di Maria Adele Carrai
China University of Political Science and Law – Beijing

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Natural law, as a criterion for social and legal order, has been at the core of Western legal tradition.
Alhough its validity has been periodically rejected by exponents of legal positivism and other philosophical schools, natural law remains a fundamental term to understand and investigate Western legal and philosophical tradition and to compare it with others.
Since the early translations of Western legal and political documents in China in the 19th century, scholars begun to look for possible equivalences between natural law and other similar concepts of Chinese tradition.
Among the various theories, one of the most popular was the one started by Liang Qichao and continued by Joseph Needham, which saw the Confucian li as an equivalent of Western natural law.
The aim of this work is to identify the limits of this equivalence. After having exposed the ambiguities of the very notion of natural law in the West and having outlined some key features of the natural law that will be taken as reference for the comparison, it will be considered the li of Early China, referring to three types of li: the Zhou li, the Confucius and Mengzi artificial li and
the naturalized li of Li ji.
Despite the fact that this early li underwent a process of “naturalization” and “universalization”, the last part of this work investigates the limits of the equivalence between the early Confucian li and western natural law.