Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

China and the Mandate of Heaven

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

China and the Mandate of Heaven

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

The annals of China's imperial courts record the decadence that resulted in the mythic loss of the "Mandate from Heaven," which justified the overthrow of the successive dynasties. Much of this decadence revolves around the influence of the caste of eunuchs whose corruption had a major influence on the running the imperial court. However, as a general rule, such corruption does not proceed unless there are already weaknesses. China's dynasties have been a succession of attempts at revival after corruption. The Nationalist revolution, Chiang Kai-shek, and Mao were efforts to reverse the decay of an ancient regime which could no longer keep China aloof from a world-embracing technological civilization. Chinese civilization had endured longer than any other, for around two and a half millennia.

China's traditional outlook on history was a succession of dynastic rises and falls, of cycles within the wider cycle of the Chinese Civilisation. The concept of the dynastic cycle (...) states that each dynasty, after reaching a political, economic and cultural peak falls through moral corruption, losing the "Mandate from Heaven," and is succeeded by a new dynasty, which goes through the same cycles:

1. A new ruler unites China, founds a new dynasty, and gains the Mandate of Heaven.

2. China, under the new dynasty, achieves prosperity.

3. The population increases.

4. Corruption becomes rampant in the imperial court, and the empire begins to enter a fresh period of decline and instability.

5. Natural disaster hits the rural population, and famine ensues because of corruption and overpopulation.

6. Famine causes rural rebellion and civil war.

7. The Emperor loses the Mandate of Heaven.

8. The population decreases because of the violence.

9. Epoch of warring states.

10. One state emerges victorious.

11. The victorious state is the focus for a new empire.

12. The new empire gains the Mandate of Heaven. The cycle is repeated by the succeeding dynasty.

A Chinese proverb summarises the dynastic cycles: "After a long split, a union will occur; after a long union, a split will occur" (...). John K. Fairbank described this Chinese cyclic approach to history, although regarding the recurrent themes as coincidental: "China's two thousand years of cornered politics2 have produced apparent rhythms and pulsations... Anyone who seeks historical uniformity, or who makes societies and civilisations his units of study, will find the Chinese chronicles inexhaustible."3

Of these chronicles of decline, Backhouse and Bland wrote in their introduction to their history of China's imperial court annals:

Amongst such morals and conclusions as the reader may draw from the study of these three centuries of Chinese history, one of the most obvious is to be found in the persistent coincidence of periods of demoralisation in the State with the ascendancy of eunuchs at Court. The Chinese have always realized the truth of this matter; scholars, historians and moralists never fail to declare that the Empire's crisis of private corruption and public disorder, the decline and fall of dynasties, have been caused or greatly hastened by the interference and intrigues of these Court menials in affairs of State. The first Manchu rulers perceived clearly the evils of a eunuch-ridden Court, and took wise precautions against them. In the fate of the Mings, the lesson was writ plain for them to learn, adding one more to the many warnings of history against the insidious dangers of the Court's excessive polygamy and the atmosphere of debauchery and enervation thereby created. They could see for themselves to what a pitiful state the Throne and Court had been brought by the tyrannous cruelty, treachery and greed of the eunuchs who infested the Forbidden City and projected the "poisonous miasma" of their influence to the farthest frontiers of the Empire. …

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