mín wéi bāng běn 民惟邦本
People Being the Foundation of the State
This term means that the people are the essence of the state or the foundation upon which it stands. Only when people live and work in peace and contentment can the state be peaceful and stable. This saying, which first appeared in a pseudo-version of The Classical Book of History as an instruction by Yu the Great, can be traced to Mencius’ statement: “The essence of a state is the people, next come the god of land and the god of grain (which stand for state power), and the last the ruler,” and Xunzi’s statement, “Just as water can float a boat, so can water overturn it.” This idea gave rise to the “people first” thought advocated by Confucianism.
Our ancestor Yu the Great warned: (a ruler) must maintain a close relationship with the people; he must not regard them as insignificant. They are the foundation of a state, and a state can enjoy peace only when its foundation is firm. (The Book of History)