Tien Ming – The Mandate from Heaven

The long-held Chinese belief in Tien Ming, the Mandate from Heaven for their rulers, actually came about through a conquering dynasty trying to legitimise their claim to the throne.

In about 1027 BC the Zhou conquered the Shang. However they needed to persuade the people that they were the rightful rulers, especially as they had gained the land through conquest. Thus they invented a new doctrine called Tien Ming, the Mandate from Heaven, Tien meaning Heaven and Ming destiny.

Their idea was that this mandate was handed down to the rightful ruler of the land on condition that they were responsible for the welfare of the people and could remain in power while they ruled fairly and wisely. If a ruler started to be unjust or uninterested in the people, Heaven would remove the Mandate and pass it to another family who had to overthrow the dynasty and rule in their place with the Mandate.

This idea rapidly took hold throughout China and, by the time of Confucius, it applied to everyone, not just the rulers, and their relationships with the rest of their family and became the moral basis for Chinese life.