Is China’s Xi Losing the Mandate of Heaven?

Is China’s Xi Losing the Mandate of Heaven?
Chinese leader Xi Jinping attends the opening session of China's rubber-stamp legislature, the National People's Congress, at The Great Hall of People in Beijing on March 5, 2017. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Stu Cvrk

It is no surprise that China’s Xi Jinping has been called a modern-day emperor. Chinese emperors have historically claimed the “Mandate of Heaven” to rule China, and Mr. Xi seeks to extend that mandate to rule not just China but the entire world.

The Mandate of Heaven (天命) is a Confucian concept developed during China’s Zhou Dynasty (c. 1046–256 B.C.E.) in which “Heaven” conferred on the Chinese emperor (the “son of Heaven”) the right to rule China. The concept is similar to the European “divine right of kings,” which Britannica defines as “a political doctrine in defense of monarchical absolutism, which asserted that kings derived their authority from God and could not therefore be held accountable for their actions by any earthly authority such as a parliament.”

Unlike the European doctrine, which provided no moral guidance for the removal of kings (royal families ruled in perpetuity irrespective of debauchery, immorality, corruption, and other un-Godlike behavior), the pragmatic Confucians gave the Chinese an “out card” by teaching that Heaven withdraws its mandate to rule from an immoral or tyrannical emperor and that Chinese people had a duty to revolt against such emperors.

Is Heaven in the process of withdrawing its mandate to rule from the communist-who-would-be-emperor Xi Jinping?

Let us examine the topic.

The 4 Principles

From an essay at Thoughtco, four basic principles of the Mandate from Heaven are:
  • Heaven grants the emperor the right to rule.
  • Since there is only one Heaven, there can only be one emperor at any given time.
  • The emperor’s virtue determines his right to rule.
  • No one dynasty has a permanent right to rule.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) conveniently adopts and morphs ancient Chinese traditions when it furthers the purpose of perpetuating its authoritarian control over modern China. Examples include leveraging history as a political instrument, exploiting traditional Chinese medicine, and perpetuating the concepts/myths of an “eternal China” and China as the center of world commerce (and the universe!).
Confucianism has deep roots in China, and it is no surprise that Mr. Xi would twist the Mandate of Heaven to substitute the general secretary of the CCP for emperor while conveying that the general secretary (on behalf of the CCP) is compelled by Heaven to rule the world by that mandate.

Losing the Mandate

One big problem for Mr. Xi, as pointed out by Stephen Young, former assistant dean at Harvard Law School, in Asia Times is that “[there is no evidence] that Heaven (Tian) has chosen him [Xi], first, to lead China, and, second, to lead the entire world, the All-Under-Heaven (Tian-xia).” There is no evidence that the Chinese people have ever chosen him for anything. So much for the “will of heaven” and the “will of the people.”

Let us assume (incorrectly) for the moment that Mr. Xi did somehow have the mandate of Heaven once upon a time. Chinese tradition has it that an emperor would lose the mandate of Heaven when certain signs would stack up, including natural disasters, foreign invasions, uprisings by segments of the population, public debauchery and immorality, incompetence, and loss of trust due to a combination of these signs.

Here are some recent signs that do not bode well for Emperor Xi.


While not rising to the level of open rebellion in comparison with past events, the massive street protests in Chinese cities against Mr. Xi’s signature zero COVID policy at the end of 2022 were unprecedented and sent shock waves through the country, ultimately forcing Mr. Xi to cancel the policy without fanfare but surely with a loss of face and credibility.
Methinks that there is more unrest boiling below the surface in China with this report from Nikkei Asia on Sept. 9: “China’s income gap has grown to the widest it has ever been since records began, as the average household income of the top 20 percent in urban areas reaches 6.3 times of the lowest 20%.” So much for the CCP’s promises.


CNN reported on July 31 that “Typhoon Doksuri, one of the strongest storms in years, dumped torrential rain across China” (emphasis added) and that “authorities are preparing for incoming Khanun, the sixth typhoon projected to hit China this year.” On Sept. 2, Reuters reported that Typhoon Saola hit Guangdong Province in southern China: “Packing winds of more than 200 kph (125 mph) as a super typhoon, Saola was among the strongest storms to menace the southern province since 1949” (emphasis added). Meanwhile, even the state-run China Daily recently reported that “[a] ‘once-in-a-century' rainstorm has inundated and flooded Guangdong and Hong Kong.” The wrath of Heaven continues.
Abandoned cars are seen as a worker inspects a bridge that collapsed in recent days after a flash flood caused by heavy rainfall in Beijing on Aug. 4, 2023. The extreme rainfall from Typhoon Doksuri was the heaviest to hit Beijing in 140 years, inundating the capital and triggering flash floods and landslides. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
Abandoned cars are seen as a worker inspects a bridge that collapsed in recent days after a flash flood caused by heavy rainfall in Beijing on Aug. 4, 2023. The extreme rainfall from Typhoon Doksuri was the heaviest to hit Beijing in 140 years, inundating the capital and triggering flash floods and landslides. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Heat Waves

China experienced its worst heat wave on record across Sichuan Province in southwestern China in August 2022, resulting in a power crunch that “dimmed skyscrapers, shut factories, darkened subways, and plunged homes and offices into rolling blackouts, forcing air conditioning to be unplugged—and killed thousands of poultry and fish at farms hit by electricity cuts,” reported CNN.
The New Scientist reported at the time that this was “the longest and hottest heatwave in China since national records began in 1961,” and that “on 18 August, the temperature in Chongqing in Sichuan province reached 45°C (113°F), the highest ever recorded in China outside the desert-dominated region of Xinjiang.”
With heat waves continuing this year, Reuters reported on July 18, “Beijing topped its record for high-temperature days in a year … with 27 days as a blistering heatwave sweeps through the Chinese capital.”


Public corruption is endemic in communist China. Mr. Xi has made fighting corruption a centerpiece of his rule from the very beginning with a variety of anti-corruption campaigns launched over the years. Yet the corruption continues apparently unabated.

Are his anti-corruption pronouncements only for show?

A graph compiled by Statista in July here depicts CCP official corruption cases from 2012 through 2022, with 596,000 corruption cases filed against CCP officials in 2022. A taste of the ongoing corruption:
  • From China Insights in August: The owner of China’s largest immigration agency was arrested “for illegally trading foreign currencies.”
  • From China Daily in July: “A former vice-chairman of China’s top banking regulatory body pleaded guilty to accepting 519 million yuan ($72.3 million) in bribes and abusing his power.”
  • From The Epoch Times in June: “China’s top anti-graft body [the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection] recently announced that three of its own high-ranking officials are placed under investigation for ‘violations of disciplines and law.’”
  • From The Epoch Times in May: “Zhou Jiangyong, a former party secretary in China’s communist regime, pleaded guilty … to crimes of collecting nearly 200 million yuan ($28.91 million) in bribes over some 20 years in his official roles.”

Economic Mismanagement

One of the CCP’s primary claims to legitimacy is the effective management of China’s economy. Recent facts appear to dictate otherwise.
  • China’s housing slump is far worse than reported, with half of the country’s state-owned builders reporting “widespread losses.” (Zero Hedge)
  • The income disparity mentioned above is just the start of China’s economic woes exacerbated during the Xi era.
  • In the first half of 2023, “the number of active China-focused hedge funds fell for the first time in more than a decade.” (Yahoo! Finance)
  • China’s three major airlines reported heavy losses in the first half of 2023. (Radio Free Asia)
  • China is “falling into deflation.” (The New York Times)
  • From Exante Data Founder Jens Nordvig, who tracks Chinese economic data and performance: “When I look at the data in China—I’ve been covering China for about 20 years. I’ve never seen this type of weakness where it feels like you have a real confidence issue where the consumer is starting to get extremely nervous, worried about the future, and holding back” (emphasis added).
  • From an essay in Foreign Affairs in August: “The [communist] government’s pursuit of total control has set the country on a path of slower growth and created multiplying pockets of dissatisfaction,” creating Xi’s “era of stagnation.”
The result is a loss of trust in Mr. Xi’s ability to manage the Chinese economy, which is one degree of separation from the loss of Heaven’s mandate.

Concluding Thoughts

With his cult of personality and book of sayings, Mr. Xi parades himself as a modern-day Chinese emperor. Perhaps he forgot the law of unintended consequences. Chinese tradition maintains that emperors can lose their mandate of Heaven and be removed. The list of signs summarized above alone could foretell that Mr. Xi has lost that mandate. Heaven may very well come calling to Zhongnanhai very soon.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Stu Cvrk retired as a captain after serving 30 years in the U.S. Navy in a variety of active and reserve capacities, with considerable operational experience in the Middle East and the Western Pacific. Through education and experience as an oceanographer and systems analyst, Cvrk is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, where he received a classical liberal education that serves as the key foundation for his political commentary.
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