The Mandate of Heaven (Chinese: 天命; pinyin: Tiānmìng) is a traditional Chinese philosophical concept concerning the legitimacy of rulers. It is similar to the European concept of the divine right of kings, in that both sought to legitimize rule from divine approval; however, unlike the divine right of kings, the Mandate of Heaven is predicated on the conduct of the ruler in question. The Mandate of Heaven postulates that heaven (天; Tian) would bless the authority of a just ruler, as defined by the Five Confucian Relationships, but would be displeased with a despotic ruler and would withdraw its mandate, leading to the overthrow of that ruler. The Mandate of Heaven would then transfer to those who would rule best. The mere fact of a leader having been overthrown is itself indication that he has lost the Mandate of Heaven. The Mandate of Heaven does not require that a legitimate ruler be of noble birth, and dynasties were often founded by people of modest birth (such as the Han dynasty and Ming dynasty). The concept of the Mandate of Heaven was first used to support the rule of the kings of the Zhou Dynasty, and their overthrow of the earlier Shang dynasty. It was used throughout the history of China to support the rule of the Emperors of China, including 'foreign' dynasties such as the Qing Dynasty. The Mandate of Heaven is a well-accepted and popular idea among the people of China, as it argues for the removal of incompetent or despotic rulers, and provided an incentive for rulers to rule well and justly. The concept is often invoked by philosophers and scholars in ancient China as a way to curtail the abuse of power by the ruler, in a system that otherwise offered no other check to this power. The Mandate of Heaven had no time limitations, instead depending on the just and able performance of the ruler. In the past, times of poverty and natural disasters were taken as signs that heaven considered the incumbent ruler unjust and thus in need of replacement. *
The concept is first found in the written records of the words of the Duke of Zhou, younger brother of King Wu of Zhou and regent for King Wu's infant son King Cheng of Zhou. He is considered by many to have been the originator of the idea. The notion of the Mandate of Heaven was later invoked by Mencius, a very influential Chinese philosopher, considered by most to be the second greatest Confucian philosopher next to Confucius. The Mandate of Heaven was first used by the Zhou Dynasty to justify its overthrow of the Shang Dynasty and would be used by many succeeding dynasties in the same way. The Duke of Zhou explained to the people of Shang that if their king had not misused his power, his Mandate would not have been taken away. Eventually, as Chinese political ideas developed further, the Mandate was linked to the notion of the dynastic cycle. Severe floods or famines were considered portents and monitions indicating divine disapproval of the recent activities of the ruler. The Shang had legitimized their rule by family connections to divine power. The Shang believed that their founders were deities, and their descendants went to join them in Heaven. As shown by the divination texts preserved on oracle bones from the later Shang, Heaven was thought to be very active and to interfere in mysterious ways with earthly rule. The philosophy of the Mandate of Heaven changed the right to rule from one of purely divine legitimization to one based on just rule. Although the Mandate had no time limitation, it held rulers to a clear standard. Over the passage of time, there would inevitably arise a ruler who would cause Heaven to withdraw its Mandate. As the Mandate of Heaven emphasized the performance of the ruler, the social background of the ruler became less important. Historical documents found in ancient China stated that a legitimate ruler could come from any spectrum of the society. The Zhou said that the Xia Dynasty had existed long before the Shang,...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document