The Rise and Fall of All Under Heaven Is the Responsibility of Every Individual.
The view that ordinary people also share responsibility for the fate of the country originated with the famous late Ming- and early Qing-dynasty thinker Gu Yanwu. He stated that the ruler and his officials were in charge of the state apparatus, but guarding all under heaven was the responsibility of every individual, no matter how lowly they may be. In pre-modern China, all under heaven referred to the whole territory of China ruled either directly or nominally by the Son of Heaven. By “state” Gu Yanwu, however, meant something entirely different: the state only refers to one imperial house, while “all under heaven” refers to the whole of the Chinese nation and Chinese civilization. The modern Chinese thinker Liang Qichao built on this idea and put it in more general terms stating that “the rise and fall of all under heaven is the responsibility of every individual,” turning it into a clearer and more forceful statement. It was subsequently quoted by so many statesmen and thinkers that it became a household phrase. Ever since, this saying has had tremendous influence in arousing the patriotic spirit among the people of China and making them assume responsibility for the fate of their country.
When one dynasty is replaced by another, it means the state of the old dynasty perishes. When benevolence and righteousness are obstructed to the point that the powerful lead others to exploit people and people fight each other, it means all under heaven perishes… Safeguarding the state is the concern of rulers, ministers, and officials; while safeguarding all under heaven is the responsibility of every individual, no matter how lowly they may be. (Gu Yanwu: Record of Daily Study)
Gu Yanwu said: The rise and fall of all under heaven is the responsibility of every individual, no matter how lowly they may be. (Mai Hua: The Responsibilities of Officials in Charge of Current Border Affairs)
The key to wiping out our country’s humiliation lies in our self-renewal… We have a large population, so it is impossible for every individual to achieve such self-renewal. We should do it ourselves whether or not others can also do it. This is just like what Gu Yanwu once said, “The rise and fall of all under heaven is the responsibility of every individual.” (Liang Qichao: Collected Works from the Icedrinker’s Studio)