Brill’s Encyclopedia of China

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(1,036 words)

Legalism is a school of political thought directed against Confucianism and originating in the period of the Warring States. It advocates a system of government based solely on law (fa). This system can be understood as the codification of a catalog of rewards and punishments (i.e. the government's two main methods of exerting power), which are mandated by the ruler so as to discipline all social activities within the state and to promote the development of wealth and military strength.

Precursors to this school emerged during the late Spring and Autumn period, when a numbe…

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Vandermeersch, Léon, “Legalism”, in: Brill’s Encyclopedia of China, Managing Editor English Edition: Daniel Leese. Consulted online on 30 November 2022 <>
First published online: 2008
First print edition: ISBN: 9789004168633, 20121018

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