What Is the Mandate of Heaven?

The Mandate of Heaven is a Chinese political-religious philosophy that designated the nation's emperor as the "Son of Heaven" who ruled under the auspices of an order, or mandate, from "Heaven" or some higher power. This belief is no longer a major part of Chinese political ideology, but it does have some presence in modern Chinese political history.

Part of Confucian teaching, the Mandate of Heaven concept can be seen in a variety of ways, but it ultimately relates to the idea that the nation's leaders are serving with the approval or desire of a higher, heavenly power. Some scholars interpret the mandate as a burden of responsibility on the emperor to be a just and effective ruler, while others see it as a way of explaining a ruling monarch's successes and failures. According to Columbia University, the famous 1989 student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square invoked this concept by arguing that the Communist Party had lost the Mandate of Heaven.