Legalism and Confucianism

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In period one (10,000 BCE – 600 CE), the belief systems of Confucianism and Legalism spread throughout the Middle East/Asia. As these systems grew and developed, they began to affect the way political structures were run and the way the society worked and operated. These systems were essential to history during this time.

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Legalism had the idea that harsh government was the way society should be run as Legalists believed that humans are more inclined to do bad instead of good. Political leaders like Shi Huangdi, leader of the Qin dynasty (China), adapted to this system and used it. Legalism was likely used in China because Shi Huangdi was a paranoid ruler and he believed that Harsh laws would keep his citizens in line. Legalism focused on harsh laws, with harsh punishments for those who broke these laws.

This, in turn, kept society rigid as some punishments included death. As another incentive to stay true to the law and Huangdi, rewards were put in place for those who followed these harsh laws. Legalism remained the central belief system of China until the fall of Shi Huangdi and the Qin dynasty all together. A benefit of Legalism was the lack of crimes being committed because of these harsh laws. A negative issue of Legalism was that most saw it as too strict. This caused revolts to sometimes occur, but anyone opposing the rule of Shi Huangdi was killed. The effects of Legalism can be seen today. China was split into several warring states before legalism was implemented, so Shi Huangdi and Legalism centralized China. Eventually, Legalism was abandoned and other belief systems began to take over, including Confucianism.

Confucianism focused on Filial Piety, the utmost respect for parents at all times. but this concept applied to leaders, friends, older brothers, etc. China eventually adapted to this system during the Han dynasty after the fall of the Qin. Confucianism was more lenient than Legalism and didn’t have as many harsh ideals. Also, Confucianism focuses on order of society which is very important. Politically, it was essential that respect was given to leaders, and leaders gave this respect back to its people. Leaders were not to be corrupt in any way. A crucial benefit was that Confucianism was about peace and respect unlike Legalism, which prevented revolts and most violence in China. A negativity to it, was that it degraded women and saw men as more superior to them, which in turn, forced women to do more menial tasks around the house. Effects of Confucianism were clear: Everybody had a role to do, and peace and respect were to be given at all times.

Legalism and Confucianism, both primary belief systems of China at one point, played a major role in the way China was run politically and socially. Legalism, harsher than Confucianism, focused on strict laws with rewards for those who obeyed them. But, Confucianism was about respect and fair government. Even if very different, both systems were about keeping society in line, whether it be through law or respect. This played a major role on China and likely affected the way it is today.

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Legalism and Confucianism. (2019, Jul 01). Retrieved June 7, 2023 , from

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