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The Biography of Han Fei Tzŭ By Ssŭ-ma Ch`ien1

Han Fei was one of the princes of the Han State. He was fond of studies in penology, epistemology, law, and statecraft, tracing his principles to the Yellow Emperor and Lao Tzŭ. Fei, being a habitual stutterer, was unable to deliver fluent speeches, but proficient in writing books. While he was studying with Li Ssŭ under Hsün Ch`ing, Ssŭ considered himself not as successful as Fei. Fei, when seeing Han dwindling and weakening, frequently submitted memorials to the Throne and presented counsels to the King of Han. The King of Han, however, was incapable of taking them into use. Thereupon Han Fei was incensed with the ruler who in governing the state never attempted to improve laws and institutions; never attempted to make use of his august position and thereby rule his subjects; never attempted to enrich the state and strengthen the army; and, in choosing personages, instead of employing worthies, elevated frivolous and dissolute vermin and placed them in posts above men of real merit. He alleged that the literati by means of letters disturbed laws and the cavaliers by means of weapons transgressed prohibitions; and that in time of ease the ruler treated famous personages with great favour, but in case of emergency he called armed warriors to the colours. Now that those who had been fed were not taken into active service and those who had been taken into active service were not fed, Han Fei lamented for honest and upright gentlemen over their inadmissibility to wicked and crooked ministers, observed the changing factors of success and failure of the preceding ages, and, accordingly, composed such works as Solitary Indignation, Five Vermin, Inner and Outer Congeries of Sayings, Collected Persuasions, Difficulties in the Way of Persuasion, which altogether covered upwards of one hundred thousand words. Though Han Fei knew very well the difficulties of persuasion, wherefore his work on the difficulties in the way of persuasion was very comprehensive, yet he met an untimely death in Ch`in after all and was unable to rescue himself from the final calamity. . . . 2

Someone had introduced his Works in Ch`in. Reading the Works, Solitary Indignation and Five Vermin, the King of Ch`in exclaimed: "Lo! Only if I, the King, can meet the author and become friendly with him, I would not regret my death thereafter." "These are Works of Han Fei," remarked Li Ssŭ.

Therefore, Ch`in launched an attack upon Han. At first, the King of Han did not take Fei into service. When the emergency came, he sent Fei as a good-will envoy to Ch`in. The King of Ch`in liked him. Yet before he had confidence in him and took him into service, Li Ssŭ and Yao Ku did an ill office to him. Before the Throne, they slandered him, saying: "Han Fei is one of the princes of the Han State. As Your Majesty is now thinking of conquering the feudal lords, Fei will in the long run work for Han and not for Ch`in. Such is the natural inclination of human nature. Now, if Your Majesty does not take him into service, and, after keeping him long, sends him home, it is to leave a source of future trouble. The best is to censure him for an offence against the law." Considering this admonition reasonable, the King of Ch`in instructed officials to pass sentence on Han Fei. In the meantime, Li Ssŭ sent men to bring poisonous drugs to Han Fei and order him to commit suicide. Han Fei wanted to plead his own case before the Throne and vindicate his innocence but could not have an audience with the King. Later, the King of Ch`in repented and instructed men to pardon him, but Fei had already died (233 b.c.). . . .


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IATHPublished by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia