In ancient China, the Chou family wanted to be the rulers, but Shang kings had ruled for hundreds of years. Nobody remembered how they took power. The Chou family had tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the Shang kings. To end the battles and finally win, the Chou knew they needed the nobles on their side. The nobles were undecided whom to support, because they did not want to support the losing side.
The Chou did something very clever. They told the nobles that the gods had decided that the Chou had the right to rule, based on the Mandate of Heaven. The Chou explained that the gods had said they would only let the Chou rule as long as they were good rulers. If they became selfish, like the Shang kings, the gods would appoint a new ruler.
The nobles probably did not believe this fairy tale, but they were tired of the constant fighting between the Shang and the Chou. It was important was to stop the warring. The Mandate of Heaven sounded like a good idea.
The Mandate of Heaven created a justification system:
(1) The right to rule is granted by the gods. The ruler held religious power.
(2) The right to rule is only granted if the ruler cares about his people more than he cares about himself. This gave the ruler secular power over the people, and the right to decide what is good for the people.
(3) The right to rule is not limited to only one dynasty or family. A dynasty can be replaced. This justified rebellion. A new leader who leads a successful rebellion must have been chosen by the gods.
The nobles agreed that it was true that the Shang had become selfish. They joined the Chou in rebellion, and the Shang were deposed. Since this rebellion was successful, the Chou obviously had the right to rule!
The Chou ruled China for hundreds of years. Life didn’t change much under Chou rule, neither for the nobles nor the peasants. But the fighting did stop.
Source: Mandate of Heaven
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