Mandate of heaven

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

 18 April 2012

Mencius said to King Hsüan of Ch’i, “Suppose a subject of Your Majesty’s, having entrusted his wife and children to the care of a friend, were to go on a trip to Ch’u, only to find, on his return, that his friend had allowed his wife and child to suffer cold and hunger, then what should he do about it?”

“Break with his friend.”

“If the Marshal of the Guards was unable to keep his guards in order, then what should be done about it?”

“Remove him from office.”

“If the whole realm within the four borders was ill-governed, then what should be done about it?

The King turned to his attendants and changed the subject.

Mencius, Book I, Part B, Section 6

According to tradition, Mencius (Mengzi) lived from 372 to 289 BC. He was a peripatetic political philosopher who moved from state to state advocating ethical government during the chaotic and brutal Warring States period (403-221 BC) when seven states battled it out in China for supremacy. Mencius is usually considered a follower of Confucius (Kongzi), who is said to have lived from 551 to 479 BC.

Ch’i and Ch’u were two of the seven warring states. King Hsüan of Ch’i reigned from from 319 to 301 BC.

In this passage Mencius seems to be advocating a form of what is known in the west as the Social Contract. If the ruler fails to rule efficiently and justly, then he loses the right to rule or, as Chinese historians would put it, he loses “the Mandate of Heaven”. Throughout Chinese imperial history, one dynasty was replaced by another when its initial vigour eventually dissipated, leading to corruption and disorder. The failing regime was deemed to have lost the Mandate of Heaven.

In the modern west regime change usually takes place nowadays through the ballot box, but sometimes also, as in imperial China, it has come about as a result of violent upheaval or revolution.


 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

 1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)

2. Das Vierte Reich/The Fourth Reich (6 Feb 2012)

3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)

4. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

5. What would Gandhi have said? (30 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.


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