shì dé zhě chāng，shì lì zhě wáng 恃德者昌，恃力者亡
Those Who Rely on Virtue Will Thrive; Those Who Rely on Force Will Perish.
Relying on moral strength will bring prosperity, whereas relying on violence will bring doom. The saying is described in Records of the Historian as coming from The Book of History. De (德) refers to morals, grace, and integrity. Li (力) refers to coercion, violence, and military power. Under the influence of the political and ethical principles of the Confucian school, since ancient times the Chinese people have been advocating that a ruler should rule by virtue (winning over people with benevolence) as opposed to rule by force(wielding power over people), believing that only by relying on benevolence can the ruler hope to win people’s hearts and minds, resulting therefore in a positive synergy that brings about prosperity. Rule by force, on the other hand, can merely coerce people into submission, but cannot achieve genuine and lasting harmony and unity. This is true not only in managing an entity or governing a country, but also in handling relationships among countries. As a principle for managing international relations, the term suggests that wanton engagement in military action or attempting to completely dominate others are incompatible with the development of civilization. Only by observing moral principles and trusting one another can sustainable peace and security be achieved in the world.
Virtue is the foundation that supports a state and a family. Only upon this foundation can a state and a family stay invincible. (Zuo’s Commentary on The Spring and Autumn Annals)
Mencius said, “Those who use military force in the name of benevolence can lord over kingdoms of dukes and princes, but to achieve this, they must rely on strong military power; whereas those who rely on moral strength and practice benevolence can win over all people independent of its military power. …Forcing people to observe moral principles will not make them follow a ruler from the bottom of their hearts. Rather, they obey simply because they are powerless to resist. Only those who rely on moral strength to rule can enjoy people’s sincere and whole-hearted support.” (Mencius)
Nothing is more important than benevolence and moral integrity in ruling a country and its people. When benevolence and morality are practiced, people will behave without any need for financial or material incentives. Evils will be inhibited without any need for punishment. (Master Lü’s Spring and Autumn Annals)