dà guó zhě xià liú 大国者下流
A Great State Should Assume a Low Posture.
A great state should assume a low posture, just as great rivers absorb the waters from countless tributaries. This was an important concept on handling relations between states, propounded by the ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi. Its core idea is that of qianxia (谦下), the virtue of lowering oneself in dealing with others. In Laozi’s view, the key to whether or not states can coexist peacefully lies in whether or not great ones can refrain from bullying small and weak ones. If they can lower themselves and treat small states with modesty, they will display the capacity to accommodate the entire world. This will cause small states to trust them and look up to them, just as all tributaries flow toward great rivers. If great states accept and accommodate lesser ones and small states respect and look up to great ones, harmony will ensue and all will achieve their goals. This is related to the contemporary concept of “a shared future for humanity.”
A great state maintains a low posture. A low position is where everything in the world meets, where the world’s feminine and gentle elements gather. The feminine and gentle elements often triumph over the masculine and powerful through stillness, and it is stillness which keeps it in the lower position. Thus when a great state treats a small state with modesty, it can win the trust and following of the latter. When a smaller state treats a greater one humbly, it can win its acceptance and tolerance. Hence by behaving modestly, great states win the trust and following of small ones, while small states win acceptance and tolerance from great ones. Great states only wish to gather smaller ones around themselves and support them; small states only wish to attach themselves to and serve great ones. Hence states both great and small can achieve their goals, and the great ones in particular should maintain a low stance. (Laozi)