Sunday, July 24, 2016

Origins of Chinese Civilization, Part X: The Mandate of Heaven

Sup bozos, welcome back to Office Hours with the Brofessor: the Show where I say things. This episode is about something we’ve already talked about a little bit, but really deserves its own video: the Mandate of Heaven. So, let’s get started.

The year is 1046 BC. The corrupt Shang dynasty has fallen, and a new dynasty, the Zhou, has risen in its place. The bloodthirsty Shang regime’s victims could finally rest in peace.

But not everyone was happy with the new management. There were still a few Shang loyalists hanging around—probably guests at the last Shang king’s epic pool parties. They weren’t too thrilled about the new dynasty. “The Shang are ordained by heaven to rule,” they said. “You guys have no right to overthrow them. And no right to drain the beer pool. At least keep the beer pool.”

That’s when the Zhou king’s brother, the Duke of Zhou, stepped up to the mic. The Duke of Bro, as I like to call him, is not to be confused with his brother, King Wu of Zhou, or with king Zhou of Shang, whom they’d just overthrown. Confusing, I know. Sorry. Anyway, the Duke of Bro defended his brother’s regime against the loyalists by elaboration a doctrine that would shape the next three thousand years of Asian history: the Mandate of Heaven(1).

Through its excesses and depravity, the Duke claimed, the Shang dynasty had lost heavenly favor—and with it, the right to rule. The heavenly right—nay, the command—to rule had passed to the most qualified candidates: the house of Zhou. Therefore, the Zhou had simply carried out Heaven’s will in supplanting the Shang, just as—five hundred years earlier—the Shang had supplanted the Xia. The Mandate remained in effect only so long as a dynasty governed responsibly—every dynasty, eventually, would grow corrupt, wane, and be replaced(2). The Zhou dynasty would continue for eight centuries, the longest in Chinese history, but even it was not immune. When it finally did fall, it was to a mighty warlord who emphasised his heavenly legitimacy by taking for himself the title of di4 “emperor”. This was a title previously used only to refer to the legendary pre-Xia rulers of the distant past, and eschewed by Xia, Shang and Zhou rulers in favor of the more modest wang2 “king”. The new emperor, having overthrown Zhou, set up a powerful but short-lived dynasty known as the Qin. It is this name, some scholars posit, that entered Latin by way of Persian as “Sinae”--later Anglicized as “China”.

So, that’s the story of how China got started. Let me know what you think, or if you feel like I left out anything important. Up next, we’ll just be having a bit of a conclusion and summary of what we’ve discussed in this video. So, everyone take care and I’ll see you next time!


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