Deng Xi (/ /; Chinese: 鄧析; Wade–Giles: Têng Hsi, c. 545 – 501 BCE) was a Chinese philosopher and rhetorician who was associated with the Chinese philosophical tradition School of Names. Once a senior official of the Zheng state, and a contemporary of Confucius, he was actually China's earliest renowned lawyer, teaching the people word play in lawsuits. The Zuo Zhuan and Annals of Lü Buwei critically credit Deng with the authorship of a penal code opposing and twisting that of the more Confucian Zichan. Arguing over forms and names (xing ming zhi bian), Deng is cited by Liu Xiang as the originator of the "Legalists" and Logicians Xing-Ming principle judging names and realities (ming-shih), likely making him an important contributor to both Chinese philosophy and the foundations of Chinese statecraft. Other than being the first known lawyer in world history, Deng also published the oldest known statute in criminology entitled the "Bamboo Law". This was meant to defy the cruel Zheng criminal code that existed in the state.
The Xunzi pairs him with Hui Shi as part of a general intellectual tradition, though the two lived 200 years apart. While Han Fei tended to dismiss the Logicians as useless (despite the 'Legalists' deriving a part of their statecraft from them), Xunzi's primary complaint about the two was that they didn't conform to ritual and "righteousness", or the "facts about right and wrong", portraying him as talent that, neglecting the way (Confucian morality), wastes his time on pointless intellectual games and sophistry.
The Han History (Hanshu) attributes two scrolls of writings to Deng Xi, neither of which survives, though Professor Zhenbin Sun at least considers the text bearing Deng's name to reflect his thought. It recommends that a wise king "follow names and observe actualities, examine laws and establish authority", saying that "positions cannot be surpassed, official titles cannot be used, and officials have their own responsibilities according to their names titles. The superior follows the names and inspects if they correspond to actuality, the subordinate carries the orders and puts them into practice." Along more logical lines comparable to Mozi it advocates "distinguishing different categories so that they may not hinder each other, and to organize different bases so that they may not disturb each other."
Developing his debating skills in the legal courts of the state of Zheng, Deng served as a minor official there. Depicted as taking both sides of his cases, he is said to have argued for the permissibility of contradictory propositions, likely engaging in hair-splitting debates on the interpretation of laws, legal principles and definitions. The Annals of Lu Buwei introduce him as a man who could "argue a right to be wrong and a wrong to be right, (for whome) right and wrong had no fixed standard, and 'yea' and nay' changed every day.... What he wished to win always won, and whom he desired to punish was always punished."
His consultation attracted many clients seeking legal advice, and apparently charging for cases in articles of clothing (sensible for 500 BCE) he would eventually have enough to count him rich. Xunzi's book pairing him with Hui Shi, it is difficult to separate their contributions. An example of his sophistry:
The Wei River was extremely high. A person from the house of a rich man of Zheng drowned. Someone found the body. The rich man asked to buy it back. The man demanded very much money. The rich man told Deng Xi about it. Deng Xi said, “Calm down. There's certainly no one else he can sell the body to.” The man who found the body was troubled by this and told Deng Xi about it. Deng Xi replied to him by saying, “Calm down. There's certainly nowhere else they can buy the body.”
Despite this portrayal, more modern scholars consider that, having taken the time to write his own penal code, Deng may have been a well-intentioned legal reformer opposing what he saw as the suppression of ideas and opinions. Nit-picking the law to defy Zichan's attempts to stop the publication of posters, Professors Xing Lu and Zhenbin Sun consider Deng to have challenged Confucian Li in favour of litigation and a free exchange, favoring what is termed "big" or communal arguments over petty ones as better resolving issues.
The Annals record that Zichan eventually executed him after Zheng fell into disorder.