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Influential pws: Han Fei

Written by Jurjen

We all know famous people who stutter or who have stuttered, but not many people know Chinese philosopher and statesman Han Fei (韓非), who stuttered as well. He lived around 280 – 233 BC.

Han Fei played an important role in popularizing and representing Chinese Legalism, by writing his book The Master Han Fei (Han Feizi). This book is considered by some as the best Legalist text in history.

Han Fei (韓非). Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Legalists thought that human beings are selfish and short-sighted. So, they believed that governments need to have strong state control and control over their people by strict laws. Citizens would for example be punished or rewarded for their actions and behaviour. Only productive occupations should be stimulated, such as farming and weaving, instead of reading and scholarship. Also, military activity was important to survive and expand the political sector. This sounds as extreme in our contemporary ears, but it fitted as a good solution during the period of the chaotic war times of The Warring States in China (481 – 221 BC).

Han Fei was born into a ruling family of the State of Han. He was born with a stutter. This made it hard for him to present his ideas in public by speech. However, it is said that due to his stutter, he put a lot of energy into his writing skills. With his brilliant writing style, he gained a lot of influence on political philosophy in ancient China during and after his death.

The State of Han was one of the ancient Chinese states during the Warring States period of China. This period consisted of wars between and inside the seven major kingdoms. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Han Fei’s life ended tragically. He was asked by the Han King to go to the Qin to resolve a conflict between the Han and Qin dynasties. His fellow student and ex-friend, Li Si, saw him as a rival and with his power as prime minister of the State of Qin, he made Han Fei to be imprisoned. Li Si convinced the Qin king to sentence Han Fei to death because he was too influential and too loyal to the Han. Han Fei had to choose between brutal execution or self-poisoning. He chose the last. The Qin king felt regret because Han Fei could have been a great counselor for the Qin dynasty.

Han Fei’s political theory had a big influence on all the future dynasties and competed heavenly with for example Confucianism. The Han empire that came into power after the Qin empire was following Confucianism, but had adopted ‘secretly’ principles from Legalism.

He is not remembered as a stutterer but as a great writer and influential statesman and philosopher who happens to have a stutter as well …

Source: Roel Sterckx. “Chinese Thought From Confucius to Cook Ding”. Pelican Books. 2019

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