"Elevating the Worthy" and "Mandate of Heaven" in the Late Warring States Period

Project: Research project

Project Details


The main objective of the current project is the publication of a monograph consisting of the English translation of the recently published (2015) manuscript Zhou xun 周訓 or Instructions of the Zhou and a commentary of the text delving into its political and philosophical underpinnings. More broadly speaking, this is an inquiry into how political and philosophical ideas codified into texts were employed in early China as instruments that validated and justified shifts in power centers.

The Zhou xun is part of the Peking University collection (Beijing daxue cang Xi-Han zhushu 北京大學藏西漢竹書). The principle of “elevating the worthy” (shang xian 尚賢) this text promulgates represents one of the most influential ideas in the Chinese society of the late Chuqiu 春秋 as well as Zhanguo 戰國 periods. Following deep changes in Chinese society, resulting from the gradual demise of old aristocratic families, this principle was implemented in many political reforms of the day and promoted in numerous philosophical writings. As some transmitted texts, such as the Shang shu 尚書, and, especially, a bulk of newly discovered manuscripts show, “elevating the worthy” was also applied to the issue of power transfer as the ostensive governance practice of the ancient times when the rulers established the most able men as their successors, regardless of their provenance and their relationship to the rulers’ family. The Zhou xun also contains the idea of elevating the worthy in the context of the transfer of rule. Yet, this meritocratic principle is not brought up to undermine hereditary power transfer but, on the contrary, to consolidate it. In the Zhou xun, the protagonist promulgating this principle is the Zhou monarch, Lord Zhaowen of Zhou 周昭文君. In his discussion of the concept, this monarch makes “worthiness” the main prerequisite for obtaining political power, but never mentions the main paradigm of the Zhou dynasty, the “Mandate of Heaven” (tian ming 天命).

At the heart of the commentary will be determining the philosophical and political implications of Lord Zhaowen’s refusal to attach himself to the model of the former Zhou kings and, instead, to solely insist on the importance of “worthiness” for the transfer and preservation of rule.

To validate his philosophical interpretation, the PI plans to engage in academic exchange with other scholars in Chinese intellectual history. The same strategy will be applied to ensure the accuracy and validity of the English translation of the Zhou xun.
Effective start/end date1/01/1930/06/21


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.