Geography Reference
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“martial” or “military”), King Wen's son. King Wu made his own
capital city in Zhou and then launched an all-out attack against Shang
around 1122 B.C. As he approached the Shang's capital city, he was
greeted by throngs of Shang slaves who were eager to be liberated from
Shang servitude. They joined King Wu's armies gladly and attacked the
Shang capital city with him. The result was an overwhelming defeat for
the Shang, and the last Shang king committed suicide. The triumphant
King Wu then returned to his own region of Zhou, and his new dynasty
eventually ruled over all Chinese civilization.
The Zhou knew that its revolution against Shang would be controver-
sial, even shocking, to many people. The Shang had ruled and practiced
its ancestral cult for so many centuries that many Chinese could
not imagine a world without it. After all, if the Shang royal house were
overthrown, how would people understand the cosmos? The religious
idea that the Shang house alone was entitled to communicate with the
supernatural order probably made themwilling to put up with tyranny
for as long as they did. The Zhou rulers formulated a justification
or explanation for their actions called the Mandate of Heaven. The man-
date theory, which was simple and basic in its essential elements, held
that the high godDi was disgusted with late Shang tyranny and oppres-
sion. Di could tolerate the Shang no longer and looked around China for
a righteous ruler, eventually deciding on the good King Wen, upon
whom he bestowed his “mandate” or approval.
Thus there was a change in the supernatural order's approval of the
ruling regime. This was a new and revolutionary concept; it meant that
no government could ever claim the right to eternal rule. “Heaven,” a
Zhou term for the supernatural order, would approve and sustain a
government only as long as it ruled righteously and did not oppress
its people. If and when a government turned into a tyranny, the man-
date would be withdrawn and the Chinese people would be justified
in rising up and overthrowing it. After the Zhou's conquest of the
Shang there were, in fact, about a dozen major changes of dynasty
until the entire dynastic system was overthrown in A.D. 1911.
The theory of the Mandate of Heaven eventually held that Heaven
would indicate its displeasure with the ruling government through a
series of abnormal events in nature: floods, famines, droughts, earth-
quakes, and so on. For this reason, throughout most of their history,
the Chinese people have been keenly interested in natural disasters
and what they might portend for the future of the current government.
Even astronomy could indicate that the time was right to rebel. When
King Wen's astronomers observed an alignment of five planets, they
considered it a portent approving his plans for an uprising.
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