On the Legendary Sage Kings

On the Legendary Sage Kings

In the document On the Legendary Sage Kings (Pomeranz, pages 29-31), Mencius describes how Yao, Shun, and Yu paved the way for China’s first dynasty, the Xia.

According to Mencius, how do the great rulers benefit the people? What qualities mark them as capable and virtuous? How and why are agriculture, state interests, and popular interests connected in this document? Do you find any broad similarities between this story of the legendary kings and other mythic or legendary stories we have studied in this class?

The Xia are not recorded in contemporaneous records or in the earliest Chinese writings, as the first oracle bone inscriptions originate from the late Shang dynasty (13th century BC). The earliest references are found in the Book of Documents’ earliest chapters, which contain speeches from the early Western Zhou period and are generally considered as coming from that period. These speeches legitimize the Zhou conquest of the Shang by comparing it to the Xia’s succession by the Shang.

The Confucian school supported this political ideology throughout the Eastern Zhou dynasty. The Bamboo Annals and the Records of the Grand Historian incorporated the succession of dynasties, which became the official position of imperial historiography and ideology. Some researchers regard the Xia dynasty as legendary, or at the very least unproven, while others associate it with the Erlitou civilisation.

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