The People’s Will Is the Foundation of the State.
The notion of the people’s will being the foundation, or the “roots,” of government comes from a dialogue between a king of the Shang Dynasty and Houfu (in a text found on bamboo slips of the Warring States Period). Houfu said to the king, “The people’s will is like the roots of a tree: they support the leaves.” By that he meant that public support was the foundation of the state, and without it the state or political power would perish. The ancients believed that a government was legitimate so long as it “followed the mandate of heaven and complied with the wishes of the people.” The people’s wishes were a prerequisite of heaven’s will, and only if the state complied with the people’s wishes, would it enjoy lasting stability. This notion is identical to the concept that the people are the foundation of the state.
There is a way to win all under heaven: if you win the people, you win all under heaven. There is a way to win the people: if you win their hearts, you win the people. There is a way to win their hearts: amass for them what they desire, do not impose on them what they detest, and it is as simple as that. (Mencius)
Governing a country is like planting a tree. If the roots are firm, the leaves and branches flourish. (Wu Jing: Important Political Affairs of the Zhenguan Reign)
The people are the foundation of the state. If the roots are not firm, the branches and leaves of the tree cannot but follow suit. (Su Shunqin: Memorial to the Emperor)