The Mandate of Heaven

While Confucius was by no means a democrat, he was no fan either of the petty feudal fiefdoms that dominated China during the turbulent Spring Autumn period (春秋時代) that he lived in.

As he states in Chapter 5 of Book One of the Analects, Confucius believed that a ruler had the obligation gain the trust of his people by acting fairly and not unduly burdening them with heavy taxation or excessive demands on their labor. If the ruler failed to meet that obligation, he would lose the Mandate of Heaven (天命) and thus risk being overthrown by his oppressed people.

The concept of the Mandate of Heaven was at least five hundred years old by the time Confucius was born, having been used to justify the overthrow of the ancient Shang Dynasty by the Zhou Dynasty during the tenth century BC. It has remained a recurring theme in Chinese history ever since, being invoked with the rise and fall of each major imperial dynasty.

Naturally there was an element of history being written by the victors in them claiming that they had received the Mandate of Heaven to overthrow a previous dynasty, but at the same time the concept played a very important part in crystalizing the mutual nature of the relationship between a ruler and his people.

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