防民之口,甚于防川 – Chinese philosophy and culture

fáng mín zhī kǒu, shèn yú fáng chuān 防民之口,甚于防川

To Silence the People Is More Harmful than Blocking a River.

堵住百姓的嘴,阻止人民表达自己的想法,其危害超过堵塞河流而引起的水患。“防”即“堤”,是用来阻塞水流的设施,引申为阻塞、防止、阻止。堵塞河道,河水必然漫出河道或冲毁堤坝,造成不可控制的水灾。中国古人以此比喻不让民众说话,必有大害。其正面意思是:民众的意愿是有力量的,是阻止不了的;执政者必须允许民众表达自己的意愿,否则一定会激起民众的反抗。这和“民惟邦本”“民心惟本”“载舟覆舟”的道理是相通的。

Silencing the people and preventing them from expressing their opinions is more damaging than blocking the course of a river and causing a flood. Fang (防) means “a dike” to stop water flowing, and its extended meaning is to “block,” “prevent,” or “stop.” Obstructing the river flow will make the water rise and wash away the dikes, causing uncontrollable flooding. The ancients used this analogy to describe the serious harm that could occur if the public was not allowed to express its opinions. Taken from a positive angle, it means that the public will is powerful and irresistible, and that a ruler should allow its expression, or else expect popular resistance. The idea is in line with such expressions as that people are the foundation of the state, the people’s will is the foundation of the state, and people can float the boat (of state) or sink it.

引例 Citation:

◎防民之口,甚于防川。川壅而溃,伤人必多,民亦如之。是故为川者决之使导,为民者宣之使言。(《国语·周语上》)

(堵住百姓的嘴,其危害比堵塞河流更严重。河流若被堵塞而决口,伤害的人一定很多,民情也是如此。因此治理河流的人要排除堵塞,让水流畅通;管理民众的人要疏导民众,让他们畅所欲言。)

The harm caused by not letting people express their opinions is greater than blocking a river. When a river breaks its banks many people are harmed. The same is true for blocking the expression of popular sentiment. That’s why those who manage rivers must clear away obstructions so the water flows smoothly; those who rule the people must remove impediments and encourage people to speak out their mind. (Discourses on Governance of the States)

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