We all somehow got used to the fact that the second name of our eastern neighbor is the beautiful and mysterious definition of “Celestial Empire”. Some people think that it has something to do with Tibet and the high mountain plateaus. However, this is not so – the concept of “Celestial Empire” contains a deeper and more philosophical meaning, which once determined the worldview of the Chinese people for millennia ahead. Let’s trace the history of this name from the very first times of the emergence of Chinese statehood and briefly plunge into the events of those years to understand how the Celestial Empire was born.
About five thousand years ago, in the Yellow River basin, ancient tribes, the ancestors of today’s Han (the state-forming nationality of China), were engaged in agriculture and herded pigs. Later, in the Bronze Age, these peoples, having significantly strengthened in crafts, founded their first state – the Shang. Needless to say, thanks to hard work, ingenuity, as well as borrowing from the Middle East some interesting things (such as war chariots, cereals, cows and sheep), the Shan state surpassed all its neighbors in crafts and military power. Shan bows, they say, were even better than the famous English ones.
However, the Shang people believed not only in the power of weapons and hard-working hands – the cult of ancestor worship was developed in the state – often with bloody sacrifices and the burning of jewels at ritual bonfires. Ancestors, according to legends, after death (if they were virtuous) went to heaven, merging with them. And in response to the offerings, they simply had to help people from heaven in all their everyday affairs. Since the kingdom flourished, the people believed, or rather, convinced of the help of their ancestors and zealous in their rituals.
The surrounding peoples could only marvel at the wealth and culture of the Shang. Although many “barbarians” adopted the useful features of the state structure, the people to the west, Zhou, distinguished themselves most of all. The Zhou people not only looked out for what was better – they wanted to completely and completely merge with the Shang culture, improving their crafts, army and, of course, introducing the Shan cult of ancestor worship.
The first ruler of Zhou – Ji Li, was a good friend of the Shang state, and even received the title of “Ruler of the West” from the Shang wang (king). However, Ji Li’s son Wen-wang not only adopted all the best from Shang – he also prepared for war, forging a coalition from neighboring nations. However, after his death, it was already his son, U-wang, who had to start this war. While the Shan ruler, abandoning state affairs, indulged in drunkenness and debauchery, the coalition army increased its power and, once, having crossed the Yellow River, defeated the Shan Wang army. Shansky van burned himself out of grief in his palace, and his concubines hanged themselves in the garden.
Wu-wan entered the capital and found only the son of the Shan ruler. He took pity on the boy and even made him the ruler of the entire Shang territory, however, leaving his two brothers to look after him, and he himself returned to Zhou. And there he died suddenly, having previously appointed his young son king. Wu-wang’s brother, Chou-gun, was called to become the regent, and, consequently, to rule. He will be the key figure in our story.
The fact is that the people of the Shang state rebelled immediately after the death of Wu-wang, and Zhou-gun had to wage a long struggle for Shang again. Having won, he returned the confidence of the people and, out of mercy to the vanquished, simply resettled everyone on the territory of the new state of Zhou.
The wise Zhou-gun kept the cult of ancestor worship, while putting forward a new fateful idea – the concept of the Mandate of Heaven. It consisted in the fact that it is heaven (the merged spirits of ancestors) that leads to the power of the most worthy, giving the same right to his descendants until they spend their virtue and grace, carried away by depravity and evil deeds (like the last ruler of Shang) … With such an outcome, Heaven takes its Mandate and transfers it to the most worthy and beneficent person, making him the new ruler of the kingdom. Since Heaven is one for the whole world, it gives the Mandate to only one ruler of a single universal state – the Celestial Empire. The universal state is not a master over all others, but a spiritual center, the concentration of all paths and meanings. It is thanks to Zhou-gun that China becomes the Celestial Empire – a country where the ruler is the son and protege of Heaven, and virtue is its only support.