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Chinese Literature
Shenzi 申子 "Master Shen [Buhai]"


The Shenzi 申子 "Master Shen" is a book attributed to the legalist philosopher Shen Buhai 申不害 who acted for a long period as prime minister of Marquis Zhao of Han 韓昭侯 (r. 358-333) during the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent-221 BCE). The oldest bibliographies put him side by side with the Daoist philosopher Laozi 老子, just like the greatest legalist philosopher, Han Fei 韓非. Shen Buhai laid stress upon the use of punishment in order to strengthen the state and the position of the ruler. His book consisted of 6 chapters in two juan "scrolls". The largest part of the book is lost.
It is known that there existed a chapter called Junchen 君臣篇 "Lord and minister", and probably one called Sanfu 三符 "The three tallies". The chapter Dati 大體 "Great embodiment" is preserved in the collection Qunshu zhiyao 群書治要. Several fragments are preserved in various books quoting from the Shenzi. The commonly used version is the compilation by the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Ma Guohan 馬國翰 in his collectaneum Yuhan shanfang jiyi shu 玉函山房輯佚書.
Although the most important contribution of Shen Buhai to the state philosophy of legalism is the penal law (fa 法), his vicinity to Daoist thinking is clearly seen in his interpretation of the ruler's role as that of a kind of non-moving pivot in the state system. Without revealing his proper thought he is, by his own "art of governing" (shu 術) able to make use of his ministers. The able ministers will be remunerated, the incapable will be punished. Yet the very personal or "subjective" art of governing is not sufficient to govern a state efficiently: What Shen Buhai's state still lacked are "objective" and reliable laws.

Source: Li Shen 李申 (1992). "Shenzi 申子", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史, vol. 2, p. 913. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.

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July 18, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail