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  • Day19

    The Connection

    October 22, 2019 in China ⋅ ☀️ 59 °F

    While the Christian leaders of Europe stressed the divine right of kings, the Chinese emperor claimed the Mandate of Heaven. In some ways the Chinese way of thinking about it has some advantages over the Western notion. In Europe the idea of divine right was unconditional. The king could have the morals of an alley cat, lose half a dozen wars or murder his own subjects with absolute impunity. In China, on the other hand, the Mandate of Heaven was conditional. As long as crops fed the population and no foreign invaders disturbed the peace, the emperor was allowed to rule as an autocrat. If things got too bad—if famine, war or invasion made life too difficult for a large number of people, the pundits could conclude that the Mandate of Heaven had been withdrawn, and the emperor had to resign. In a few instances, the emperor himself decided that he had lost the Mandate of Heaven, so he committed suicide. Knowing the frailties of politicians, all in all, the Chinese idea has some definite advantages.

    The Mandate of Heaven was renewed three times each year, once in the spring, once at the summer solstice, and once at the winter solstice. The rituals renewing the Mandate were carried out in the Temple of Heaven, the place where heaven and earth were connected through the person of the emperor. He was the connection. The temple still stands in Beijing today, and those of us on this Viking tour had the privilege of visiting it today. As though my WOW-meter had not already pegged out, we marveled at architecture and embellishment that defy description. This conical pagoda is certainly one of the most beautiful buildings one can imagine. Adjacent buildings offer explanations of how artisans built this magnificent structure with cantilevered beams so that its millions of wooden pieces all lock together. Paradoxically the building supports itself with its own weight, and each of the myriad of wooden members is decorated with embellishments that are themselves works of art. I know that we in the Western world think of God as beyond all human imagination and incapable of being impressed with any of the puny creations our hands can produce. Yet, as I marveled today at this building where the “Emperor of Heaven” visited His human counterpart thrice yearly, I couldn’t help thinking that He would be honored to dwell in such a place.
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