First, kill all the Legalists

Sam at Useless Tree draws our attention to a really interesting website called 新法家(in English the New Legalist) I’m not quite sure who these people are, but the website is out of Beijing and quite impressive. Sam does not much care for them, seeing them as “nationalists who are appropriating ancient Legalist texts, together with some Taoist volumes, to fashion a neo-traditionalist legitimation for a contemporary Chinese assertion of power globally” That sounds about right to me.

Sam is much bothered by their attempts to tie together Legalism and Daoism, but to me it just sounds like Huang-Lao stuff, as there were lots of links between Legalism and Daoism right from the start. I am also not that surprised to find people looking back to the Legalists themselves, as this was a big item in the early 20th century as people began going through the Chinese tradition looking for the genealogy of a modern nation in the Chinese past. The New Legalists may seem weird, but they have a long way to go before they can match up with Kang Youwei.

Of course these people are looking into the past to find something different than the Chinese thinkers of a century ago. They are finding environmentalism and anti-globalization ideas, along with lots of occasions for nationalist chest-thumping. As Sam points out it is pretty bizarre to see Han Fei as a Green. Still they do seem to be drawing on a pretty wide range of classical thought. According to their mission statement

The Chinese people have built up a unique and comprehensive thought system covering medicine, economics and politics. This system aims at a dynamic balance between different parts of the human body, between different groupings of people within a society, and between human society and nature. All its subsystems follow the principle of “guiding changes towards balance” (from The Yellow Emperor’s Four Cannon ) economically, arranging production and consumption in accord with the change of seasons and with nature’s productive capabilities at the time; and politically, allocating limited resources among people according to their respective contributions to the society1

This actually does sound bit like a lot of the Warring States-Han stuff you would find in Mark Edward Lewis’s work. For me the most interesting part is the twisted Marx quote at the end. A lot of the site has an anti-capitalist feel, or at least a feel that China is best off if it does not totally adapt American culture. Part it seems to be vaguely Maoist egalitarianism and concern for the workers, “end capital’s hegemony in the name of liberty” and part of it an even more vague utopianism that owes something to Mao and also a lot various bits of traditional Chinese thought.

  1. 中国人还在这一伟大哲学的基础上建立起了独特的医学、政治、经济体系——她追求人体内部、社会与自然、社会内部各阶层之间 的动态平衡,她的医学、政治、经济都按“应化之道、平衡而止”(《黄帝四经·道法》)的原则构建——经济上,她按照自然时序与产出能力进行生产和消费;政 治上,她按一个人对社会贡献的大小对有限的资源进行配置  

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