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1121 words - 5 pages

In ancient China, many different rulers tried to unify and rule the country using a variety of methods – Confucianism, Daoism, and Legalism to name a few. Each philosophy had its own set of rules of how people should act both in public and privately. The overall goal of each philosophy was to set a standard of acceptable living that would ensure harmony and success for the society. However, each was different and thus had different results.
Legalism is a philosophy emphasizing strict obedience to the legal system. It was one of the main philosophic currents during the Warring States period and when it was most prominent. The school's most famous proponent and contributor, Han Fei believed that a ruler should use the following three tools to govern his subjects: law, method, and legitimacy. The law code must be clearly written and made public. All people under the ruler were equal before the law. Laws should reward those who obey them and punish accordingly those who dare to break them. Thus it is guaranteed that actions taken are systematically predictable. In addition, the system of law, not the ruler, ran the state, a statement of rule of law. If the law is successfully enforced, even a weak ruler will be strong. Especially important is that no one can fathom the ruler's motivations, and thus no one can know which behavior might help them get ahead, other than following the laws. Legitimacy is the position of the ruler, not the ruler himself or herself, that holds the power. Therefore, analysis of the trends, the context, and the facts are essential for a real ruler. Legalists emphasized that being too kind would spoil the populace and threaten the state's internal order. Officials were required to correctly calculate the exact amount of labor expected of all artisans; if the artisan was ordered to perform either too much work or too little work, the official would be held accountable. Thus, in Legalist theory, ministers and other officials were prevented from performing some other official's duties and were punished if they attempted to blind the ruler with words or failed to warn the ruler of danger. One consequence of this situation was that the ministers could always be held accountable for royal misadventures while the ruler’s name was never to be tarnished. By emphasizing performance, however, over sophistry, the Legalists hoped to eliminate bureaucratic corruption and intrigues amongst the officialdom through fear of being severely punished, exiled or executed. The entire system was set up to make model people behave and act how the dynasty wanted. In theory, the Legalists believed that if the punishments were heavy and the law equally applied, neither the powerful nor the weak would be able to escape consequences. However, Legalism allowed the common people to gain in rank if they performed well. For example, soldiers would gain in rank according to the number of heads the soldiers collected. A soldier may even gain noble rank.
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