The State Cult gave powerful ritual emphasis to key elements of state ideology and also to the straightforward political company of the state. Participants in the official rites were the emperor, his bureaucracy, and also other degree-holders. There to be no independent priesthood, for prayer — guided through bureaucrats according to government regulations — was thought about an main duty.

You are watching: How did the chinese view their emperor?

The prayers and also rituals the accompanied the plenty of duties the the emperor were no designed by any type of one emperor. Rather, standard ritual texts were debated and also revised under every dynasty. It was incumbent ~ above a sit emperor to carry out these rituals in order to demonstrate that he was the rightful emperor — to validate his own position within the system, and also at the exact same time, come validate the system itself. The emperor needed to to express his commitment come the principles that to be behind this rituals, and also so the was the every Chinese emperor venerated Heaven and Earth in ~ the Temple of Heaven and likewise at the sacred Mount Tai.


One the the emperor’s annual religious responsibilities to be the ceremony in ~ the holy place of Heaven. Once the emperor, together the kid of heaven (Tianzi), with the Mandate of sky (Tianming) to rule over human being society, venerated at the holy place of Heaven, he was worshipping Heaven and also Earth together his symbolic parents and also in expression that the anciently established Chinese state belief which organized that the emperor was no divine however divinely appointed.

The emperor’s duty was to insure that culture expressed its herbal order, i m sorry was but an facet of the cosmic stimulate of humankind (society), heaven, and earth. The emperor additionally worshipped his very own ancestors, express the Confucian ethic the filial loyalty, which was an responsibility that all Chinese, regardless of society position, had actually to honor. Other objects of royal worship were the sun, the moon, Confucius, the queens of earlier dynasties, the god of farming (in a ritual which consisted of the symbolic plowing by the emperor the the very first furrow that the brand-new farming season), and other divinities representing vital natural or social pressures (such together the god that learning).


When the emperor worshipped at the temple of Heaven, he worshipped v a ritual dubbed the “three prostrations and nine kowtows.” The emperor would certainly be commanded through a high-ranking bureaucrat to prostrate himself, i m sorry he would do. He would then it is in told come kowtow once, then to kowtow a second time, climate a 3rd time. Every time the did so, he would touch his head come the ground. (The indigenous “kowtow” is an Anglicized calculation of the Chinese indigenous ketou, definition “to knock the head” versus the ground.) The emperor would certainly then it is in told come arise, then to prostrate self again and also begin an additional cycle the this sequence, which would need to be recurring a total of three times — three succeeding prostrations, every with 3 kowtows, for a complete of nine kowtows.

This routine of the three Prostrations and also the nine Kowtows was vital one, for it was likewise what an ordinary farmer would perform at the funeral of his father. Indeed, the expression “from the imperial court under to ours village” was typically found in extensively circulated papers during those days. People used this expression again and also again to express the interconnection and commonality amongst all Chinese people, nevertheless of social position.


The truth that high government officials were commanding the emperor self to kowtow during the ritual of the 3 Prostrations demonstrates exactly how these two vital institutions — the imperial and the bureaucratic — were intertwined and in fact, interdependent. Consider that by the moment of the Qing empire the governmental administration in China had already been about for thousands of years. The ceremonies that the new Qing kings were taking up were not created by the Qing, or also the Ming who preceded them. These rituals were ancient, and also the continually of these rituals and the traditions they expressed were in the hands of one enduring bureaucracy.


The Yongzheng Emperor supplying Sacrifices in ~ the Altar of the God that Agriculture (detail), 1723-35 anonymous court artists, Qing dynasty Handscroll; ink and color ~ above silk 61.8 x 467.8 cm © The palace Museum, Beijing


In the Chinese tradition, the emperor did no necessarily have the absolute strength that is linked with the classic monarchies that Europe. The emperor’s actions had actually to be tempered by an easy political expectations, and he had actually to act effectively as one integral component of the cosmic order. The expectation was that an emperor have to be an exceptional being — a sage king — and also his right to preeminence was contingent top top his ability to skillfully adjust the cosmic forces. Together mediator between Heaven and Earth, the emperor was assumed to it is in a significant participant in all cosmic actions, and as together he had to conduct self accordingly, or the repercussions, in terms of cosmic dislocation, could be really serious. If points went dorn — a negative crop year, for instance — the emperor can be organized responsible. He could be overthrown, and this would be considered legitimate. As soon as such an fall occurred, it would certainly be understood that the emperor had “lost” the Mandate the Heaven. In this means the notion of royal legitimacy to be fundamentally linked to the id of preserving the cosmic order.

When the dominating Manchus toppled the reigning Ming dynasty and established the Qing dynasty in 1644, castle announced that the Ming had actually lost the Mandate that Heaven. However they also continued to praise the Ming emperors throughout the 268-year duration of the Qing dynasty. Why go the Manchu Qing rulers carry out this? due to the fact that the Mandate of sky was centered on the principle of legitimacy — an interpretation that the Ming (and others before the Ming) had legitimately held the Mandate at one allude in time, however no longer. The Qing buttressed your own case to the Mandate by acknowledging the Ming’s legitimate case to that in the past. In proceeding to prayer the Ming kings as castle did, the Qing to be asserting the legitimacy that the whole system that dictated who could “rightfully” be an emperor that China, because in reality it to be this mechanism that allowed them to present themselves come the populace together “Sons that Heaven” quite than as overcoming foreigners who had no legitimate insurance claim over China.

In other domains, however, the Qing made decision to maintain their Manchu ethnicity, and even linked their own political power to this separation. This contradiction — of acting as “Chinese” emperors at the very same time that they were preserving their different Manchu identity — was something the the Qing never effectively resolved. And also it might be argued that, in the end, this to be a failure that expense the Manchus their dynasty, because that anti-Manchu sentiment was at its elevation toward the end of the Qing and also certainly contributed to the dynasty’s fallen in 1911.

praise at the holy place of Heaven: one enduring legacy

The emperor"s personal worship of heaven at the temple of sky took place throughout the winter solstice and also on new Year’s day (from 1742 on). The record of ritual states the “the sacrifice to heaven is the highest possible expression the reverence.” as with most other Chinese ceremonies, an excellent symbolic emphasis was placed on color, form, number, position, music, and sacrificial objects. The shade of the jade and also silk offerings to sky was blue-green, the altar to be circular (yang) in shape, and also the associated number was nine (also yang). Appropriately, nine pieces of music to be played in ~ the sacrifice, and the emperor faced north, reversing his normal orientation. Modern-day accounts that the fancy ritual — preceded by a dramatic royal procession from the Forbidden City to the temple of Heaven complicated the night before — explain a solemn spectacle of awesome splendor. Attend by an entourage of imperial princes, high officials, and also other state functionaries, and flanked through the heart tablets that his ancestors and also various deities of nature, the emperor paid his respects to the tablet computer representing Heaven with prayers and also offerings — all accompanied through hymns, instrumental music, and also ritual posturing undertaken by literally hundreds of performers.

* Text above adapted, with the author’s permission, native Richard J. Smith, China’s cultural Heritage: The Qing Dynasty, 1644-1912, 2nd ed. (Boulder: Westview Press, Inc., 1994), p. 158.

See more: What 2 Colors Make Green Paint, 4 Ways To Make Green

Excavation website of 6th-century Altar of heaven in Xi"an, China"s ancient capital

© The archaeological Institute that America

according to Archaeology magazine, the Altar of heaven in Xi’an (above), which to be excavated in 2000, has actually been dated by archaeologists to as beforehand as the Sui empire (581-618 CE) and is the oldest well-known site whereby Chinese queens are assumed to have actually performed spiritual ceremonies. The is estimated that seventeen Chinese kings “worshipped Heaven” here.

Altar of heaven at the temple of Heaven facility in contemporary Beijing

© Beijing Municipal Government

The holy place of Heaven complicated in Beijing (above) days to 1420 and the regime of the Ming dynasty Emperor Yongle. See an ext images the the holy place of Heaven complicated on the Beijing Municipal Government’s official Website.


• ASIA because that EDUCATORS The Grandeur that the Qing dynasty

• THE ar MUSEUM splendors of China’s Forbidden City: The Glorious power of Emperor Qianlong

• royal ACADEMY OF art China: The 3 Emperors. 1662-1795

*The message of this subtopic, “The Emperor at the holy place of Heaven: Worshipping Heaven, Earth, and also the Ancestors,” to be adapted, through the author’s permission, native “Religion in a State Society: China,” by Myron L. Cohen.