The Dynastic Cycle
For centuries, the Mandate of Heaven and the Dynastic Cycle were central to Chinese views on government. The Mandate of Heaven was the idea that there could be only one legitimate ruler of China at a time. That ruler's power was believed to be bestowed upon them by the blessing of the gods. An important part of the Mandate held that the emperor would use his power for good. If the king was unfair, he would lose approval and his right to govern and the empire would suffer terrible disasters. The Mandate of Heaven was created in 1027 BCE and used by the Zhou Dynasty to overthrow the Shang Dynasty and establish power.
The Mandate was used for centuries to explain the rise and fall of dynasties in China. Historians call this pattern the dynastic cycle. The cycle followed a circle. The top of the circle would begin with a strong dynasty establishing peace and prosperity. The dynasty would be considered to have the Mandate of Heaven. The dynasty would rule in a fair way and be good to the people by providing land, fair taxes, and a decrease in corruption.
However, in time the emperor would gain more power and further remove himself from the people. Corruption would increase, land would be taken away from the people, and uprisings would occur. Taxes would be raised further, thus burdening and angering the people, and the power of the emperor would begin to weaken.
The end of the dynasty would be met with natural disasters such as floods, famines, peasant revolts and invasions. These problems became so enormous that the emperor could not remedy them and thus the Chinese people were left to fend for themselves. Eventually, people would organize against the government and revolutions would begin. These rebellions were often met with tremendous violence and bloodshed.
These dynasties would be attacked internally through peasant revolts and externally through hostile invasions. The dynasty would be seen as having lost the Mandate of Heaven and the rebellion was seen as justified. Eventually a new Dynasty would emerge and seize power. The new dynasty gains power, restores peace and order, and claims to have the Mandate of Heaven. The dynastic cycle would last until the end of the Ming Dynasty in 1644 CE.