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Shang Yang’s Reform in the Period of Warring States: Legalists’ Reform Was Based on People’s Trust


By Wang Yingying, Research Team on “Methodology of Reform”,Research Department of Macro-Economy of DRC

Research Report [Special Issue No.47 (Total 1450), 2015] 2015-12-25

Abstract: In the period of Warring States (475-221 B.C.) in China, with an aim of increasingthe state and military power, various states carried out reforms with different forms and goals. In all these reforms lasting over one hundred years, the most thorough, effective, and influential one was the reform of Qin State introduced by Shang Yang (395-338 B.C.). From the perspective of the methodology-based reform, the key factors for the success of Shang Yang’s reform compared with reforms of other six states were attributed to several aspects. Before the reform was launched , efforts were made to build up prestige and obtain trust through forming solid alliance between the emperor and ministers, pool the will and strength of government officials on reform through debates in the presence of the emperor, and stick to the pledged promise made by the government to attain trust of the grassroots-level people. During the initial period of reform, endeavors were made to formulate relevant laws and systems. The implementation of reform measures were carried out in two phases. The first phase of reform was focused on reconstructing social pattern while the second phase was centered on reforming social system. We could gain some enlightenments from Shang Yang’s methodology-based reform. One, reform promoters should seize the opportunity to launch reform; two, they should keep aloof from interests; and three, they should lay emphasis on the training and selecting of talents.

Key words: Shang Yang’s reform, methodology of reform, make laws and build systems