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Norman P. Ho

Norman P. Ho’s chapter serves as an insightful guide to natural law ideas in Confucian thought, including various schools of Confucianism, namely pre-Qin Confucianism, Han dynasty Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism. The strong influence of Confucian theory on cultural norms and government institutions throughout East Asia renders this chapter a valuable resource in understanding the global significance of natural law thinking. Ho considers the distinct interpretations of key terms such as ‘nature’ and ‘law’ in traditional Chinese legal thought in contrast to their connotations in Western legal theory. He examines the understandings of the concept of ritual propriety (li), as well as the concept of Principle (Li), from the viewpoint of major schools of thought in the Confucian tradition, emphasizing their relationship to other concepts such as positive law (fa), human nature, and Heaven (tian). Confucian natural law thinking, Ho argues, centers on a ranking of moral attributes, with li-based principles like filial piety (xiao) at the top of the hierarchy and positive law (fa) near the bottom. This metaphysical hierarchy invites fruitful comparisons with natural law ideas from other cultural traditions. Ho argues that Neo-Confucian ideas are the most promising source of natural law thinking in the Confucian tradition. He further suggests that Confucian natural law provides valuable insights into governance in contemporary China, given the influence of Confucian ideas on the philosophy of the ruling party.