Mencius (372-289 B.C.)Mencius (372-289 B.C.) - The most famous Confucian thinker after Confucius himself, Mencius lived toward the end of the Zhou Dynasty; at a time known as the Warring States Period. This period lasted roughly between 403 and 221 B.C. (so Mencius lived entirely within it) and was characterized by a weak emperor and civil strife. Toward the end of the period, any semblance of the Zhou had virtually disappeared and the Chinese states were in almost constant civil war. When it finally ended, a new dynasty, the Qin, had asserted authority over China. Though there is no historical evidence, Mencius was rumored to have been taught by Confucius' grandson, Zisi. He also reportedly followed in Confucius' footsteps and wandered the country for 40 years, trying to convince Chinese leaders to rule from a position of moral authority rather than by force. To lend credence to his efforts, he frequently invoked the Mandate of Heaven. This was a concept dating back to the beginning of the Zhou Dynasty, based on the belief that heaven blessed the rule of a just emperor, and cursed that of an unjust one. If a leader's reign was marred by hardship, such as foreign invasion or natural disasters, he was deemed to have lost his mandate and should be removed from power.


It was the justification the first Zhou emperor used to overthrow the Shang Dynasty, and though it was not recognized at the time, became the explanation for the overthrow of the Xia Dynasty before that. After the birth of Chinese philosophy, teachers like Mencius found the mandate a useful tool to legitimize their message. Because of his association with Confucius, he is often referred to as the "second sage". He served as an official and scholar at the Jixia Academy in the state of Qi from 319 to 312 B.C.. It was considered the most influential learning institution in China at the time of the Warring States Period. One of Mencius' core beliefs was that man was innately good, and society's influence determined how he turned out. Also like Confucius, he retired from public life with a sense of disappointment that he had not affected the change he set out to. However, his work survived his death and many credit much of Confucius' fame to Mencius' efforts. Most of our knowledge of Mencius comes from the Mengzi, which was probably compiled by his students.