Han Feizi and the imagination of ruptures in the Late Warring States Period

Vincent LEUNG (Presenter)

Research output: Other Conference ContributionsPresentation


When Han Fei gazed upon the vast landscape of the past, all he saw were ruptures. For him, between the past and present, there always existed a yawning gap. To what ideological ends did he find it useful or necessary to insist upon this vision of the past as a series of radical historical discontinuities? How did it figure in his imagination of political order and relations of power? In this paper, I will explore the politics of historical change of the Late Warring States, by placing the philosophy of Han Feizi in the context of the lively debate over the nature of historical change in this period. In various ethical writings (e.g. Mengzi, Neiye) and cosmogonic narratives (e.g. Laozi, Fanwu liuxing) of the long third century BCE, we can see anxious attempts to construct ideological entities (e.g. the “Way,” the “heart-mind”) that are defined by their resistance to or transcendence over historical change. Against this fantasy of transhistorical constancy, we also hear dissenting voices such as those of Shang Yang in the Shangjunshu and parts of the Lüshi chunqiu, that argued for the urgency in recognising radical ruptures between past and present. In the Han Feizi, interestingly, we can find engagement with both sides of this contentious dialogue. He did not simply subscribe to one and reject the other, but negotiated between the two positions to arrive at a complex argument for what remains, if the world must always be changing
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 3 Sept 2020
EventAsia at the Crossroads: Solidarity through Scholarship - Online from Kobe Japan, Kobe, Japan
Duration: 31 Aug 20204 Sept 2020


ConferenceAsia at the Crossroads: Solidarity through Scholarship
Abbreviated titleAAS-in-Asia 2020
Internet address


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