Son of Heaven, Look and Learn!

Nov 2009
149
Boston, MA
The Chinese had an intricate system known as the "Mandate of Heaven," similar to the European-styled "Divine Right of Kings." I think it is fascinating that East Asian cultures used this concept making the emperor the Son of Heaven and the whole of Chinese/Japanese empires answerable to Heaven, while in Europe, only the King was answerable to Heaven, and the people answerable to the King.
 

David Vagamundo

Ad Honorem
Jan 2010
4,439
Atlanta, Georgia USA
The Chinese had an intricate system known as the "Mandate of Heaven," similar to the European-styled "Divine Right of Kings." I think it is fascinating that East Asian cultures used this concept making the emperor the Son of Heaven and the whole of Chinese/Japanese empires answerable to Heaven, while in Europe, only the King was answerable to Heaven, and the people answerable to the King.
In what sense do you mean the latter assertion? In Christian Europe, everyone was answerable to Heaven, in the sense that everyone would receive eternal reward or punishment.

My understanding of the "Mandate of Heaven" is that it was a means of judging the Emperor: If the Emperor conducted himself rightly, things went well and the Emperor had the Mandate; if not,the Emperor had lost the Mandate and then lost the reign. The concept is one of the foundation stones of Chinese Civilization, arising several centuries BC, and, as far as I know, still in effect, although I'm not much of a China scholar. But it was used as often against as for the ruling dynasty.

It is my understanding that "The Divine Right of Kings" was an early modern concept in Europe, espoused by James I Stuart and used to justify the reign of a single family--to wit, the Stuarts. The idea was that, because the ruling family occupied the throne, God must have willed it, and therefore the ruler had a divine right to rule. The concept didn't do a very good job of keeping the family on the throne--of four Stuart rulers, one was executed and another deposed.

J.D. Fairbank and M. Goldman--China, A New History p. 40: "This doctrine [The Mandate of Heaven or tianming] asserted the ruler's accountability to a supreme moral force that guides the human community. Unlike a Western ruler's accession through the doctrine of the divine right of kings, which rested on birth alone, the Chinese theory of Heaven's mandate set up moral criteria for holding power."

Good topic.
 

Lucius

Forum Staff
Jan 2007
16,363
Nebraska
My understanding of the "Mandate of Heaven" is that it was a means of judging the Emperor: If the Emperor conducted himself rightly, things went well and the Emperor had the Mandate; if not,the Emperor had lost the Mandate and then lost the reign.
This is something I'm ignorant about. In my cursory readings about ancient China, I had formed the impression that the loss of the Mandate of Heaven was only ever seen in retrospect, not beforehand. That is, that the Emperor's loss of the throne was the sign that he had lost the Mandate.

Were there instances of the Emperor using his army to "prove" that those who claimed he had lost the Mandate were mistaken?
 

David Vagamundo

Ad Honorem
Jan 2010
4,439
Atlanta, Georgia USA
This is something I'm ignorant about. In my cursory readings about ancient China, I had formed the impression that the loss of the Mandate of Heaven was only ever seen in retrospect, not beforehand. That is, that the Emperor's loss of the throne was the sign that he had lost the Mandate.

Were there instances of the Emperor using his army to "prove" that those who claimed he had lost the Mandate were mistaken?
Good distinction, and I don't know the answer.
 
Dec 2009
19,933
The Chinese had an intricate system known as the "Mandate of Heaven," similar to the European-styled "Divine Right of Kings." I think it is fascinating that East Asian cultures used this concept making the emperor the Son of Heaven and the whole of Chinese/Japanese empires answerable to Heaven, while in Europe, only the King was answerable to Heaven, and the people answerable to the King.
For those that may not be aware of it and for what is worth, Wikipedia has a long article on this same issue [ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandate_of_Heaven"]Mandate of Heaven - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame].
 
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