cānglǐn shí ér zhī lǐjié 仓廪实而知礼节
When the Granaries Are Full, the People Follow Appropriate Rules of Conduct.
The full quote from Guanzi reads: “When the granaries are full, the people follow appropriate rules of conduct, and when there is enough to eat and wear, the people know honor and shame.” Here “granaries” and “eat and wear” mean the material conditions of life, while “rules of conduct” and “honor and shame” represent the social and moral principles of a society, as well as the systems and spiritual culture that underpin it. The quote highlights the relationship between material life and morality, i.e., the former is the basis for the latter, and that morality and social norms are the product of a certain degree of material development. Without the basic assurances for life, the best systems will not be followed, and the moral standards of the people will remain low. At all times, governance should focus first on improving the material conditions of a society. This is a very practical concept of state governance.
So Guanzi said, “When the granaries are full, the people follow appropriate rules of conduct, and when there is enough to eat and wear, the people know honor and shame.” Proper social norms emerge from sufficient conditions for life, and disappear when conditions are absent. That is why when people of high status become wealthy, they will widely advocate moral standards, and when ordinary people become wealthy they will behave in a moral way according to their means. Where the water is deep, fish will congregate; where the mountains are vast, wild animals will gather; when people are well off, a society of compassion and righteousness will appear. (Records of the Historian)
Guanzi said, “When the granaries are full, the people follow appropriate rules of conduct.” From time immemorial, no one has ever heard of successful governance when the people do not have enough to live on. …Sufficient wealth and stores of grain are vital to the national economy and people’s livelihood. What cannot be accomplished when granaries are stocked and coffers are full? Such a ruler will be victorious in offense, impregnable in defense, and invincible in war. To such a ruler, who would not come in submission, whether in surrender or through amnesty? (Jia Yi: Memorial on Accumulation in Agriculture)