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The Chinese history has been a history of dynastic rule. The first real dynasty was the Shang which lasted from about 1500 B.C. to about 1100 B.C. At that time, the Zhou (Chou) overthrew the Shang and set up a new dynasty. The Zhou rulers developed the idea that they received the right to rule, or a mandate to rule, from heaven. This began the belief of the Chinese that their rulers governed according to the principle of the Mandate of Heaven. If rulers did not govern properly, they would lose this mandate to others who would begin a new dynasty. So, Chinese rulers were not seen as gods, but receiving the right to rule from heaven.
The Chinese ruled themselves through the model of dynastic cycle. A new emperor under a new dynasty would first claim the mandate of heaven by bringing peace to China and improving the lives of the people. Viewed to be semi-divine figures, known as the “Sons of Heaven”, they were perceived as having been appointed by the gods to rule over China. Successive emperors that lacked the charisma and the power of the founding emperors were considered to be weak and it was believed that the heavens manifested its displeasure through occurrences of natural and human disasters, such as internal rebellions. The emperor would thus be seen as having lost the mandate of heaven and the legitimisation to rule. The mandate therefore justified the reigning emperor’s rule and the dynasty’s continuation, and in doing so, presented the emperors as almost divine in nature.
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