The Coming Removal Of The Mandate Of Heaven, Part 0: China’s Founding Myths
By Eric Mertz of the General Crisis Watch Substack,
China’s Founding Myth
If you want to understand any culture, you must start by studying the myths the culture believes about its founding. In China’s case, this means turning to Han Dynasty historian Sīmǎ Qiān and his seminal work on the subject, The Records of the Grand Historian. One of the first works to attempt a unified history of China from the time of the Yellow Emperor to the 1st Century BC, The Records of the Grand Historian virtually created the China we know today.
The Sīmǎ family had long served as historians and academic advisors to the Han Dynasty, and maintained the records which Qiān would use to compile his work – most of which didn’t survive. He also had access to the bureaucracy which the Song Dynasty had created, and was able to easily travel across China and interview people throughout the Empire.
Out of his life’s work, we get a unified – if somewhat mythological – history of China which dates back to the Yellow Emperor in 2965 BC.
The earliest figure in Chinese folklore whom Sīmǎ Qiān figured was a real being rather than a mythical figure, the Yellow Emperor was born to the king or chief of a tribe located near modern Tianshui in Ginsu province. He would unite all the kingdoms and tribes of the central plains in a battle against a rival named Chīyóu who held nine peoples under his sway.
The Yellow Emperor would lead his coalition to victory and then took them to Mount Tai near Tai’an in Shandong province. There, he led the kings and chieftains in the performance of rites and sacrifices to the Jade Emperor – the chief deity in most Chinese folk religions – and divided up the land between these leaders and their peoples.
A great-grandson of the Yellow Emperor, the last of the Five Emperors from the mythical Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors, and the founder of the mythical Xia Dynasty, Yu was not born to the previous Emperor – Shun – but rather to one of the administrators of the state.
At the time, China’s central plains were subjected to horrific flooding which frequently killed large percentages of the population and devastated the land – often setting back civilization for years with every subsequent flood. Yu’s father had previously been in charge of solving this problem, which he attempted to do using a series of immensely tall dikes meant to contain the water.
However, this failed to solve the problem. When Yu came of age, his father handed the position to him with the same mandate – tame the rivers and stop the floods. Yu ordered an extensive series of irrigation canals to be constructed which would safely disperse the water across the entire country. He also ordered the rivers to be dredged so as to increase the capacity of the rivers.
For the thirteen years it took to complete the project, Yu spent his time out in the field with the workers and supervisors, eating and sleeping with the men and helping to do the physical labor when he wasn’t needed elsewhere. Apocryphal stories claim Yu’s hands and feet were thickly calloused, and that he was only married for four days before he took his post as the minister for taming the rivers – spending those thirteen years only passing by his house three times.
Upon completion of the project, Yu was hailed as a great hero throughout China and was brought before Emperor Shun. Having already deemed his own son unsuitable for the throne, Emperor Shun named Yu his heir. The legends claim Yu originally declined the role, believing himself unworthy, only for a general acclimation from the people to compel him to take up the position of Crown Prince.
When Emperor Shun died, Yu took the throne and founded the Xia Dynasty.
Fall of the Xia Dynasty
Legend says the Xia Dynasty would hold dominion over the central plains of China for the next 400 years, until Jie was crowned Emperor in 1728 BC. Jie was a lecherous tyrant who ruled arbitrarily and without wisdom, striking fear into his people through his willingness to slaughter entire populations should their lord defy him in even the smallest manner. He was known to have extremely jaded tastes, commanding the food given to him coming only from particular locations, and a severe case of alcoholism.
These instincts were not helped by his favorite concubine – Mo Xi. Beautiful, yet as depraved and immoral as they came, Mo Xi encouraged Jie to hold orgies where slaves would forced to debase themselves for the Emperor’s pleasure. She convinced the Emperor to build a lake of wine large enough for the Emperor’s pleasure barge to sail upon – and then ordered three-thousand slaves to drink it dry. When they drowned after becoming drunk and falling into the lake, Mo Xi is reported to have declared it the funniest thing she’d ever seen.
A few of the sources used by Sīmǎ Qiān claim this cruelty was not her natural state, but rather a plot to overthrow Jie. The Bamboo Annals and the Guoyu both claim Mo Xi was plotting with the vassal state of Shi to bring down an Emperor who was thought to be a danger to the state and the people, and that she was acting to force the vassal lords’ hands and provoke a rebellion.
If that was truly her intention, she succeeded.
One of the Xia Dynasty’s vassals, the Kingdom of Shang, had been growing in power for the past few decades – attaining loyalty of 40 other subordinate powers within the Empire. When Jie took the throne and began his reign of terror, the King of Shang used this to solidify his ties and sound out the commanders of the Xia Army.
In the tenth year of Jie’s reign, China was struck by omens and natural disasters. Drought, bombardment by meteors, earthquakes, floods, frost covered the ground on summer mornings, heat and cold followed one another at random, crops failed, and heavy rains caused landslides and the subsidence of buildings.
With the omens and disasters building, the King of Shang rallied his allies and led them to do battle with the Xia Dynasty. The rebellion came to a head in Mingtao near the city of Xia, where Jie and his loyalists were defeated once and for all. According to the legends, Shang was found to be of divine lineage going back to Yu – who had been deified by this time – and was proclaimed Emperor Shang Tang by his allies.
*Its worth noting the historical legends place these disasters around the time of the Thera Eruption in the Mediterranean, pointing to an ancestral memory of real events which were likely the basis for the legend.
The Mandate of Heaven
The successful rebellion by King Tang of Shang would set the pattern for the rest of Chinese history. A rebel would rise up against the Emperor and, if the ruling dynasty was too corrupt and decadent, would overthrow the Emperor and establish their own dynasty – only to be overthrown in time.
As with so many other ancient systems, the legitimacy of the ruler came from their claim to divine blood. The Three Sovereigns who preceded the Five Emperors were all divine beings, and each of the Five Emperors were claimed to have been demigods. Yu, the founder of the Xia Dynasty, could trace his bloodline back to the Yellow Emperor – a demi-god who had attained full godhood after his death – and thus so could all of the Xia Dynasty. The Xia had followed a practice of marrying off daughters to powerful vassals to secure alliances, spreading the divine blood throughout the vassal kingdoms and tribal lands.
But, if the Xia Dynasty had been given power by the Jade Emperor and ruled with his mandate, how had the Shang Dynasty ever been able to overthrow the Xia Dynasty?
The answer came from a disciple of Kǒng Fūzǐ (better known in the West as Confucius) named Mèng Kē (Mencius). Known as the Second Sage among Confucian scholars, Mencius became a student of the Confucian school several generations after Confucius’ death – travelling China during the Warring States period and advising the rulers of the various kingdoms which sought to claim the throne after the Zhou Dynasty began to crumble in 475 BC.
Mencius enshrined the concept of the Mandate of Heaven in the following way:
The people are of supreme importance; the altars of the gods of earth and grain come next; last comes the ruler. That is why he who gains the confidence of the multitudinous people will be Emperor… When a feudal lord endangers the altars of the gods of earth and grain, he should be replaced. When the sacrificial animals are sleek, the offerings are clean and the sacrifices are observed at due times, and yet floods and droughts come [by the agency of heaven], then the altars should be replaced.
This view of the Mandate of Heaven is a highly meritocratic vision of the divine right to rule. So long as the current rulers were just and wise, performing the rites in a pious manner and fulfilling their filial obligations as outlined by Confucius, the Jade Emperor would retain them as the Emperor of China in his name. But, should the ruler grow wicked through decadence and begin to abuse his power, the Jade Emperor would remove that divine right to rule and a new Dynasty would overthrow them and take their place as agents of heaven.
When the Qing Dynasty was brought to an end in 1912 and the Empire abolished in favor of a Republic, Sun Yat-Sen thought he had broken the wheel of dynastic cycles once and for all – only for Mao and his communists to overthrow Sun’s successor, Chiang Kai-Shek in 1949.
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Its worth noting, Mao was only able to do so because he left most of the fighting to Chiang and the National Resistance Army. Estimates indicate the NRA suffered casualty rates of close to 200% from fighting the Imperial Japanese Army for the duration of the war. In contrast, the diary of the Soviet Ambassador to Mao – Peter Vladimirov – shows that Mao was more interested in purging disloyal elements within the CCP and hiding in the mountains while the NRA bled itself dry trying to stop the IJA from conquering more territory where they could murder more civilians.
I will choose the WWII period (i.e., Yan’an Era) and use the interesting book The Vladimirov Diaries (a.k.a. Yan’an Diaries in China) to reveal the true face of the CCP – deceitful, dishonest, secretive, brutal, no ideological conviction, everything is about power.
— Hong Zhang 🇺🇲United We Win🇺🇦 (@hz_udhr) May 8, 2021
Sun, 04/24/2022 – 23:30