From Historical Evolution to the End of History: Past, Present and Future from Shang Yang to the First Emperor

Yuri Pines*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

6 Scopus citations


This article explores historical views in the Book of Lord Shang 商君書 and Han Feizi 韓非子. I argue that in distinction from the predominant concept of “changing with the times,” Shang Yang (商鞅, d. 338 B.C.E.), Han Fei (韓非 d. 233 B.C.E.), and other contributors to “their” books proposed a complex view of sociopolitical development, which resembles to a certain extent evolutionary ideas of modern Western thinkers: namely, that demographic pressure and resultant socioeconomic changes may require fundamental modification of political and social structures and even of moral values. This dynamic view allowed both thinkers to advocate radical departure from the past models; and it could have led them to further speculations about major sociopolitical modifications in the future, after the realization of their declared goal—the establishment of the unified empire. However, both pragmatic thinkers largely eschewed future-oriented recommendations, leaving the founder of the Qin 秦 Empire, the First Emperor (r. 221-210 B.C.E.), in an odd situation. Having appropriated the discourse of radical break from the past, the First Emperor remained short on practical advice as to which type of novel institutions and practices should be adopted in the aftermath of his success. Eventually, despite its declared novelty, the Qin regime remained very much committed to the continuation of the Warring States model. After the collapse of Qin, the discourse of radical change was discredited and largely abandoned until its rediscovery by modernizing Chinese intellectuals in the last years of the imperial regime.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationDao Companions to Chinese Philosophy
PublisherSpringer Science and Business Media B.V.
Number of pages21
StatePublished - 2013

Publication series

NameDao Companions to Chinese Philosophy
ISSN (Print)2211-0275
ISSN (Electronic)2542-8780

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2013, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.


  • Centralize Bureaucracy
  • Political Order
  • Sage King
  • Stateless Society
  • Warring States Period


Dive into the research topics of 'From Historical Evolution to the End of History: Past, Present and Future from Shang Yang to the First Emperor'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this