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The proposed way of estimating the public servant`s performance is not entirely reasonable (why punish a minister for outperformance?), but at least it attempts to establish fixed evaluation criteria, which in this case refer to the minister`s own “offer” (Goldin 2013: 8-10). The advantages are obvious: the system will prevent ministerial manipulation and reassert the sovereign`s control over his officials. This last point is of particular importance to legalists. Various means by which the ruler was supposed to supervise ministers are referred to in Han Feizi and other legalistic texts as “technical” (shu 術) or “rules” (shù 數) (the meaning of the two terms may overlap: Creel 1974: 125-134; Yang, 2010). Both terms are similar to fa, but have a narrower meaning and refer primarily to a variety of means by which the ruler controls his officials. Han Fei asserts that Shu is the hallmark of Shen Buhai`s ideas and explains its meaning as follows: The advocacy of legalism culminated under Mao Zedong 毛澤東 (1893-1976). Mao`s intellectual activism, by the way, began with a high school essay written in praise of Shang Yang (Schram 1992-2004, vol. 1:5-6), and his positive view of Shang Yang and the Qin Dynasty grew stronger over time. In the last years of Mao`s life, as part of the infamous “anti-Confucian” campaign, legalism was openly defended and hailed as a “progressive” intellectual current both in its perspective and in its historical role (Li Yu-ning 1977); Attempts have even been made to position him as a direct predecessor of Mao Zedong thought (see, for example, Liu Zehua 2012). Legalistic thinkers contributed significantly to the formation of the Chinese Empire, both theoretically and as political practitioners; and many of their ideas have continued to be used throughout China`s history. But their mocking views on the moralizing discourse of their rivals, their haughty attitude toward other intellectuals, and their decidedly anti-ministerial rhetoric earned them immense aversion among imperial writers. From the Second Chinese Imperial Dynasty, the Han (206/202 BC – 220 AD), the prestige of legalism declined; only a few texts associated with this current have remained intact; and even in modern times, despite sporadic outbursts of interest in legalism, this current has not received adequate scientific attention.

But after postulating the impossibility of learning from previous models, Shang Yang and Han Fei offer an alternative lesson that can be learned: that changing circumstances may require a complete realignment of the socio-political rather than fragmentary system. To demonstrate the magnitude of the change in the past, the two thinkers turn to the most distant antiquity and follow how the state was formed. For example, Shang Yang shows the social evolution from primitive promiscuity to a nascent stratified society, and then to a fully mature state with laws, regulations, officials, and the power of coercion (Shang jun shu 7:51-53; Book of the Lord Shang 7:1). In the early stages of human history, people could be constrained by moral support; but it was simply because it was the age of relative abundance: “Earlier. people cut down trees and cut down animals [for food]; People were few in number, while trees and animals were abundant. Men ploughed for food, women weaved for clothes; [the ruler] used neither punishments nor precepts, but there was order” (Shang jun shu 18:107; Book of the Lord Shang 18:1). Han Fei repeats Shang Yang: In the distant past, “people were few, while goods were abundant; therefore, men did not enter” (Han Feizi 49:443). Now that age of primordial morality is over forever. Both thinkers point to the devastating effects of population growth on human customs. “Nowadays, five children are not considered too many, and each child also has five children; The grandfather is still alive and already has twenty-five grandchildren. Therefore, people are abundant, while there are few goods and merchandise; People work hard, but supplies are scarce; that is why the people compete” (Han Feizi 49:443). In these new circumstances, moral norms are no longer relevant; Conflicts are the rule, and they can only be suppressed through coercion.