What Is the Dynastic Cycle of China?

The dynastic cycle is a pattern explaining the rise and fall of Chinese dynasties between 1650 BCE and 1644 CE. The cycle states that as dynasties age, they begin to abuse their power. This abuse causes the dynasty to lose the Mandate of Heaven, or the divine right to rule, and collapse. Afterwards, a new dynasty claims the Mandate of Heaven and assumes power over China.

They dynastic cycle began when the Shang Dynasty ruled China in 1650 BCE. The first stage in the dynastic cycle claims that each dynasty must bring peace to China, build or rebuild architecture, provide land to the poor and protect the Chinese people. The Shang Dynasty flourished, creating a writing system in the process. As the Shang Dynasty began to age, they began to tax their people too much, stopped protecting them, let buildings fall apart and treated their people with general unfairness. The dynastic cycle claims that when a dynasty displays these characteristics, they lose the Mandate of Heaven and become an old dynasty.

The Mandate of Heaven is what the Chinese considered the divine right to rule. When the Shang Dynasty grew old, they lost the favor of the gods. In the cycle, a period of problems follows the loss of the Mandate. These problems include: natural disasters, peasant uprisings, foreign invasions and the prevalence of bandits. When the Zhou Dynasty claimed the Mandate in 1027 BCE, they brought peace to China once again. The dynastic cycle repeated until 1644 CE, ending with the Ming Dynasty.