Key Chinese Concepts










King was originally the title for the “Son of Heaven,” namely, the country’s supreme ruler in the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties. From the Spring and Autumn Period onward, the power of the Zhou court gradually weakened and the kingdom disintegrated. By the time of the Warring States Period, any ruler of a vassal state could call himself a king. Up to the Qin and Han dynasties, prince became the highest title granted by the emperor to a male member of the imperial family. In the political philosophical discourse of Confucianism, especially in the works of Confucius and Mencius, a king represents heaven’s will and therefore ought to have supreme, unchallengeable power; at the same time, he is imbued with a high moral attribute and political ideals. According to Confucianism, to be a king is to unify or govern the country with benevolence and righteousness, or to win over people by morally justified means. Likewise, the pursuit of the kingly way means using benevolent and righteous means to unify and govern the country.


引例 Citations:






He to whom the people swear allegiance can rule as a king; he perishes when the people desert him. (Xunzi)






Kingly Way (Benevolent Governance)




Confucianism advocates the political principle of governing the country through benevolence and winning people’s support through virtue as opposed to badao – the despotic way. Sagacious kings and emperors of ancient times governed the country primarily through benevolence and virtue. In the Warring States Period, Mencius advocated this idea as a political concept: Only by governing the state with benevolence and righteousness, and by handling state-to-state relations on the basis of virtue, can a ruler win popular support and subsequently unify the country. The kingly way or benevolent governance epitomizes the Chinese people’s respect for etiquette and their opposition to the use of force and tyranny.


引例 Citations:






By upholding justice without any partiality or bias, the kingly way is inclusive and boundless. (The Book of Documents)






One who governs by force through feigning virtue may gain only hegemonic dominance, and hegemony must have a large state as its basis; one who governs through virtue and benevolence is a king who does not necessarily need a large state… Allegiance commanded through force from the people does not mean the conquest of their heart; it is only because they are not strong enough to revolt. Allegiance gained through benevolence and virtue is really from the heart of the people, who will follow whole-heartedly, just like the 72 disciples of Confucius. (Mencius)


Selected from Key Concepts in Chinese Thought and Culture published by Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.