This term fa (法) refers to both laws and the legal system. In ancient times, fa (law) and li (rites) were both used to regulate human behavior. The purpose of li was to encourage virtuous behavior; fa refers to punitive laws, the purpose of which was to punish evil action. The graph of the archaic form of the word fa (灋) reflects the fundamental spirit of law. It consists of two elements. The right part of the character, which reads zhi, denotes a unicorn-like legendary animal that could distinguish right from wrong. It had the ability to determine guilt and innocence in law court by using its horn to pin down the wrongdoer and his crimes. The left part representing water signifies the fairness of law as being level as water. Ancient people believed that although laws were made and promulgated by the sovereign both he himself as well as the general public should abide by them, which really does embody the justice and equality of the law. China had written laws as far back as the Shang Dynasty. In 536 BC, Zichan, prime minister of the State of Zheng, ordered the law of his state to be cast onto a bronze vessel, a symbol of the king’s power. This is known in history as the “metal cast book of law.” As the first written law ever in Chinese history promulgated to the public, this law has critical significance in the public promotion and implementation of the laws of the state.
Laws mean punishments for the purpose of prohibiting violence and crime.(Huan Kuan: Discourses on Salt and Iron)
Rites are practiced before crimes are committed, while laws as punishments are enforced afterwards. (Records of the Historian)
Laws should be observed by the sovereign as well as his subjects. (Records of the Historian)