Shang Yang

Shang Yang

Shang Yang (zh-tspw|t=商鞅|s=商鞅|p=Shāng Yāng|w=Shang Yang, d. 338 BC) was an important statesman of Qin in the Warring States Period of ancient China. With the support of Duke Xiao of Qin, Shang enacted numerous reforms (in accordance with his legalist philosophy recorded in "The Book of Lord Shang") in the state of Qin that changed Qin from a peripheral, backwards state into a militarily powerful and strongly centralized state, changing the administration by emphasizing meritocracy and devolving power from the nobility.


Before Shang's arrival in 361 BC, Qin was a backwards state. The vast majority of his reforms were taken from policies instituted elsewhere, such as from Wu Qi of Chu; however, Shang's reforms were more thorough and extreme than those of other states. Under Shang's tenure, Qin quickly caught up with and surpassed the reforms of other states.

After Duke Xiao of Qin, posthumously Qin Xiaogong, ascended to the Qin throne, Shang left his lowly position in Wei (to whose ruling family he had been born, but had to obtain a high position in [pg 79 of "Classical China"] ) to become the chief adviser in Qin, at Duke Xiao's behest. There his changes to the state's legal system (which built upon Li Kui's "Book of Law" or "Fajing", 法經) propelled the Qin to prosperity. His policies built the foundation that enabled Qin to conquer all of China, uniting the country for the first time and ushering in the Qin dynasty.

He is credited by Han Feizi with the creation of two theories;
#"Ding Fa" (定法; fixing the standards)
#"Yi Min" (一民; treating the people as one)

Legalist approach

Shang believed in the rule of law and considered loyalty to the state to be above that of the family.

Shang introduced two sets of changes to the Qin state. The first, in 356 BC, were as follows:
#Li Kui's "Book of Law" was implemented, with the important addition of a rule providing punishment equal to that of the perpetrator for those aware of a crime but failing to inform the government; codified reforms into enforceable laws.
#Stripped the nobility of land right and assigned land to soldiers based upon military success. The army was also separated into twenty military ranks, based upon battlefield success.
#As manpower was short in Qin, Shang encouraged the cultivation of unsettled lands and wastelands, and favoured agriculture over commerce
#Shang burnt Confucian books in an effort to curb the philosophy's influence.

Shang introduced his second set of changes in 350 BC, which included a new, standardised system of land allocation and reforms to taxation.

Domestic policies

Shang introduced land reforms, privatized land, rewarded farmers who exceeded harvest quotas, enslaved farmers who failed to meet quotas, and used enslaved citizens as rewards for those who met government policies.

As manpower was short in Qin relative to the other states at the time, Shang enacted policies to increase its manpower. As Qin peasants were recruited into the military, he encouraged active immigration of peasants from other states into Qin as a replacement workforce; this policy simultaneously increased the manpower of Qin and weakened the manpower of Qin's rivals. Shang made laws forcing citizens to marry at a young age and passed tax laws to encourage raising multiple children. He also enacted policies to free convicts who worked in opening wastelands for agriculture.

Shang abolished primogeniture and created a double tax on households that had more than one son living in the household, to break up large clans into nuclear families.

Shang moved the capital to reduce the influence of nobles on the administration.

Diplomatic intrigue

During Shang's tenure, the state of Wei was a highly powerful neighboring state. During a battle during the 340 BC invasion of Wei, Shang feigned interest in a peace treaty, met with the commander of the Wei army and captured him. Without their leader, the Wei army easily lost to the army of Qin and lost territory.

hang Yang's death

Deeply despised by the Qin nobility, Shang could not survive Qin Xiaogong's death. The next ruler, King Huiwen, ordered the execution of Shang and his family, on grounds of rebellion; Shang had previously humiliated the new Duke "by causing him to be punished for an offense as though he were an ordinary citizen." [pg 80 of "Classical China", ed. William H. McNeill and Jean W. Sedlar, Oxford University Press, 1970. LCCN: 68-8409] Shang went into hiding and tried to stay at a hotel. Ironically, the hotel owner refused because it was against Shang's laws to admit a guest without proper identification. Shang is said to have been executed by being fastened to four chariots and pulled apart. Despite his death, King Huiwen kept the reforms enacted by Shang.

Confucian scholars were highly opposed to Shang's legalist approach.

ee also

*The Book of Lord Shang
*Chinese philosophy
*Han Feizi
*Li Kui
*Qin Dynasty
*Warring States Period


Further reading

*Li Yu-ning, "ShangYang's Reforms" (M.E. Sharpe Inc., 1977).


* Zhang, Guohua, [ "Shang Yang"] . "Encyclopedia of China" (Law Edition), 1st ed.
* Xie, Qingkui, [ "Shang Yang"] . "Encyclopedia of China" (Political Science Edition), 1st ed.
*国史概要 (第二版) ISBN 7-309-02481-8
*戰國策 ("Record of the Warring States"), 秦第一

External links

* Hong Kong University Philosophy Department, " [ Lord Shang] "
* [ "The Book of Lord Shang"] Chinese-English parallel text, Chinese Text Project
*戰國策 [ 秦第一]
*gutenberg author|id=Shang_Yang|name=Shang Yang (in Chinese)
* [ Lord Shang (died 338 BC)]

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Shang Yang — ▪ Chinese statesman original name (Pinyin)  Gongsun Yang  or  (Wade Giles romanization)  Kung sun Yang  born c. 390, Wei state, China died 338 BCE, China       Chinese statesman and thinker whose successful reorganization of the state of Qin… …   Universalium

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