The Han Feizi (Chinese: 韓非子) is an ancient Chinese text attributed to foundational political philosopher, "Master" Han Fei. It comprises a selection of essays in the "Legalist" tradition on theories of state power, synthesizing the methodologies of his predecessors. Its 55 chapters, most of which date to the Warring States period mid-3rd century BC, are the only such text to survive intact. Easily one of the most important philosophical classics in ancient China, it touches on administration, diplomacy, war and economics, and is also valuable for its abundance of anecdotes about pre-Qin China.
Han Fei's writings were very influential on the future first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. After the early demise of the Qin dynasty, Han Fei's philosophy was officially vilified by the following Han Dynasty. Despite its outcast status throughout the history of imperial China, his political theory continued to heavily influence every dynasty thereafter, and the Confucian ideal of a rule without laws was never again realized. Shu Han's chancellor Zhuge Liang demanded emperor Liu Shan read the Han Feizi for learning the way of ruling.
Though differing considerably in style, the coherency of the essays lend themselves to the possibility that they were written by Han Fei himself, and are generally considered more philosophically engaging than the Book of Lord Shang.
Han's worldview describes an interest-driven human nature together with the political methodologies to work with it in the interest of the state and Sovereign, namely, engaging in wu-wei (passive observation), systematically using Fa (law, measurement, statistic) to maintain leadership and manage human resources. Rather than rely too much on worthies, who might not be trustworthy, Han binds their programs (to which he makes no judgement, apart from observances of the facts) to systematic reward and penalty (the "Two Handles"), fishing the subjects of the state by feeding them with interests. That being done, the ruler minimizes his own input. Like Shang Yang and other Fa philosophers, he admonishes the ruler not to abandon Fa for any other means, considering it a more practical means for the administration of both a large territory and personnel near at hand.
Han's philosophy proceeds from the regicide of his era. Goldin writes: "Most of what appears in the Han Feizi deals with the ruler’s relations with his ministers, were regarded as the party most likely, in practice, to cause him harm." Han Fei quotes the Springs and Autumns of Tao Zuo: “'Less than half of all rulers die of illness.' If the ruler of men is unaware of this, disorders will be manifold and unrestrained. Thus it is said: If those who benefit from a lord’s death are many, the ruler will be imperiled."
Han Fei was notoriously focused on what he termed Xing-Ming, which Sima Qian and Liu Xiang define as "holding actual outcome accountable to Ming.(speech)" In line with both the Confucian and Mohist rectification of names, it is relatable to the Confucian tradition in which a promise or undertaking, especially in relation to a government aim, entails punishment or reward, though the tight, centralized control emphasized by both his and his predecessor Shen Buhai's philosophy conflicts with the Confucian idea of the autonomous minister.
Possibly referring to the drafting and imposition of laws and standardized legal terms, Xing-Ming may originally have meant "punishments and names", but with the emphasis on the latter. It functions through binding declarations (Ming), like a legal contract. Verbally committing oneself, a candidate is allotted a job, indebting him to the ruler. "Naming" people to (objectively determined) positions, it rewards or punished according to the proposed job description and whether the results fit the task entrusted by their word, which a real minister fulfils.