Theory of the Mandate of Heaven

Posted: November 29th, 2013





Theory of the Mandate of Heaven

            The mandate of heaven was a political theory from ancient China that believed the power of rulers was given from a divine source or from heaven. The ancient Chinese believed that power of ruling came from heaven, where heaven blessed a just ruler and facilitated the withdrawing of an unjust ruler. According to the theory, the right to rule by a dynasty was dependent on the moral uprightness of the ruler. It believed that with time the rulers would become corrupt. When they become corrupt by manipulating the throne, a conquest by another dynasty would be morally justified, claiming that the mandate of heaven had been removed and given to the conqueror.

When the Zhou dynasty overthrew the Shang dynasty, it was not viewed as an act of injustice. Rather, it was viewed as a moral act. According to Sivers, Desnoyers and Stow, if one of the three dynasties succeeded in a conquest, unlike other regions, it was not an act of injustice such as enslavement or exile for those that were defeated. “On the contrary, the conquerors were shown as presenting their victories as acts of moral renewal for those they conquered by ridding them of oppressive or degenerate rulers and restoring leadership to the worthy,” (113). Therefore, when the dynasty of Zhao conquered the Shang dynasty, they used this theory of the mandate of heaven to justify their rule, claiming that they were granted the power from heaven while the conquered dynasty was corrupt and lost the mandate of heaven. Overthrowing of a ruler was viewed as a loss of the mandate of heaven. Whoever won, irrespective of their way of ruling were believed to be the divinely ordained rulers with the mandate of heaven. In addition, it also “framed a remarkably durable system within which the Chinese and outside conquerors could interact and adapt themselves to each other in maintaining governmental and societal continuity,” (113). In addition, the theory also provided a means of opposing the corrupt and unjust leaders.

The well-field system served to have a system that would ensure land was used accountably, with each family having a portion to farm. The system was good in ensuring that all families were included and recognized to engage in the economic activities of the nation. Under this system, there was a portion of land farmed communally meant for paying the taxes. This ensured that government received taxes, but also did not oppress the people. However, during the time individual states decided to pursue their own interests away form those of the ruling dynasty, tax systems were changed by the individual states where it was based on crop yield. This was a good thing for the individual states since with every increase in yields; there would be an increase in the state government revenue. This enables them to support their individual militaries for opposing the Zhao Dynasty.

The Zhou dynasty created smaller states, where it had leaders of the Shang dynasty as leaders in order to gain the support and cooperation of the people. However, as the states worked towards their interests, they become stronger despite paying allegiance to the Zhou dynasty; they were more concerned with their states. Later, this caused the states to unite against the Zhou dynasty, causing its decline. This was a bad thing to the central government of china. On the other hand, it had the advantage of having the states take control of their own state matters, rather than having them enshrined in a broad government. This allowed more development than in the earlier dynasties.

Elite women in the Shang Dynasty took roles in the political arena and took part in military affairs. The women of prominent people and rulers were recognized and sometimes given leadership roles in events such as leading armies as well as performing divination. Their issues were addressed as well as their skills such as weaving demanded in the silk industry for making clothing. In addition, women were given positions in government offices and even higher roles of leadership in the government. From looking at the Shujing, we can realize some problems that were posed to the Zhao and Xia dynasty, such as the human sacrifices made. The Shujing dynasty believed in connecting with their ancestors, thus sacrifices were made quite often with other dynasties having their people killed as the conducted their sacrifices (Sivers, Desnoyers and Stow 111).



Work cited

Sivers V. Peter, Desnoyers A. Charles and Stow B. George. Patterns of World History: Volume 1: To 1600. United Kingdom, UK: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.


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