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The Legalist School and its Influence upon Traditional Chinese Law

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The Legalists were a group of statesmen and writers in China (mainly fourth and third centuries BC) who advocated in their practice and writings the use of law as the principal instrument of government. They understood law in the Austinian sense of orders, stipulating punishments or rewards, issued by the ruler to his subjects. Emphasis was placed upon the fact that punishments should be severe and deterrent, that official should be accountable under the law for the correct performance of their duties, that laws should be clear and certain, and that there should be a strict separation between law and morality, in the sense that law should take no account of moral desiderata but should itself furnish the sole source of what was right conduct. Although the great imperial codes from the T'ang to the Ch'ing (eighth to twentieth centuries) enshrined the basic values of Confucian orthodoxy, they were also strongly influenced, especially in their technical construction and the specification of officials' duties, by Legalist doctrines.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2006

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  • Archiv für Rechts- und Sozialphilosophie, edited by authorisation of the International Association for Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy (IVR), is an international, peer-reviewed journal, first published in 1907. It features original articles on philosophical research on legal and social questions, covering all aspects of social and legal life.
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