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Mandate of Heaven

The Mandate of Heaven is a traditional Chinese philosophical concept concerning the legitimacy of rulers. It is similar to the European concept of the divine right of kings, in that both sought to legitimize rule from divine approval; however, unlike the divine right of kings, the Mandate of Heaven is predicated on the conduct of the ruler in question. The Mandate of Heaven postulates that heaven would bless the authority of a just ruler, but would be displeased with a despotic ruler and would withdraw its mandate, leading to the overthrow of that ruler. The Mandate of Heaven would then transfer to those who would rule best. The mere fact of a leader having been overthrown is itself indication that he has lost the Mandate of Heaven.

The Mandate of Heaven does not require that a legitimate ruler be of noble birth, and dynasties were often founded by people of modest birth (such as the Han dynasty and Ming dynasty). The concept of the Mandate of Heaven was first used to support the rule of the kings of the Zhou Dynasty, and their overthrow of the earlier Shang dynasty. It was used throughout the history of China to support the rule of the Emperors of China, including 'foreign' dynasties such as the Qing Dynasty.

The Mandate of Heaven is a well-accepted and popular idea among the people of China, as it argues for the removal of incompetent or despotic rulers, and provided an incentive for rulers to rule well and justly. The concept is often invoked by philosophers and scholars in ancient China as a way to curtail the abuse of power by the ruler, in a system that otherwise offered no other check to this power. The Mandate of Heaven had no time limitations, instead depending on the just and able performance of the ruler. In the past, times of poverty and natural disasters were taken as signs that heaven considered the incumbent ruler unjust and thus in need of replacement.

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