The Mandate of Heaven

The historical foundations of the Chinese legal and social system

A Western lawyer encountering Chinese law for the first time is likely to be struck by a dual impression. The codified legal framework is immediately recognisable as stemming from the German-Japanese legal lineage, as are the grafted elements of Anglo-American laws, European Union legal principles, along with significant traces of the Soviet system. On the other hand, the practical implementation of these laws reveals a notable disparity between the formal law and its real-world application.

Broadly speaking legal rules in China appear in practice to be significantly more flexible than their Western counterparts in respect of government discretion, but often less accommodating of private will. A prominent example is evident in many company registries where local officers insist that newly formed companies adhere to the registry’s standard template for articles of association, refusing registration if shareholders do not comply. While local lawyers may find this practice somewhat annoying, they accept it as not conflicting with general legal principles as broadly legitimate. Observing how respectable middle-aged citizens yielded to directives from young local officials during the Covid epidemic highlights that the concept of “law” in China holds a different meaning than the one attributed to it in the West. Legal rules seem to behave differently in China, almost as if constructed from a different material.

This apparent discrepancy can be so startling that it may prompt reflection on the nature of law, its origins, and the roots of the differences between China and the West. The notion that law derives solely from power, encapsulated in the phrase “Power arises from the barrel of the gun,” oversimplifies matters and fails to address why the soldier wielding the gun would obey one authority over another. Power obviously results from obedience, which in turn stems from a conscious exercise of human freedom, where individuals determine their own behavioural choices.

Drawing from the insights of Chinese sociologist Fei Xiaotong (1910-2005), a recent study on China’s geopolitical position writes: “A Western concept of the individual with innate rights shaped ideas, law and political organization. As the individual is created by God and not a product of society, law is therefore impersonal and adjudicated by impartial tribunals. The existence, and membership, of political organization rests upon consent of members who satisfy the conditions laid down by agreed legal terms.” [1] This perspective helps us understand that a genuine understanding of a foreign system must include both curiosity and empathy, as well as self-reflection and recognition. By comprehending another system, we gain insights into our own.

Concisely, in the West, law carries an almost sacred value, emerging from the convergence of individual sovereignty, indirectly leading to an ideal of law rooted in individual rights. In China, however, a system intertwines rules and relations, composed more of powers, duties, and discretion than rights and obligations. The legal relationship paradigm remains akin to what the European continental legal system terms “administrative,” as if each citizen were intrinsically tied to the state’s organization. As we delve into Chinese legal history, we find that the fundamental concepts trace back to initial foundational events, which this article aims to explore. This is not to assert that contemporary Chinese societal and legal constructs haven’t evolved since ancient times, but to highlight connecting lines between the two eras that can be identified and acknowledged to a certain extent.

With this objective in mind, I will enquire into the origins and legitimization of Chinese political power and monarchy, as the source of the legal system, through archaic historical documents.

The ancient Chinese monarchy derives its legitimacy from a spiritual power granted by a supreme deity. Consequently, the rules governing society, whether through rituals or written penal codes, find their sole source in the sovereign’s will, which is in turn founded upon divine legitimacy. This paper will retrace the pivotal steps that shaped this concept, from the early mythical period to the historical emergence of the Shang dynasty (ca. 1600 BC – 1121 BC)[2] and the establishment of the Zhou dynasty (1121-313 BC), and the regency of the Duke of Zhou (? – ca. 1032 BC).

Specifically, I will examine the following aspects:

  1. The myth of the separation of Heaven and Earth, establishing the ruler’s exclusive right to worship God. This is evident in the chapter “The Punishments of Lü” in the Book of Documents and in the second part of the Discourses of Chu in the “Discourses of the States” (Guo Yu);
  2. The era of king-priests during the Shang dynasty, recorded in the “Pan Geng” chapter of the Book of Documents (Shang Shu);
  3. The deification of rulers during the final centuries of the Shang dynasty;
  4. The contrasting personas of Di Xin and Wen Wang during a shift in the mandate of Heaven;
  5. The religious-political foundation of the Zhou dynasty by King Wu, who receives a transfer of legitimation from Viscount Ji, as recorded in the “Hong Fan” chapter of the Book of Document; and
  6. The subsequent religious-political reform by the Duke of Zhou, found in his various extant speeches in the Book of Documents.

Throughout this exploration, I will extensively refer to the divine origin of the sovereign’s power, an origin that becomes particularly clear in documents from the earliest phase of Chinese history, reaching back to the dawn of the 11th century B.C. The concept of a cosmic order that humans must align with, integrating the natural and supernatural, is ancient. This notion is prominently visible in the Book of Changes and the Hong Fan, subjects I will explore in later sections. Notably, the cosmic order does not preclude the existence of a personal God; rather, the existence of an ultimate deity capable of conscious choices forms the bedrock of the concept of the Mandate of Heaven (Tian Ming) as the source of power’s legitimation—a notion dating back to the Shang dynasty. This foundational idea evolves in tandem with the monarchy’s successes and failures, as seen in the hymns of the Book of Odes (Shi Jing)[3] and in other texts like the initial three chapters of the “Discourses of the States” (Guo Yu). This evolution leads to the intertwined phenomena of the monarchy’s diminishing relevance and the depersonalization of the supreme deity, prominent during the Zhou era.

Confucian, Taoist, and legalist thoughts crystallized in the 6th century BC as responses to this dual crisis. Even Confucius, a product of his time, harkened back to the early Zhou rulers’ era as a golden age, when religious faith and the governance of China seemed to be one and the same thing.[4]

The Creation Of The World and of China – the Division Of Heaven And Earth

The work that, in my experience, contains the most comprehensive compilation of ancient Chinese legends is likely found in Ma Su’s “History Unravelled”,[5] which seamlessly bridges the gap from the creation of the world and the first cosmic being, Pan Gu, “whose breath when he died became the wind and the clouds, whose voice became the thunder, whose left eye became the sun and his right eye the moon. His limbs became the four poles and the five mountains, his blood became the rivers, his nerves the earth, his muscles the fields…” This narrative extends[6] to the thirteen celestial sovereigns, followed by the eleven terrestrial sovereigns[7] and eventually the human emperors, all without interruption or foundational episode. Historian Lü Simian even comments: “So who is the first monarch mentioned in the ancient books? There is no need to ask, it is Pan Gu!”

According to this myth,[8] the founding of China coincides with the creation of the world, and the Chinese monarchy with the creation of mankind. This signifies that not only does China coincide with the world, but the Chinese monarchy is ultimately the natural and creational order of humanity. The ancient term for China was “Tianxia,” meaning “under the Heaven,” [9] essentially referring to the world, while the word “Zhongguo” (middle kingdom or kingdoms) was initially restricted to the central territories of the northern Chinese plain.[10]

The Book of Documents (“Shang Shu” or “Shu Jing” compiles texts from the ancient predynastic emperors such as Yao (reign years 2356-2254 BC), Shun (2254-2204 BC), and early dynasties: Xia (2204-1756 BC), Shang (1756-1121 BC), and Zhou (1121-313 BC). Alongside the Book of Odes and the Book of Changes (Yi Jing), it stands among the foundational texts of Chinese civilisation and likely contains its oldest documents. The Book of Documents holds the oldest surviving legal text of Chinese civilisation in the chapter The Punishments of Lü (Lü Xing), penal in nature, dating back to the reign of King Mu (regnal years 976-922 BC), the fifth king of the Zhou dynasty. According to Sima Qian’s account, this[11] penal reform was promulgated at the initiative of the Marquis of Pu, also known as the Marquis of Lü, during a period when feudal lords were causing troubles for the monarchy.[12]

The description of King Mu’s new laws is preceded by an intriguing myth: “The king said, “According to the teachings of ancient times, Chiyou was the first to produce disorder, which spread among the common people, till all became robbers and murderers, owl-like in their conduct, traitors and villains, snatching and filching, dissemblers and oppressors. Among the people of Miao, they did not use the power of good, but the restraint of punishments. They made the five punishments engines of oppression, calling them the laws. They slaughtered the innocent, and were the first also to go to excess in cutting off the nose, cutting off the ears, castration, and branding. All who became liable to those punishments were dealt with without distinction, no difference being made in favour of those who could offer some excuse. The mass of people were gradually affected by this state of things, and became dark and disorderly. Their hearts were no more set on good faith, but they violated their oaths and covenants. The multitudes who suffered from the oppressive terrors, and were in danger of being murdered, declared their innocence to Heaven. God surveyed the people, and there was no fragrance of virtue arising from them, but the rank odour of their cruel punishments. The great emperor compassionated the innocent multitudes who were in danger of being murdered, and made the oppressors feel the terrors of his majesty. He restrained and finally extinguished the people of Miao, so that they should not continue to future generations. Then he commissioned Chong and Li to make an end of the communications between earth and heaven, and the descents of spirits ceased. From the princes down to the inferior officers, all helped with clear intelligence the spread of the regular principles of duty, and the solitary and widows were no more disregarded.[13]

After securing the division between heaven and earth, the emperor now needs to establish a social order: “He sought to awe the people by his virtue, and all were filled with dread; he proceeded also to enlighten them by his virtue, and all were enlightened. And he charged the three chiefs to labour with compassionate anxiety in the people’s behalf. Boyi delivered the statutes of ceremony, to prevent the people from rendering themselves obnoxious to punishment.[14] Yu reduced to order the water and the land, distinguishing by name the hills and rivers. Ji spread abroad a knowledge of husbandry, so that the people could largely cultivate the admirable grains. When the three chiefs had accomplished their work, it was abundantly well with the people. The minister of Crime exercised among the people the restraint of punishments, in exact adaptation to each offence, to teach them to reverence virtue. The greatest gravity and harmony in the sovereign, and the greatest intelligence in those below him, thus shining forth to all quarters of the empire, all were rendered diligent in cultivating their virtue. Hence, if anything more were wanted, the clear adjudication of punishments effected the regulation of the people, and helped them to observe the regular duties of life. In examining criminal cases, the officers executed the law not only against the powerful, but also against the wealthy. They were all reverence and caution. They had no occasion to make choice of words in reference to their conduct. The virtue of Heaven was attained to by them; from them was the determination of so great a matter as the lives of men. In their low sphere they yet corresponded to Heaven, and enjoyed its favour.[15]

After recalling this myth, King Mu delivers a warning to the Marquis of Lü: “Ah! you who superintend the government and preside over criminal cases throughout the empire, are you not constituted the shepherds of Heaven? Whom ought you now to survey as your model? Is it not Boyi, spreading among the people his lessons to avert punishments? And from whom ought you now to take warning? Is it not from the people of Miao, who would not examine into the circumstances of criminal cases, and did not make choice of good officers who should see to the right apportioning of the five punishments, but chose the violent and bribe-snatchers, who determined and administered them so as to oppress the innocent, until God could not hold them guiltless, and sent down calamity on Miao, when the people had no plea to urge in mitigation of punishment, and their name was cut off from the world?[16]

The above account is mentioned in the Discourses of the States (Guo Yu) in part two of the chapter on the Discourses of Chu,[17] in which, more than four centuries later, King Zhao of Chu (regnal years 515-489 B.C.) asks Guan Yifu[18] for enlightenment on the myth’s meaning.

Guan Yifu first describes an initial era of peace: “In ancient times, men and gods did not mix. The hearts of men were not double, but instead simple and upright. They had the intelligence to distinguish the things up there from the things down here, the wisdom of far-sightedness, the sight that enlightens, the hearing to listen deeply. The spirits descended on those who had this clarity, who if a man was called a seer, if a woman a priestess[19]

Later, however: “When the decline of Emperor Shaohao came, there was the unrest of the Jiuli tribe , people and spirits mingled, and there was no distinction between things. Everyone offered sacrifices, there were priests and astrologers in the families, and there was no faithfulness anymore. People did not attend religious functions and no longer knew their own happiness. Offerings were multiplying, men and spirits had become equal. People did not care about oaths; there was no longer respect or authority. The gods knew the norms of men and did not trust their behaviour. They did not grant prosperity; there were no offerings to present. Calamities were repeated, and their causes could not be fully understood. When Emperor Zhuanxu succeeded to the throne, he ordered Chong who oversaw the South to take care of the spirits and commanded Li who oversaw the fire to take care of men, so that order would be restored, and that there would be no violations or neglect. This was the division of heaven and earth.”[20]

Guan Yifu proceeds with the narrative: “Subsequently, the tribes of the three Miao again behaved like the Jiuli. Emperor Yao, who had held the descendants of Chong and Li in esteem, not forgetting the past, asked them to regain control, which then continued until the Xia and Shang dynasties. So, the descendants of Chong and Li continued to minister to the heavens and the earth, keeping them divided…Under the Zhou dynasty, their descendant Xiu Fu, baron of Cheng…to be authoritative with the people and said, ‘Truly Chong raised the heavens and Li lowered the earth,’ which no one could contradict in times of unrest.[21]

The above myth is set at the time of the mythical emperors Shaohao and Zhuanxu, and the semi-mythical emperor Yao (regnal years 2356-2254 BC).

The myth, as recounted from the combination of these two sources, seems to unfold in the following steps:

  • an ancient golden age in which heaven and earth communicated, but without creating unrest;
  • an invasion or interference by a Miao population, called Jiuli, headed by the leader Chiyou, which brings two elements of havoc, respectively: (a) excessive and cruel application of penal sanctions and (b) direct communication with the supernatural unmediated by priests or civil authority;
  • the emperor, interrupts the direct communication between heaven and earth through his officials; and
  • the division of heaven and earth puts an end to the chaos and allows the reconstruction of social order by civil authority.

Such a narrative becomes comprehensible only when one considers that the king in the myth is a king-priest who, by claiming for himself, not without some hubris, the way to Heaven, acquires – as we shall see – the right to regulate men’s communication with the divine and the monopoly of the worship of God, a monopoly that amidst alternating events lasted until the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 and the violation of which was a criminal offence.[22] The sovereign is therefore both king and pontiff with the not insignificant difference that the pontifex is the one who builds a bridge that crosses towards transcendence, whilst the emperor was the one who allowed or forbade crossing.[23]

Pan Geng And the King-priests

The Book of Documents contains a chapter of King Pan Geng’s (regnal years 1400 BC-1372 BC) speeches,[24] which clearly evidence not only the ruler’s privileged relationship with God, but also that this special relation existed primarily for the benefit of his people. Incidentally, although the Pan Geng chapter is evidently written in much less archaic language than that of the oldest remaining oracle bones, which are dated two centuries later, its content reflects a conception of kingship, and of its relationship to the divine, that probably predates the process of king deification that took place in the last centuries of the Shang dynasty (see below), and certainly predates the Zhou. Therefore, I believe that this chapter is essentially authentic in its content, although it has probably undergone significant linguistic and editorial updates.

The chapter reports the words of King Pan Geng, who tries to convince his subjects to move the capital from Yan to Yin. Since this is the fifth transfer of the capital, the populace and the gentry are reluctant to shoulder – again – the effort and expenses. The chapter is divided into three speeches: first an introductory one, a second one just before crossing the river that separated the old capital from the new one, and the last one upon arrival at the new site. The tone of the speeches is persuasive and at times almost an entreaty: the king does not order peremptorily, and never threatens the terrible punishments typical of later periods. He warns of the danger of disobeying the divine commands that come through him, as they have come through his ancestors: When the former kings had any business, they reverently obeyed the commands of Heaven. In a case like this especially they did not indulge a constant repose, – they did not abide ever in the same city. Up to this time the capital has been in five regions. If we do not now follow the practice of the ancients, we shall be refusing to acknowledge that Heaven is making an end of our dynasty here.” [25] He exhorts, teaches, encourages. Secondly, the king does not provide any worldly reason for the transfer: he does not speak of floods, droughts, danger of invasions or anything else. The only effective reason given is the will of Heaven as reported by the oracle bones, combined with the concern of the sovereign for the good of his people. The king is therefore a king-priest and the sole interpreter of God’s will. Pan Geng highlights this position by repeatedly referring to himself with the expression yu yi ren (I alone). Yu yi ren, similar to the royal “we”, is certainly the appropriate expression, but is rarely used with this frequency elsewhere.

The ancient Chinese religion had at its centre the supreme god Di, who nevertheless did not exclude the existence or veneration of minor deities, particularly the four directions (the cardinal points), the deities of natural phenomena, the celestial deities (shen), the earthly deities (qi), the ancestors (zu), and etc.[26]  He was in essence a Deus deorum or, as some say, a “thearch.[27] This supreme god, unlike the other gods, does not receive sacrifices or prayers.[28] James Legge consistently translates Di as “God”. While contemporary sinologists try to avoid the issue in various ways, they agree that Di is the supreme deity with powers and qualities different from the others.[29] In this article, I follow James Legge’s use of the word “God” to refer to this supreme deity, knowing that it is an approximation, to convey more simply and immediately to an English-speaking reader the relationship between this supreme deity and the sovereign as it appears in ancient texts.

God in ancient Chinese religion was head of the deities. In the same way, during the Shang dynasty, the king was at the apex of a political priestly caste that was comprised of various types of priests: the wu who communicated with spirits, the zhu who were soothsayers, the shi who were astrologers, and the yi who were healers. During the later Zhou dynasty, there were numerous examples of people from this priestly caste being appointed to leadership positions in administration or politics. The Zhou Li (the “Rites of Zhou” or perhaps better translated as the “Institutions of Zhou”), which describes the ideal kingdom’s organizational structure, contains many such examples, although by that time, the shi had already become scribes and the yi were on the path to becoming physicians. The Discourses of the States (Guo Yu) tells about King Li’s (877-841 B.C.) particular trust in a priest named Wei, who, however, due to his excessively repressive policies ended up causing a revolt resulting in the king’s exile. With the progressive loss of relevance of the monarchy and traditional religion in the second part of the Zhou dynasty, the ancient priestly caste began to crumble and lose credibility. Those clerics who did not manage to become civil professionals, teachers or intellectuals were soon downgraded from priests to magicians, and then from magicians to little more than charlatans. About a thousand years after Pan Geng, in the third century B.C., Han Fei wrote “Nowadays, when priests and soothsayers perform divinations, they say, ‘May you live a thousand years, ten thousand years.’ The sound of a thousand years and ten thousand years pleases the ears, but there is no evidence that they add even a single day to anyone’s life. For this reason, priests and soothsayers are not taken seriously.”[30]

King Pan Geng was succeeded by King Xiao Xin who, according to Sima Qian, was not a good ruler. This made the people nostalgic for Pan Geng, and they collected his discourses in a book.[31] Xiao Xin was succeeded by Xiao Yi, who was in turn succeeded by Wu Ding (regnal years 1250 BC – 1193 BC). From Wu Ding onwards during the Shang dynasty, there is interesting archaeological evidence.

The Oracle bones and the deification of the sovereign

The archaeological findings of oracle bones in the early 20th century attest to an important element of the relationship between the king and God in the Shang dynasty. These oracle bones date back to the period spanning the reign of Wu Ding (regnal years 1250 BC – 1193 BC) to that of Di Xin (regnal years 1075 BC – 1046 BC), the last king of the Shang dynasty who was eventually defeated by King Wu of Zhou, a topic we’ll discuss later. Oracle bones were tools used for divinations, performed either by the king or on behalf of the king and other nobles, aimed at communicating with God (exclusively by the king) or minor deities. These bones, typically made from[32] turtle shells or cattle scapulae, bore inscribed questions. The inscribed bones were then subjected to heat until they cracked, and the pattern of these cracks was interpreted to understand the deity’s response.

The oracle bones documents reveal several crucial aspects. First, the king displayed concerns about the fate of his ancestors in the afterlife, inquiring whether his forebears deserved a special position alongside God. After receiving a positive response from[33] the oracle, the king directed his prayers towards his ancestors (sometimes in place of God), seeking their intercession with God.[34] The term “Di” began to be associated with the ancestor addressed in these oracles and eventually became a general reference to the deceased kings. During this period, the king also posed questions to the supreme God (Shangdi), albeit not in the form of requests or prayers. The distinction between the supreme God (Shangdi) and the ancestral God-kings (Wangdi) was always clear. Prayers were frequently directed towards the latter.

Some scholars speculate that Di, rather than a supreme God, may represent a primordial ancestor and the forefather of the Shang dynasty, potentially[35] identified as Ku[36] or Kui. However,[37] significant differences exist. Unlike Ku or Kui, no prayers or religious practices were directed towards Di during the Shang dynasty. Di possessed the exclusive power to command other gods, and only Di’s approval (ruo) was sent to Earth. Ku and Kui, on the other hand, were often mentioned alongside other gods, suggesting they belonged to the same category, which wasn’t the case with Di.[38] In addition, a straightforward reading of the ancient texts analysed in this work clearly suggests the belief in a supreme God in ancient China, profoundly distinct from the minor gods. This supreme God was typically referred to as Di, Tian, and occasionally Tiandi (Heaven and Earth), especially in later times, but remained ontologically separate from other entities also called Di, such as historical rulers or mythical emperors (Huang Di, Yan Di, etc.), who were treated as deified human beings with their attributes, lives, and deeds forming the subjects of mythological narratives.[39] This point will become clearer as we continue our exploration of the translated passages in the subsequent sections of this article.

While the oracle bones may not demonstrate a clear evolution in the relationship between God and the monarch, there are elements suggesting that some evolution did occur. Notably, historical records about Pan Geng and Di Xin reveal markedly different conceptions of the monarchy and its powers. Pan Geng utilized persuasion, while Di Xin capriciously ordered the execution of eminent aristocrats without encountering resistance to his authority. In addition, in the last fifty years of the dynasty, Shang rulers began adopting the name of the supreme divinity directly. The traditional names of the final two Shang rulers, Di Yi [40] (regnal years 1101 BC – 1076 BC) and Di Xin [41] (regnal years 1075 BC – 1046 BC), included the term “Di.” It is not entirely clear whether these were posthumous names or whether they were used during the reign of the respective emperors. Sima Qian, with access to a more extensive range of sources, include these names in the dialogues, giving the impression they were used to refer to living emperors,[42] and notes that the monarchy weakened during their reigns.[43] It would be interesting to explore whether this weakening of the monarchy was linked to the impiety of the last rulers, as evident in their presumptuous adoption of the name of God. This would be indirectly corroborated by the stories of the clear impiety of Emperor Wu Yi (regnal years 1147 BC – 1113 BC), who according to Sima Qian hung sacks full of blood from trees, which he then pierced with arrows, saying he had “shot the Heaven,” and who eventually met his nemesis by perishing due to a lightning strike.. However, as we shall see later, the Duke of Zhou draws a clear distinction between Di Xin and his predecessors by stating that Shang had maintained the mandate of Heaven until Di Yi, whereas only Di Xin had lost it. This hypothesis, though interesting, remains therefore for the moment unconfirmed.

In Chinese tradition, the title “Di” was given to prehistoric rulers as well as those of the Xia and Shang dynasties, but not to the Zhou rulers, who were uniformly referred to as “wang” (king) or “Tian Zi” (Son of Heaven).

Di Xin and Wen Wang – the Heavenly change

 the Shang dynasty approached its end, two extraordinary and opposing personalities emerged: Di Xin and Wen Wang. Sima Qian remembered Di Xin, the final emperor of the Shang, as a person of exceptional physical strength and intelligence. However, he lacked the good sense and moderation required of a statesman or even of an ordinary decent man. He had a penchant for alcohol and “perverse” music, blindly following the whims of his consort Daji, leading him towards increasingly absurd and violent behaviour. Di Xin introduced a new form of capital punishment known as “pao,” likely involving roasting the condemned alive by tying them to a red-hot metal tube. He mercilessly executed two of his counsellors for minor offences. When a third counsellor, Bi Gan, dared to protest, Di Xin replied: “I have heard that the hearts of the saints have seven orifices”, and had Bi Gan disembowelled on the spot to observe his heart.

Wen Wang (the cultured king) is the posthumous name of Ji Chang, the baron of Zhou and one of the counsellors of Emperor Di Xin, also known as the “Baron of the West”. He must have been a person of exceptional charisma, repeatedly mentioned by his son, the Duke of Zhou, as the one chosen to govern China through the mandate of Heaven. Although he never ruled the country or openly challenged the authority of the sovereign, the memory of his sanctity inspired an entire chapter of ten hymns in the Book of Odes. These hymns begin with words in line with the tradition described by the Shang oracle bones: “Wen Wang is on high;/ Oh! bright is he in heaven./ Although Zhou was an old country,/ The [favouring] appointment lighted on it recently./ Illustrious was the House of Zhou,/ And the appointment of God came at the proper season./ Wen Wang ascends and descends,/ On the left and the right of God.[44] According to Chinese tradition, Wen Wang is the author of the oldest part of the Book of Changes and the first twenty-five chapters of the Yi Zhou Shu (the Neglected Books of Zhou) of which only 18 remain, and which Sima Qian ignores. We know that he ruled the people of Zhou with justice, so much so that he impressed visiting aristocrats, leading to his imprisonment and subsequent release by Di Xin.

The chapter Xi Bo Kan Li (The Baron of the West Conquests Li) in the Book of Documents informs us that when Wen Wang conquered the ruler of Li, a counsellor of Di Xin addressed the emperor with these earnest words: “Son of Heaven, Heaven is bringing to an end the destiny of our dynasty of Yin; the wisest of men and the great tortoise equally do not venture to know any thing fortunate for it. It is not that the former kings do not aid us, the men of this after time; but by your dissoluteness and sport, O king, you are bringing on the end yourself. On this account Heaven has cast us off, so that there is distress for want of food; there is no consideration of our heavenly nature; there is no obedience to the statues of the empire. Yea, our people now all wish the dynasty to perish, saying ‘Why does not Heaven send down its indignation? why does not someone with its great decree make his appearance? what has the present king to do with us?’ [45] To these words, Di Xin contested his royal vocation by right of blood, “Oh! is not my life secured by the decree of Heaven?[46] To which Di Xin’s counsellor returned to his residence, and a different view emerged from his comments: “Ah! your crimes which are many are set above; – and can you speak of your fate as if you give it in charge to Heaven? Yin will very shortly perish. As to all your deeds, can they but bring ruin on your country? [47]

After the death of Wen Wang, his son Ji Fa, better known as King Wu, rode on his father’s prestige and led the armies of a group of rebellious feudal lords to put an end to the Shang dynasty and establish the new Zhou dynasty. Wen Wang, proclaimed king posthumously by his son King Wu, remains the saint par excellence of the official Chinese tradition, mentioned countless times by the Duke of Zhou, Confucius, Mencius, Xunzi, Dong Zhongshu, and others as the paradigm of the vocational monarchy. Sima Qian adds that after the death of Di Xin, “King Wu of Zhou became the Son of Heaven, abolished the title of Di for future generations, using instead the title of king (wang).[48] The title Di would be restored by the first Qin emperor in 221 BC, with reference to the reigning sovereign,[49] and would remain in use until the end of the last dynasty in 1911.

However, the new King Wu, and others after him, would have to face the issues arising from having overthrown a dynasty that was believed to rule by divine blood rights.

The Divine constitution – Hong Fan

In the chapter Hong Fan[50] (which can be translated as “The Great Method” or “The Great Law”), of the Book of Documents, King Wu, the first king of the new Zhou Dynasty, having assumed power, summons Xu Yu. Xu Yu was the viscount of Ji, a prominent member of the aristocracy of the defeated Shang Dynasty, and the uncle of the deposed Emperor Di Xin, by whom he was unjustly imprisoned. King Wu asked him for help: “Oh! viscount of Ji, Heaven, unseen, has given their constitution to mankind, aiding also the harmonious development of it in their various conditions. I do not know how their proper virtues in their various relations should be brought forth in due order.”[51] Here King Wu asks Xu Yu to share the secrets of Shang’s governance. King Wu had been the ruler of the vassal state of Zhou and was no stranger to the art of government; what he asks here is not political wisdom, but he asks to know the constitution of the Chinese monarchy.

The elderly viscount responds in a catechetical tone, drawing from the Shang tradition of king-priests, describing a constitution of both religious and vocational nature: “I have heard that of old time Gun dammed up the inundating waters, and thereby threw into disorder the arrangement of the five elements. God was thereby roused to anger, and did not give him ‘the great Plan with its nine Divisions,’ whereby the proper virtues of the various relations were left to go to ruin. Gun was then kept a prisoner till his death, and Yu rose up to continue his undertaking. To him Heaven gave ‘the great Plan with its nine Divisions,’ and thereby the proper virtues of the various relations were brought forth in their order.”[52] This is followed by an explanation of the Nine Divisions in cosmological and political terms.

Here I will have to digress: the Zhou tribe descended from Prince Ji (the Lord of Grains), known as the agricultural minister under Emperor Yao (2356-2254 BC). Gifted with special knowledge in agriculture, they tended to identify the supreme Deity as Heaven (Tian). Initially a vassal under the Shang dynasty, they eventually conquered it and established the Zhou dynasty, the longest in Chinese history, lasting until 313 BC. To refer to the supreme Deity, the Viscount of Ji first used the term Di, preferred by the previous Shang dynasty, then used Tian, taking up the word used by King Wu and clearly indicating that he – or at least the author of the Hong Fan – regarded the two terms as having the same meaning. Throughout the Book of Documents, the words Di and Tian are always synonymous. However, a preference for the former is noted in texts referring to the Shang, and for the latter in those referring to the Zhou. The same occurs with the Book of Odes.

The first four Divisions of the nine comprising the Hong Fan are cosmological: the Five Elements, the Five Businesses, the Eight Objects of Government, and the Five Arrangements (of time). The fifth Division, which is the central one, is titled “Royal Perfection.” It has a moral content and revolves around the virtue of the monarchy, which diffuses among the people, rendering them virtuous: Without deflection, without unevenness,/ Pursue the Royal righteousness;/ Without any selfish likings,/ Pursue the Royal way;/Without any selfish dislikings,/ Pursue the Royal path;/ Without deflection, without partiality,/ Broad and long is the Royal path./ Without partiality, without deflection,/ The Royal path is level and easy;/ Without perversity, without one-sidedness,/ The Royal path is right and straight,/ Seeing this perfect excellence,/ Turn to this perfect excellence.” The viscount of Ji continues: This amplification of the Royal perfection contains the unchanging rule, and is the great lesson; – yea, it is the lesson of God. All the multitudes, instructed in this amplification of the perfect excellence, and carrying it into practice, will approximate to the glory of the son of Heaven, and say, ‘The son of Heaven is the parent of the people, and so becomes the sovereign of the empire [Tianxia].”[53]

The remaining four Divisions follow, respectively: the Three Virtues, the Examination of Doubts, the Various Verifications, and the Five Joys. Of these remaining Divisions, the seventh, the Examination of Doubts, is particularly important as it sets out a decision-making procedure that includes the opinion of the sovereign, that of the ministers, that of the people, and that of two divinatory instruments: oracle bones and divination with yarrow stalks, still used today in connection with the Book of Changes. In case of conflicting results, the result of divination would prevail.

The pivotal importance of the Hong Fan in the history of Chinese thought is testified by the large number of monographies dedicated to it along the centuries, including by way of example: “The Meaning of Hong Fan Explained Verbally” by Hu Yuan (993-1059), “The Unity of Hong Fan” by Zhao Shanxiang (†1242), the “Clarifications on the Meaning of Hong Fan” by Huang Daozhou (1585-1646), and the “Theory of Hong Fan” by Hu Wei (1633-1714).[54] In addition to these works, there are countless modern commentaries, not to mention all that has been written on the Hong Fan within the numerous larger commentaries dedicated to the Book of Documents.

The Hong Fan is primarily a religious-political text that describes a personal God who confers an investiture on the priest-king and accompanies him in his governing mission through the tools of divination. The king is given the title of Son of Heaven, which – it should be remembered – means Son of God. He is anointed king of China and lord of the world, becoming pater patrum, governing his citizens as a father governs his own children. The king is the pivot between God and the people, summarizing in a way the roles of emperor and pope in European medieval history. The Chinese state during the Zhou period presents characteristic elements typical of an ecclesiastical structure. As the Zhou dynasty is a founding era for Chinese culture, some of these characteristics remained, at least as an ideal, throughout the centuries of imperial China. It is no coincidence that Legge often refers to the Chinese classics using the word “scriptures.” In such a conception, it is easily understood how the law has a secondary value in the whole imperial system, not unlike perhaps the role of canon law in the Catholic Church.

In 2014, the legal historians Zhang Zige and Gao Shaoxian wrote about the Hong Fan:[55]From a history of law perspective, the Hong Fan has a very rich legal content. It can even be said that the Hong Fan is a constitutional and programmatic codification of the slave society in China. This idea seems new, but in fact, if we look at the previous generations’ scholarly assessment of the Hong Fan, we will find similar opinions, even if the term ‘constitutional’ was not used.” Therefore, even according to modern historians, law and constitution coincide with the doctrine of monarchy. The basis of law and constitution is the divine investiture of the king as the Son of Heaven. With this investiture, China, Zhong-guo (the centre), iThe state is founded as an entity that ideally exists before the social realities, such as families, clans, and tribes, which are encompassed within it rather than constituting it. Incidentally, even the concept of China as the “Middle Kingdom” was a downgrade compared to the original idea of Tianxia. Tianxia means the world as it relates to Heaven; it is the term used by the viscount of Ji in the Hong Fan when he describes the ultimate vocation of the sovereign, lord of the world, and hints at China being almost the only true country, governed by divine authority and surrounded by the four barbarian tribes, just as God was surrounded by his divine attendants: the cardinal directions.[56]

The Duke of Zhou – the sovereign’s response to the divine vocation

After the death of King Wu, the throne passed to his underage son Ji Song, better known by his posthumous name, King Cheng, under the regency of Ji Dan, the duke of Zhou, son of Wen Wang and brother of the deceased King Wu. The duke had to quell a rebellion aimed at restoring the Shang dynasty by Wu Geng, son of Di Xin, and therefore had to provide very solid arguments for the legitimacy of the dynasty he represented in the face of someone who claimed to be the son of Heaven by biological descent.

According to the most authoritative version of the Book of Documents,[57] there are ten speeches left by the duke of Zhou, respectively titled: Da Gao, the great announcement; Kang Gao, the announcement to Prince Kang; Jiu Gao, the announcement about liquors; Zi Cai, timber of the rottlera; Luo Gao, the announcement concerning the city of Luo (nowadays Luoyang); Duo Shi, the speech to the officials of Shang; Wu Yi, “do not be negligent”; Jun Shi, the speech to his brother Shi, duke of Shao; Duo Fang, the speech to regional rulers; and Li Zheng, for the coronation of King Cheng. All of these speeches were delivered during his regency and were of religious-political nature (although Kang Gao also contains legal and procedural advice on the way to exercise jurisdiction).

We must now return to a previously mentioned point: to refer to the Divinity, the Duke of Zhou uses the terms Di and Tian interchangeably, often in two consecutive sentences, showing that he considered these two terms as equivalent. It can even be inferred that the duke alternated the terms purposefully to clarify, especially to the nobles and officials of both the old Shang dynasty and the new Zhou dynasty, that there was no difference between the two concepts and that they should not try to find any. Everyone, whether they felt more attached to the old dynasty or the new one, had to have this idea clearly in mind: Di, God of the Shang, is the same as Tian, God of the Zhou, but He had stripped Shang of his mandate and entrusted it to Zhou. Here are some examples of the alternation between Di and Tian, with the former translated as God and the latter as Heaven: “ Da Gao: [I] dare not disregard the charge of God. Heaven, favourable to the Tranquilizing king [Wen Wang], gave such prosperity to our small State of Chow.;[58] Kang Gao: God approved. Heaven gave a great charge to King Wen.;[59] Shao Gao: ‘The immense Heaven, the supreme God;[60]. The phenomenon is particularly evident in the Duo Shi, addressed to the officials of Shang, of which I will give only one example: Ye numerous officers who remain from the dynasty of Shang, great ruin came down on Shang from want of pity in compassionate Heaven, and we, the princes of Zhou, received its favouring decree. We accordingly felt charged with its bright terrors; carried out the punishments which kings inflict; rightly disposed of the appointment of Shang, and finished the work of God. Now, ye numerous officers, it was not that our small country dared to aim at the appointment of Shang. But Heaven was not with Shang, for indeed it would not strengthen its misrule. It therefore helped us; – did we dare to seek the throne of ourselves? God was not for Shang, as appeared from the conduct of our inferior people, in which there is the brilliant dreadfulness of Heaven.[61]  The Duo Shi employs the alternation between Tian and Di with a clear religious-political intent. The frequency of the alternation is so high that listing all the examples here will be impossible. Even in the Jun Shi and Duo Fang, the duke repeatedly alternates Di and Tian, although not always in close succession.

However, the religious reform of the duke of Zhou did not hinge on replacing the word Di with Tian for the divinity or with Wang (or Tianzi) for the sovereign. These novelties were typical of the Zhou, and had already been introduced by King Wu. The Duke’s speeches focused on the vocational legitimacy of the Zhou dynasty, based on two arguments: (1) continuity with the conquered Shang dynasty from the first sovereign Tang to the penultimate Di Yi, excluding the last sovereign, Di Xin, who was deposed for his iniquities; (2) more crucially, Heaven changed its mandate for an ethical reason: Di Xin was corrupt and Wen Wang was virtuous. It follows, that the sovereign called to rule by right of birth must not simply be himself, but must merit his vocation[62] by being virtuous.

In Jun Shi, the Duke of Zhou clearly expresses to his brother Shi his fear and anxiety in this position: [63]Prince Shi, Heaven, unpitying, sent down ruin on Shang; Shang has lost its appointment, and the princes of our Zhou have received it. I do not dare, however, to say, as if I knew it, ‘The foundation will ever truly abide in prosperity. [If Heaven aid sincerity; –]’ Nor do I dare to say, as if I knew it, ‘The final end will issue our misfortunes.’ Oh! you have said, O prince, ‘It depends on ourselves.’ I also do not dare to rest in the favour of God[64]… The favour of Heaven is not easily preserved. Heaven is hard to be depended on … Heaven is not to be trusted. Our course is simply to seek the prolongation of the virtue of Wen Wang, and Heaven will not find occasion to remove its favouring decree which Wen Wang received.[65] Therefore, the Mandate of Heaven is not simply an initial appointment, but a vocation, a mission with a burdensome, important, and even risky duty. It cannot be ruled out that one of the reasons for the Zhou dynasty to become at the same time extremely weak and extremely long-lasting can be this very concept.

The events related to the mandate of Heaven do not end with the Duke of Zhou. As mentioned above, the golden age of the early Zhou kings is followed by a period of weakness that led to the fragmentation of political power, an increasing irrelevance of the monarchy and an increasing dilution of the idea of God. The political and military successes of the early Zhou kings: Cheng (1042-1021 BC), Kang (1020-996 BC), and Mu (976-922 BC) seemed to confirm the idea that the virtuous sovereign received the support of Heaven. Starting with King Li (877-841 BC), the power and prestige of the Zhou kings weakened, but they were not dethroned. This arose the impression that Heaven is no longer interested in the king or the monarchy, as documented in some dramatic verses of the poem “Jie Nan Shan” in the Book of Odes written in the period of King You (781-771 BC): “Great Heaven, unjust,/ Is sending down these exhausting disorders./ Great Heaven, unkind,/ Is sending down these great miseries (…) O unpitying, great Heaven,/ There is no end to the disorder!/ With every month it continues to grow,/ So that the people have no repose (…) From great Heaven is the injustice,/ And our king has no repose./ [Yet] he will not correct his heart,/ And goes on to resent endeavours to rectify him.[66] As a direct political consequence of this situation, a period of five centuries of continuous wars between the feudal lords began, in the impotence of the sovereign and the silence of Heaven. From this political, religious, and existential crisis, classical Chinese philosophy was born, and the seeds were sown for the process of re-centralization of power that would lead to the imperial period.

Although the doctrine of the mandate of Heaven will undergo various changes in the three millennia from the Duke of Zhou to contemporary times, it can certainly be said that the doctrinal foundations on which religious and political thought of subsequent eras are built were definitively established in the period examined in this article, so much so that candidates for civil servants were examined on the Book of Documents until the abolition of the imperial examination system in 1905.

The Mandate of Heaven – political and legal implications

In the myth, the sovereign, by interrupting the direct relationship between heaven [67] and earth, takes control of the relationship between the human and the supernatural and assumes the monopoly of the relationship with God, of which he is the chosen son and sole mediator. In a way, this act re-establishes the sense of identity of the people who, through their relationship with civil authority, find the main, albeit mediated, path to their personal relationship with God. This entails that the interruption of the relationship between heaven and earth, by re-establishing the people’s sense of self in civil relations, also re-establishes a state and a social order that had been disrupted by the entry of the divine into everyday life, which was instead linked to the application of violent and primitive laws.

This idea remained alive even when, centuries later, the sense of the direct relevance of the Divinity faded and when, in the Confucian movement, the relationship with God seems to be completely incorporated into the practice of rituals.[68] Chapter Qu Li of the Book of Rites [69] states: “The Son of Heaven performs the liturgy to Heaven, to the gods of the four directions, to the gods of the mountains and of the rivers, and performs the five liturgies throughout the year. The feudal lords may perform the liturgy to the gods of the mountains and of the rivers and perform the five liturgies throughout the year. Members of the small aristocracy (dafu) perform the five liturgies throughout the year. Knights (shi) perform the liturgies for their own ancestors.[70] The sovereign remains the only legitimate priest and worshipper of God according to a tradition that will last for millennia, performing the annual suburbicarian liturgy (jiaosi) outside the capital and – very rarely – the Feng Shan liturgy on the sacred mount Tai Shan.[71]

Not only that, but access to the divine is distributed to everyone, ultimately by the emperor on a concentric basis, leaving the worship of minor deities to people of lower ranks,[72] thus creating an anthropological hierarchy that touches the very heart of man in his relationship with the divine and the infinite, which, for everyone except the emperor, becomes limited and mediated by civil authority. Therefore, civil authority has a relationship with the individual that, in the Western tradition, will be reserved to religious or educational authorities, almost like that of a priest with the faithful or parents with children.

This idea cannot but have an initially universal aspiration. The Zuo Zhuan commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals, in the seventh year of Duke Zhao, states: “Under the vast sky, there are no lands that do not belong to the king, and within the borders of the land, there is no one who is not his subject. The day is divided into ten parts, and men into ten classes, the inferiors serve the superiors, the superiors pray to the gods for everyone. For this reason, the king invests the duke, the duke the aristocrat, the aristocrat the knight, the knight the squire, the squire the charioteer, the charioteer the steward, the steward the butler, the butler the servant, the servant the scullery boy. The horses have the stablemen and the herds the herdsmen, thus providing for all services.”[73] The sovereign is the only one who has a direct relationship with God and, through a series of delegations, creates a gradual traditio potestatis that gives rise to a widespread relational order modelled on the family, where (1) everyone has their place, (2) obedience to the father, the superior, and the sovereign realizes the vocation of the individual, and (3) therefore, the law has a functional role that is external, not foundational. However, this universal ideal can easily become an exclusionary stance towards those who do not recognize the same God and therefore the same sovereign.[74]

Here, I will compare two parallel quotes, written thousands of years apart, to illustrate not only the political but also anthropological implications of the above.

In the chapter Gao Yao Mo of the Book of Documents, where Minister Gao Yao of Emperor Shun presents his agenda to the sovereign, it is written: “Let (the Son of Heaven) not have his various officers cumberers of their places. The work is Heaven’s; men must act for it! From Heaven are the (social) relationships with their several duties; we are charged with (the enforcement of) those five duties – and lo! we have the five courses of honourable conduct. From Heaven are the (social) distinctions with their several ceremonies; from us come the observances of those five ceremonies – and lo! they appear in regular practice. “[75] Regarding these relatively obscure phrases, the “The Correct Meanings of the Book of Documents” from the Tang dynasty, published in 633 by Kong Yingda and one of the mandatory texts for the imperial exams up until the early 20th Century, comments that the emperor, as an agent of God, is essentially the converging point of a relational social order. Expressed in the administrative hierarchy of state officials, in the five levels of nobility (duke, marquis, baron, count, and viscount), and in the five family positions (father, mother, elder brother, younger brother, and son), this social order reflects both the divine and the cosmic order.[76]

The twentieth century jurist, John Ching Hsiung Wu (1899-1986), in the chapter “The Religions of China” in his autobiographical work “Beyond East and West” writes about himself: “The highest act of national worship was the imperial sacrifice to Shang Ti. Only the emperor, the High Priest of “the world,” the Son of Heaven, might perform this great sacrifice, which existed from all antiquity until the fall of the empire. When I became a Christian in 1917, I felt as though I had become an emperor overnight, because now I could worship God directly, having been empowered to be a son of God. My embracement of Christianity was a tremendous spiritual revolution on a par with the political revolution which had changed an absolute monarchy into a republic.”[77]

What remains of this idea today? Maybe not only a historical memory, but also a ghost, or perhaps a pattern, that is still present now.

[1] Carty, Anthony e Gu Jing: “Theory and Practice in China’s Approaches to Multilateralism and Critical Reflections on the Western ‘Rules-Based International Order’” in IDS Research Report 85, Brighton 2021, p. 9. Gli autori qui si rifanno al sociologo Fei Xiaotong ma non citano la fonte ultima.

[2] Here I have used the chronology of 夏商周断代工程 1996-2000年阶段成果报告 in line with most modern sinologists. For very old periods where it does not give a chronology, I have used that of LEGGE, James: The Chinese Classics, Taipei 1991, Vol. III, pp. 184-188).

[3] See below in section 9 the quotation from the poem Jie Nan Shan. But the entire decade of Qi Fu in the Book of Odes reflects the sentiment of this period.

[4] Eno, op.cit. passim.

[5] 马骕:绎史,四库全书,史部,北京1781.

[6] 马 op. cit. 卷一 p. 4.

[7] 马, op. cit., 卷一 p. 6.

[8] 吕思勉:白话本国史(一)、商务印书馆,1964 p. 17.

[9] In the Book of Documents, this term is used in the Yao Dian, the Shun Dian, the Hong Fan, the Shao Gao, the Gu Ming, the Kang Wang Zhi Gao, the Bi Ming and the Lü Xing.

[10] The term ‘Zhongguo‘ with the meaning of ‘central territories’ appears in the Book of Odes chapter Da Ya: decade Sheng Min Zhi Shi, ode Min Lao and in the decade Dang Zhi Shi, odes Dang and Sang Rou.

[11] 司马迁:史记,北京1963 p. 138.

[12]It is possible that these problems with feudal lords that Sima Qian touches upon are the first signs of the autonomist tendency of the Zhou aristocracy that led to the gradual fragmentation of China during the latter part of the dynasty.

[13] 王曰:”若古有训,蚩尤惟始作乱,延及于平民,罔不寇贼鸱义,奸宄夺攘矫虔。苗民弗用灵,制以刑,惟作五虐之刑曰法。杀戮无辜,爰始淫为劓、刵、椓、黥。越兹丽刑并制,罔差有辞。民兴胥渐,泯泯棼棼,罔中于信,以覆诅盟。虐威庶戮,方告无辜于上。上帝监民,罔有馨香德,刑发闻惟腥。皇帝哀矜庶戮之不辜,报虐以威,遏绝苗民,无世在下。乃命重、黎,绝地天通,罔有降格。群后之逮在下,明明棐常,鳏寡无盖。

[14] As mentioned above, I have adopted Legge’s translation. The Chinese text here is, however, obscure.

[15] 德威惟畏,德明惟明。乃命三后,恤功于民。伯夷降典,折民惟刑;禹平水土,主名山川;稷降播种,家殖嘉谷。三后成功,惟殷于民。士制百姓于刑之中,以教祗德。穆穆在上,明明在下,灼于四方,罔不惟德之勤,故乃明于刑之中,率乂于民棐彝。典狱非讫于威,惟讫于富。敬忌,罔有择言在身。惟克天德,自作元命,配享在下。

[16] 嗟!四方司政典狱,非尔惟作天牧?今尔何监?非时伯夷播刑之迪?其今尔何惩?惟时苗民匪察于狱之丽,罔择吉人,观于五刑之中;惟时庶威夺货,断制五刑,以乱无辜,上帝不蠲,降咎于苗,苗民无辞于罚,乃绝厥世。

[17] The text and translation were based on: 徐元诰撰:国语集解,北京2002 p 512 ff., and 陈桐生译注:国语,北京2013, p 623 ff. D’Hormond & Mathieu op. cit. include only the first three chapters of Guo Yu and thus omit this part completely.

[18]观射父, here the character 射 should be read yì (cf. Legge op. cit. pp. 593-594). He was possibly related to Guan Dingfu 观丁父, who was mentioned in the 17th year of Duke Ai in the Spring and Autumn Annals (Legge, op. cit. Vol. V. pp. 848-850). Guan Yifu uses priestly and vaguely adulatory language. It should be noted in this regard that (1) Emperor Zhuanxu was the mythical ancestor of the ruling dynasty in Chu (司马 op. cit. p. 1689), (2) that the state of Chu was notorious for its attraction to shamans, spirits, and forbidden liturgies (班固:汉书,北京1962,第五册,卷二十八,p. 1666 “楚… 信巫鬼,重淫祀”). In his second reported speech from the Discourses of the States to King Zhao, Guan Yifu promotes clearly illicit liturgies including sacrifice to God by feudal lords (徐 op. cit. p. 58, which, however, notes 祀天地谓二王后,非二王后,祭分野星、山川而已). However, Zhao’s kingship is in doubt as he is descended from a family of viscounts who self-proclaimed themselves as kings without external investiture of any kind (司马, op. cit. p. 1695).

[19] 古者民神不雜。民之精爽不攜貳者,而又能齊肅衷正,其智能上下比義,其聖能光遠宣朗,其明能光照之,其聰能聽徹之,如是則明神降之,在男曰覡,在女曰巫。

[20] 及少昊之衰也,九黎乱德,民神杂糅,不可方物。夫人作享,家为巫史,无有要质。民匮于祀,而不知其福。蒸享无度,民神同位。民渎齐盟,无有严威。神狎民则,不蠲其为。嘉生不降,无物以享。祸灾荐臻,莫尽其气。颛顼受之,乃命南正重司天以属神,命火正黎司地以属民,使复旧常,无相侵渎,是谓绝地天通。

[21] 其后,三苗复九黎之德,尧复育重黎之后,不忘旧者,使复典之。以至于夏、商,故重、黎氏世叙天地,而别其分主者也。其在周,程伯休父其后也,当宣王时,失其官守,而为司马氏。宠神其祖,以取威于民,曰:‘重实上天,黎实下地。’遭世之乱,而莫之能御也。Interestingly enough, according to the last chapter of his work, Sima Qian was a descendant of Chong and Li.

[22] There is this rule in the chapter of worship in the book of rituals of the Qing code’s: “凡私家告天…者杖八十” “Prayer to Heaven by private individuals…is punishable by 80 strokes of the stick” (田涛郑秦点校:大清律例,北京1998 p. 276), although the official commentary tells us that only public expression of worship was punishable and not mere private prayer and fasting. The identical rule in the Ming code is translated by JIANG Yonglin: The Great Ming Code / Da Ming lü, Seattle and London 2005, p. 112 as, “In all cases where private families pray to Heaven [gaotian]… they shall be punished by 80 strokes of beating with the heavy stick.” A description of the imperial liturgy of Heaven worship during the last dynasty can be found in the Draft History of Qing, in chapter 卷八十三志五十八,礼二(吉礼二)郊社仪制、郊社配乡,赵 op. cit. pp. 2503-2509. On this, see also the quote from WU, John C H: Beyond East and West, Chicago 2018, at para. 8.

[23]  The connection between the myth of the division of heaven and earth and the royal monopoly of God worship is expressed by a variety of scholars, among whom I point out the History of Chinese Law of Ding Linghua丁凌华著:中国法律制度史,北京2018 p. 41.

[24] 李 op. cit. pp. 223-245; Legge op. cit. pp. 220-247; 吴 op. cit. pp. 67-92.

[25] 先王有服,恪谨天命,兹犹不常宁;不常厥邑,于今五邦。今不承于古,罔知天之断命。(Legge op. cit. pp. 222-223)

[26]  For a detailed account of the attributes  of God in the second half of the Shang dynasty based on oracle bones, please refer to.胡厚宣:殷卜辞中的上帝和王帝(), in《历史研究》 1959年09期 pp 23-50. The article details the relationship between Di as the supreme deity and as the earthly sovereign.

[27] Eno, Robert: “Shang State Religion and the Pantheon of the Oracle Texts”, in Early Chinese religion / edited by John Lagerwey and Marc Kalinowski. (Handbook of oriental studies. Section four, China), Leiden, Boston 2009 p. 58

[28] Eno op. cit. p. 78.

[29] Shaughnessy, Edward L.: Rewriting Early Chinese Texts, New York 2006, p. 115 translates Di as “Lord on High.” Lagerwey, John and Kalinowski, Marc (Handbook of oriental studies. Section four, China), Leiden, Boston 2009. p. 5 “Di (Lord), a god distinguished from all others by the fact that, like the Shang king, he “ordered” (ling ), and by the fact he was not sacrificed to even though his powers would seem to have been extensive: over warfare and victory, weather and harvest, and over the fate of the capital city”; p. 70 “High God”. Ching, Julia: Son of Heaven- Sacral Kingship in Ancient China, Brill 2015, p 16: “both words, huang and ti, originally designated “god”, either as Lord-on-high (Shang-ti 上帝) or as Sovereign Heaven( Huang-t’ien 皇天).” Robert Eno op. cit. p. 70 e ff., simply calls him Di.

[30] 王先慎撰锺哲点校:韩非子集解,北京2003,p. 462-463《显学》”今巫祝之祝人曰:”使若千秋万岁。千秋万岁”之声聒耳,而一日之寿无徵于人,此人所以简巫祝也。”

[31] 司马 op. cit. p. 102.

[32]For more details, see Eno, op. cit. passim.

[33] 胡 op. cit. p. 89.

[34] 胡 op. cit. p. 107.

[35] Eno, op. cit. p. 72 attributes this idea also to Guo Moruo, but does not cite the specific source.  In this way, also 丁凌华著:中国法律制度史,北京2018 p. 56, Pisu, op. cit. p. 15; 丁 op. cit. p. 56, 徐义华:《商代的帝与一神教的起源》21 August 2012 (



[38] Eno op. cit. p. 63.

[39] 司马迁:史记,五帝本纪。

[40] 帝乙, God Second.

[41] 帝辛, God Seventh. The ordinal numerals of the Shang monarchs are often not in sequence. It is possible that they refer to personal characteristics of the monarch, such as their day of birth, rather than to the order of the rulers. It is should be noted that, apart from the last two Shang monarchs, none of the Xia, Shang, or Zhou monarchs have the character 帝 as part of their names.

[42] Sima op. cit. p. 116 in which Di Xin refers to himself with this title. In every case, Sima, in line with tradition, consistently refers to the Xia and Shang monarchs as Di, while referring to the Zhou monarchs as wang. Incidentally, Pan Geng in the Book of Documents never refers to himself as Di, but he only uses this term once to refer to the founder of the dynasty, King Tang, and once to refer to God, a few lines later.

[43] 司马 op. cit. p. 104.

[44] LEGGE, James: The Chinese Classics, Hong Kong, 1960, Vol. IV, 2nd ed, pp. 427-428; 文王在上、于昭于天。周虽旧邦、其命维新。有周不显、帝命不时。文王陟降、在帝左右。

[45] LEGGE, James: The Chinese Classics, Hong Kong, 1865, Vol. III, pp. 268-272; 天子!天既讫我殷命。格人元龟,罔敢知吉。非先王不相我后人,惟王淫戏用自绝。故天弃我,不有康食。不虞天性,不迪率典。今我民罔弗欲丧,曰:‘天曷不降威?’大命不挚,今王其如台?.

[46] Ibid. eod. loc; 呜呼!我生不有命在天?

[47] Ibid. eod. loc; 呜呼!乃罪多,参在上,乃能责命于天?殷之即丧,指乃功,不无戮于尔邦!

[48] 司马 op. cit. 108.

[49] 司马 op. cit. p. 236.

[50] Legge, op.cit. pp. 320-344;  李 op. cit. pp. 296-326. 吴 op. cit. pp. 108-122.

[51] Legge, op. cit. eod. loc;  呜呼!箕子。惟天阴骘下民,相协厥居,我不知其彝伦攸叙。

[52] Legge, op. cit. eod. loc;  我闻在昔,鲧堙洪水,汩陈其五行。帝乃震怒,不畀‘洪范’九畴,彝伦攸斁。鲧则殛死,禹乃嗣兴,天乃锡禹‘洪范’九畴,彝伦攸叙。

[53] Legge, op. cit. eod. loc;  “无偏无陂,遵王之义;无有作好,遵王之道;无有作恶,尊王之路。无偏无党,王道荡荡;无党无偏,王道平平;无反无侧,王道正直。会其有极,归其有极。曰:皇,极之敷言,是彝是训,于帝其训,凡厥庶民,极之敷言,是训是行,以近天子之光。曰:天子作民父母,以为天下王。”

[54] 胡瑗:洪範口義、趙善湘 :洪範統一、黃道周 : 洪範明義 、胡渭 :洪範正論. All of these books are published in the collection 四库全书,经二、书类,北京1781。

[55] 张紫葛、高绍先著:《尚书》法学内容译注,北京2014, p. 54. For those who read modern Chinese, I recommend reading the entire chapter of commentary on Hong Fan pp. 54-69.

[56]On the parallel between the gods of the cardinal directions and the four barbaric tribes, see 葛兆光:中国思想史第,上海2019 Vol. I p. 36.

[57] The so-called Jinwen.

[58] Legge, op.cit. p. 369; 不敢替上帝命。天休于宁王,兴我小邦周

[59] Legge, op.cit. p. 385; 帝休,天乃大命文王

[60] 皇天上帝 (this hendiadys is uttered by the Duke of Zhou’s brother, Shi, Duke of Shao, to whom Jun Shi is dedicated).

[61] Legge, op.cit. pp. 454-455; 尔殷遗多士,弗吊旻天,大降丧于殷,我有周佑命,将天明威,致王罚,敕殷命终于帝。肆尔多士!非我小国敢弋殷命。惟天不畀允罔固乱,弼我,我其敢求位?惟帝不畀,惟我下民秉为,惟天明畏。

[62] To denote merit before God, the Duke of Zhou uses the word 配 (Shao Gao 8; Duo Shi 2; Jun Shi 2), which can be translated as “corresponding” or “deserving”, and replaces 宾 used in Shang oracle bones. 胡 (op. cit.) believes that the two terms are equivalent and that therefore the Duke of Zhou, when speaking to the nobles and officials of Shang in Duo Shi 多士 and to the vassal states in Duo Fang 多方, uses notions of the sovereign’s correspondence to God already known to them. The change would therefore consist in the modes of correspondence: virtue in place of birth.

[63] Legg, op. cit. vol III pp. 474-477. (Legge, op. cit. vol III pp. 476-477. 吴 op. cit. p. 206 and ff.)

[64] Note that here the mandate of Heaven is described as Di ming, and not Tian ming.

[65] 君奭!弗弔天降喪于殷,殷既墜厥命,我有周既受。我不敢知曰厥基永孚于休。若天棐忱,我亦不敢知曰其終出于不祥。嗚呼!君已曰時我,我亦不敢寧于上帝命…不知天命不易,天難諶…天不可信,我道惟寧王德延,天不庸釋于文王受命。

[66] Legge, op. cit. Vol IV p. 309 ff;  诗经,小雅,祈父之什,节南山:”昊天不佣、降此鞠訩。昊天不惠、降此大戾… 不吊昊天、乱靡有定。式月斯生、俾民不宁… 昊天不平、我王不宁。不惩其心、覆怨其正。”

[67] Here, lower case is used because in the myth, tian indicates the location of the gods rather than the supreme deity.

[68] For elaboration on this point, see Eno, Robert: the Confucian Creation of Heaven, New Yorm 1990 passim.

[69] 李op. cit. vol. 6 p. 153.

[70] 天子祭天地,祭四方,祭山川,祭五祀,歲遍。諸侯方祀,祭山川,祭五祀,歲遍。大夫祭五祀,歲遍。mod士祭其先。

[71] Details on these liturgies and how they were celebrated have been continuously recorded throughout Chinese history. These works, inter alia, are cited: the chapter 封禅of 史记 (司马 op. cit. pp. 1355-1404), the chapter 郊祀 of the Book of Han (班:op. cit. pp. 1141-1172), the chapters 志第七,祭祀上:光武即位告天、郊、封禅 in the Book of the Later Han 范晔:后汉书,北京1965, pp. 3157-3176, the chapter 礼仪一 in the Old Book of Tang in 刘䧁:旧唐书,北京 1975, pp. 819-820, in the chapters 志五十二,礼二(吉礼二)南郊、志五十三,礼三(吉礼三)北郊,and 志第五十七(吉礼七)封禅of the History of Song in 脱脱:宋史,上海1971, pp. 2433-2455 e pp. 2527-2533, of the chapter 卷二十八志二十四(礼二)郊祀、郊祀配位、郊祀仪注of the History of Ming, 张廷玉:明史,北京1974,pp. 1245-1256, in the Draft History of Qing, in the chapter 卷八十三志五十八,礼二(吉礼二)郊社仪制、郊社配乡,赵 op. cit. pp. 2503-2509.

[72] See 张胜琳:《人间等级·神界尊卑·祭祀规格》in 江西社会科学1989年第5, pp. 132-134.

[73] Legge op. cit. vol VII p. 611 “普天之下,莫非王土,率土之滨,莫非王臣,天有十日,人有十等,下所以事上,上所以共神也,故王臣公,公臣大夫,大夫臣士,士臣皂,皂臣舆,舆臣隶,隶臣僚,僚臣仆,仆臣台,马有圉,牛有牧,以待百事。” Regarding Zuo Zhuan, other than Legge’s translation and Li Xueqin’s commentated text in 十三经注疏(07) 春秋左传正义 (上、中、下), there is a recent translation by Durrant, Stephen Li, Wai-Yee and Schaberg, David: Zuo Qiuming – Zuo Tradition – Zuozhuan_ Commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals, Washington 2016 where the cited text is found on p. 1414.

[74] The quote from the fourth year of Duke Cheng in the Zuo Zhuan commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals remains proverbial: “He who is not of our clan has a different heart.” (非我族类,其心必异). Durrant, Li & Shaberg op. cit. p. 315.

[75] Legge, op. cit. vol III pp. 75, 李 op. cit. vol. 2 p. 107, 吴 op. cit. p. 27. 无旷庶官,天工人其代之。天叙有典,勑我五典五敦哉!天秩有礼,自我五礼有庸哉!同寅协恭和衷哉!天命有德,五服五章哉!天讨有罪,五刑五用哉!

[76] 李 op. cit. vol. 2 pp. 107-109.

[77] Wu, John C H: Beyond East and West, Chicago 2018. I have access only to the EPUB edition, and therefore do not have the page numbers.

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