This is a term used to describe someone of ideal moral quality. How much one achieves does not determine whether he can be called a great man. The criterion is whether or not a person can know and hold fast to Dao. Given that there are different interpretations of Dao, the specific requirements for a great man are also different. Mencius stresses that a great man should have high aspirations to carry out Dao, adhere to moral integrity, stay upright, and his observation of Dao should not be influenced by external matters (as opposed to his inner world). Yet, another ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi believes that a great man should abandon ostentatious rites and norms, and return to the natural state through non-action.
Living in the broad residence under heaven, staying in the proper place under heaven, one should observe the essential Dao under heaven. When having achieved one’s ambitions, one should practice Dao along with the people; when failing to succeed in one’s ambitions, one should observe Dao alone. Neither riches nor honors can corrupt him; neither poverty nor humbleness can make him swerve from his principles; neither threat nor force can subdue him. Such a person can be called a great man. (Mencius)
Rites indicate a lack of loyalty and sincerity, and portend disorder. Preset norms are ostentatious representations of Dao and usher in stupidity. So a great man should be earnest rather than superficial, be simple rather than ostentatious. Such a person abandons everything superficial or ostentatious, and leads a simple and honest life. (Laozi)