8

Chinese dynasts adopted the term "Son of Heaven" or "Son of [the god] Tian" (天子) during the early Zhou period around the turn of the 1st millennium BCE, and continued using it until the overthrow of the Qing. This term was later adopted by both the Japanese and Vietnamese Emperors in the 7th and 10th centuries CE respectively (though with varying implications in relation to their connection with celestial forces and their ruling philosophies).

There are two obvious omissions (to my own limited knowledge) amongst the major countries within the Chinese sphere of influence: Korea and Tibet. Did Korean or Tibetan monarchs ever use the term "Son of Heaven" (or local language equivalent) as a regnal title?

5

Korea

King Jumong, who founded the Korean kingdom of Goguryeo, was the son of Hae Mo-su of Buyeo who was reputed to be a "son of Heaven". Later, Goguryeo's spiritual successor state of Goryeo styled their rulers "son of heaven", but only internally. Externally, or specifically when dealing with China, the Goryeo monarchs styled themselves merely kings.

This dual system originated from a reform dating to the 1120s, and persisted till about the mid-13th century. It came to an end when Korea was reduced to the status of a vassal of China. Note that this was also the approach of the Vietnamese, whose monarchs used imperial titles domestically, but continue to deal with China as kings.

[T]he Buddhist monk Myocheong [advocated] a political reform called the chingje geonwon, or "proclaiming an emperor with a reign title." By creating the Son of Heaven out of the Goryeo monarchy, he meant to confront the Jin dynasty in the north ... [the king accepted] Myocheong's suggestions in 1129.

- Kim, Djun Kil. The History of Korea. ABC-CLIO, 2014.

In 1897, Korea was proclaimed an empire and King Gojong adopted imperial dignities. I believe that came with the "son of heaven" title, which has been tied to the imperial title since the latter's invention by Qin in Far Eastern customs, but I haven't verified this.


Tibet

One of the traditional titles accorded to the rulers of ancient Tibetan was lha sras (lhase), literally, "son of god". This is basically equivalent to the Chinese concept of "Son of Heaven", except the Tibetan royal dynasty claimed actual divine descent.

The royal tombs have obvious Chinese prototypes, as does the sacredness of the king: he is "god son" (lha sras), corresponding to the Chinese emperor, the "Son of Heaven".

- Kitagawa, Joseph. The Religious Traditions of Asia: Religion, History, and Culture. Routledge, 2013.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.