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Chapter XXIX. The Principal Features of Legalism1

The ancients who completed the principal features of legalism, looked upon heaven and earth, surveyed rivers and oceans, and followed mountains and ravines; wherefore they ruled as the sun and the moon shine, worked as the four seasons rotate, and benefited the world in the way clouds spread and winds move.

They never burdened their mind with avarice 2 nor did they ever burden themselves with selfishness, but they entrusted law and tact with the settlement of order and the suppression of chaos, depended upon reward and punishment for praising the right and blaming the wrong, assigned all measures of lightness and heaviness to yard and weight. They never acted contrary to the course of heaven, never hurt the feeling and reason of mankind, never blew off any hair to find small scars, never washed off any dirt to investigate anything hard to know, never drew the inked string off the line and never pushed the inked string inside the line, and was neither severe beyond the boundary of law nor lenient within the boundary of law; but observed acknowledged principles and followed self-existent standards. Thus, disaster and fortune were based on rational principles and legal regulations, but not on love and hate; the responsibility for prosperity and humility rested with nobody but oneself.

Therefore, in the age at the height of safety law is like the morning dew, pure and simple but not yet dispersed. There is no resentment in the mind nor is there any quarrelsome word from the mouth. Carriages and horses, accordingly, are not worn out on the road; flags and banners are never confused on the big swamps; the myriad people do not lose lives among bandits and weapons; courageous warriors do not see their longevities determined by flags and streamers 3 ; excellent men are not reputed in pictures and books nor are their merits recorded on plates and vases 4 ; and documents of annals are left empty. 5 Hence the saying: "No benefit is more permanent than simplicity, no fortune is more perpetual than security." 6

Supposing Carpenter Stone kept the longevity of one thousand years, had his scythes, watched his compasses and squares, and stretched his inked string, for the purpose of rectifying Mountain T`ai 7 and supposing Pên and Yü girdled the Kan-chiang 8 Sword to unify the myriad people, then though skill is exerted to the utmost extent and though longevity is prolonged to the utmost limit, Mountain T`ai would not be rectified and the people would not be unified. Hence the saying: "The ancient shepherds of All-underHeaven never ordered Carpenter Stone to exert his skill and thereby break the shape of Mountain T`ai nor did they instruct Pên and Yü to exercise all their authorities and thereby harm the inborn nature of the myriad people."

If in accordance with Tao, the law is successfully enforced, the superior man will rejoice and the great culprit will give way. Placid, serene, and leisurely, the enlightened ruler should in accordance with the decree of heaven maintain the principal features of legalism. Therefore, he makes the people commit no crime of going astray from law and the fish suffer no disaster by losing water. Consequently, nothing in All-under-Heaven will be unattainable.

If the superior is not as great as heaven, he never will be able to protect all inferiors; if his mind is not as firm as earth, he never will be able to support all objects. Mountain T`ai, seeing no difference between desirable and undesirable clouds, can maintain its height; rivers and oceans, making no discrimination against small tributaries, can accomplish their abundance. Likewise, great men, patterning after the features of heaven and earth, find the myriad things well provided, and, applying their mind to the observation of mountains and oceans, find the country rich. The superior shows no harm from anger to anybody, the inferior throws no calamity of hidden resentment at anybody. Thus, high and low both live on friendly terms and take Tao as the standard of value. Consequently, permanent advantages are piled up and great merits accomplished. So is a name made in a lifetime. So is the benefaction left to posterity. Such is the height of order.


1. 大體. This chapter seems to have been interposed by followers of Han Fei Tzŭ, who attempted to keep his ideas more Taoistic than the master himself. The whole work sounds like the description of a Taoistic Utopia.

2. With Wang Hsien-shen the Imperial Library has 欲 in place of 智.

3. It means that they never have to die on the battlefield.

4. In ancient China merits of great men were often inscribed on such vessels.

5. Such are supposed to be some scenes of the Taoistic Utopia.

6. The ideal implied in this saying is typically Taoistic.

7. 太山 太 seems to be a mistake for 泰.

8. 干將 (vide supra, p. 41, n. 2).

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