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The fall of Han Fei


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Several different scenarios could have happened had Li Si not forced Han Fei to commit suicide.

Qin Shi Huang was reading Han Fei's Legalist writings one day with great interest, and asked Li Si who those writings belonged to. Li Si identified the writings as belonging to his former classmate. After Qin attacked the kingdom of Han, Han Fei was sent as an envoy to meet with Qin Shi Huang. The First Emperor was eager to meet with the one person whose writings he greatly admired. However Li Si told the emperor that since Han Fei was a representative of the kingdom of Han, he would be loyal to the interests of Han and not Qin, and therefore try to plot against Qin.

This argument by Li Si sounded hypocritical since Li himself was from a different kingdom, Chu. He was afraid that Han Fei might someday replace him at Qin Shi Huang's side.

Qin Shi Huang bought this argument and had Han Fei thrown into prison. Han Fei pleaded for an audience to clear himself, but before one could be granted, Li Si had poison delivered to Han's cell. Han Fei mistakenly believed that Qin Shi Huang wanted him dead.

If Han Fei had been given more time to clear himself, he probably would have lived since Qin Shi Huang regretted throwing him in jail, and hurried back to court to release him. But it was too late. Han Fei was already dead.

Perhaps the Qin dynasty's dark legacy might have been different had Han Fei lived to clear his name. After all, the Legalism he theorized sounded more moderate and flexible than the Legalist practices Li Si implemented. He probably could have replaced Li Si as prime minister. Things might have turned out different under Qin since it was Li Si who recommended the burning of the books and the burying alive of 460 Confucian scholars.

Han Fei would have had a difficult time clearing himself even granted an audience, since he had a major stuttering problem and was not a charismatic speaker.

Li Si may have been pulling the strings, but Qin Shi Huang had the ultimate power and could have chosen not to jail Han Fei. Li Si's argument did sound valid though despite sounding hypocritical. If you were the monarch in that Warring States era, would you buy that argument?

Anyways Han Fei was one of those many figures in Chinese history who died young and is often viewed as a tragic figure.

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