Answer to Question #161666 in History for Christina

Question #161666

How did the Mandate justify the overthrow of the Shang Dynasty by the Zhou? What was the basis of legitimacy in ancient China? Compare this to the basis of legitimate political authority in the United States. From where does rest in both societies? What makes a president legitimate?

Expert's answer

The Zhou overthrew the Shang Dynasty in 1046 BCE and established the Zhou Dynasty. The Zhou had established the Mandate of Heaven, a philosophical concept which asserted that China could only have one legitimate ruler at a time and the ruler had the gods’ approval whereas unjust rulers had the Mandate revoked. The Zhou used this Mandate to justify their action of overthrowing the Shang rule.

The Mandate did not require a ruler to have nobility and had no time limitation. The basis of legitimacy in ancient China was that a ruler was good and just. The Zhou believed Shang kings had lost their legitimacy due to their cruelty, luxurious living, excessive drinking and immorality. The blessings of the gods were now upon the new ruler under the Zhou dynasty.

In contrast, the basis of legitimacy for political authorities in the United States is electoral democracy. Legitimacy relies on the capacity of electoral systems to create effective representation and procedural integrity on polls is a prerequisite for legitimacy. Unlike ancient China, there is time limitation for rulers in authority. Therefore, legitimacy in ancient China is traditional legitimacy obtained from societal habit and custom whereas in the US it stems from rational-legal legitimacy achieved through institutional procedure.

A president becomes legitimate through direct elections, consent or by mutual understanding devoid of coercion. What qualifies a legitimate president includes democracy, fascism, constitutionalism, communism, monarchy etc. depending on the state.

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