The Legalist school finds its finest expression in the writings of Han Fei Zi. Hower, it is generally recognized that before him, Xun Zi"s thoughts already had some features of Legalism, while Xun Zi himself could be considered a transitional figure between Confucianism and Legalism.
Han Fei Zi
Emperor Qin Shihuang recognized Han Fei Zi, a philosopher of the Warring States Period (475-221BC), after reading his works. Han himself was a part of the aristocracy, as he was born into the ruling family of the state of Han. His philosophy centered on the ruler. In Han Fei"s philosophy, the ruler firmly controls the state with the help of Fa, Shu, and Shi.
Li Kui (4th century BC) was an ancient Chinese government minister and court advisor to Marquis Wen of Wei (403 BC-387 BC) in the state of Wei. In 407 BC, he wrote the Book of Law (Fajing), which was the basis for the codified laws of the Qin and Han dynasties. It had a deep influence on state ministers of Qin such as Shang Yang, who formulated the dogma and basis of the harsh Chinese philosophy of Legalism. Along with his contemporary Ximen Bao, he was given oversight in construction of canal and irrigation projects in the State of Wei.
Wu Qi deployed troops with great skills, and attached great importance on making the law known to everyone, improving on Li Kui"s thought.
Shang Yang conducted political reforms in the State of Qin, promoted the supremacy and equality of law, and advocated the importance of punishment and incentive. His efforts brought order and prosperity to the State of Qin, laying a solid foundation for the state to unify China later.
Shen Buhai is known for his ideas on Shu (method), and considered it an important way for the ruler to manage the ministers and seek political achievements.
Shen Dao played an important role into transforming the Taoist ideas into Legalism, and advocated the importance of Shi (legitimacy) for the rule of an emperor.