Mandate of Heaven Primary Source
DIRECTIONS: Rulers in the Zhou Dynasty obtained their authority to rule from the
Mandate of Heaven. In this passage, the king’s chief minister, Yin, instructs the new
young king on how to be a good ruler and maintain the Mandate of Heaven. Read the
passage below and then answer the questions that follow.
In the twelfth month of the first year…I Yin made sacrifices to the former king,
and presented the newly crowned young king before the shrine of his grandfather…I Yin
then clearly described all the positive qualities and characteristics that made the young
kings grandfather a great king.
He said, “Oh! In the olden times the former kings of the first dynasty (Shang
Dynasty) earnestly tried to be the best people they could be, and so Heaven didn’t send
any disasters. The gods of the hills and rivers were peaceful, and the birds and beasts,
the fishes and tortoises, all enjoyed their lives according to their nature. But the
descendants of those kings did not follow their example, and great Heaven sent down
“Our king of the Zhou brilliantly displayed his wisdom. In place of oppression he
ruled with generosity and kindness, and millions of people gave him their love...He tried
to find wise men, who would be helpful to you, his descendant and heir to the throne. He
created the laws and punishments, and warned those who were in positions of authority
about people’s evil ways…”
“The ways of Heaven are certain: On the person who does good, it sends down
all blessings, and on the evil-doer it sends down all miseries. If you are good ruler, all of
the regions of the empire will be happy and rejoice. If you are a bad rule, this will bring
dishonor to your ancestors and will ruin the empire.”
Book of History (Shu Ching)
Zhou Dynasty, Ancient China
8th Century BCE
PART I. SOAPSTone
DIRECTIONS: Please read the passage above and then SOAPStone it below.
Subject: What is the main idea, in other words, what is this primary source about?
Occasion: When and where was this primary source created?
Audience: Who do you think this primary source was written for?
Purpose: Why do you think this primary source was created?
Speaker: Who is talking or speaking in the primary source?
Tone: What attitudes or feelings(emotions) are being expressed in the primary source?
DIRECTIONS: Please answer the following questions based on the primary source.
1. Based on the first paragraph, did the Shang practice of ancestor worship continued
during the Zhou Dynasty? Please support your answer with evidence from the
2. According to Yin, why did Heaven send down disasters on the descendants of the
3. How did the Zhou king rule his people?
4. How would you define the Mandate of Heaven in your own words?
5. THINKER: Why do you think the Mandate of Heaven was important to the rulers of
the Zhou Dynasty?
Chinese Cultural Studies: The Mandate of Hea
of History) (6th Cent. BCE)
from James Legge, trans, The Sacred Books of China: The Texts of
Confucianism, in F. Max Mueller, ed., The Sacred Books of the
East, 50 vols., (Oxford: Clarendon, 1879-1910), Vol 3. pp. 92-95,
repr. in Alfred J. Andrea and James H. Overfield, The Human
Record: Sources of Global History, Vol 1, 2d. ed., (Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 1994), pp. 25-27
[Andrea Introduction] The Shu Jing, or Classic of History, is the
oldest complete work among what are known as the five Confucian
classics. The five classics were canonized as the basic elements of
the Confucian educational system during the second century BCE.,
when the books were reconstructed by order of several emperors of
the Han Dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE). Although Han scholars
probably refashioned elements of the Shu Jing, the work was
already ancient in Confucius's day, and the book, as we have
received it, is probably essentially the same text that Confucius
(551-479 BCE) knew, studied, and accepted as an authentic record
of Chinese civilization.
Despite its title, the Classic of History is not a work of historical
interpretation or narration. Rather, it is a collection of documents
spanning some seventeen hundred years of Chinese history and
legend, from 2357 to 631 BCE. Many of the documents, however,
are the spurious creations of much later period fore reflect the
attitudes of those subsequent eras.
The document that appears here was composed in the age of Zhou
but purports to be the advice given by the faithful Yi Yin to King
Tai Jia, second of the Shang kings. According to the story behind
this document, when the first Shang king, Cheng Tang, died
around 1753, his chief minister Yi Yin took it upon himself to
instruct the new young king in the ways and duties of kingship and
the workings of the Mandate of Heaven.
The Mandate of Heaven was a political-social philosophy that
served as the basic Chinese explanation for the success and failure
of monarchs and states down to the end of the empire in 1912 CE.
Whenever a dynasty fell, the reason invariably offered by China's
sages was that it had lost the moral right to rule which is given by
Heaven alone. In this context heaven did not mean a personal god
but a cosmic all-pervading power. Most historians today agree
that the theory the Mandate of Heaven was an invention of the
Zhou to justify their overthrow of the Shang. The king, after all,
was the father of his people, and paternal authority was the basic
cement of Chinese society from earliest times. Rebellion against a
father, therefore, needed extraordinary justification.
In the twelfth month of the first year... Yi Yin sacrificed to the
former king, and presented the heir-king reverently before the
shrine of his grandfather. All the princes from the domain of the
nobles and the royal domain were present; all the officers also,
each continuing to discharge his particular duties, were there to
receive the orders of the chief minister. Yi Yin then clearly
described the complete virtue of the Meritorious Ancestor for the
instruction of the young king.
He said, "Oh! of old the former kings of Xia cultivated earnestly
their virtue, and then there were no calamities from Heaven. The
spirits of the hills and rivers alike were all in tranquility; and the
birds and beasts, the fishes and tortoises, all enjoyed their existence
according to their nature. But their descendant did not follow their
example, and great Heaven sent down calamities, employing the
agency of our ruler- who was in possession of its favoring
appointment. The attack on Xia may be traced to the orgies in
Ming Tiao... Our king of Shang brilliantly displayed his sagely
prowess; for oppression he substituted his generous gentleness; and
the millions of the people gave him their hearts. Now your Majesty
is entering on the inheritance of his virtue; -- all depends on how
you commence your reign. To set up love, it is For you to love
your relations; to set up respect, it is for you to respect your elders.
The commencement is in the family and the state....
"Oh! the former king began with careful attention to the bonds thar
hold men together. He listened to expostulation, and did not seek
to resist it; he conformed to the wisdom of the ancients; occupying
the highest position, he displayed intelligence; occupying an
inferior position, he displayed his loyalty; he allowed the good
qualities of the men whom he employed and did not seek that they
should have every talent....
"He extensively sought out wise men, who should be helpful to
you, his descendant and heir. He laid down the punishments for
officers, and warned those who were in authority, saying, 'If you
dare to have constant dancing in your palaces, and drunken singing
in your chambers, -- that is called the fashion of sorcerers; if you
dare to see your hearts on wealth and women, and abandon
yourselves to wandering about or to the chase, -- thar is called the
fashion of extravagance; if you dare to despise sage words, to resist
the loyal and upright, to put far from you the aged and virtuous,
and to seek the company of...youths, -- that is called the fashion of
disorder. Now if a high noble or officer be addicted to one of these
three fashions with their ten evil ways, his family will surely come
to ruin; if the prince of a country be so addicted, his state will
surely come to ruin. The minister who does not try to correct such
vices in the sovereign shall be punished with branding.'...
"Oh! do you, who now succeed to the throne, revere these
warnings in your person. Think of them! -- sacred counsels of vast
importance, admirable words forcibly set forth! The ways of
Heaven are not invariable: -- on the good-doer it sends down all
blessings, and on the evil-doer it sends down all miseries. Do you
but be virtuous, be it in small things or in large, and the myriad
regions will have cause for rejoicing. If you not be virtuous, be it
in large things or in small, it will bring the ruin of your ancestral
[Andrea] QUESTIONS FOR ANALYSIS
How does a monarch lose the Mandate of Heaven, and whar are
the consquences of this loss?
What evidence can you find here of the Chinese cult of reverence
for the ancestors?
What evidence can you find to support the conclusion that
classical Chinese political philosophy perceived the state as
an extended family?
What sort of harmony does the monarch maintain?
Would Yi Yin accept the notion that there can be a distinction
between ruler's private morality and public policies?
What does the theory of the Mandate of Heaven suggest about
the nature of Chinese society?
American politicians often promise "innovative answers to the
challenge of tomorrow." What would Yi Yin think about such
an approach to statecraft? What would Yi Yin think about
modern politicians who attempt to appear youthful? What
would he chink of popular opinion polls?