Daniel A. Bell in Zhengxu Wang (ed), The Long East Asia: The Premodern State and Its Contemporary Impacts (Palgrave Macmillan 2023) Chapter 9
Abstract: Confucianism and Legalism are the two most influential political traditions in Chinese history. They are diverse and complex traditions with different interpretations in different times (especially in the case of Confucianism), but there are continuities and commonalities and ongoing themes in each tradition. Although the two traditions contrast with each other at the level of philosophy, they were combined in different ways in Chinese imperial history and some form of Legalist Confucianism continues to be influential in the twenty-first century. In this essay, I will identify the main traits of the Confucian and Legalist traditions and show how they were combined in Chinese history. I hope the reader will forgive the broad brushstrokes that simplify a complex history. My aim here is to set the stage for the normative question: Which aspects of Legalist Confucianism should be promoted in the future and which parts should be consigned to the dustbin of history? I will illustrate my response with examples from contemporary China to suggest it is both possible and desirable to promote a form of Legalist Confucianism today and in the foreseeable future.