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YMMV / The Book of Lord Shang

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  • Fair for Its Day: In Lord Shang's time, China had been in near-continuous war ever since the Zhou Dynasty began to weaken in the 8th century BC, leaving its vassal states free to cannibalize each other. Qin before Lord Shang was a weak backwater state under real threat of conquest. Whatever else, Legalism *did* turn Qin into a military superpower and end centuries of brutal war...before it fell apart in a world that no longer needed war.
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  • Jerkass Has a Point: While Shang's laws were brutal and ultimately inefficient, he did make some good points about the virtues of meritocracy, and the need for innovation over blind adherence to old traditions. (Though it should be noted that he wanted the people to blindly adhere to the new traditions he proposed.) The biggest issue with his philosophy isn't so much that he was "wrong" per se, but rather that it is completely inapplicable to any country that isn't embroiled in constant warfare and internal decay.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Love him or hate him, Lord Shang himself was indubitably magnificent as well as a bastard, both literally—he was a concubine-born grandson of a duke of Wei—and figuratively.
    • He started out as an aide for the prime minister of Wei, another one of the Warring States. On his deathbed, the prime minister asked the duke of Wei to make Shang Yang his successor despite his youth, but the duke laughed him off. The prime minister then said that, if he wasn't going to use Shang Yang, he needed to kill him. Later, feeling guilty, the prime minister told Shang Yang and urged him to run away. Shang Yang only laughed and said, "if the duke didn't listen when you said to use me, the duke didn't listen when you said to kill me."
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    • Shang Yang was also a skilled general who won every campaign he fought for Qin. For his most notable victory, the enemy general was an old friend from his time in Wei. Shang Yang invited him over for drinks, saying they could settle the matter through diplomacy, then kidnapped him and attacked his army while it was headless.
    • Shang Yang was *also* a skilled diplomat. When the state of Wei assembled an alliance of over a dozen states in preparation to attack Qin, he went to Wei and told the then-duke that, given his widely-acknowledged leadership over the other states, he should declare himself king (the same title held by the ruler of Zhou, Son of Heaven, the rightful liege of all the Chinese states in name if not fact.) This move pissed off the other powerful states, who resented that the duke of Wei would thus put himself above all the others, and caused all of Wei's allies to abandon it.
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  • Never Live It Down: The Legalist philosophy's reputation is largely colored by Lord Shang's infamy, to the extent that other, more popular legalists such as Han Fei and Shen Dao are overshadowed.


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