Shang argued that a market monopoly was in the states best interest; this was sustained by his belief that “Orderly government brings strength, yet disorder bring weakness.”<10> The Legalist scholar Han Fei Tzu, who was indigenous the little state the Han, yet advised the future Emperor of the Qin State when he ascended come the throne in 246 B.C.E., believed that staying clear of the accumulation of riches by an individual was crucial in preserving order in ~ the state. According to Han Fei Tzu:

An enlightened leader will provide his state in together a way as to decrease the number of merchants, artisans, and also other men who do their living by hike from ar to place, and will check out to it that such men are looked under upon…. As soon as a male who sits earlier and collection taxes provides twice as lot as a farmer and also enjoys better honor 보다 the plowman or the solider, then public-spirited guys will grow few and merchants and also tradesmen will increase in number. These space the customizeds of a disordered state: the scholars praise the ways of the former kings and also imitate their benevolence and also righteousness, placed on a same appearance and also speak in elegant phrases, thus spreading doubt top top the laws of the time and causing the leader to be of two minds. That speechmakers propound false schemes and also borrow affect from abroad, furthering their exclusive interests and forgetting the welfare the the state’s altars the the soil and also grain.<11>

Legalist scholar such together Han Fei Tzu feared merchants, and more importantly, fear the buildup of wealth due to the fact that it threatened the strength of the state. For Legalist’s like Lord Shang and also Han Fei Tzu, that lived v the Warring claims Period, the state was perceived as the just thing the could lug stability and order to an otherwise anarchic and chaotic world. Therefore, something that threatened the strength of the state was viewed as a danger to order and stability.

Xunzi expanded upon increase the Legalist doctrine by saying that control over the people and the economic climate was the only method to do a country self-sufficient. Xunzi promoted for the plan of letting “the world make a generosity living with the exercise of government.”<12> for Xunzi, this intended that the state had to control the use of items in order come ensure the its citizens could live generosity lives<13>; essentially, it supposed protecting human being from themselves. How precisely does one let the world make a generosity living through the practice of government? follow to Xunzi:

If one taxes lightly the grew fields and outlying districts, imposes excises uniformly at the border stations and also in the industry places, keeps statistical records to minimize the variety of merchants and also traders, initiates only rarely tasks requiring the labor of people, and also does no take the farmers from their fields except in the off-season, the state will be wealthy.<14>

Once again, this emphasizes the deviation by Xunzi from Mencius’ thought in regards to the tax of merchants. This difference of course goes ago to the vital difference in between Mencius’ and Xunzi’s see on human nature. If people are rational and capable that learning, climate there is no should worry around merchants. However, if human nature is naturally evil, climate there is a require to control merchants, in bespeak to preserve order within society and to stop the build-up of wealth.

Xunzi’s teachings had actually a significant impact on Li Si, among his students who would become an torture to the an initial Qin Emperor. Li Si played a significant role in the unification of the realm and also the facility of the Qin realm in 221 B.C.E.; he eventually came to be Prime Minister that the Qin State.<15> as Prime Minister, Li Si quickly implemented Legalist policies, which consisted of high taxation, and perhaps his most well known policy, a book burning policy that to be done through the intentionally of regulating thought in ~ society.<16> Li Si and the Qin emperor applied Legalist plans that invoked fear and tyranny in stimulate to regulate the masses and to maintain order. That is important to keep in mind that the Qin fought and consolidated regulate over numerous states in order to unify the realm; therefore, keeping stability and also order after ~ the two-century Warring States duration was crucial. However, complying with the fatality of the an initial Qin Emperor in 210 B.C.E., the state descended into disorder, which caused the start of the Han Dynasty. According to the chroniclers Patricia Ebrey and also Anne Walthall, “The Legalist institutions designed come concentrate power in the hand of the ruler made stability dependent on the strength and character that a single person.”<17>

The consolidation and establishment of the Qin illustrated the success of Legalist financial policies. The teachings and also writings that Legalist scholar such together Lord Shang Yang, Han Fei Tzu and also Xunzi played a critical role in unifying the realm. However, when it was unified, Li Si and the Qin Emperor overstepped your mandate, and instead of regulating anarchy, they produced chaos. Jia Yi, a Han statesman and poet, deadline the downfall of the Qin to the 2 Qin Emperors.<18> Additionally, Jia Yi also blamed the Legalist financial policies for the Qin’s unpreventable downfall, through stating:

“Had the 2nd Emperor been also a mediocre ruler…had that only reduced taxation and also statutes to mitigate oppression, curtailed sumptuary laws, and, after every the above had been done, had he lightened punishments, thus enabling people under heaven to renew themselves and adjust their methods so as to conduct their lives properly, each respecting himself…”<19>

Legalist scholars argued that if the state permitted individuals to pursue their own self-interest and also accumulate wealth, the state would end up being weak. However, the ultimate downfall of the state emerged through the be suppressive of the individual, or as Confucius argued, through governing versus nature.

In 178 B.C.E., the Han statesman Chao Cuo created Memorial top top the encourage of Agriculture, which represented a return to Confucian financial thought. Chao said that an enlightened leader “will encourage his people in agriculture and sericulture, lighten the poll tax and also other levies, increase his store of supplies and also fill his granaries in ready for flood and drought.”<20> Emperor Wen authorized of Chao’s recommendations, and also grain came to be abundant.<21> Additionally, the resumption the Confucian financial thought was no only noticeable in the plans of the Han, however in academic writings together well. The good Chinese historian, Sima Qian, who lived throughout the Han dynasty, made far-reaching contributions that progressed the works of Confucius and also Mencius through regards to the government’s role in the economy.<22> according to Sima Qian:

Society clear must have farmers before it can eat; foresters, fishermen, miners etc. Prior to it can make use of natural resources; craftsmen prior to it have the right to have made goods; and merchants prior to they have the right to be distributed. Yet once this exist, what need is over there for government directives, mobilisations of labour, or routine assemblies? each man has only to be left to utilise his very own abilities and also exert his toughness to achieve what that wishes.<23>

Sima Qian not only supported the place of restricted government that was suggested by Confucius and also Mencius, yet went as far regarding question whether or not government should have actually any role at all adhering to the facility of a formal financial model. Sima Qian walk not see the require for substantial government joining in the economy, especially when the simple economic mechanism was already established. Because that Sima Qian, the finest policy was to ‘let it be’ and also to allow the individual for satisfy their very own self-interest, as they room rational.

The four-century debate in between Confucian and also Legalist thinkers on person nature and the government’s duty in the economic climate mirrors the ongoing intellectual debate in between Liberals and Mercantilists that started with Adam Smith’s publication of The wealth of countries in 1776. Liberals, lot like Confucian thinkers, have argued for a minimal role by the state in the economy, vice versa, Mercantilists, much like the Legalists the the Warring says Period, have suggested for one increased role by the state in the economic climate to ensure protectionism and to manage human nature. The interesting aspect is the this ongoing conflict did not start with Smith’s publication in 1776, but started with Confucius’ The Analects, which was published after his death in 479 B.C.E. This intellectual dispute transformed into a complete out pundit war throughout the Warring says Period, together Legalists scholar began challenging the inherent presumptions within Confucian thought in order to describe the anarchy, chaos, and consistent warfare that they to be living in. The contributions of Legalists scholars cannot be overstated, as their writings came to be the very tools that were utilized to unify the kingdom in 221 B.C.E., which ended the Warring says Period. Furthermore, the recurring debate between Liberals and Mercantilists, i m sorry has consisted of notable numbers such together Adam Smith, Friedrich List, Alexander Hamilton, and John Maynard Keynes, is an expansion of the intellectual debate that arisen between the Confucians and also the Legalists throughout the Warring States period to the establishment of the Han Dynasty. This demonstrates that a vital understanding and reading of history, including people that might seem unfamiliar, is crucial in order to recognize the current world.


Confucius, “Confucian Analects: publication XII”, in The art of war & Other classics of eastern Philosophy, ed. Ken Mondschein. Mountain Diego: Canterbury Classics, 2016.

Cuo, Chao. “Memorial ~ above the encouragement of Agriculture”, in in Sources the Chinese Tradition, Vol. 1, ed. Wilhelm Theodore De Bary, Irene Bloom, and Joseph Adler. Brand-new York: Colombia university Press, 1999.

Duyvendak, J.J.L.The book of mr Shang. London, 1928.

Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. “Confucian Teachings.” In Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook, ed. Mark Coyle and Patricia Ebrey. New York: The cost-free Press, 1993.

Ebrey, Patricia and Anne Walthall, East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History, 3rd ed. Wadsworth: Cengage Leanring, 2014.

Goldin, Paul Rakita. “Li Si: Chancellor of the Universe” in The human being Tradition in Pre-modern China, ed. Kenneth J. Hammond. Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly source Inc.

Mencius, Mencius, IV. A, trans. D.C. Lau. Penguin Books, 1970.

Qian, Sima. Records the the cool Historian, “The Biographies that the Money-Makers”, in Mao Tao, “Confucian believed on the cost-free economy”, in The background of old Chinese economic Thought, ed. Cheng Lin, terrycloth Peach and Wang Fang. London and new York: Routledge, 2014.

Tao, Mao. “Confucian thought on the free economy”, in The background of ancient Chinese financial Thought, ed. Cheng Lin, terrycloth Peach and also Wang Fang. London and new York: Routledge, 2014.

Tzu, Han Fei. Han Fei Tzu: straightforward Writings, trans. Burton Watson. Brand-new York and also London: Columbia university Press, 1964.

Xunzi, Xunzi: A Translation and also Study the the complete Works, trans. Man Knoblock, vol. II, publications 7-16. Stanford: Stanford university Press, 1994.

Yi, Jia. “The Faults of Qin”, in Sources of Chinese Tradition, Vol. 1, ed. Wilhelm Theodore De Bary, Irene Bloom, and Joseph Adler (New York: Colombia university Press, 1999), 230.


<1> Confucius, “Confucian Analects: book XII”, in The art of battle & Other classics of east Philosophy, ed. Ken Mondschein (San Diego: Canterbury Classics, 2016), 296.

<2> Mao Tao, “Confucian thought on the free economy”, in The background of ancient Chinese economic Thought, ed. Cheng Lin, terrycloth Peach and Wang Fang (London and brand-new York: Routledge, 2014), 154.

<3> Mencius, Mencius, IV. A, trans. D.C. Lau (Penguin Books, 1970), 120.

<4> Tao, “Confucian believed on the cost-free economy”, 157.

<5> Mencius, Mencius, II. B, 92.  

<6> Ibid, I. B, 65.

<7> Patricia Buckley Ebrey, “Confucian Teachings.” In Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook, ed. Mark Coyle and Patricia Ebrey (New York: The totally free Press, 1993), 25.

<8> Ibid, 25-26.

<9> J.J.L Duyvendak, The book of mr Shang (London, 1928), 154.

<10> Ibid.

<11> Han Fei Tzu, Han Fei Tzu: an easy Writings, trans. Burton Watson (New York and London: Columbia university Press, 1964), 116.

<12> Xunzi, Xunzi: A Translation and also Study of the finish Works, trans. John Knoblock, vol. II, publications 7-16 (Stanford: Stanford university Press, 1994), 121.

<13> Ibid.

<14> Ibid, 123.

<15> Paul Rakita Goldin, “Li Si: Chancellor the the Universe” in The person Tradition in Pre-modern China, ed. Kenneth J. Hammond (Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly source Inc.), 16.

<16> Ibid, 20.

<17> Patricia Ebrey and Anne Walthall, East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and also Political History, 3rd ed. (Wadsworth: Cengage Leanring, 2014), 42.

<18> Jia Yi, “The Faults of Qin”, in Sources of Chinese Tradition, Vol. 1, ed. Wilhelm Theodore De Bary, Irene Bloom, and Joseph Adler (New York: Colombia college Press, 1999), 230.

<19> Ibid.

<20> Chao Cuo, “Memorial top top the encourage of Agriculture”, in in Sources of Chinese Tradition, Vol. 1, ed. William Theodore De Bary, Irene Bloom, and Joseph Adler (New York: Colombia university Press, 1999), 355.

<21> Ibid.

<22> Tao, “Confucian believed on the totally free economy”, 159.

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<23> Sima Qian, Records of the grand Historian, “The Biographies that the Money-Makers”, in Mao Tao, “Confucian assumed on the complimentary economy”, in The background of ancient Chinese economic Thought, ed. Cheng Lin, terrycloth Peach and also Wang Fang (London and new York: Routledge, 2014), 160.

Written by: Conner PetaWritten at: college of LethbridgeWritten for: Dr. Gideon FujiwaraDate written: November 2017