Mandate of Heaven

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Mandate of Heaven
Chinese 天命

The Mandate of Heaven is a Chinese political doctrine that justifies imperial rule in terms of approval by the gods. The emperor was referred to as "Son of Heaven" to reflect such approval. The doctrine first appears in a speech given by the Duke of Zhou after his victory over the Shang in 1027 BC. Traditional historians agreed that the Shang lost its mandate due to the immoral behavior of its last ruler. The doctrine foreshadows Confucianism, which stresses the need for a ruler to set a good moral example.

Traditional historians also claimed that the Shang overthrew the Xia dynasty in similar circumstances. While this legendary event provides a president for the Zhou conquest, it is unlikely that the Shang thought of themselves as the successor of any earlier dynasty.

One popular saying rephrases the mandate doctrine in cynical terms: "The winner becomes king, the loser becomes outlaw" (chéng zhě wéi wáng, bài zhě wéi kòu).