Research Project


Probing the Mandate of Heaven: Classicism, Apocrypha, and the Formation of an Empire of the Great Peace in Han China

Zhao Lu

The Han dynasty (205 BCE-220 CE) was the first mature imperial dynasty in China. It adapted the political system of the short-lived Qin dynasty (221-207 BCE) and served as a paragon for later dynasties. People of the Han dynasty not only experienced a largely unprecedented political arrangement, but were also suddenly faced with the need to imagine what this political arrangement ought to be. My project examines how, in the process of defining the empire, several generations of scholars turned to the Confucian classics to answer three vital questions: what decided the fate and legitimacy of a dynasty? How did Heaven decide to which human emperor it would grant its mandate? And what did the Han dynasty need to do to be in accordance with Heaven? This project focuses on how Han scholars competed for the authority to interpret the classics and produced various commentarial traditions and prophecies in order to redefine the empire during the four-hundred-year span of the Han dynasty. I especially concentrate on apocryphal texts, a corpus of texts that are peculiar to the Eastern Han dynasty's political arrangements. Their dual statuses as both commentarial and prophetic texts mean that they are uniquely placed to reveal the role that divination played in the Han political discourses and how the fate of the Han Empire was believed to be rooted in the Mandate of Heaven.

back to "Notions of Fate and Prognostication and their Taxonomies" overview