An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Li Kui 李悝

Dec 19, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Li Kui 李悝 was a high minister in the state of Wei 魏 during the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE). His name is also written 李克, 里克 (not to be confused with the nobleman in Jin, Li Ke 里克), or even erroneously Ji Chong 季充.He served the Marquesses Wen 魏文侯 (r. 424-387) and Wu 魏武侯 (r. 386-371) as Counsellor-in-chief and prefect of Shangdi 上地 near the border to Qin 秦.

What is historically proved is the fact that Li Kui contributed to the growing strength and importance of the state of Wei and made it an important competitor to the other states.

In his political standpoint, Li Kui was a representant of the school of legalists (fajia 法家). Li Kui stressed the importance of the appropriate use of reward and punishment. This would attract worthy officials and benefit the people. The people, on its side, had to work the fields in a way that the tax revenue would profit the state and the peasantry themselves. He reformed the tax system and geared the height of the taxes to the actual income of the peasants. His grain price equalizing law (pingdifa 平糴法) institutionalized three tax brackets.

Li Kui had compiled a penal law codex, the Fajing 法經. The six chapters covered the themes robbery (dao 盜), murder (zei 賊), jail (qiu 囚), arrestation (bu 捕), miscellaneous themes (za 雜), and general remarks (ju 具). Among the miscellaneous laws there were restrictions of adultery or polygamy (yinjin 淫禁), forgery of official seals (jiaojin 狡禁), trespassing city boundaries (chengjin 城禁), gambling (xijin 嬉禁), crowding (tujin 徒禁), and bribery (jinjin 金禁). The Fajing served as a model for the penal law code of the state of Qin, as created by Shang Yang 商鞅.

The Fajing is not preserved, but there is a relatively detailed description of it in Huan Tan's 桓譚 Xinlun 新論 from the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE). Quotations are preserved in the book Qiguokao 七國考 by the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) scholar Dong Shuo/Yue 董說. The collection of fragments of the Fajing as presented in Ma Guohan's 馬國翰 Yuhan shanfang jiyi shu 玉函山房輯佚書 from the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) contains parts of religious books that have nothing to do with Li Kui's Fajing.

The imperial bibliography in the official dynastic history Hanshu 漢書 lists three books compiled by Li Kui: A book Lizi 李子 "Master Li", 32 chapters, in the legalist section; a book Li Ke 李克, 7 chapters, in the Confucian section; and a book Lizi 李子, 10 chapters, in the section of military strategists. Nothing is known about the content of these writings.

Wu Rongceng 吳榮曾 (1992). "Li Kui 李悝", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 557.