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1
Chinese Dynasties and the ‘Mandate of Heaven’
By Cindy Chan & Blake Li
Epoch Times Staff
A philosophical belief was established by the founders of the Zhou Dynasty (周朝)
around 1100 B.C. that Heaven bestowed the divine right of ruling to those who were
morally worthy.
This belief, known as the “Mandate of Heaven” (天命, pronounced tiān mìng), is rooted
deeply in Chinese culture and has had a fundamental and enduring influence on Chinese
history.
It established that a ruler must be wise and just, follow the Dao—the Way of Heaven—
and be attuned to destiny.
The ancient Chinese regarded the emperor as a “son of Heaven,” with Heaven above him.
Lao Zi (老子) expressed his idea of the unity of Heaven and humans in the Dao De Jing (
道德經): “Man follows the Earth, the Earth follows Heaven, Heaven follows the Dao,
and the Dao follows what is natural.”
Wise and capable rulers in ancient China revered Heaven and cherished, respected, and
protected their subjects. Historians recorded all the words and deeds of the emperor, and
the emperor’s behaviour was judged by the Confucian classics.
Sage kings had wise and virtuous officials serve as their teachers or advisers. One
example is Yi Yin (伊尹), who helped Shang Tang (商湯) found the Shang Dynasty (商
朝) and became its first prime minister.
Jiang Ziya (姜子牙) is another example. He assisted both King Wen (周文王) and King
Wu (周武王) in establishing the Zhou Dynasty.
Enforcing the Dao on Behalf of Heaven
If a ruler is immoral, he would be criticized by his ministers and the people, and the
people may overthrow him, such as Shang Tang’s defeat of Xia Jie (夏桀), the last
emperor of the Xia Dynasty (夏朝), who was a tyrant.
Another example is King Wu’s removal of Emperor Zhou (紂王), the last ruler of the
Shang Dynasty.
Traditional Chinese culture did not consider these uprisings as violations of loyalty or the Dao, but rather as
enforcing the Dao on behalf of Heaven.
2
Wise and capable rulers in ancient China revered Heaven and
cherished, respected, and protected their subjects.
The ancient Chinese also believed that natural disasters were Heaven’s warning signs that
the government had moved away from the Dao.
If the government ignored these rebukes, Heaven would send stronger warnings in
attempts to awaken conscience. If warnings continued to be ignored, calamities would
follow.
These patterns were believed to be the ways in which Gods showed their compassion to
human beings.
Throughout Chinese history, the Mandate of Heaven is recorded as having influenced
changes of dynasties and emperors, with the rise and fall of dynasties and emperors
linked to the morality of human beings.