Mandate of Heaven

The Mandate of Heaven or Tin Ming, Tian Ming ( Chinese: 天命; pinyin: Tiānmìng; Wade–Giles: T'ien-ming) and in various dialectal spellings, is a Chinese political and religious doctrine used since ancient times to justify the rule of the Emperor of China. According to this belief, heaven (天, Tian)—which embodies the natural order and will of the universe—bestows the mandate on a just ruler of China, the " Heavenly Son" of the " Celestial Empire". If a ruler was overthrown, this was interpreted as an indication that the ruler was unworthy, and had lost the mandate. It was also a common belief that natural disasters such as famine and flood were signs of heaven's displeasure with the ruler, so there would often be revolts following major disasters as citizens saw these as signs that the Mandate of Heaven had been withdrawn. [1]

A brief flow chart describing the dynastic cycles in Imperial China on claiming to withdrawing the Mandate of Heaven

The Mandate of Heaven does not require a legitimate ruler to be of noble birth, depending instead on the just and able performance of the rulers and their heirs. Dynasties such as the Han and Ming dynasties were founded by men of common origins. The concept is in some ways similar to the European concept of the divine right of kings; however, unlike the European concept, it does not confer an unconditional right to rule. The Mandate would be a preoccupation in a rulers lifetime, where they would hold onto the Mandate and live according to Heavens .Intrinsic to the concept of the Mandate of Heaven was the right of rebellion against an unjust ruler. Chinese historians interpreted a successful revolt as evidence that Heaven had withdrawn its mandate from the ruler. Throughout Chinese history, times of poverty and natural disasters were often taken as signs that heaven considered the incumbent ruler unjust and thus in need of replacement. The Mandate of Heaven was often invoked by philosophers and scholars in China as a way to curtail the abuse of power by the ruler. While each dynasty was not the same, they each had a lineage that passed on the prospective ruler by order of generational descent or their priority of birth. Many emperors during the imperial times would optimize to have many sons who could be candidates to fill the position after the current ruler has passed away. In addition Heaven was thought to be of how a rulers works and performance was, which reflected upon how favorable they would be to Heaven.

Such as Mencius, a great philosopher who many thought was the successor to Confucius proclaimed [2]:

The people are of supreme importance; the altars of the gods of earth and grain come next; last comes the ruler. That is why he who gains the confidence of the multitudinous people will be Emperor... When a feudal lord endangers the altars of the gods of earth and grain, he should be replaced. When the sacrificial animals are sleek, the offerings are clean and the sacrifices are observed at due times, and yet floods and droughts come [by the agency of heaven], then the altars should be replaced.

— Mencius

The concept of the Mandate of Heaven was first used to support the rule of the kings of the Zhou dynasty (1046–256 BCE), and legitimize their overthrow of the earlier Shang dynasty (1600–1069 BCE). It was used throughout the history of China to legitimize the successful overthrow and installation of new emperors, including non- Han ethnic monarchs such as the Qing dynasty (1636-1912). This concept was also used by monarchs in neighboring countries like Korea and Vietnam. [3]

The right to rule and the right of rebellion

Chinese historians interpreted a successful revolt as evidence that the Mandate of Heaven had passed. In China, the right of rebellion against an unjust ruler has been a part of political philosophy ever since the Zhou dynasty, and the successful rebellion was interpreted by Chinese historians as evidence that divine approval had passed on to the successive dynasty. The Right of Rebellion is not coded into any official law, rather rebellion is always outlawed and severely punished, but still is a positive right grounded in the Chinese moral system. Often, it is used as a justification for actions to overthrow a previous dynasty after a rebellion has been successful and a new dynastic rule has been established. Since the winner is the one who determines who has obtained the Mandate of Heaven and who has lost it, some Chinese scholars consider it to be a sort of Victor's justice, best characterized in the popular Chinese saying "The winner becomes king, the loser becomes outlaw" (Chinese: ” 成者爲王,敗者爲寇“). Due to the above, it is considered that Chinese historical accounts of the fall of a dynasty and the rise of a new one need to be handled with caution. Chinese traditional historical compiling methods produce accounts that tend to fit their account to the theory; emphasize aspects tending to prove that the old dynasty lost the Mandate of Heaven and the new one gained it, and de-emphasize other aspects.

Other Languages
čeština: Mandát Nebes
français: Mandat du Ciel
한국어: 천명
Bahasa Indonesia: Tianming
magyar: Tien-ming
Nederlands: Hemels Mandaat
日本語: 天命
português: Mandato do céu
română: Mandatul ceresc
Simple English: Mandate of Heaven
Türkçe: Tianming
українська: Небесний мандат
Tiếng Việt: Thiên mệnh
文言: 天命
粵語: 天命
中文: 天命