Is the Mandate of Heaven similar to the Egyptian concept of a pharaoh?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It's notable that the Mandate of Heaven had its origins with the Zhou Dynasty, after they had overthrown the previous rulers, the Shang, as a means of legitimizing their claims to power. Unlike the Egyptian pharaohs, Chinese dynasties never made a claim toward being gods themselves, rather they claimed to...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

It's notable that the Mandate of Heaven had its origins with the Zhou Dynasty, after they had overthrown the previous rulers, the Shang, as a means of legitimizing their claims to power. Unlike the Egyptian pharaohs, Chinese dynasties never made a claim toward being gods themselves, rather they claimed to receive their authority from a divine mandate, although this mandate came with obligations. The central idea of the Mandate of Heaven is that it entails responsibilities on the part of the ruler, and that a ruler only maintains that divine support for so long as they are upholding their obligations and responsibilities as rulers. Should they fail this test, they would then lose the Mandate of Heaven. This is precisely how the Zhou were able to legitimize their rebellion against the Shang.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Aside from both concepts relating to divinity, they are not similar at all. Pharaohs were considered manifestations of the god Horus. Thus they were literally divine and their authority came from these divine connections. To overthrow a pharaoh without invoking charges of blasphemy.

The Chinese Mandate of Heaven never claims the rulers are gods or goddesses themselves. Rather, it states that there can be only one ruler of China at any given time and that whoever rules the land has their authority because it is the will of the gods that they are on the throne. Should someone else overthrow the ruler, then it was believed that the gods willed this to be so. You couldn't do that with a pharaoh, as he was himself a divine being.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The short answer to your question is no. Egyptian pharaohs were considered to be the human manifestation of the god Horus; and was responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile which made Egyptian civilization possible.. As such, they were considered divine. It was highly improper to even look upon the pharaoh, and to touch him unless he specifically requested it was punishable by death. Precious few Egyptians ever saw the Pharaoh, as he remained hidden from their view. It was for this reason that his likeness was often portrayed in statues.

The Mandate of Heaven was used by the Zhou dynasty rulers to justify their rule. It was more akin to the concept of Divine Right. It was believed that heavenly forces were closely connected with events on earth; and those heavenly forces chose an earthly ruler based on his particular merit. The ruler was commonly known as the "son of heaven" and presumably acted as the intermediary between heaven and earth. As long as he ruled fairly and justly, harmony between heaven and earth was maintained, and his rule continued; however if he acted unjustly, that harmony would no longer exist and the heavenly forces would choose another ruler. This idea was used to justify the overthrow of the Shang dynasty; and carried some validity well into the twentieth century.

So the Egyptian Pharoah was considered divine; whereas Chinese rulers were not; however they were divinely sanctioned. They could be removed if they did not rule fairly and justly; the Pharaoh was only removed by death.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team