tiān mìng mí cháng 天命靡常
Heaven-bestowed Supreme Power Is Not Eternal.
This term first appears in The Book of Songs. It means that there is no one who can forever remain a recipient of the bestowed supreme power by the Ruler of Heaven. The ancients believed that the heavenly order determined to whom the supreme royal power belonged. However, the choice of the recipient of such a conferment was not forever. Replacement of the Yin Dynasty by the Zhou Dynasty was brought about by the change of the recipient of Heaven’s bestowal of the mandate to rule. However, the change of the recipients of the mandate followed a fixed principle: such bestowal could fall only on a ruler who was virtuous. Once he had lost virtue, the mandate to rule would be withdrawn from him. Therefore, the concept of the change of the recipient of Heaven’s mandate served as a warning to the ruler, who must constantly cultivate his virtue in order to keep his rule.
Thus the officials of the Yin became the subjects of the Zhou. This follows the rule that there is no one who can forever remain the recipient of Heaven’s mandate to rule. The Yin officials, healthy and agile, wearing costumes embroidered with black-and-white designs and traditional caps, came to the capital to assist in the ritual ceremonies. Shouldn’t they, now appointed by the Zhou as officials, be grateful for the virtue of their ancestors? (The Book of Songs)