Son of Heaven
The Son of Heaven (Chinese and Japanese: 天子; pinyin: Tiānzǐ; ) is an imperial title of East Asian monarchs founded on the Mandate of Heaven. The Son of Heaven is a universal emperor who rules tianxia comprising "all under heaven". The title was not interpreted literally except in Japan, and the monarch is a mortal chosen by Heaven, not its actual descendant.
The title Son of Heaven comes from the Mandate of Heaven, created by the monarchs of the Zhou dynasty to justify deposing the Shang dynasty. They declared that Heaven had revoked the mandate from the Shang and given it to the Zhou in retaliation for their corruption and misrule. Heaven bestowed the mandate to whomever was best fit to rule. The title held the emperor responsible for the prosperity and security of his people through the threat of losing the mandate.
The Japanese title tenshi (天子?) was adopted by the Emperor of Japan during the Asuka period. Japan sent diplomatic missions to China, then under the rule of the Sui dynasty, forming cultural and commercial ties. The Yamato state modeled their government after the Confucian imperial bureaucracy. A mission in 607 delivered a message that greeted the Sui emperor by saying that "the Son of Heaven in the land where the sun rises ... to the Son of Heaven in the land where the sun sets." The Japanese title was less conditional than its Chinese counterpart. There was no divine mandate that punished the emperor for failing to rule justly. The right to rule of the Japanese emperor, descended from the sun goddess Amaterasu, was absolute.
The Vietnamese title Thiên-tử was more similar to the Chinese Son of Heaven. A divine mandate gave the Vietnamese emperor the right to rule, but it was based on his ability to govern and not his lineage. The adoption in Vietnam of a Confucian bureaucracy ruled by a Son of Heaven led to the creation of a Vietnamese tributary system in Southeast Asia modeled on the Chinese Sinocentric system in East Asia.
The Son of Heaven was often one of several titles adopted by East Asian monarchs. Emperor Taizong of the Tang dynasty held the Chinese Son of Heaven title and the Central Asian title of Heavenly Great Khan, which he gained after defeating the Tujue. Japanese monarchs employed the title of tennō (天皇?), a name that also appeals to the emperor's connection to Heaven.
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