Son of Heaven, or
Tian Zi (Chinese: 天子; pinyin: Tiānzǐ), was the
sacred imperial title of the Chinese emperor. It originated with the
Zhou Dynasty and was founded on the political and spiritual
doctrine of the Mandate of Heaven. The secular imperial title of the
Heaven was "Emperor of China".
The title, "Son of Heaven", was subsequently adopted by other East
Asian monarchs to justify their rule.
The Son of
Heaven was the supreme universal emperor, who ruled tianxia
("all under heaven"). His status is rendered in English as "ruler of
the whole universe" or "ruler of the whole world." The title, "Son
of Heaven", was interpreted literally only in
China and Japan, whose
monarchs were referred to as demigods, deities, or "living gods",
chosen by all the ancient gods and goddesses.
2 See also
The title "Son of Heaven" stems from the concept of the Mandate of
Heaven, created by the
Zhou Dynasty monarchs to justify their having
deposed the Shang Dynasty. They held that
Heaven had revoked its
mandate from the Shang and given it to the Zhou in retribution for
Shang corruption and misrule.
Heaven bestowed the mandate on whomever
was most fit to rule. The title held the emperor responsible for the
prosperity and security of his people by the threat of taking away his
Han Chinese imperial title, tianzi (天子), "Son of
Heaven", was later adopted by the
Emperor of Japan
Emperor of Japan during that
country's Asuka period.
Japan sent diplomatic missions to China,
then ruled by the Sui dynasty, and formed cultural and commercial ties
with China. Japan's Yamato state modeled its government after the
Chinese Confucian imperial bureaucracy. A Japanese mission of 607 CE
delivered a message from "the Son of
Heaven in the land where the sun
rises ... to the Son of
Heaven in the land where the sun
sets." But the Japanese emperor's title was less contingent than
that of his Chinese counterpart; there was no divine mandate that
would punish Japan's emperor for failing to rule justly. The right to
rule of the Japanese emperor, descended from the sun goddess
Amaterasu, was absolute.
The Vietnamese title Thiên tử (Chữ Hán: 天子) was more similar
to that of the Chinese Son of Heaven. A divine mandate gave the
Vietnamese emperor the right to rule, based not on his lineage but on
his competence to govern. Vietnam's adoption of a Confucian
bureaucracy, presided over by Vietnam's Son of Heaven, led to the
creation of a Vietnamese tributary system in Southeast Asia, modeled
after the Chinese Sinocentric system in East Asia.
"Son of Heaven" was often one of several titles adopted by East Asian
Emperor Taizong of Tang
Emperor Taizong of Tang held the Chinese title, Son of
Heaven", alongside the Central Asian title, Tengeri Qaghan ("Tenger
Khan", or God-like Emperor), which he had gained after defeating the
Tujue. Japanese monarchs likewise used a second title, tennō
(天皇, "Heavenly Emperor"), that, like "Son of Heaven", appealed to
the emperor's connection to Heaven.
History of Imperial
Chinese Tributary System
Emperor of China
Pax Sinica ("Chinese peace")
Tian (Heaven) /
Tian Xia (All under Heaven)
Tian Chao (Dynasty of Heaven)
Tian Kehan (Khan of Heaven)
Tian Ming (Mandate of Heaven)
Tian Zi (Son of Heaven)
^ Ebrey 2010, p. 179.
^ a b Dull 1990, p. 59.
^ a b Huffman 2010, p. 15.
^ Inoue 1993, p. 182.
^ Beasley 1999, p. 29.
^ Woodside 1971, p. 9.
^ Woodside 1971, pp. 234–237.
^ Twitchett 2000, p. 124.
^ Ooms 2009, pp. 154–156.
Beasley, William (1999). "The Making of a Monarchy". The Japanese
Experience: A Short History of Japan. University of California Press.
Dull, Jack (1990). "The Evolution of Government in China". Heritage of
China: Contemporary Perspectives on Chinese Civilization. University
of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-06441-6.
Ebrey, Patricia Buckley (2010) . The Cambridge Illustrated
China (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Huffman, James (2010).
Japan in World History. Oxford University
Press. ISBN 978-0-19-979884-1.
Inoue, Mitsusada (1993). "The Century of Reform". The Cambridge
History of Japan. Cambridge University Press. pp. 163–220.
Ooms, Herman (2009). Imperial Politics and Symbolics in
The Tenmu Dynasty, 650–800. University of Hawaii Press.
Twitchett, Denis (2000). H. J. Van Derven, ed. Warfare in Chinese
History. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-11774-7.
Woodside, Alexander (1971). Vietnam and the Chinese Model: A
Comparative Study of Vietnamese and Chinese Government in the First
Half of the Nineteenth Century. Harvard University Press.