- Paperback: 364 pages
- Publisher: The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. (June 15, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1616191872
- ISBN-13: 978-1616191870
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,374,855 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Book of Lord Shang. a Classic of the Chinese School of Law.
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When you understand the backdrop of this philosophy, it makes a little more sense. The Warring States Era gave birth to some of the greatest minds in Chinese history, and Lord Shang is one of those great minds. This book nearly reads as a manual for Mao. You can trace direct lines from the book to Maoist actions and philosophy. You'll walk away from each chapter with a sense of unease and dread, knowing that this is not some obscure text no one read, but a guiding force behind a dominant philosophy in China. Keep the peasants stupid, don't trade in currency, severely punish those who fall out of line, and be stingy with rewards. A dumb populace will fight hard, want little and produce much food.
This book is for anyone who wants to understand a sliver of Chinese history and philosophy
Unfortunately, this translation seems to have been given a bad review, which I feel is most unwarranted. If you intend to purchase this book, then I'm assuming you already know what to expect from within (given the immense price tag and obscurity), so if you are worried about the quality of the translation and notes then don't worry (like I said, it is well done).
As for the comments about how the actual content of the original text is rubbish and Shang Yang must've been an excellent salesperson to get people to listen to him, history disagrees. Shang Yang is famous for strengthening the Qin state, and although we can't be sure he wrote any of this text, it is clear that the reputation Qin received was earned by the type of government policies described herein. Thanks in part to the Lord of Shang's reforms, Qin managed to eventually unify China and end the Warring States Period, so it should be quite obvious that given his solid results, Gongsun Yang had no need for "sales tactics" to get in the Emperor's good books. He provided progress, broke the power of local lords, sought out and destroyed sources of inefficiency, and did his best to streamline the state into one giant, agriculturally based war machine.
Now, I've given the book 5 stars, because it is an excellent translation with incredibly helpful and insightful notes. The content of the book is brutal and sometimes overly simplistic, in addition to being well behind the times (it is thousands of years old). However, it most certainly is not worth 1 star, and if you are studying political science or ancient law, it is extremely interesting. I'll close up by addressing a few (but not all, you'll have to read the book yourself for that, heh) excerpts from the previous review, but otherwise that about sums it up.
1. "A country grows prosperious by farming and by war"
The Lord of Shang emphasises essential production over all else. Essential production is mainly the things necessary for a kingdom to wage war and continue functioning within the violent world it exists in. Farming and War should be almost the only focus of a government, as food feeds your humans, and war increases your resources and expends the energy of the people when the farming season is over (people are also resources in the eyes of the Lord of Shang, and he teaches that the government loves its people because they are helpful, not for the sake of loving life).
Gongsun Yang's goal for the government is to conquer all of the warring kingdoms, and enable a government to have maximum control over all its resources. That you should focus on farming and military makes perfect sense when seen from this perspective. What is the point of literature and sophistry, Shang Yang asks? Will your journalists line up in columns and fight? Literature in Gongsun Yang's time was not mass media that reached into every home, and a writer did not win in a fight against a youthful and desperate soldier who will get a promotion if he returns home with the writer's head in a basket.
2. "There are 6 parasitic functions: care for old age, living on others, beauty, love, ambition and virtuous conduct. If these 6 parasites find an attachement, the state will be dismembered."
The 6 parasites, or lice as the text literally refers to them as, are identified as burdens on the state. Gongsun Yang states that they hinder the ability of the country to carry out its function as a giant war machine, and should be eliminated. If memory serves (I don't have the book with me right now), these are the main reasons why he dislikes the first two points (sorry, I don't have the time nor the inclination to explain all 6 points in this tiny review, but the book does offer a great deal of detail):
1. Care for the Old: Once a person is old, how can they perform physical hardships as well as the young? They may become an expense on food supplies rather than a profitable source of labour and soldiering, which means that it is not in the interests of a state to keep them.
2. Living on others: If you live off of others work, then what good are you to the state? Remember, Gongsun Yang's focus is the strength of the state, not the enjoyment and security of the family or private individual. There is no point in having a human that only consumes.
Honestly, the book explains everything rather well, and the translator chimes in when necessary to add some historical background. The Lord of Shang considers people to be tools of the state, to be used and discarded as the state requires, so to moan about how the text is inhumane is a little ridiculous to say the least. If you are expecting a text on the merits of liberal democracy, then don't buy it, but otherwise it is an excellent translation of an excellent historical text.
Legalism is particulalry important because Chairman Mao was also influenced by it and it casts its shadow into modern China. People should check my Listamania reading list on this subject.
It is a text from the 'Legalism' period in China, when the sovereigns ruled by law.
The only role of the law here is to attain supremacy.
For Shang Yang 'the country depends on agriculture and war for peace.'
George Orwell's newspeak 'war is peace' was already known in China some 2 millenia before his untimely death.
In order to have a strong country the sovereign needs labourers and soldiers, not merchants and scholars. But not normal labourers or soldiers, but stupid ones: 'If people are simple, they fear the law.'
The sovereign should govern by punishment, and wage war by rewards. The laws should be implemented with absolute impartiality and the rewards cannot be inherited.
The sovereign should be a wicked man for 'A country where the wicked govern the virtuous, will become strong.'
Shang Yang's six parasitic virtues are 'care for old age, living on others, beauty, love, ambition and virtuous conduct'.
Other evils are 'odes, history, rites, music, filial piety, brotherly duty, moral culture, integrity, sophistry, sincerity, faith, chastity, benevolence, righteousness, criticism of the army and being ashamed of fighting.'
The result should be a state ruled by an autocratic despot over a nation of stupids.
This brutal immoral text is totally out-of-date.
One cannot attain supremacy anymore with a nation of stupids or produce an atomic bomb by law.
Education is perhaps the greatest wealth creator in our modern world.
This text is only for historians.