China – The Mandate of Heaven

Imagine that you could invoke a powerful spiritual being to justify your position, your actions and your power. Every time someone questioned your actions or doubted your motives, you could fall back on your entitlements as the chosen one of this powerful being, who had theoretically ordained you and anointed you as the person in charge. If your underlings believed in the existence of this being, your position would be impregnable.

Or would it?

There’s usually a downside to this kind of religious propaganda, even though it has been employed by many monarchs and emperors in history to underpin their supposedly unassailable authority. If things started to go wrong, if the crops failed or there was a flood or natural disaster, the very argument that you once used to justify your domination might also be used to dispute its validity. Perhaps that divine being is questioning your so-called birthright. Perhaps you don’t deserve that birthright any more.

For centuries, the “Mandate of Heaven” was the basis of the Chinese emperors’ overwhelming power, yet this belief in a divine blessing could be hijacked by opponents as proof of their unworthiness too. For this reason, the dynasties of China could last for centuries and seem invulnerable, only to be challenged, to fall and to be replaced. The concept of the “Mandate of Heaven” could be conveniently used to explain both their lasting power and their fall from grace.

This is yet another of those odd little internal contradictions in human history.

♦ John Green’s take on the Mandate of Heaven and on Chinese history in general:

♦ Other links about the Mandate of Heaven:

ThoughtcoMr Donn’s simpler version

♦ A simple interactive quiz on this topic 

♦ Encounter a Chinese dynasty at Thoughtco

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