Zhong Guo is Chinese for the country we call China (as rendered in Pinyin Chinese, written in Arabic letters); it translates as “the middle place,” “middle country,” or the “Celestial Empire between heaven and earth.”
For thousands of years Chinese emperors (and their subjects) believed that a leader was not only a son of heaven, a divine being honored and obeyed as such, but that his position and right to rule was mandated by heaven (tian). The mandate did not have time limits, it did not decree that a ruler must be of noble birth, or even be of Han Chinese origin. The emperors of the Yuan (1271 to 1388) were Mongols, and the Qing (1644 to 1912) emperors were Manchus.
But there was one very important condition. The mandate was contingent upon an emperor ruling in the best interest of the country and its people—at all times acting in a just and righteous manner. Chinese ideals, even before Confucius, stress order from the top down as a paramount condition for harmony on earth. Those below must obey, but those above must be exemplars of righteous conduct. Failing to act as those exemplars would bring bad harvests, widespread poverty, instability, and natural disaster. The mandate from heaven could be withdrawn based on bad behavior. The dynasty would fall. Chaos and misery would reign.
Across some 3,000 years, the cycle repeated. For a time, an emperor and his successors could enjoy the Mandate of Heaven, impose their will on Chinese life, landscapes, ...